Monday, April 20, 2015

The Practice of Painting

We veterinarians are lucky. We have some beautiful patients. For those who are artistically inclined, the animal world presents limitless inspiration. Veterinarians who are talented enough to act as double agents with a stethoscope in one hand and a paintbrush in the other are fascinating to me--a mix of a scientifically trained eye with an intuitive sense of color and balance. Veterinarian and painter Dr. John Fawcett is no exception and I was lucky enough to talk with him about his background, art, and inspirations.
"Two Champions" by John Fawcett, DVM
A DVM graduate from Iowa State University, John steadily built his own practice in Pennsylvania, where he worked for 20 years. "As a kid I always drew. It was a hobby and I just always really liked it," says John. "But I never thought it would be anything more than a hobby."

Understandably, during vet school and later as a solo practitioner, there was little time for painting. A common theme with vets who seek the creative side while practicing, time is the limiting commodity. Prior to hiring associates, John tried to find time to paint in the evenings. "It was a release, more of a relaxation to help relieve stress from the practice."

As his practice grew, John was able to carve increasing amounts of time out of his schedule to pursue his artistic passion. With his wife, John visited a western art show in Arizona. "I was completely enthralled with the genre of western art, which I didn't know a whole lot about at the time," John says. "I pursued that theme and it grew to the point where I got in an invitational show and I got in a gallery. I painted more and more because I got excited about it. I became very passionate about it and it was taking up as much of my free time as I could spare while I was still practicing. It became such that I thought that I really couldn't get any better as an artist unless I put more time into it. So I had to decide if this was going to be just a hobby or more of a vocation for me."
"The Looking Glass" by John Fawcett, DVM
Enter the pivot point: to remain where you are, doing what you've always done (and are good at) or to take a leap of faith to pursue your true passion, which is not without its risks. To remain comfortable and content or to step outside the boundary of your comfort zone for a chance at something with far greater internal reward. Examining character at such a point can illuminate a universe of things about that character. This is not saying leave your vet career for something potentially more illustrious. This is not implying a value or judgement on those who are able to choose, or on what they choose. This is examining something as small as and yet as large as a single life choice.

John explains beautifully how he made his:

"I talked to my stepfather who was a recently retired physician. I was having a hard time trying to decide what I wanted to do. I had built this successful practice and did I just want to throw that all away? But I was so passionate about my artwork. My stepfather posed a question to me that decided my career then. He asked: when you're painting do you think about veterinarian medicine? And I said: no. And he asked: when you're doing surgery, do you think about art? And I said: yes, all the time. So he said, well, there's your decision right there."

So John sold his practice and became a full time painter.

Is this sort of decision easy? Of course not. "To tell you the truth, I had real guilt feelings after I sold my practice because I thought that I wasn't really working. I enjoyed painting so much, it still felt like a hobby to me. It felt like I was just goofing off all the time, even though I was putting in as many hours as I was practicing."

Sometimes, all it takes is the sage observation of an objective spouse to set things right. "My wife kept telling me: this is your profession, get over it."
"Recent Visitors" by John Fawcett, DVM
"I kept my veterinary license for 4 years after I quit practicing," continues John. "I heard that Tammy Wynette was a beautician before she became a country singer and she held her beautician license because if she didn't make it big, she could always go back to being a hair dresser. In about 2000 I let my license lapse and the rest of course is history. I now paint full time and have around five galleries that represent me throughout the country. It worked out well. I'm very fortunate but it's not an easy thing. It's like jumping off a bridge."

As it turns out, a DVM degree is quite helpful when it comes to art. "I've said having a veterinary background is really the longest anatomy lesson an artist could ever have," says John. "Most of my paintings deal with figurative work whether it be humans or animals. I think the veterinary profession has helped me immensely as far as that goes. Horses are such complex animals. Even when I know what I know about their anatomy, they are really a difficult animal to paint and get everything right."
"Born to the Land" by John Fawcett, DVM
As John continues to paint in the genre of western art--the art he fell in love with at the Arizona art show years ago--he brings a story into each piece. His interest in history marries well with his subject matter. "I'm very much interested in history and the relationship of the horse with both the historic and contemporary working cowboy and the native Americans. The history of the horse in North America is fascinating to me."

In addition to his studio in Pennsylvania, John and his wife also have a ranch in Colorado. It's here, out west, where John gathers a lot of his inspiration. He's met local cowboys in the ranching community and has visited various historic ranches. John has also been introduced to Native Americans who have invited him into their tribes. He develops relationships with these people and their horses, and a story soon develops that is then re-created on canvas.
"To the Gate" by John Fawcett, DVM
"There are a lot of different facets to art," John explains. "It's not just picking up a brush and painting something you think is beautiful. To me, it's a history lesson, an anatomy lesson. It's something that can give you beauty as well as make you think about what's going on in the painting. It can be very involved with studying the piece from concept and ideas to the fruition of the painting."

If you cruise through John's collections of paintings, you'll notice predominantly equine watercolors and oils. Although many are in the western theme, there are other working horses exemplified--draft horses and racing horses, for example. In fact, John had the opportunity to paint the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro.
"The Unbeaten Barbaro" by John Fawcett
"I just wanted the opportunity to paint such a magnificent animal," says John. "His owners and I came up with the idea that I would do two paintings, a watercolor and an oil, and they would be auctioned at the Thoroughbred Charities of America (TCA) Auction in Lexington at a fundraiser. The TCA benefits retired racehorses and retired jockeys. This gave me an opportunity to paint a beautiful, strong animal."
"Barbaro" by John Fawcett
John's connections then led him to paint Breeder's Cup winners. "I love painting Thoroughbreds," he says. "But also draft horses, Indian ponies, whatever. They are different types of equine paintings but they are still from the same structure. I'm fascinated with anything equine, really."

As John's artistic talents continue to evolve and improve, some of his works feature greater detail and the capacity to tell a story increases exponentially as a result. "Painting is the same as anything," he says to me. "You're a writer. So it's the same thing that you go through." Idea, research, draft, end product. It's more than a little comforting to realize that the creative process is similar no matter what the format or end product.

Stay tuned for the next blog, Monday, May 4.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful work - thank you so much for sharing this! I'm put in mind of the 18th c painter George Stubbs ("celebrated as the greatest horse painter in history") - the Barbaro painting is as glorious as Stubbs' work. - painting exhibit here