Story by Michelle Baker

Known locally for his equestrian pieces, artist J. Douglas recently won recognition for his stunning works at the national level. Douglas received the award for Emerging Artist of the Year in the annual Art Comes Alive (ACA) contest.

By working with artists from around the United States, Art Design Consultants, Inc.(ADC) of Cincinnati, Ohio creates beautiful environments by providing art consultation services, archival-quality framing and stunning artworks for clients. As one of the nation’s leading full-service art consultation companies, the ADC staff know great art when they see it. The company also celebrates the artists and the work they do in an annual contest.

Art Comes Alive honors the brightest and best artists working in North America, in a variety of fine art categories. This year, the competition recognized more than 200 artists and chose J. Douglas as the male Emerging Artist of the Year. The female artist who is relatively new to practicing art was Penny Treese.

Artist J. Douglas

We caught up with Douglas recently to learn more about his award and the man behind the brush. 

ML: What does this award mean to you?

JD: Awards are nice to get but they do not define me. This award, on the other hand, was given to me because of my losses and victories through the years. It means a great deal because it says that I am back and am accepted by my peers as an artist.

ML: What’s your background?

JD: I’ve always been in art in one way or another. Print shop artist, portrait artist, art director, owning my own commercial arts company and then the final art… martial arts. I started in art professionally in 1976 as a portrait artist. I came to Salamander Resort & Spa in 2014 after losing my 20-year-old martial arts school in Leesburg. 

At the time I came to the resort, I was preparing to become a police officer. I was only supposed to be at the resort for two months, maybe three, but then Ms. (Sheila) Johnson started buying my art, asked me to have a three-month solo art show (that became a five-year art show), asked me to sell my prints, note cards and even a children’s coloring book. So I stayed at the resort and told the police that I was a full-time artist. It’s the best thing that ever happened for my art. My wife said, “You’ve been fighting your destiny your entire life. Now destiny has finally won.”

ML: What was your inspiration for “Destiny”? How did it find a spot at Salamander?

JD: I was asked to create a painting for the front desk area of the resort by Ms. Johnson. While I was creating it, they put another one up there instead of mine. Then, it was supposed take the place of the big white horse next to Gold Cup Wine Bar. I was still finishing up the painting when they chose to put the giant mirror up in that location. I was starting to wonder where I would end up but, to my surprise, the spot they choose has beautiful lighting both day and night. The other spots do not… that will be our little secret.

(Above: Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg is the perfect location for the stunning painting “Destiny” by J. Douglas. The painting captures Paul Estermann, a Swiss Olympic equestrian, riding Lord Pepsi. Courtesy photo.)

I completed a 16×20 inch painting at the Washington International Horse Show in D.C. in 2016. I manned the booth for the resort during the show and painted each day for hours. When Ms. Johnson saw my painting at the end of the week, she said, “That’s it! That’s the feel and emotion I want in the big painting you are creating!” I was originally asked to create a polo scene and was struggling to find the perfect photo for a reference. To this day, when ever asked, Ms. Johnson tells people that it’s her favorite painting in the whole resort and that makes me smile.

ML: What art or artist do you identify with?

JD: I first started oil painting full time after seeing Henry Asencio paint at a gallery in Alexandria, Virginia. I bought all of my supplies that week and started my oil painting career. One year later, he came back in town for a demo at the same place. My wife told him how he inspired me to paint. Since then, we have become friends and talk regularly about our art projects, highs/lows and dreams. I try to paint loose like him, but I slide back into a tight style. It’s a constant struggle to stay loose. 

ML:  What themes do you pursue? What is your dream project?

JD: I love to paint the human figure. Both sexes, all sizes and ages. I just love the human form. Out of protest I painted a few horses because of my wife’s request in 2010 and I surprised myself. I really enjoyed painting horses. So now I still paint my portraits and figure work, but my horses have taken my center stage. My dream project? I’m doing it every day. I’m painting.

ML:  What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

JD: At the moment, I am a server and bartender at Gold Cup Wine Bar in Salamander Resort & Spa. I have worked almost every job imaginable in the commercial art world. I’ve taught art in groups. I still teach privately.

I started Taekwondo in Alice Springs, Australia in 1970. In 1997 I opened Tiger Claw Taekwondo in Leesburg and we had a wonderful 17 years of touching the lives of the students we taught. My black belt degrees are, 6th degree Taekwondo, 4th degree Gumdo (the sword), 1st degree Hapkido and trained as a body guard for 10 years.

ML: What memorable responses have you had to your work?

JD: There are three big moments in my art career that come to mind.

One, people see one of my creations every day on the road. I created the Parrothead license plate for the state of Virginia, and got to give Jimmy Buffett his very own license plate back stage before one of his shows.

Two, for a few of the Olympics I was the artist for Grandma Luge and the US Virgin Island Winter Olympic team.

But, the most amazing response was from my wife, Cindy, when I gave her a portrait of her two children right after we met. It brought her to tears and the memory still gives me goose bumps.

ML:  Favorite or most inspirational place (in Virginia)?

JD: That’s easy… our home on the side of the Blue Ridge Mountains just off of the Shenandoah River. Makes my wife and I say “ahhhh” every day. My studio is there in our home.

ML: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? 

JD: People say, “I wish I could paint as good as you” and I respond, “I wish I could paint as good as I will in five years.” If you want to be good at something, you have to be willing to start. Not just dream or wish. Start at the beginning and be willing to fail over and over. One day, you will look back after years of training and say, “wow, I did it, and it was worth the work.” Whatever it is you want to do, you have to start and know you won’t be good for a while. No one came to me at my martial arts school and said that they wanted to be a black belt the next day. They would ask how they could become a black belt and I said, “start and then don’t stop.”

ML: Professionally, what’s your goal?

JD: I love working at Salamander Resort & Spa but some day, I would love to just be creating art. That won’t be any time soon but, until then, I will simply keep painting and learning to further my craft.

ML: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

JD: While interning with two artists in Dallas, I was told if I wanted to have an advantage in the art world, learn to draw people. A lot of artists cannot draw people. Then, they said learn to create portraits because most artists that can draw people can’t do portraits. Once you master the portrait, you can paint anything. So I became a portrait artist. Oh yeah, and an equestrian artist.

The artists were identical twins named Ron and Don Adair. They were the official artists of the John Wayne Estates and created numerous paintings of John Wayne that were used for United States postal stamps.

Bonus: Another advice that I didn’t take – My Mother called one day and said, “J, your horse paintings are so beautiful. Why do you have to do the nudes?”  I replied, “Mother … that’s why I got into art.” She has never brought it up again. ML

This article first appeared in the December 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.