Award winning artist, Joshua Spies creates wildlife images with such unique artistic techniques that his images appear to come to life with each brushstroke. From early childhood, Josh had an eye for beauty, and his love of art and nature developed as he grew into a master artist.
His artworks and photographs have graced the pages of national magazines, as well as being featured as backdrops for such movies as A Guy Thing and Electra. He has been interviewed for People magazine, and received numerous awards from artistic and wildlife organizations.
With all this national attention and admiration of his artistic talent, Josh remains a very unpretentious and humble man. I invite you to join with me, as we get to know Joshua Spies ...
I have had the great fortune of viewing prints of your images in person, and it is obvious that you have a deep connection to the wildlife that you paint. Where are the inspirations for your images born … from your imagination, photographs, or tales handed down from past generations?
I grew up on the vast prairies of northeastern South Dakota in a family of outdoorsman. Wildlife and nature are a most important part of who I am. I cannot imagine my life not being connected to wildlife and wildlife conservation. The inspirations for my paintings and drawings are drawn from my many direct experiences with wildlife. I do most all of my own photography and really look forward to being with and observing wildlife as often as I can!
Why specifically wildlife? What is it about nature that grabs your imagination and drives your artistic talent?
Wildlife and nature are an important part of my business, but I have never limited myself to just that. I enjoy doing portraits, landscapes, still-lifes, and compositions with unique vanishing points.
Your images are breathtakingly realistic. Viewing one of your birds in flight, I could almost hear the movement of the wings. Do you work from memory or photographs?
The biggest challenge in creating something very special, “breathtakingly realistic," as you say, is in coming up with a great idea! I always have my cameras with me, because you never know when the lens will help me come up with a great idea! I paint from photographs, most of which I have taken, because I want the light and colors to be perfect. This is why on a recent safari to South Africa I took over 2,500 photographs! Many times these photographs not only help with detail, light and color, but are the inspiration for a new work!
Which was your first love; painting or photography?
I started painting when I was very young and painting has always been my passion. Photography is now extremely important to me, but taking pictures originally started as just another part of my sketchbook.
Do you primarily paint with oils, watercolors, acrylics, or do you secretly prefer going back to your roots — creating images with a graphite pencil? Also, have you delved into the world of computer graphics?
I enjoy working in all mediums, especially water and oil based paints. But I would have to say there is something very special about working with a graphite pencil! However, most of the people who commission me want color, and I do not do work with a pencil as much as I would like. I enjoy working on canvas of all sizes and it is refreshing to change the image sizes I work on from time to time. As for computers, I often load my digital photographs into my computer. This helps me come up with ideas and takes away the guesswork on a composition. Computers and computer graphics are just another part of my sketchbook.
Can you walk our readers through the technical steps that one of your works of art takes from original painting to art print?
Most of my works are already earmarked for wildlife conservation groups and they handle the technical end of making prints. I put all my expertise into creating the work of art, and I rely on someone else to get top quality representations of my works in the prints. I am very dedicated to making certain the prints of my work are of extraordinary quality, and always oversee the publishing myself.
Your painting, Preparing For Winter [which you donated to a fundraiser] recently sold for $9000. Did the final price surprise you?
The art business is one of incredible highs and lows. I try to wash it all together into a neutral expectation. I have sold original works for much, much more than the $9,000 Preparing For Winter brought on auction, and I have watched my work sell for much less. I have learned that I must always have realistic expectations and focus on my goal. When something doesn't meet my expectations, I use it as motivation to make me work even harder on my art. I mean this is a humble way … I know I am not the best, but my goal is someday to be the best there is at what I do!
Your name has been associated with some of the most renowned wildlife artists of our generation [Terry Redlin, Terry Isaac, and Paco Young]. How did a boy from the prairies of South Dakota end up running with this prestigious crowd?
All of these men were a tremendous inspiration for me. I feel terrible about the loss of such a great man and artist as Paco Young and I offer my heartfelt condolences to Paco Young's wife Tony. I admire Terry Isaac and have taken his workshop. Terry Redlin was a family friend who grew up in my hometown of Watertown, South Dakota. Terry Redlin has given me lots of encouragement, ideas and sound business advice over the years and is an important part of the success I have attained to this point. Noted South Dakota artists John Wilson and John Green have also made major contributions to my art career.
The word is out that you are a very shy and humble guy ... how does it feel to be sought after for interviews by publications like People Magazine, and to have your photographs featured in National Geographic Magazine?
This attention is very flattering and deeply appreciated, but I know I must stay fixed on my long term goals.
If you had to pick one image as your favorite, which would it be?
The next one! I know this seems like a strange answer, but I really look forward to doing something new and challenging in my next creation! If you were to make me pick one work over all the others it would be really difficult.
I know it’s a hard question for artists to answer, but ... can you please try and pick one?
If you absolutely insist ... I would pick the black and white pencil drawing I did of Terry Redlin's high school art teacher Florence Bruhn [titled Reflections].
Being a successful artist, where your income is dependent on your artistic talent, is a career path only enjoyed by a handful. Do you feel that formal art education, or training, is a must for any artist wishing to make a living in this field? Or, do you feel it is as much a matter of hard work and dedication, as it is education and talent?
Education is really important, for it helps you hone your skills, and with other important things like art history. However an artist must work every single day. I enjoy my work in my studio 95% of the time, but I know I must keep painting to improve and keep my skills.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to sit down with us for this interview — do you have any parting “words of inspiration” for budding artists that you would like to share?
Always listen to constructive criticism, never get high on yourself or your art, and never, ever quit!
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission from Joshua Spies.
Get to know industry leaders and professionalsDecember 12, 2005
As they sit down and talk candidly with
Guest Columnist Dee-Marie