'I didn't have the guts to become an artist, I had the ignorance' is how Jack Sorenson describes the start of his tremendously successful 25-year career.

'As soon as you announce you're going to be an artist, anyone who doesn't want you to starve says, 'Now that's a nice hobby but you need to get real.' I heard that a lot, but God gave me my talent and I was afraid of facing him one day if I didn't use it,' he says.

Sorenson thinks it's egotistical calling his talent a gift, but he says that's how he feels. 'It's like a preacher being called. It's what I'm supposed to be,' he adds. Sorenson would also be the first to admit he's been lucky as well.

In The Beginning Sorenson grew up training and breaking horses on his father's Texas ranch. But he always knew that wasn't what he wanted to do.

He's drawn longer than he can remember. The first paintings he sold were what he calls 'horse portraits.' He started out asking some cowboys his dad knew if he could paint their horses.

He became good enough that he was offered a scholarship to a four-year university, but decided it wasn't teaching the kind of art he wanted to learn. So he forfeited his scholarship and made a list -- a list of all the artists that he liked and starting calling them one by one.

'Most artists are pretty generous about sharing what they know,' he says.

A dominant influence and mentor was Dord Fitz, the former head of the art department at the University of Kentucky. 'It got to the point that I relied on him to critique everything I did. And every artist needs someone to critique their work,' Sorenson says.

He continued breaking horses after he got married in 1975, but soon he was painting full-time. The deal with his wife was simple: 'If I can't make it as an artist within a year, then I get a real job.'

A Foot In The Door Sorenson was giving paintings to his father-in-law to pay off debts. His father-in-law was taking the paintings to a local art gallery to be framed. That's where fate stepped in.

'As luck would have it, they had just had a falling out with their top Western artist. So they picked me up,' Sorenson says.

Eight months and 23 paintings later, Sorenson had his first show. It was a sellout. With characteristic modesty, Sorenson credits some of his success to the record wheat harvest that year.

Since then, Sorenson has completed a painting per week, and he sells a painting a week. Altogether, that 'nice hobby' his relatives warned him about has enabled Sorenson and his wife Jeanne to raise five kids with Jeanne staying at home.

His Style Attention to detail and strong story lines are Sorenson's trademarks.

'In painting you see the whole picture all at once and that sudden impact tells you whether you like it or not,' he explains.

'Cattle Call,' featured on the cover of this issue, was inspired by actual events. The inspiration came during a horse seminar where Sorenson saw a cowboy using a cellular phone while on horseback. But it wasn't until he heard Eddie Arnold's song 'Cattle Call' that the story started to paint itself.

'I believe great paintings should tell a story -- they should involve the viewer. So much of Western art today is basically a cowboy or Indian riding through Western landscape. We have the opportunity as artists to do so much more. I hope my paintings give people a connection with the West. If I can trigger some emotion I've succeeded.'

Sorenson who still lives in his hometown of Amarillo, TX, paints six days a week, 10 hours a day and never works on more than one painting at a time.

He says he's never satisfied with his work. An artist's knowledge, he explains, is always one step ahead of his or her ability. That's why, Sorenson says, he only paints with oil. 'You can paint over something 50 times,' he quips.

BEEF readers might recognize Sorenson's style. His art has adorned six covers of BEEF over the past seven years. He's also had covers on more than a dozen other magazines.

Original Jack Sorenson paintings are available from Joe Wade Fine Arts in Santa Fe, NM, at 505/988-2727.