The Road to Success

Curt Walters started his
demonstration painting along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
by lightly indicating the
placement of shapes.

By all measures, my friend Curt Walters is one of the most successful artists in the country, certainly among artists in the Western United States. He has won almost every major award given in juried competitions, including the Prix de West (organized by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, in Oklahoma City), and he was recently the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Eiteljorg Museum, in Indianapolis. But none of this happened overnight, and in fact Walters was rejected for 20 years in a row when he was first considered for the Prix de West exhibition.

I mention this because all of us can learn something from Walters' hard work, determination, and resilience. He could have given up on his dreams years ago, and no one would have blamed him, considering his success was being thwarted by some very influential artists. But Walters believed in himself, trusted the opinions of people who recognized his talents, and continued to improve his paintings until he finally came to be called the "greatest living Grand Canyon artist" by Art of the West magazine. He works just as hard today as he did when I first met him 30 years ago and featured his paintings in the June 1980 issue of American Artist. He continues to share his knowledge and enthusiasm as he did in the cover story of the April 1998 issue of the magazine, and we're again featuring him on the cover of one of our magazines, this time on the winter 2009 issue of Workshop, where we follow him during a recent workshop on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

M. Stephen Doherty

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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

3 thoughts on “The Road to Success

  1. This is a great reminder that success is 95% hard work and perserverence.The other 5% often comprised of connections, networking and a dash of luck can’t really be counted on, but hard work pays off.

    20 years of rejections from the same competition has to be hard to take without giving up!

    I also found your statement …”He could have given up on his dreams years ago, and no one would have blamed him,considering his success was being thwarted by some very influential artists” very telling.

    Artists are so often very giving and generous but it’s no secret that as you rise in the ranks there is infighting and cliques of influential people just as in any other business or industry. That’s why this post is such a necessary reminder to believe in yourself and cultivate a small group of trusted associates to help you along your way.

    Curt Walters has my deep respect not only for his fabulous paintings but for the strength of character and inner fortitude he has cultivated throughout his career.

  2. Curt’s persistence is more than admirable, but it is his insistence that all of his paintings be of the highest quality which puts him head and shoulders above the rest. And on top of that, he is a genuinely humble and generous person.

  3. Thanks Steve for this example – somehow it’s comforting to know that even the best artists had to work really hard to get where they are.

    The point that keeps getting driven home, at least for me, is that the better our artwork is, the more likely we are to succeed, and so much of our time needs to be spent on raising the bar in the way of quality – which takes a lot of time, education and effort, but is so worth our efforts.

    Thanks for the reminder through Curt’s experiences. And thanks to Curt for hanging in there and contributing to beauty through his artwork.