ALBANY – Sometimes the best laid plans take a detour. Sometimes you just have to make a leap of faith. In 1992, David Lanier was working as a successful commercial artist. Then two paintings would change the direction of his life.
Lanier had the credentials; he had studied commercial art and mapped a course making a living as an illustrator. The majority of his work revolved around doing artwork for advertisements and illustrating books and magazines.
Then Lanier did a small painting.
“It was a pair of canvasbacks. It was a small painting,” the artist recalls. “We still have it over there at the house. Georgia Ducks Unlimited saw it and asked if they could make prints of it. It was Rhett Island Canvas Backs. It featured the Rhett’s Island Wildlife Management Area over near Brunswick in the background.”
They gave him a stack of artist proofs, and he really didn’t know what he would do with them. Shortly after, Quail Unlimited contacted him wanting a print, and he worked with them to produce one. They gave him the artist proofs, and he and his wife Cathy Lynn were faced with the dilemma of what to do with a growing collection of prints.
On a leap of faith, they decided to open Plantation Gallery as a way of trying to sell his prints along with other sporting art.
“As an illustrator, I didn’t even know this market existed,” Lanier said. “This world of wildlife art and its ties to conservation; I guess I was naive or sheltered. I didn’t know that world existed.”
Lanier grew up hunting and fishing. This background has served him well as an outdoor artist. He knows the subtle details that bring a scene to life. To say he has an eye for detail is an understatement. The details in the background of his works are as crisp and detailed as the subject in the foreground.
“I just tell people I paint the way I see it,” he said of his style. “Some people say you have to have an artist’s filter in your brain and paint with big brush strokes to suggest trees, leaves and things in the background. But I see the beauty in the details. The grass that surrounds the dog in the field to me is just as beautiful as the dog itself. I want to capture that relationship between the background, the natural habitat, and the subject.
“Fortunately, I have the hands and eyes that can reproduce that on canvas. Some people don’t, and that is one reason they might choose to paint a looser interpretation of the scene. Others just want to hurry and get on to the next painting.”
Today Lanier has a backlog of about a year and a half without throwing in his own work. He generally likes to spend nine months of a year doing commissions and spends the remaining three months working on his own compositions. Most of his works are acrylic; however, he has worked in oil and says he enjoys the medium.
Lanier is also generous with his time and talent. He has been commissioned to do numerous paintings for the Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Unlimited, and obviously for Ducks Unlimited. This is no small contribution.
As an example, Lanier painted “Chocolate Sunrise,” depicting a chocolate Labrador Retriever sitting in the foreground with the sun rising across the water in the background.
“I think they printed 5,000 of that painting,” he said. “I would go to Memphis and sign them before they framed them. I think those prints averaged $220 at the chapter auctions. So even if that was just $200, that print raised $1 million for Ducks Unlimited. It’s real fulfilling to see your work raise money for what you love, knowing I helped raise that and 80 to 90% goes into conservation efforts.”
Although Lanier loves what he is doing, he acknowledges that 75% of the works he undertakes would be something he would be painting anyway.
The artist said he is grateful for the financial security provided by his commission work. However, he says he thinks every artist has a point where they wonder, “What would happen if I just painted my own creations?” And even with an established reputation in the world of sporting art, Lanier admits to, “sitting on pins and needles” while waiting on a response once a patron receives their painting.
“It would be nice to just sit down and paint what I wanted to paint every day and know I could still make a living,” he said. No counting out a second leap of faith.