|"Tiger's Eyes" by John Plishka, DVM|
Although John took art classes throughout high school, the academic demands of undergrad and vet school became the priority. "My drawing frequency really decreased significantly at that time," he says. "But about five or six years out of vet school, for whatever reason, the urge to paint started coming back pretty heavily. I started drawing and painting, mostly with oils. But I've always liked painting with pastels and that has been my media of choice for the past few years. Pastels are quick, you can re-work it easily, and you don't have to wait for it to dry. And this whole time, I started re-discovering my creative side again."
|"Day is Done" by John Plishka, DVM|
Soon, John's work was attracting attention. He entered a few contests, won awards, and, as the saying goes, never looked back. "[Winning awards] really helps with the confidence," he acknowledges. "Knowing I can do that and be good at it. A big thing for me was then becoming a member of the Academy of Equine Art. That was a big goal for me. It was quite an honor to be accepted into that circle of people who are really the best equine artists in the country. I still don't think I'm worthy of that!"
This concept of confidence keeps coming back, this fact of human nature that John endearingly tangles with--this tiger in the weeds--despite his obvious talent. "Like everything, you're never really there," he says. "You have to keep striving. I think the day an artist can be satisfied with something is the day he needs to hang it up." Which, of course, can be said of all professions, I believe (especially writing...). I compare this to another painter's observation: "If we all have continuous confidence in our creativity, it would become dull and not very inspiring," says Lida van Bers.
Through all of John's artistic accomplishments, remember he's still a full-time veterinarian, with all that entails, so naturally, the common concern of time meanders into our conversation."Now, it's just about finding the time," John says. "I do a fair number of commissions now, but those cut into your creative time so it's a bit of a double-edged sword. The more you work, the more people want commissions, but the more commissions you have, then the less you're able to express yourself how you really want to." John sees himself as having perhaps about ten more years in the veterinary profession before he retires and then dedicates himself solely to his art.
|"A little to the left" by John Plishka, DVM|
"You look at a horse and it not only satisfies the artist but also satisfies the engineer."
In previous conversations I've had with veterinary painters, the science of anatomy features heavily in their work and with John, this is no exception. Being a vet with extensive knowledge in anatomy has been extremely helpful, he says. "It's not even just with horses. It's with everything. If you're painting an eye, you know what's in there. Being a vet, I know animals literally inside and out." At an art show a few years ago, John recalls a woman who was able to identify the breed of horse in his painting even though it wasn't even a full head shot. "She was able to identify it as a Thoroughbred and she said 'He's got his anatomy spot on,' " recalls John. "And that was a great compliment."
|"Eye Candy" by John Plishka, DVM|
"Creativity helps us see that other side of life...it gives us more perspective."
We end our conversation discussing my favorite piece of John's, a painting titled "Cascade." This painting was done from a photo John took at the Midwest Horse Show in Madison, WI a few years ago (most of John's pieces are from photographs he's taken at an earlier time). "This was a breakthrough piece for me," John says. He hadn't been painting for a while due to various health issues but he came back with this work. The title refers to the flow of the horse's mane. "I felt that even though the animal was black, I marveled at how many colors are actually in the void of color. The mane reminded me of a waterfall."
|"Cascade" by John Plishka, DVM|