While most people dream of a life filled with creative expression, John Naylor of Cedaredge has lived that life as a professional oil portrait artist.And now that his portrait painting career has ended, John continues to fill his life with other artistic media and creative and entertaining pursuits while passing on his artistic skills to others in local art classes he gives.
Naylor grew up in Glenwood Springs where his father, a jazz musician, had moved the family from the Los Angeles area.
Originally interested mainly in architecture, Naylor’s interest in art was ignited when as a high schooler he entered a show that was judged by Jack Roberts. Roberts was a well-known western artist who had a small studio near Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon.
Roberts took an interest in the talented young Naylor and his work. He steered John to the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Roberts provided a key role model in his life, John says, “because Jack Roberts was making a good living at art.”
John studied in Chicago at the American Academy for four years, which became a 30-year stay in the City with Broad Shoulders as John pursued his career in art, taught figure and portrait drawing at the academy for eight years, and raised a family. And all the while there was all that great Chicago architecture to enjoy.
His daughter and son, now both in their 30s, were a key influence in his career as a portrait painter — it was his sketches, portraits, and pastels of them which got him started and led to a referral of his children’s portrait work from the American Academy. That opened the door for John to representation of his work by a regional art gallery in the Southeast United States. The gallery advertised in art magazines throughout the region. “Those ads really put my work on the map in the Southeast,” John says. “I always thought I had a good feel for doing children’s faces,” he said. “The gallery had a lot of children’s portrait business.”
Many of the portrait clients that the gallery enlisted for him had been making portraits of their family members for generations. “A lot of them were used to having this done,” John said. “Sometimes I would do the adults, especially the mother, along with a child. But usually is was a portrait of the children.”
When the gallery had lined up three or four commissions for him, John would travel “down south.” And then with his sketch books he would begin work on the portraits. He would work on a drawing of his subject and make notes on the sketch pad “for about half an hour, or however long they could sit still. It was a time to talk with the kids and get an impression of who they really were. Just being able to sit with someone for a half hour or 45 minutes while making the sketches and finding out what they were like was a big help. I also took photos, and the gallery also had photographers who supplied a lot of photos.”
The portraits were finished in his own studio back in Chicago. Naylor has kept an album with photos of many of the portraits he completed. He even has some of the sketch books. Sometimes the parents of his subjects wanted the sketch books for a keepsake, and John gladly complied. John estimates that he completed over 250 near life-sized oil portraits during his 20-year career.
The constant exposure to the chemicals and solvents that are involved with oil paints began to take a toll. “These were all oil paintings I was doing,” John says. “Eventually I started having some health problems —sinus problems — and I think it’s probably mostly from the paints. When the problems started, I tried to get a little better about using ventilation. But for the last four or five years that I was doing a lot of oil portraits, I had to wear an actual gas mask, and gloves too.
“Even still, it just finally got to the point I was doing less and less work and still having more and more sinus trouble.”
The gallery that sponsored his work and the clients who wanted their portraits painted wanted them done in oil paint, not acrylic, a water-based paint sometimes substituted for oils. “I asked the gallery about working in other mediums, but the truth is that I couldn’t do with other mediums what I was able to do with oils,” John said.
The health issues led to a diagnosis four years ago of chronic fatigue syndrome. That has affected all of his creative enjoyments in life. “I still like to do all of it, but I don’t do too much,” he says
In 2001 John moved to Cedaredge. During his first two years there he was still doing oil portraits. But the main reason for coming was to be close to family.
His mother lived in the community and his sister and brother-in-law, Judy and Dick Reinhard, live there now. Naylor’s nephew is Steve Reinhard who pastored the Cedaredge Community United Methodist Church.
The Methodist Church sometimes provides an outlet for John’s musical talents. He played clarinet in his dad’s band for several years. He still plays the guitar, composes songs and music, and occasionally performs. He has appeared in his church’s Broadway show fund raiser productions, and once he performed a set at the Cedaredge Country Music Jamboree.
John’s continuing interest in architecture is in evidence by the scale model replicas of high-rise buildings which complement the O-gauge railroad layout that traverses his living room floor.
The train layout is another expression of a creative personality, and it includes some rolling stock that John had when he was a kid.
The Eiffel Tower stands on John’s back porch. Actually it’s a scale model that John built from scratch using some Erector Set materials and standard shelving hardware.
John scaled a drawing of the famous Paris landmark and went to work. When the edifice reached 20 feet high he had to stop construction. The base of the massive monument would have added a third more height, as much steel as was already in the top two-thirds, and would have spread its supports too wide to fit on the porch. So the project sits, two-thirds complete, but an impressive effort nonetheless.
And, John will show you his architectural drawing of a bell tower (proposed) for his church in Cedaredge. He’s not sure the structure will ever be built. But the creative ideas keep flowing anyway.
And, of course, John is still an artist. He judged the Edge of the Cedars show one year. He conducts art classes in his home. His own painting has turned more to local landscape themes in mediums other than oil.
blog comments powered by Disqus
The creative flame has always burned brightly in John Naylor’s life, and it is burning very brightly still.