Wandering the Halls: Ryan Kirby, a hunting dude’s artist

We’re going beyond the halls with this NWTF employee and into the exhibit hall of the NWTF National Convention, where you’ll find Ryan Kirby this week, showcasing and selling his wildlife art.

Although I benefit from Ryan’s talent as a graphic artist for Turkey Country, so much of his creativity goes beyond designing magazine pages. He’s a multi-media phenom — from lifelike illustrations to cartoons, Web pages to paintings.

When I asked him what paint color he’d be, he answered burnt sienna. “It’s the most versatile color I use,” he said. Well said. He’s the NWTF’s burnt sienna too. We use (hopefully not abuse) his abilities to their fullest extent on a daily basis.

Ryan Kirby has donated artwork to the NWTF since he was 14, which was like three years ago. Just kidding. Ryan may be young, but he’s accomplished a lot in his 20s. The NWTF selected him as the 2010 Stamp Print Artist. You may have bid on his work at the NWTF National Convention or at Hunting Heritage Banquets in South Carolina or Illinois.

I, for one, feel exceptionally inadequate when I watch him work and see what he creates. But I don’t let it get me down. ‘Cause I know when the TV and magazine reporters come calling, I’ll be the first in line to talk about how I knew him before he became famous. Yes, folks, he’s THAT good.

Read more about him below, then stop by booth #349 in the exhibit hall and take your turn at feeling inadequate. It’s nothing a little retail therapy won’t cure. Ryan is giving back to the NWTF 10 percent of what he sells at the convention, so you’re helping yourself, Ryan and the NWTF’s mission with your purchase.

Not going to the NWTF National Convention? Then check out www.ryankirbyart.com. Helping two out of three ain’t bad.

OFFICIAL TITLE: graphic artist and illustrator

JOB DESCRIPTION:  I work within our team of designers to layout Turkey Country magazine and produce other materials for print and Web. I also create illustrations for a bunch of other projects throughout the year.

NWTF EMPLOYEE SINCE: I left for a brief time then came back, so almost six years over two separate stints. (Ah, the NWTF’s prodigal son…)

WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU CAME TO WORK FOR THE NWTF? I was in college. This was my first full-time gig right out the chute.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB? The people I work with are great. We’re pretty brutal messing with each other, and that’s fun. But if I had to pick an actual work assignment, it would be illustrating hunting scenarios for the magazine. That and illustrating Tom Kelly’s humor column at the back of Turkey Country. I like projects where I’ve got a lot of freedom to be as creative as I like.

WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE PART? Leaving a deer stand or the turkey woods to come to work on a weekday.

FINISH THIS SENTENCE: I USUALLY SPEND MY LUNCH BREAK…working. It’s lame I know, but most of the time I eat a sandwich at my desk, and I’ll work on putting together my next painting composition or something like that. If I really need a break, I’ll head behind the office to the archery range and sling some arrows at the 3-D bear target. I’ve put a hurting on him this year.

Ryan on his painting, Boys Night Out: “This was one of my favorite paintings, mainly because of the freedom I took in portraying the foliage. Most of the evening light is coming from behind the deer and lighting up the tree line in golden light, while their velvet racks are catching a lot of blue from the sky directly above them, highlighting their impressive headgear. These two late summer bucks are enjoying one of their last evenings together as buds. Soon this turf won’t be big enough for both of them, and they’ll go their separate ways in search of ladies. I’ve still got the original and, this year, made it my first edition of 100 signed and numbered prints.” You can win one of the prints by stopping by Ryan’s booth (#349) during the NWTF National Convention.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ALTER-EGO, THE PAINTER: Well, because I’m working the NWTF full time, most of my painting is done at night and sometimes on a weekend. I typically start a painting session about 7 p.m. and paint until I’m mentally cashed out. I’ve found it’s not about the quantity of hours you log, but the quality of the time. I also try to use the time I’m hunting to gather new ideas for a painting. I’ve typically got a camera and sketchpad in my hunting pack. I also read a ton and study other artists for technique and inspiration.

HOW DO YOU GET IN “THE ZONE” TO PAINT? Going to the gym after work helps clear my head and put my workday behind me. I need a clear head to work. It’s intense creative work and takes a lot of mental clarity, so I do everything I can to stay healthy and happy to avoid burnout.

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST? Carl Rungius (1869-1959). He was a true outdoorsman and excellent artist. He’d take a sketchpad, easel, canvases, paint and hunting gear to the remote parts of Alberta and work while hunting. My favorite story of his career is from a moose hunt. He sat down to paint a remote landscape one fall while on a hunt. Rifle at his side, he would occasionally throw out a cow call. About halfway through his painting, he heard a bull answer, and as he got close, Rungius put down the brush and picked up his rifle. The moose kept coming, walking right into the scene Rungius had been painting, where he dropped the bull on the first shot. He showed me how to combine hunting and art into a single career — there’s no need for them to be separate.

Livin’ on a prayer and a Z-Pack

I’m staring at my external hard drive.

It’s cold, silver and seemingly lifeless, with the exception of an occasional blip of a green light, telling me that it’s still doing its job of storing information.

Good thing, since I feel like my brain is on overload right about now.

I’m not delirious, at least I don’t think. I’ve been fighting a sinus infection for the last four days, and I think the antibiotic is messing with my head. Maybe it’s nerves. Either way, the hard drive is capturing WAY too much of my attention.

It’s the day before the day before the NWTF National Convention officially starts, but I’m already at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. My butt is planted on the (quite comfy) sea foam green couch in the production suite, sifting through agendas, scripts, videos, graphics and PowerPoint presentations.

Months of work done by no fewer than two dozen people sits on an external drive that’s about the size of three packs of Trident gum stacked side by side. I hold it in my hands like Gollum grasping the ring, afraid to give up control of the gigabytes of information nestled in the belly of my silver … square … PRECIOUS sidekick.

I slowly, cautiously let go of each file, into the hands of a more-than-capable production crew. I trust them. We were a great team last year, and no doubt this year will be just as great, even better! My anxiety comes from the fear that I’m not prepared, though I’ve done my best to be.

Ladies of the night (functions) —Krystie O’Brien (of Krystie O’Brien Productions), Rachel Heitzer (OVATION) and me making shows happen in the big, honkin’ ballroom in the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center in Nashville. Just so ya know, we took this pic from far away because it was 10 p.m., after a really long day. No one should have a close up that late… Plus, you get to see the Delta Ballroom as a work in progress! Neat-o!

If you’re coming to Nashville this year and attend any of the evening functions or breakfasts, you’ll see the cumulative efforts of what goes into producing live shows. It starts with ideas from NWTF staff members. Then makes its way to the NWTF communications department where it becomes scripts, videos and background images. I collect all the elements and provide a sort of map or schedule, putting them all together in a somewhat cohesive manner.

By the sound of it, I’m not much more than an information courier, when in fact it’s a large load to bear. Every brain cell is wrapped around some detail of the next several days.

And now the day has come to pass it off to the people who give it life in video and sound, from camera operators and teleprompter operators to sound technicians and stage managers. The NWTF brings in professionals from across the country to make each show worth the price of admission.

You rarely see the production team, but that’s the point. They’re the backstage genies who made our onstage wishes a reality.

In the next few days, I will morph into a member of the production crew, not fully sure of my role, other than to be the detail Sherpa. I know that it’s Mitchell Johnston, spelled with a T, and not Johnson. That MidwayUSA is not supposed to have a space between the Y and the U. That Ashton Shepard is playing two songs per entertainment break. It’s not Bakersville, but Bakersfield, Ca.

Perhaps each of those details seem minute when standing alone, but, to me, each one is a very important detail that makes up the NWTF. And when there’s like a bazillion of them to keep up with, I start to feel pretty darn useful.

But nothing beats when those details come together in a fun night for our volunteers. I can’t help but feel proud to be part of the team that made it happen.

Lights. Camera. We so crazy.

When someone walks in my office, plops down in one of the chairs and stares at me with a grin, I know he or she is looking for a favor.

That’s exactly what Josh Fleming, the NWTF’s public relations manager, did a couple weeks ago. And the odds were high I was going to do whatever he asked, because:

A) I’m an extremely helpful individual.

B) I’m a pushover who chokes on the word “no.”

C) I’ll do just about anything, except for endangering my child, eating live bugs or swimming in an underground lake. (That’s some scary stuff.)

Josh was “casting” a couple commercials to promote the upcoming NWTF National Convention and Sport Show in the Nashville area. The ad would run Jan. 23 through Feb. 12 on several major networks, like CMT, ESPN and Fox News. He promised fame, fortune and the chance to wear camo to work. (One out of three ain’t bad.)

That’s part of the fun of working at the NWTF. You have no idea what’s going to be thrown your way on any given day. And these commercials were no different. I’m not a professionally trained actress, which will be painfully evident if you click on the second video link, the one with the people in the break room. But we had a good time, and it was a nice diversion from office work.

If you don’t live near Music City and won’t be at our convention (tisk, tisk,) check out these stellar performances on YouTube.

Then consider writing to the Screen Actor’s Guild about the untapped talent in single-species conservation groups.

So you’re in the know, the guys in the first video are Chris Piltz, NWTF special events coordinator, and NWTF TV producer Joe Mole. Chris wants everyone to know he’s actually a good turkey caller. And Joe wants everyone to know he didn’t share spit with Chris. (It was a camera trick.)

In the second video, you have NWTF graphic artist Ryan Kirby, Turkey Country Senior Editor P.J. Perea and little ol’ me. The aforementioned Josh Fleming plays the working stiff. This commercial won’t actually be on network TV for reasons unknown, but I’m not bitter…

The NWTF convention of my dreams

Most every NWTF employee has a National Convention alter ego. What I mean is what we do in Nashville for that week in February (and the weeks leading up to it) is different than our daily jobs.

Take me, for example. Everyday job: Turkey Country editor. Convention job: Live show production.

I serve as the liaison between the NWTF and the professional company we hire to produce the live stage shows. I’m tasked with gathering all the elements for the programs in the Delta Ballroom — scripts for the presenters, images and information slides that pop up on the screens, videos, stuff like that.

My favorite part is picking the music that plays while everyone is milling about or eating dinner. I’m a suppressed DJ, so this is about as close as I’m going to get to spinning rad tunes for a large group of people.

Once I get to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, I rarely leave the cavernous backstage, with its painted black floors and walls, thousands of buttons, miles of cord and a dozen or so screens that go along with the production of our events each morning and evening. I wear a trail in the ornate hotel carpet between my room and Delta Ballroom, only deviating to grab a slice of pizza or Diet Coke.

Very few national conventions come with their own cave, unless you’re a bat or vampire … or work backstage. This year, the turkey folks get one, thanks to the BLM. Don’t miss out on the fun — above or below ground. Register for the NWTF National Convention and Sport Show at www.nwtf.org.

But being backstage is kinda fun. A lot of action takes place once the shows are in full swing. You watch the bands up close, see the sweat beading up on the presenters’ foreheads, listen in on the stream of talking from the production staff as they cue lights, video, cameras.

My only regret is that I rarely see the rest of the convention, since I’m holed up Boo Radley-style for most of the week.

Every year, I have the best intentions of dropping in on a calling contest, auction or a seminar, but it never seems to work out. I finally made it to the exhibit hall on Sunday afternoon last year, only to grab a t-shirt from Turkey Shoppe, then I was on the road back to Edgefield.

I often daydream as to what I’d do if I ever attended convention as a participant getting my turkey on with other volunteers from across the country.

Here’s what I’d do this year …

I’d rock the Roost. I’m a big kid, so I gravitate to anything hands-on. For those who don’t know, the Roost is an area of the exhibit hall that’s geared toward kids and families, with a ton of activities for the youngster in all of us. This year, the Bureau of Land Management is bringing its indoor cave all the way from New Mexico. I hear it’s massive, like 43-feet-long, 12-feet-high and with three chambers complete with dripping water and cool breezes. You can explore underground wildlife and rock formations without the creepy feeling the earth is going to close in on you. I’m down with that.

I’d be a marathon seminar goer. I’d run the gauntlet of women’s classes on Friday — make a survival bracelet, do a few feather crafts, learn a little more about outdoor photography. Then I’d hang with the hunting experts on Saturday and harvest a few tricks and tips from Michael Waddell, Eddie Salter and Brenda Valentine.

I’d catch the fun vibe at the Ladies’ Luncheon and Auction. If I had a dime to my name, I’d bid on stuff, but what really draws me in is the girls-just-wanna-have-fun atmosphere. I saw pictures of the regional directors from last year’s hoorah, many of them dressed as has-been rockstars and washed-up hippies. Who knows what they’ll do with the theme: Pioneer Women — Trailblazers of Conservation? Any bets on who’ll wear a bonnet?

I wouldn’t miss the Winchester Veteran’s Breakfast. Even backstage last year I teared up at the moving series of speakers, videos and parade of vets recognized for their service. And I even KNEW what was coming next! I’d probably be a blubbering mess if I watched from the audience. No napkin or tablecloth would be safe from the waterworks.

I’d mosey through the exhibit hall. I would take my time and see what’s new, cool and waiting to grace my turkey vest. I’d catch up with friends in the industry and snag a bag of those cinnamon pecans that just smell so darn good.

I’d have a pedicure at Relache Spa at the Gaylord, because my feet would be exhausted from taking it all in. A girl can dream, you know…