There are thousands of aspiring artists who would love nothing more than to give up their day jobs and paint full time. Jeffery R. Pugh does just that. As for his secret? “If I knew, I could write a book. I see friends struggling going through the same things I did – working their tails off, painting 40 to 50 hours a week. I distinguish who I am with painting and fortunately my work is unique. You’ll know it’s mine when you see it and won’t get it confused with others. People may not like it, but I’ve won a small battle because they’ll recognize me.”
Pugh took his first oil painting class at the University of Utah, where he graduated with a degree in painting and drawing. He started out painting part time while he worked and raised a family. He gradually cut back on his time at work to devote more time to painting and in 2008 he “took the plunge,” and quit his day job. He says, “It was terrifying. I had a child who was barely 2 and one on the way. We’d saved enough to pay the medical expenses and a couple of months worth of savings. I sold a painting the day I put in my notice and didn’t sell another for six months. I finally sold a large painting at Springville’s Spring Salon art show and that was the catalyst. After that I was never in the red again.”
Pugh was initially drawn to landscapes and the more he paints the more he adds to his painting. His father-in-law, Gary Ernest Smith, introduced him to painting with a knife, or trowel. He said his method was frowned upon by his professors at the University, but he says, “It felt like a part of my hand and was not uncomfortable for me.”
Finding “symbology” in landscape and rural scenes Pugh says “farm life is a way to express who I am and my life in my subject matter.” There is an element of numerology to his paintings He often includes 5 trees in his landscapes representing the five people in his family; himself, his wife, Julia and three kids, Remlee – 10, Benton – 7 and Bailey – 4. “If three represents my children in a painting it is not just a landscape but a way to express who I am what is going on in my life.”
Painting with a 1 ½ to 2 inch long trowel that most artists use only for mixing, Pugh says the technique has eliminated problems he ran into with a brush work. He lets the texture become the vocabulary of painting and he wants an observer to feel like they can reach out and pull some of the weeds.
Pugh says his style is not unique to him, “Pallet knife painting is not done by a lot of artists, there are maybe three others that use it as much as I do. When I do need a brush I buy them from Home Depot for glazing.”
As for his daily process Pugh says, “I have such a routine that it is embarrassing. I listen to sports talk for three hours then NPR and then music. I’m not too picky and I’m a huge fan of music. Unless its NYSYNC or One Direction I’ll give it a chance. I work from 8 am to 5 pm so I can be a dad first and foremost. During the early years of my daughter’s life I left for work at 5 am and got home after bedtime. I made a commitment to be there for my family.”
Painting full time and being able to adjust his hours to spend time with his family, Pugh says, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world. Any day I have a rough day and I don’t feel like painting I think to myself that I could be clocking in at my day job and be miserable, and I was miserable. But now I get to do exactly what I want and I feel so lucky.”
You can find Jeff’s work at the Meyer Gallery in Park City – 305 Main Street 435 649-8160 and at David Ericson Fine Art in Salt Lake City – 418 South 200 West 801 533-8245
Story by Connie Lewis
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