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Ray Hill: Artists still prowls countrysides for nature paintings

By Jill Osborn

Many starving artists so passionately desire to have a career in their craft, but so few are able to financially survive by solely selling their artwork. Ray Hill, however, is not a starving artist. “It is something that if you can make a living off of it, it’s great. Art is one of those things — if you are working it doesn’t seem like you are working. You appreciate that others appreciate the work that you do,” says Ray.

After taking one look at his work, it is no surprise why folks enjoys Ray’s talent. The lines he paints on a white farmhouse are so straight as well as measured out to astoundingly accurate proportions. The bumps in a tree’s bark and winding limbs on a swaying tree appear as though you could touch the grains of the old worn oak. The various shades of white and grey displayed in the rolling clouds that Ray paints on a blustery day are so precise, an observer may believe they can actually feel the chill on his or her face.

The detail in Mr. Hill’s paintings leaves one awestruck. Since he was a boy, Ray loved to draw. “I missed half of my education during the elementary years by doing bulletin boards for my teachers. I was also always painting backdrops for plays.” Ray’s father painted signs, back when they were hand-painted and not digitally printed. Ray remembers playing with his father’s brushes. “There’s a degree of talent because he would do it free-hand and I remember using his paintbrushes and paint when I was a kid.”

As Ray grew up, he decided to pursue an education with what he believed might hold more practical applications.

He attended the University of North Carolina in Greensboro for a formal education in business and economics. However, his true passion kept tiptoeing out at night and on the weekends. It was during those off times, Ray drew. “I started just doing commission work,” Ray recalls, “and began doing etchings.”

When one etching would become popular, Ray would reproduce the etching and paint it with water colors. He would reprint these into a mass production which enabled him to make money from his beautiful artwork. Ray was soon picked up by Salem Graphics who distributed artwork for twenty-five artists.

From there, Ray took off. Corporations, such as R.J. Reynolds asked Ray to contribute to their private corporate collection. Integon Insurance, also asked Ray to contribute to their Christmas card. “Each year, they would select an artist to paint a church and they would have the artwork used on their Christmas card.” Bank of America and First Union National Bank were among some of the other bigwigs asking Ray to add to their corporate collection of fine art. Some of his work ended up in places like the Midwest or Texas.

“I enjoy seeing where the different types of artwork fly,” adds Ray. “For instance, you could draw a line below North Carolina and pretty much all snow scenes will sell above that line. Etchings sell in the Gulf Coast. Most beach paintings sell along the East Coast. Most mountain paintings sell in the mountains.” In addition to the corporate paintings, Ray also contributed to architectural designs. Architects would give him two dimensional prints with descriptions of the various buildings.

With that, Ray would generate a regular painting or drawing that would show what the building would look like after it was built. He also created renderings for two real estate companies. “The Realtors would use my drawings of all the homes they had for sale. They would use it for the newspaper ads and as a gift for the new homeowners.” Before retiring, Ray also taught local classes and held private lessons through senior citizen locations. “I just had interest in people learning art and learning to draw.”

Now that he is no longer teaching, Ray loves to paint what he really enjoys — nature. One might often find Ray up near Wilkes County finding a farmhouse to draw, or a grouping of trees. “It gives you a connection with nature. I start with sketches and I do preliminary colors. If I like that, I will do a full size painting.” Ray is known for catching emotions in his paintings. He likes to paint farmhouses that have one light glowing from a window. He likes to catch the emotion that dawn brings.

“You do it because there is something in it that attracts you. If it’s the sun rising, you want to share the emotion you have when you see it. You could drive by an old farm house everyday and may not ever notice it, but if you see it hanging in an art gallery, people’s eyes will light up and they will say, ‘I noticed that because I’ve driven by that farmhouse, but I’ve never really looked at it.’”

Our neighbor’s paintings encourage people to stop and look at the beauty surrounding us. Beauty we might take for granted.

What a wonderful reminder.

“Your Neighbor” is a feature by Jill Osborn. If you have a neighbor everybody should know, reach Jill at jill.n.osborn@gmail.com. Also follow her blog on parenting at MuchAdoAboutMothering.com/