Craig Tennant's road to becoming a Western artist has been a winding one. But he wouldn't have it any other way.
The New Jersey native describes himself as a trial-by-fire kind of guy. "I usually dive in 100% and then see what happens," says Tennant.
In Tennant's early days, he debated about his chosen career path. In the end it came down to painting or joining the Navy. The fact that the U.S. military was embroiled in the jungles of Vietnam at that time gave painting the edge.
Tennant left New Jersey to study art in Florida. "The first year, some of the teachers brought out a lot of talent that I was surprised I had."
Up to this point Tennant says he hadn't taken his talent seriously. "I had mostly just played around with pencil." Before he could complete his art school education though, there was a curve in the road.
At the age of 19, Tennant left art school to work in New York at an advertising agency. "That was my schooling, working at agencies." He worked as an art director but calls it a massive pecking order. "No matter what I did it always got changed by the guy in the corner office."
Tennant then went back to his original talent - drawing - and became an illustrator. After struggling for a year, he was confident in his abilities.
"I was able to paint or draw anything that I saw, and it takes a long time to get that ability," he says. With his seasoned talents, Tennant decided the real money was in freelancing for agencies, not being employed by them. He worked for about 15 years as a freelance illustrator before the road curved again.
"When the stock market crashed in 1987, so did my job. A week later there was nothing to do," he says.
Within a year, Tennant declared bankruptcy.
New Beginnings "I asked myself if I have to start all over again what would I really like to do. It wasn't working on computers, and it wasn't working in New York. It was going out West."
As a child, Tennant was always drawn to the West and its image of cowboys and Indians. "I remember asking my mother if I had some Indian blood in me. I was looking for that connection."
So he liquidated everything and headed west to San Diego, CA, where he had family.
"Once you make lots of money and are successful in one area it's hard to leave, but the lack of funds made it really easy to start over," he says. "And, if I'm going to start all over, I'm going to do what I want to do and failure is not an option."
Tennant, with his can't-fail attitude, walked into a gallery in San Diego and told the owner he was an illustrator from New York and was going to start painting Western art.
"I was just lucky there were gallery owners who saw potential in me. They would send me the money and I would send them the painting. I didn't even have enough money to buy frames."
Horseless Rider Tennant started painting Native American art, but is making a transition to cowboy art.
His first Western painting was "Horseless Rider." The painting depicts an old cowboy lying next to a tree leaning on his saddle.
"I had never used oil paints before and I had never painted a cowboy before. I just picked up the paints and started. It wasn't until later that I considered the fact that I could have failed," he says.
Tennant jumped in headfirst nine years ago, and claims it's still the same technique he uses today.
He now works out of his home in Golden, CO, with his wife Cheryl. Tennant credits Cheryl for running the business side of things. "She has told me a million times, 'Just go paint. You don't even have to answer the phones.' "
Tennant paints six to eight hours a day and is excited about every painting.
"I think your painting style comes from your heart, your soul," he says.
Tennant's style has made him noted for detailed realism. His paintings are credited with capturing the story in print.
"Lost In Colorado" tells just that story. Striving to be the realistic painter he's known for, Tennant found a local cowboy and took him down to the creek behind his house.
"If I'm a realistic painter, I want to be as realistic as I can."
For more information on Craig Tennant's oil paintings, call 303/642-3286.