In a workbench tool cabinet in Mike Bennett’s garage are pictures of places and things in nature, some which he has seen in person, others he has simply collected over the years.
Staggered throughout the garage are paintings in various stages, some on easels, others stacked in piles like leaning doors or windows readying for sale in a hardware store.
He opens a drawer that reveals an orderly assortment of trinkets, pictures, old slides and postcards, and pulls out a plastic bag of pictures of landscapes that look like they could have been taken in an expansive open countryside somewhere in Montana or Wyoming.
“This would be an example of something I might use later,” he says, flipping through some pictures, some of which appear slightly grainy or yellowing, as though they were taken some time ago. “Some of these are places I’ve been. Others, like these,” he says, shuffling through some pictures of various wildlife, “I just keep so I can use them sometime.”
Bennett enjoys painting scenes that capture an area he’s been to, or is inspired to someday visit. The inspired paintings tend to be embellished a little: an object that appears in the left side of an actual photograph — a tree, a bear, a woody — might end up on the right side of his artistic rendering if he feels it looks better in the painting that way. Maybe a tree, or a bird, or two — or more — might pop up in a scene that might have been not as interesting without them.
Sometimes paintings can take a few months to complete, since some oil paintings require several layers and need to have paint dry in between applying different layers, he says.
Since he was in junior high school, Bennett, an art teacher who lives in Beaumont, has been recreating scenes of landscapes, places and people with his paintbrush. He’s painted portraits of famous people, and completed several commissions for postage stamp designs in foreign lands. Some of his designs are used as artwork for jigsaw puzzles.
Towards the end of summer, he was invited for the first time to auction original artworks on Art & Coin TV show, “Fine Art Showcase” with Barry Chappell and Claire DiTusa, which bills itself as a program that features “museum-quality signed original art, lithographs, silkscreens, etchings, sculptures and handmade glass from around the world.”
Since his debut on national television Aug. 25, he has had 17 original works exhibited via TV and Webcasts of the program. His first successful auction piece on the show, “Guardian of the House,” sold for $3,200.
Bennett, 56, has a bachelor of arts in studio art from California State University, San Bernardino, and now teaches art at Mesa View Middle School in Calimesa.
He tends to favor “realism,” a concept that he felt was frowned upon by his professors while he was in college.
He’s been a busy and prolific artist, churning out works in oil and pastel — over 1,000 paintings and sketches in his lifetime, he guesses.
Some of his portraits have been autographed by those who inspired them.
“I would have a general idea of what they like,” he says, “and then I’d send them a couple of originals and ask them to keep one they like as ‘payment,’ and autograph the others and send them back,” he says. His signed collection includes portraits of Elvis Presley, Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne.
Bennett says he’s had a tough time breaking into the art scene in the Pass area, and his hoping to move back to Spokane, Wash., where he owns a second home on a range, where wildlife roam and visit his home there frequently. Spokane also seems to have a thriving art community with a lot of support, he says.
He designed the postage stamps of president John F. Kennedy for the country of Maldives, selected after submitting his designs through IGPC, the Inter-governmental Philatelic Corporation.
“A lot of smaller countries don’t have a government postal agency that designs stamps, so they go through IGPC,” he explained.
He was also picked to design the book covers for a couple of books: a series of three books of The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, and Nicholas R. Cataldo’s “The Earp Clan: The Southern California Years.”
He’s in the process of writing a few books, as well: one about Abraham Lincoln, another on Gen. Patton; and yet another on an instructional book, “How to Produce Fine Art,” which will include step-by-step processes of how to do a painting.
Examples of his work is available online at www.mikebennettart.com , and a link to a site that sells his and other artists’ works inspired as jigsaw puzzles can be found at www.elmspuzzles.com .
“Painting and drawing has been part of my life from my early days in elementary school when I watched the first TV Art instructor, Jon Gnagy work wonders on TV with three shades of chalk creating two sketches in a half hour program,” he says. “When I finally met him in 1966, my first dream had come true. I have a my first finished sketch framed in my house and autographed by him, because he had instructed me along with five other students at the May Company art department in 1966.
“Painting relaxes me and allows me to escape into worlds that only some people can do through imagination alone,” he says. “I can leave behind lasting impressions of my dreams, hopes and plans, so that my children and their children will have something to reminisce about.”
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