By Shya Beth
Joshua Smithson’s painting style can be described as humanist realist tradition. Striving to paint in a direct, realistic way without focusing too much on tiny, unimportant details, Joshua’s goal with each painting is to capture the spirit and soul of the animal portrayed. “Although I believe the eyes are indeed the windows to the soul, in terms of painting, I think the secret to capturing the soul is a perfectly accurate drawing,” he said.
Joshua is following a long line of painters who painted in a humanism and realism style that celebrates the spirit and places the artist’s subject at the center of the universe. Joshua credits this style to his artistic training in atelier settings—namely the year he spent learning from noted artist Nelson Shanks at the Art Student’s League in New York City. “Nelson was renowned for his expressive uses of color, but I would say my work is distinguished more by its subdued colors and tones,” Joshua said. “I was drawing from a very early age, and I dreamed of being an artist from the moment I started experimenting with pencils and paint.”
Joshua started to learn how to paint once he was in middle school, but high school was when his passion really ignited. “I devoured art books, especially anything having to do with Leonardo da Vinci,” Joshua shared. “Da Vinci drew the most beautiful horses I’d ever seen, and his monumental, unfinished horse statue that was completed hundreds of years later by sculptor Nina Akamu and installed in Milan, Italy, in 1999 is legendary.”
Dedicated to Art
Joshua was born in 1982 in Baltimore, Maryland, and lived there until leaving to attend college at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City in 2000. While he first interacted with horses as a child, he didn’t know they would become the focal point of his art as a full-time artist. Inspired from an early age by his uncle Bull, who is an artist, Joshua has been working exclusively in oil paints since high school. “There is something about the depth and tonal variations you can achieve with oils that no other medium can match,” he said. “I’ve had many customers in the past comment that I capture the soul and spirit of their animal, and I don’t think it’s possible for me to capture that ‘spark’ without oil paint.”
Although Joshua never owned a horse, he has always been fascinated by them and their place in history, as well as how being around horses can transform and add a new dimension to life. “I used to love riding them when I lived in New York City, while I was attending college,” he said. “It was a very meditative experience to ride and bond with horses.”
Historic depiction of horses has always been a source of inspiration for Joshua, and he credits Leonardo da Vinci’s work as his first taste of equine art; from there, the paintings of 18th century master painters George Stubbs and Jacques Louis David. In a time when you could not take photographs of horses, let alone colored photographs, they created masterpieces directly from what their eyes saw at that exact moment. “I feel lucky I have such high-quality photo references to work from,” Joshua said. “It makes painting so much more enjoyable!”
Joshua paints all of his portraits on fine Belgian linen, as it’s strong, sturdy and archival, and the portrait weave is excellent for gradations and paint application. As for marketing his work, Joshua’s goals are to grow his art business and his presence on social media, as well as in the horse world. Knowing the importance of not just art skills but business sense, he sets time aside every day to focus on promoting his work, whether that’s filming a crisp view of a painting being varnished or the final touches of the highlights being applied to a subject’s eye to share on social media, or working on his overall business plan.
Not Always Painting, but Always Creative
Joshua currently lives in Buckhannon, West Virginia, in a rural area surrounded by mountains. Away from the chaos of modern life, he paints and works toward his long-term goal of teaching realistic drawing and painting to students of his own. Joshua believes the highest calling is to be a teacher—as long as the teacher is competent in their abilities, allowing the students to have a strong foundation within their subject.
Painting and teaching may be Joshua’s main goals, but there is another layer to his creativity. “I also enjoy writing and film making,” he said. “I’ve written two books, and half finished another one—a science fiction novel and two young adult fantasies. If not for painting, I would probably express my creativity through those pursuits.”
Follow Josh on Instagram @joshuasmithsonart or email email@example.com