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Danny O'Driscoll with his painting of yellowhammers and pink camellia.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Danny O'Driscoll with his painting of yellowhammers and pink camellia.

For artist, studying was for the birds
Best of Show winner says he never got lesson with brush, had much to learn about animals

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com 340-2395

When Danny O'Driscoll says studying is for the birds, he means it — literally.

The winner of the Tuck Stone Best of Show Award for the Southern Wildlife Festival claims he's never had an art lesson in his life.

"It's just God-given talent," O'Driscoll said, standing in front of his acrylic painting of two yellowhammers and a pink camellia, the state bird and flower, respectively.

His booth is filled with dozens of works for which his livelihood depends, but two charcoal drawings he drew as an 8-year-old seemed to give him the most pride Friday night.

The cardinal and hummingbird were hardly the equal of his current works but they reveal the rare ability he had as a child.

"All I ever did as a kid was draw. I did it all the time. Really caused problems at school," O'Driscoll said.

But talent will only get an artist part of the way to make a living at it, he added.

Studied animals

Though he never studied art, he said he must study animals — their anatomy, characteristics, personality, habitat, everything that makes them tick.

"That's what really gives you a step up in this business, when you know something inside and out," he said.

Only O'Driscoll, 55, didn't open any textbooks or enter a classroom. He mostly watched the animals in zoos.

He spent five years as an artist at Riverbanks Park in Columbia, S.C., painting animals that helped educate the public on what they saw behind cages. He then spent five more at a zoo in Houston, Texas, before becoming an independent artist at 30.

He said the zoos were the best education he ever received. "I never knew anatomy before then, but I do now."

25 artists exhibiting

O'Driscoll is one of about 25 artists exhibiting at the 26th annual art show and sale at Calhoun Community College. The show continues Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Besides artwork, attendees can visit with live birds of prey, get tips on cooking wild game and watch demonstrations by wood decoy carvers both days. On Sunday afternoon, there also will be a retriever dog demonstration at 3:30.

The featured artist of the year is Larry Chandler of Hartselle, a three-time SWF Best of Show winner who died last March of pneumonia.

This was O'Driscoll's second Best of Show here, having won two years ago with his chickadees gathering on daisies.

He said his inspiration for the yellowhammers was merely never seeing the woodpecker portrayed at the show, which he thought odd considering it's the state bird.

The scene, a male and female feeding on bee larvae embedded in a fence post, however, was taken from first-hand experiences.

"I've put up a lot of fencing and found where these woodpeckers had been pecking away trying to get at the larvae. They'll just ravage a cedar post," O'Driscoll said. "I've gone to treated lumber now."

Buyer appreciates detail

The painting sold months ago to Doug Shoemaker, a retired Solutia engineer whose Decatur home has long displayed O'Driscoll works.

"It's the quality, the amount of time and the details, the accuracy," Shoemaker said, describing why he's drawn to O'Driscoll's paintings.

"Anything he does, he is so focused on accuracy."

O'Driscoll qualified for best of show by taking first place in the painting feathers category. The remaining ribbons were as follows:

  • Painting, feathers: second, Martiena Richter, great horned owl; third, Dustin Curtis, bald eagle.

  • Painting, fur: first, Liz Scott, wolf; second, Corey Carlson, October Dawn; third, Beverley Newton, wolves.

  • Painting, general: first, Odessa, butterflies; second Steve Burney, box turtle; third, Joey Newton, magnolia blossoms.

  • Carving and sculpture: first, Harold and Bettie Huie, kestrel; second, Dan Brueggeman, pheasants; third, Euyless and Aurora Holcomb, meadowlark.

  • Photography: first, Mike Segarski and Kay Benedict, warbler; second, Steve David, eagle; third, Reggie Kemp, butterfly.

    26th Annual Southern Wildlife Festival

    What: Art show and sale featuring about 25 artists from across America; duck decoy competition; wildlife cooking seminars; birds of prey and retriever dog demonstrations.

    When: Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Where: Calhoun Community College.

    Cost: $3 for adults, $2 for students and senior citizens; free for children 6 and younger.

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