Exploring Western outdoors fuels Sims’ passion

“Power and Grace” by Kyle Sims

Frequent field trips near his home give artist Kyle Sims a window to his favorite subjects: elk, bears, river otters, bison and other wildlife.

His painting “Power and Grace,” depicting a grizzly bear crossing a stream, is showcased on the official Southeastern Wildlife Exposition poster and he is SEWE’s 2016 Featured Artist.

The original painting will be available for auction during the VIP Preview Gala and Auction on Feb. 11.

“There is a character association with bears and the power of rushing water,” Sims says. “Bears and a large body of moving water can be very powerful and easily overtake a human. However, when they move, they can also be very graceful.”

Sims grew up in Wyoming and now lives in Montana with his wife.

Now in his mid-30s, he first participated in SEWE in his early 20s and says it’s a great honor to receive the same recognition as his mentor and friend Paco Young, who was SEWE’s featured Artist in 1994.

“Within the world of wildlife art, I can’t think of any higher honor.”

Sims was drawn to realistic art at a young age and began working to capture the vibrant wildlife in his backyard.

“I was raised in the Wyoming countryside, so opportunities to explore the outdoors were abundant.”

Today he packs up his sketchpad and camera and hikes into the woods near his home to study elk, bears, river otters and bison. His large-scale paintings capture the natural beauty of the wild. Idyllic scenes of powerfully muscular bison are set against vast mountain ranges that fill viewers with a longing to travel west.

Sims hopes to “share with the viewer how I feel about our natural world in a way that is engaging, entertaining, and inspiring.”

Q: You began painting at an early age. Tell me about your early influences and teachers.

A: My mom took me to galleries and supported my interest in art from an early age. My dad was a good provider, but he was a military man and while he was supportive, I don’t think he believed I could make a living as an artist. I was fortunate to have great teachers as I made my way through school, especially during junior high and high school where I was exposed to various types of mediums.

By the time I turned 16, I began taking workshops from artists like Terry Isaac and Rod Frederick who were making a living as artists.

I eventually met Paco Young, who was instrumental in getting me to paint outside from life. I began using oil paints to do my field studies and worked in a very direct manner. Thanks to those early influencers, here I am 19 years later, following my passion.

Q: Your work beautifully captures animals in their natural environment. Where did this love and appreciation of nature come from?

A: I grew up hunting deer with my family as well as fishing and skiing. One time when I was around 16 years old, we took an excursion through Montana and up through Washington and Oregon.

We camped in the Hoh Rainforest and I found a barred owl and was able to produce paintings from that experience. It was around that time that I began hiking in order to collect my own reference material. There were some rugged hills just to the west of my home, within Curt Gowdy State Park. Much of my material came from hiking those mountains with all the ponderosa pine and granite boulders. I think as kids, we all have a fascination with the natural world and I have never lost this fascination.

Q: You spend a lot of time outdoors and paint en plein air. Tell me about your process.

A: My process is fairly simple. I explore the outdoors and take recordings (photographs and paintings) with me back to the studio. Exploring the outdoors is the best part of the job.

The artwork is simply the result of my need to share how I feel about the outdoors and the inhabitants of those areas. Those inhabitants are our neighbors.

An idea in the studio may begin from something I remember from one of those field trips or from rummaging through photographs.

I may also have an idea that is purely from my own imagination and I then have to scour through my photographs to bring the idea to fruition. The field studies that I finish outside don’t contribute directly to my studio work, but they have greatly educated my mind’s eye.

Through that type of study, I am able to interpret my photographs in a way that hopefully brings more authenticity to my finished studio work.

Q: What is important for you to capture in your paintings? What do you hope to convey to the viewer?

A: I want people to appreciate what we’ve been blessed with. The wildlife that shares the planet with us deserves our respect and admiration. I certainly want to participate in the conservation of our natural world and I believe awareness and education are the key.

Q: Are there particular breeds of animals you prefer to paint? Are there any that are more challenging to paint?

A: I’ve probably painted more bison and elk than any other species, but I think this is simply because they are easier to find. I equally enjoy painting river otters, the big cats and the mountain dwellers as well as pronghorn.

Drawing is difficult and takes time to develop a mastery. I’m still working on it! Some artists use projectors to do their drawings for them and while it can be a tool, I really think they are taking themselves out of an important part of the process. This is the stage where you can set yourself apart from other artists.

To me, Bob Kuhn, Carl Rungius and Wilhelm Kuhnert were able to find individuality through their incredible abilities to draw.

Drawing is interpreting what you see. It goes through your eyes and into your brain, and through your arm to the tool you’re holding. So, when you let a machine do the drawing for you, there is no interpretation.

Q: What has been an important factor in your success as a working artist?

A: If it wasn’t for the patronage of collectors, artists wouldn’t be able to make a living.

Drawing doesn’t come easily and it’s only through repetition and time that one can develop that skill. It reminds me of how often I hear the comment, “You’re so gifted ... or talented.”

I know people are referring to the ability of being able to draw and paint, but the gift doesn’t lie in skill. Skill comes with time. The gift lies in the desire. So, I am indebted to the patrons of art that give us this time.