To look at the paintings of Greg Scheibel, the way he captures light and the variegated beauty of the outdoors, you would assume he had years of formal study. However, except for a handful of workshops to establish the fundamentals of painting, he has never had a formal art education. Greg credits self-study, the wisdom and experience of other artists, and hours of practice for his painting ability and success.
While Greg says he has been drawing since as long as he can remember, he never went to art school, nor did he attend college. His first career was in a construction and drywall business, started by his father in the early 70s. His eye and his mind, however, were always on art, whether he was collecting it, reading about it, or creating it.
“[Art] was something that was just within myself. I’ve always liked to create things, whether it’s drawing or painting or woodworking,” he said. “Even in the drywall business for that many years, to keep it interesting, I had to look at it as creating something, even though you’re just making the walls white. But I think for my own sanity I had to look at from a creative process, and I was accomplishing something other than just doing a job.”
As a boy in Minnesota, Greg spent a lot of time outdoors and always remembered having a pencil in hand, drawing things that he saw in outdoor magazines or in his back yard. In 1973, his father moved his business and his family to Bozeman, when Big Sky Resort was being developed. As he got older, Greg began to work in the family business, hanging drywall in some of Bozeman’s most beautiful areas, but he also kept drawing and began “dabbling” in painting. And finally, with the encouragement of friends, he began painting en plein air.
“It helped having a little background in the drawing when I started to get serious about painting. And when I started painting outdoors, I just really took to it. Because you could combine that sort of passion for art and being outdoors into one. And it was difficult. I really wasn’t very good at it for quite a while,” he said. “But a lot of it is about just getting out in the field and spending a lot of time out there and trying to figure out the light and the shadows and nature and try to portray it.”
As he continued in the family business, becoming partner and eventually taking over, Greg found he had more time to get outdoors and paint, and the more he painted, the more he wanted to do it. Eventually, he felt confident enough to participate in a small art show, where he was well received both by collectors and other artists.
“That made me think maybe I could get a little more serious about this,” he said.
Soon after, Greg began to sell his work in a few galleries, including Montana Trails. Maria Abad of MTG said Greg’s work was something special from the beginning. “Greg was a customer and a friend, but we knew his paintings would be a wonderful addition to the gallery. So, we were thrilled when he became part of the MTG family,” said Maria.
Meanwhile, Greg was still running the drywall business, and construction was booming. But he began to feel that he needed to make a choice between the business and his art, because neither of them were getting his proper attention.
“I felt that I either had to go back and just really hit it hard, full-time in the drywall business, or go the other route, which was a really tough choice. I had a couple of kids of junior high age at the time and, financially, it was a hard call to make. But my wife Tracy was very supportive, and I figured ‘what the heck?’,” he said. “So, I rolled up the business and started painting.”
Despite the subsequent economic downturn, Greg was able to make a living by painting and selling his work. While he definitely approaches painting as a job, he said it’s a far cry from the body-punishing work of the drywall business.
“After almost 30 years in the drywall business I know what real work is, and this really isn’t it. I mean it is work and it’s challenging for sure, but it also kind of feels like permanent vacation and my retirement plan,” he said. “If I am painting outdoors, I always have a fly rod in the pickup, and those are the places I like to paint. So, maybe I spend a couple of hours painting and a couple of hours fishing, and I come home and work in the studio for a while. It’s not a bad gig if you can pull it off.”
While Greg spends much of his time painting outside, he also spends a lot of time watching and thinking about the landscape, the movement, and the light, and then envisioning it all on canvas.
“I think a lot of outdoor painting is observation and just really looking at things. If I am outdoors, I look at things as if they were paintings, like a scene, and maybe how you would rearrange things -- whether it’s a bend in a river -- to make it a little better composition,” he said. “If you think about the direction of the light and you’re painting outside, you have to think about it, because it is moving all the time. Shadows are changing, so you have to give that a little bit of forethought when you start something.”
Once he gets to the studio and “attacks the canvas,” Greg finds that thoughtful simplification and editing are a vital part of the process.
“There is so much information in the landscape that a lot of it is a matter of editing out what you feel is unnecessary. And I think every artist will approach that a bit differently,” he said. “And those decisions that you make, that’s a big part of the process; how you approach it intellectually, rather than any specific kind of brush you use or palette knife. That’s almost
Greg is as thoughtful about the way he presents himself within the art community as he is about how he creates art. He wants to encourage and support other artists, appreciating their unique styles and approaches, and be appreciated for his own work and perspective.
“It’s very easy to get competitive in this business. I found, for myself, that it’s better to hope the best for everybody out there -- rather than look at it as competition -- and be happy for other artists when they are selling,” he said. “[I want to be seen as an artist] who understands the outdoors and has taken the time to learn how to portray it in my own way.”
By Kim Weeks
Copyright Montana Trails Gallery, Inc 2022