Bart Nelson’s lifelong love of nature inspires his paintings
Bart Nelson has enjoyed creating art ever since he could first hold a pencil.
“I was always drawing and eventually began painting,” he says. The walls of his home are filled with his work — portraits of elk, turkey, and pastoral scenes, framed and displayed with pride. A mounted bull elk head hangs over the stacked rock fireplace as the centerpiece of his man cave art studio, where he does most of his painting. Other trophies from hunting trips line the walls, offering inspiration for his artwork.
Two easels flank Nelson’s television, each holding a canvas. The subject of one of those pieces in progress is one of his favorite things to paint. “I really like turkeys,” he says. His eye is drawn to the shapes and vibrant colors of the bird.
He keeps the easels near the TV because, in addition to creating new paintings, he is often updating his “finished” artwork. “If something bothers me, like if it looks too light or too dark, I will take it off the wall and touch it up. It’s hard to keep satisfied,” he says.
Nelson has been a lineman for North Alabama Electric Cooperative for 22 years. “This is the best job I’ve ever had,” he says. His art has always been a hobby for him, as well as an outlet for stress relief and an escape.
“It kind of takes me to a different world. It always has my whole life,” he says. “It makes you dream of other things.”
Nelson grew up in Ladds Cove, Tennessee, watching his father paint, and when he finishes a painting, he usually takes it to show his dad. Luther Nelson, 83 years old, still paints every day. “It’s in our DNA,” the younger Nelson says. “We like to paint the same type of things. He was always painting, and I watched him, and it made me want to do it, too.”
Growing up in a rural setting also nurtured his love for wildlife portraiture.
“When I was small, my daddy spent a lot of ‘worried time’ hunting for me in the mountains,” particularly along the creek where he often played, he says. “I always loved the beauty of nature.” Nelson’s favorite seasonal scenes to paint are snow and fall landscapes.
The majority of the time, Nelson keeps his paintings. Friends sometimes ask him to paint something specific for them, and he does so, but he says he doesn’t sell many of his paintings. Still, his talents have been on display. He was commissioned for the cover art of a book, “The Wolves Loved Him,” and his drawing of a Spanish cowboy on a horse was published in a lifestyle magazine in Tennessee when he was a teenager.
His creative process begins with coming up with an idea. “Sometimes, that’s the hardest thing to do,” Nelson says. He spends time watching YouTube videos and looking at books to find inspiration. When he sets his mind to something, he will draw out the subject on canvas and then begin painting.
“I use photos, but mostly it’s out of my head. The more detailed stuff I draw first and go from there,” he says. A lot of times, he will paint a scene of somewhere he has traveled to, and then add an animal or a cowboy. He almost exclusively works with oil paint.
Nelson spends time continuing his education by watching other artists work, and he especially enjoys the work of wildlife artists Chuck Black and Ryan Kirby.
When he isn’t painting, he likes to take hunting trips out West and play the guitar. His favorite music style is Southern rock. “When I was a kid, my grandparents played old country and bluegrass on the radio some,” he says, and they all had such a good time listening together, it made him want to make music, too.