For oil painter Trevor Swanson, pursuing art as a career was less of a choice and more of a cosmic calling. Not only was it the one thing he felt truly comfortable with and passionate about doing on a daily basis, but it ran in the family — his father, uncle and great grandfather were all well-respected oil painters in their own right. “I grew up in a family of artists; it was a tradition passed down,” Swanson says. “I tried different things but always grasped on to oil painting. And I was always hiking and chasing animals, so the nature theme really spoke to me.”
After he found that art school wasn’t a great fit, what didn’t come naturally was taught to him by family members. And after several attempts at other careers, he always fell back on art and has since been painting for 28 years.
Today, at any one time, Swanson has six to eight pieces in the works in his studio. “If I’m not inspired by one thing, I can move on,” he says. For him, inspiration typically came about in the painting process, adding three to four layers of paint using a wet-on-dry technique. However, a few years ago, the artist found inspiration in something else: a new technique and medium that caught him by surprise, suddenly taking him in a new creative direction.
Swanson’s friend was looking for a creative way to cover an air conditioning unit from the outside. “He built the metal structure and challenged me to make it artistic,” Swanson explains. “That’s how I discovered different people creating patinas to use on steel. That is when the inspiration hit that I could use this for more than just that project.”
Swanson began to play around with creating patinas on steel, a chemical oxidation process typically used to color bronze sculpture. “There’s something really different about the amazing colors you can get from using acid on steel,” he explains. “It took me about a year to really figure it out because it’s an organic reaction that I don’t have a whole lot of control over. It would either rust out because I left it on too long, or I wouldn’t leave it on for long enough.”
After dialing in his technique, Swanson began arriving at colors that could work as the perfect background for his wildlife and landscape art. After sealing the finished metal, he then uses it as a canvas of sorts. “The background colors come from nature, it’s very earthy,” he says. “It’s almost like two paintings in one. It’s a totally unique structure to then paint over.”
This alternative media, with the use of metals and a departure from traditional oil painting, also shifted his work to a more contemporary palette. “A lot of the painting is still traditional,” he says, “but with the metal, this goes more into the world of contemporary art.”
Swanson has been painting successfully for many years now, and his traditional wildlife paintings are represented by a list of well-known galleries. He has also participated in SCI art events for much of his career, and will attend Convention this year with both traditional paintings and his newer mixed-media works.
In the end, Swanson is still driven by the painting process and the nature he chooses to portray, but he feels that he has also opened to door to another creative pathway. “I love my animals and nature, but I wanted to present it in a different way,” he says. “I’ve tried watercolor and pencils, but this gave me a different avenue of expression. What I’m producing now, and what I’m doing, it’s my passion.”–Corinne Garcia