When wildlife artist James Reid first picked up a brush, it wasn’t to paint an elk or moose. He painted a sign.
“My first year out of high school, I got a job at the PayLess Drug in Pasco (WA) painting signs. When I returned to Walla Walla that spring, I went to work for the PayLess Drug in downtown Walla Walla working in the camera department and painting signs. That was in the early 1960s.”
The Boise, ID, painter, who retired in 2007 after a 42-year career with PayLess in advertising and management, always wanted to be an artist. He started with pin striping cars in high school. Then he went into commercial layout and design. And then he jumped into fine art after taking the Famous Artists Course, which was created by 12 successful commercial artists in the 1948, including Norman Rockwell and Albert Dorne.
“By the time I finished, I was painting Western oil paintings,” Reid says.
Thousands of Wildlife References
He turned to full time painting upon retirement, and works out of a spare bedroom converted into his studio. Using thousands of his own reference photos, he has traveled to Yellowstone, Teton, and Glacier Parks since 1988. He describes the process of getting the references just as satisfying as the painting of them.
That first year to Yellowstone, 1988, set a high bar for all the years to follow:
“It was the year of the Yellowstone fires,” Reid remembers.
“We got there the first day that they reopened the park, and there was wildlife everywhere! The fires had forced them down from the timber and into the open.
“We enjoyed that trip so much that we have returned for a week in Yellowstone every year since. That’s 32 years (32 weeks) of studying and photographing wildlife in Yellowstone. We keep returning for the wildlife.
“Every year it’s different, and we never know what we’ll find.”
Used to People
According to Reid, the wildlife in Yellowstone is used to people and not as bothered by “a guy with a camera.” For other areas where the animals are shyer, he relies upon 300, 400, and 500mm lenses to keep his distance. At one time, when Reid used to hunt, he would take his camera with him in his backpack and take advantage of being in the hinterlands.
“My hunting buddies would sometimes make comments when they saw me with my camera out and not my gun. Oh well, I still have all those photos, even if you can’t eat them.”
Reid, who took an art class at Walla Walla High School with David Manual when they were both students, credits the nationally known sculpture artist for encouraging him to foray into the Western Art world. Reid participates in the Out West Art Show and CM Russell Auction, both in Montana, every year, and has also done well at the Ellensburg National Western Art Show (he was chosen poster artist in 2015); the Spirit of the West Show in Cheyenne, WY; (awarded Best of Show); and Paint America Top 100 Show (juror’s award).
Back with the Gems
And lately, since retiring and going into full time wildlife artist mode, he has added another item to his list:
“I’ve taken up guitar again and reunited with the Gems, a popular rock group in Walla Walla in the 1960s.”
Life is full, and busy, and never, ever boring.
“I am forever learning and amazed at new things I learn, almost with each painting.
“I will always be learning and improving technique, design, and skills.”
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.