Heroes, Dogs... and Hero Dogs. From Canvas to Cover for the August, 2017 Cover of Outdoor Life

Heroes, Dogs... and Hero Dogs. From Canvas to Cover for the August, 2017 Cover of Outdoor Life

A lot of great wildlife artists have come before me. 

I would even call them heroes. I don't want to be overdramatic, as they didn't save any lives or end hunger, but they did change the world for the better. The created. They contributed. They inspired. They put themselves out there, giving the world their best work. Many of them painted for Outdoor Life magazine.

Back in the day, before digital photography changed the way we see the world, artists were called on to bring scenes from the outdoors to life in print. Carl Rungius set out to paint the big game of the Canadian Rockies, hunting and studying these animals in order to paint them for the Museum of Natural history. Tom Beecham painted numerous Outdoor Life covers in a style that became legendary. Bob Kuhn made a living early in his career illustrating for outdoor magazines and established himself as one of the greatest of all time. On and on it goes. 

Which is why it's an honor to have my name on that list. Recently I worked with Outdoor Life to bring our fourth annual fine art cover to life, this time with a twist. The previous three featured white-tailed deer, the king of North American game. This year's cover features the king (or queen) of sporting dogs, the Labrador retriever.

The August issue is about man's best friend - the most loyal hunting companion many will will ever know. Inside this issue are tales of loyalty, heroism, grit and drive ... on the part of the dogs. So for the cover, the team at Outdoor Life and I worked hard to create an action-packed cover to honor the dogs that fill the interior pages.

One advantage of creating a scene on canvas is that we can literally stop time, manipulate the scene the way we want and tweak it if it's not quite right. After mocking up the idea with pencil sketches and getting the green light from the crew at OL, I turned to our friends Matt and Tracy Markland and their yellow lab, Deuce, for help with a reference photo. Matt spent a March evening tossing dummies in the air for Deuce to leap after while I snapped pics from the ground. Afterwards, I worked in the pheasant from another pic, manipulated them to get the composition right for the cover, and then set to work painting in my studio. 

I even painted the main cover blurb, "Hero Dogs," at the request of OL's creative team, to give it an extra hand-crafted touch. We hope you enjoy this year's August cover. It's created by hand, each and every step of the way, for you, the readers of Outdoor Life. It's truly #WildlyOriginal. 

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1 comment

Hi Kirby. We purchased your Labrador pencil sketch at SEWE this year. Do you have any others?

Jeff Valko

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