Former engineer pursues his love of art full time
By Andrea Brunty
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With the encouragement of fellow artists, Doug Smith of Decatur decided to put down his drafting tools and pick up a paintbrush to pursue his lifelong passion of art.
In January he requested a layoff from his job as a mechanical engineer at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant.
“A few people were a little shocked, but I’ve always had the compulsion to draw pictures,” he said. “Even at work, I would turn technical work into art.”
Though he began drawing as a child, Smith, 62, never took a lesson “which may be a good thing, because I’m not a clone of a master,” he said. His mother, who also lives in Decatur, paints and inspired his creative side.
“In third grade, Walt Disney was my hero,” he said.
Now drawings of the original Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and friends are in his possession to sell, thanks to fellow art lover and collector Tony Greco of Pennsylvania.
Switching from the right brain to the left brain comes easily to the creative artist and precise engineer in Smith, but “art isn’t relaxing to me,” he said.
You can see the tension in the excruciating details of his work.
“It’s pretty tense — enjoyable, but tense,” he said.
One of the pieces Smith painted for the upcoming Decatur Public Library art auction took him several weeks to complete. It is inspired by Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Though the frog rests on a rock in the corner, the fluorescent blue, green and orange hues jump off the vibrant canvas.
A paddle boat float flows fluidly on the river, water rippling beneath it. The engineer used his drafting skills in the design program AutoCAD to nail the exact coordinates of the egg-shaped circles.
Smith lived in Decatur in 1973 and, though he moved around the country to work at various nuclear power companies, he returned to Decatur 20 years later because “I love it here,” he said.
Smith, who is originally from Dallas, Texas, started out as a mechanic, then became a technician and enlisted in the Army. While serving, Smith flew former President Lyndon Johnson by helicopter for three years “from Hawaii to as far east as South America,” he said. An opportunity to study mechanical engineering, another passion, on the GI bill led him to Texas Tech University.
Now the artist who says he never lost his childlike desire to draw pictures is following his passion through transparent watercolors.
“There’s a goldsmith and a tinsmith and blacksmith — why not a watersmith?” said Smith.
“I’m just loving doing it,” he said. “It’s my love, my life, my pursuit.”
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