SUTTONS BAY — Chris Smith isn’t your average artist.
Surrounded by works in progress in his basement studio, the 41-year-old Suttons Bay resident works every day from seven to five to make a paycheck, to put food on the table for his family. It’s a job he’s held for nearly 20 years, a labor of love for the life-long outdoorsman.
He works mostly in oils making paintings of wildlife and dogs on a commission basis, something he’s been doing since graduating from Lake Superior State in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and wildlife management.
It’s his work ethic that this month helped the painter win the 2014 Michigan Duck Stamp Contest and the Michigan Ducks Unlimited Sponsor Print of the year contest.
“I learned how to make money at this the hard way,” he said, his tan painting shirt littered with a melange of colors near its shoulders where he wipes his brushes. “God gives you a talent and wants you to explore it, to use it.”
Smith’s entry won the latest contest sponsored by the Michigan Duck Hunters Association and will be reproduced on the organization’s annual duck stamps and a limited number of prints. They are the stamps, which until a handful of years ago, were handed to every duck hunter in the state who bought a license. Now, the licenses are electronic and hunters who want one for their collection must order them from the association.
They are the same stamps that nearly three decades ago began to inspire Smith toward his career.
He still can remember his first hunting license, one with a stamp, that he wore at 12 years old in a plastic pocket on the back of his orange hunting vest.
But, it is the encouragement from family which pushed the young artist to make a career of painting wildlife.