Q&A: Artist Turns His Focus on National Parks

"Grand Canyon Splendor" | Courtesy of Anthony Rudisill

Anthony Rudisill has been painting landscapes and other subjects for six decades. His most recent work celebrates what he calls "the best of America's natural resources." That includes his National Parks Series — which is timely, since the National Park Service is celebrating its centennial this month. Rudisill resides in New Jersey, but many of his paintings feature Arizona's national parks, national monuments and other picturesque locations. Via email, we asked the artist a few questions about his work. You can see more of Rudisill's work on his website, and a selection of his paintings appears at the end of his Q&A.

Tell us about your background. What led you to a career in paintings?
I was interested as a young boy in wildlife, and birds in particular. That started with being involved with the Cub Scouts with another friend. I also wanted to draw, or to learn to draw. [John James] Audubon was my hero, and I copied him when I was young, eventually developing my own style. My dad used to take me into Philadelphia when I was young, where I wandered the galleries. I would go and see other artists’ work and admire it and want to do that. I felt “if they could do it, I could do it.”

After many years focused on painting birds primarily, I got into wildfowl carvings, or wood sculpture. I did well at it and won several competitions and “Best in World” titles. Eventually I got tired of the competition and the detail and got back into painting. I realized as I got back into painting that I had a much different outlook on it.  I was painting more freely, and focused on my own subjects rather than what I thought someone else wanted. Over the years I got into painting on a different level, bringing me to where I am now. It’s very important to me to work every day. I look forward to it.

What is it about national parks, in particular, that appeals to you as a subject of your paintings?
Several things led to my current focus on national parks. When I was a youngster, I always admired scenery and landscapes in magazines and calendars, particularly national parks. That was always an inspiration to me and I always wanted to be able to see those places. Later in life, when my daughter lived in California, we visited her and she took us to see Yosemite [National Park]. Well, that did it. I had to see more national parks after that.  My wife and I made subsequent trips back to California and always found places to visit along those lines. 

Eventually, my wife and I planned a trip in 2010 to see as many parks as we could in the western states, with the idea of creating a collection of national parks paintings. As I got started, it really took control of my work. The scenery is fantastic and the challenge is great. Just to see those places and to be able to paint them is quite rewarding. When I’m working on a painting, I always feel I can’t wait to get to the next one.

Are you aiming for a true-to-life representation of your subjects, or do you take some liberties with them?
Regarding “true-to-life representation,” I want to do that very much, so I don’t take many liberties at all.  I may move a rock or something for better composition, but I’m really painting a scene exactly as it is. 

I work from my own photographs. When I’m in a park, I photograph a scene that inspires me from all angles, composing with my camera. When I get home, I work from those photographs. I pick one photograph and work from that scene. So my paintings are true to life, and I feel that’s the way they should be. I don’t feel I should change anything. That’s the way Nature intended it, so that’s the way I paint them. 

I’m definitely a realist. I see things like that. I see every leaf, while an impressionist sees the whole tree. I like the detail. It’s a challenge, too, to paint it really to look real. The detail is what I strive for. Actually, some people think my work is photography, which can sometimes frustrate me a bit.

What is your process for creating a painting?
The process for creating a painting is basically pretty simple. Once I have selected the scene from my photographs, I then scale it onto a larger board, drawing everything in pencil onto the board. I don’t deviate from my photograph, which keeps my work very accurate. I draw it, then paint it. 

Interestingly, many times when I decide what I want to paint, I get all set up and do the pencil work and then my mind is on what’s next while I’m painting. I’m up to 42 paintings in the collection, and still looking forward to the next one.

How long does one piece take to create, from start to finish?
The time it takes to create a painting from start to finish is very variable. As I mentioned, I start with photography to begin with, so you have to include the time it took to go to these places and select the scene. Then, from drawing it through painting it, for a larger painting, could take me up to six weeks to do.

Where can people see your work, and how can they go about purchasing it?
Right now, people can see my work on my website, www.ajrudisill.com. As it happens, a lot of the galleries I’ve been with are currently going out of business, so I’m not associated with a specific gallery at the moment. At the moment, my daughter is assisting me with the business part of things that most artists like myself are not too good at. She is working on sharing my work around the country and looking for opportunities to show, exhibit and sell the National Parks Series of paintings.

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Your work is most awesome. love this state and all the great subject matter to paint.

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