Mike Simpson’s early career as an artist attracted recognition through his accurate, highly detailed pencil sketches of the contemporary working cowboy.
In the 70’s, with encouragement from Ed Runci (a former Coca Cola girl illustrator turned professional oil painter), Mike began to work in oils. His subjects also changed, enlarging to landscape, particularly that of the cowboy-in-context. During this period, Mike had further help from Joe Beeler, founding member of the Cowboy Artists of America.
Mike is no stranger to the West and it’s lifestyle. From cowboying on one of the west’s largest ranches, horse back packing in the Rockies, being a lease agent on the Crow Indian Reservation, to running sled dogs in the Colorado high country in the winter. Mike not only lives in the West, Mike lives the West, and that is what he paints, the West.
Respect for technique and generosity toward influences are characteristic of Mike’s comments about his work. Largely self taught, Mike has relied upon mentor’s advice to develop his talent. “In past years studying with Wayne Wolfe and Ralph Oberg, widely known their landscape and wildlife artist respectively, has been a real help in getting me to understand what to look for and how to relate what I see to canvas or paper when I’m painting outside.”
Confident of his increasing maturity in handling both oils and watercolors, he says “I finally learned about some of the things I was having trouble with before. The painstaking style I used was really tiring, and I couldn’t seem to loosen up like I wanted to. Now, whenever I am having difficulty with a subject, I remember what Ed Runci told me. ‘Just paint the color and shape of the tree, not all of the leaves, and it’ll be a tree’ meaning to forget all the little detail. One time he even took all of my little brushes away and broke them up in a fit of frustration. In turn he bought me some bigger ones and taught me how to use those.”
When not in his gallery/studio, Mike can usually be found out painting on location, gathering reference material for future paintings or merely “living the West”.
“Using watercolors for their transparency and loose suggestive qualities or oil paints for their opacity, texture and quality of brush stroke, I paint the people, places and things of small town, rural America. From the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains, to the towering grain silos of Kansas or the small adobe casas of New Mexico, to the fishing boats in a marina on the Northern California coast, the cowboys of Montana, the bewhiskered bikers of Sturgis or the girls on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, they all have a story.
With my painting kit I travel the backroads and by-ways of America, often on my motorcycle, seeking out the character of my subjects and capture it using the effect of light, shadow, shape and value.”
Mike is a signature artist of Western Colorado Watercolor Society, Plain Air Painters Colorado, New Mexico Plain Air Painters, and a member of the National Watercolor Society, Oil Painters of America, and The American Impressionists Society.