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John Urban Captures the Wild World in Paint

Though he drew endlessly with pencils and charcoal as a child, though he took many art classes and graduated from high school with art honors, Anderson Artists Guild member John Urban relegated art to a hobby when he went to work in manufacturing. “I didn’t like manufacturing,” he said. “That’s just what I thought I was supposed to do. Everything I enjoyed went to the wayside.”

He worked at Westinghouse in Sandy Springs for seven years as a machine operator, forklift driver, and inspector. After losing his job when the place closed, he spent 10 years at Michelin in Greenville. “There was a lot of stress,” he said.

A lifelong volunteer firefighter, he jumped when an opportunity opened up 10 years ago with Anderson’s city fire department. These days, he mostly drives the truck, and the 24-hour shifts (usually over 10 days a month) leave plenty of time for painting.

His passion for painting was reignited in 2000 when he attended Charleston’s Southeastern Wildlife Expo, where 100 wildlife artists sell their work. “That trip changed my life,” he said. “I stayed in the room all day and examined every painting. I didn’t want to leave. It lit a fire in me.”

Since then, he has invested in learning. One experience—which he has repeated twice—involved a week-long workshop on a game farm in Montana. The participants would spend the morning photographing wolves, bears, and mountain lions and the rest of the day painting and receiving critiques.

The last workshop he took—“Sculpting with Paint” taught by Greg Beecham—involved using texture.

Urban works in oil and is transitioning from a realistic approach to one that is more representational. This involves painting abstract shapes that look realistic from a distance. “Now, instead of copying every hair, I look for shapes,” he said. “I’m trying to paint looser and quicker instead of being so technical.”

He has set and conquered a series of goals, including getting into juried shows and then winning awards (including six purchase awards). His next goals include getting into the Southeastern Wildlife Expo and gaining gallery representation.

Right now, he’s selling his work via Facebook and Instagram. The last painting he did, a landscape completed in four hours plein air style, was intended to be a study. But when he posted it on Facebook, the first person who commented ended up driving here from Atlanta to purchase it.

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