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When he was in first grade in Tennessee, Samuel K. Dunlap used crayon to draw a clown on the wall of the bedroom he shared with two brothers.
“We’d drawn the clown in class that day,” Dunlap said.
To avoid trouble, he signed it “Wayne,” his older brother’s name.
The artwork caught the notice of his mother, but in a positive way. She saw artistic talent and bought her son a chalkboard and chalk, encouraging him to draw.
“So she fostered that,” Dunlap said, noting he began drawing horses they had on their farm.
At age 6, Dunlap drew his first pastel which depicted a horse and bunny. He also completed his first oil painting, a snow scene created on the back of a paper grocery bag.
Unbeknown to him, his mother saved those works. Those pieces of art now hang in his Elizabethtown home.
“I didn’t even know she kept those until she passed away,” he said.
After attending the University of Tennessee, where he studied advertising art and design communication, Dunlap attended a private school, later joining a public relations firm. Ultimately, he opened his own advertising agency.
But Dunlap said he always was interested in the fine arts side of art.
Now, at 65, Dunlap creates commissioned works in his Elizabethtown home.
“I’ve been concentrating and waiting on the time of my life to do this kind of work,” he said.
At his home, Dunlap sits in front of his easel on which rests a canvas with his rendering of a young girl. He adds color to the painting, using a photo as his guide.
Dunlap paints portraits, figurative works, animals and pets. The latter, he said, are the most popular subjects.
“People love their dogs,” Dunlap said. “They’d have me paint their dogs before I paint their children.”
Other best-selling works in Kentucky, he said, are those that depict University of Kentucky, University of Louisville or Western Kentucky University mascots.
Dunlap has painted his fair share of portraits. In addition to other portraits, a painting of his wife, Lisa, and paintings of his daughter, Erica, fill his living room.
“I can paint her with my eyes closed,” Dunlap said of his daughter.
On the other hand, the artist said he still hopes to one day be able to “master” his wife’s face. He doesn’t feel he captures it just right.
“I think it’s because I’m too close to her,” he said.
Dunlap said he enjoys painting portraits and capturing the expressions and personalities of his subjects.
“You can see an individual through their eyes,” he said.
The most critical thing, and the biggest challenge, when painting a portrait is achieving a likeness to the subject, he said. That’s what people expect.
Working primarily in acrylic and oil, Dunlap has studied the masters. He has created paintings based on works by John Singer Sargent, Amedeo Clemente Modigliani, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh. For the latter, Dunlap reproduced “The Starry Night,” which he thought would be relatively easy but proved otherwise.
“Man, alive, I will never do another one of his,” he said.
It isn’t just replicating a Van Gogh that provides a challenge; a certain medium does, too.
“Watercolor just tries my patience,” Dunlap said.
Dunlap’s favorite artist, “just to look at,” he said, is Sargent.
“He paints like I want to paint,” Dunlap said.
In the future, Dunlap hopes to do mixed media works and sculpting.
For now, he is happy selling commissioned works, which cost in the range of $200 to $5,000. In fact, he said he had wished he’d known earlier in life that what he’s doing now would make him so happy.
“This is what I’ve been working for all my life,” he said.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at 270-505-1743 or email@example.com.
To find out more about Elizabethtown artist Samuel K. Dunlap, find him on Facebook at facebook.com/dunlap.samuel.k or go to samuelkdunlap.blogspot.com. To view his works for sale, go to etsy.com/shop/SamuelKDunlap.