With an impassioned interest in “capturing the expression, attitude, and spirit of wildlife,” artist Tom Mital creates exquisite oil paintings of birds. Based in beautiful Bend, Oregon, Mital finds inspiration in his local landscape, where wild animals are ample and nature is everywhere. While the artist has always been interested in observing and depicting fauna, he has become increasingly fascinated by Bend's birds, his preferred subjects and main muses.
Each painting features a detailed depiction of a bird in its natural habitat. In addition to capturing the expressive personality and unique aesthetic of each figure, Mital also pays close attention to texture, as evident in everything from the birds' feathers to the branches and birdhouses they're perched on. To Mital, the subjects' surroundings play a prominent role in each composition. “With each new painting, I try to gain a better understanding of what I am painting,” he explains,” the importance of accuracy in depicting a particular subject, how it relates to it’s surroundings, and creating the correct atmosphere and setting.”
We recently had the opportunity to to speak with Mital about his beautiful bird paintings and experiences as a wildlife artist. In our interview below, the artist discusses his inherent interest in animals, describes the details of his artistic process, and, of course, explains which feathered friends are his favorite.
As a painter, what first inspired you to focus on wildlife as your subject matter?
Well, from an early age I’ve always had a love of the outdoors and a fascination with wildlife. To go out, be present and a part of the animals' habitat, to encounter and observe their behavior and to just see what they do is super cool. Nothing beats getting out and watching firsthand, the anticipation, possibilities, and just being there. If I can get some good reference photos that’s great, too.
Similarly, you note that for the last few years you've turned your attention to birds indigenous to Oregon. What draws you to these animals in particular?
Here in Bend, we are surrounded by a lot of natural beauty. The forests, mountains, lakes, and rivers all provide great backdrops and settings to observe birds and other wildlife. What draws me to them is the variety, beauty, different personalities and behaviors of the birds themselves. I just find them fascinating, fun, challenging to paint, and, they can fly.
Which bird has been your favorite muse?
In general, I would have to say birds of prey, but specifically it has to be owls. There is something silently fierce about them. I think of them as majestic, powerful, fearless, regal, and great hunters. To me, they are beautiful to watch and when you hear their calls at night that’s something special. They own the night.
You work from photographs that you've taken yourself. How do you go about capturing these photos? Are there any specific locations you visit in hopes of encountering birds?
First and foremost, luck has a lot to do with it. After years of actively seeking and observing wildlife you develop a keen eye. Being aware, really taking in your surroundings, listening, and going to locations from past experience or inquiring about some all increase the chance of encounter.
I do have locations I visit at certain times of the year that create greater possibilities for capturing birds on camera. I have also had the pleasure to visit raptor rehab facilities, fish hatcheries, and sometimes, just by accident, I’ve managed to get a great shot just traveling about. Sometimes you can get a great shot right outside your door.
Do you consider photography another artistic passion of yours? Or are the photos you take simply intended as studies for your paintings?
The photos that I take are simply intended as studies and reference for my paintings. It is important as well as critical to the success of any piece that I compose to have the best visual “help” I can get to depict each subject accurately.
Each of your paintings depicts an astonishing amount of detail. How long does each piece take you to complete?
I get that question a lot. I don’t necessarily keep track of the hours but each piece takes a lot of time and work, some much more than others. Each painting has its own set of challenges, has a learning process. It takes great patience, but getting there and how you go about it is what it’s about.
In addition to wildlife, is there any other subject matter you'd like to explore in the future?
At this point in my life I feel that I still have so much to learn and explore as a wildlife artist. I would like to continue on this path and look forward to improving my skills, knowledge, and understanding of all things wild.