A passion to paint wildlife
Artist Chris Smith knew early on where he was headed. By Bob Gwizdz
Photography by Coreene Kreiser

When he was in high school, Chris Smith was a hotshot baseball player. The scouts were coming around. And then a bad-hop grounder changed everything. He took one in the left eye and lost much of his sight in it. When it became apparent to the doctors that the situation was not going to improve, Smith had two questions.

“The first thing I asked them was whether I could still paint,” the 46-year-old father of two remembers. “And the next was whether I could still shoot a shotgun.”

Even as a teenager, Smith knew who he was an artist/sportsman.



 

Born in Saginaw to a school teacher/sportsman — who ultimately went into magazine publishing — Smith moved to Traverse City as a senior in high school where his dad headquartered his publishing enterprise. He became a northern Michigander and never left, attending Lake Superior State University and settling in Leelanau County.

“I was one of those kids that was an artist in high school, but I didn’t want to go to art school; I was informed by several wildlife artists not to,” said Smith, who was a fish and wildlife major. “I didn’t want to spend years painting flowers and nudes. Well, some nudes.”

Smith had begun selling illustrations to publishers while in high school and college, and soon, he was painting covers for his father’s magazines — Pointing Dog Journal and Retriever Journal — and the light bulb went off; he put an ad in his dad’s magazines as a canine portrait artist featuring a couple of his cover works. He soon garnered commissions.

“If I could do nothing but wildlife for the rest of my career, I would be happy,” he said. And so would the wildlife art community. Smith’s renderings have graced conservation prints almost since he started, and he appears to be getting better at it. Smith won the state of Michigan’s duck stamp contest in 2005, was chosen to paint the state’s Ducks Unlimited print in 2009 and 2014 and has gone on a recent tear, winning the state duck stamp contest in 2014, 2016 and 2018.
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