A commercial pilot turned realtor aspires to one day soon work full-time as an artist.
But, admittedly, the concept of painting for a living had not even crossed Bryan Coombes’ mind until six years ago.
He and his wife Melissa had bought a home in Murrayville, and Coombes didn’t like the IKEA-style prints he felt he needed to fill their large new empty walls.
He saw a cool concept where a friend splattered some large canvases with paint, invited his children to seal the prints with their handprints, and then hung them as the primary art in their home. Coombes thought he should give it a try, and headed off to Opus art supply store in downtown Langley. Dumping $500, he came home with a variety of art supplies.
He and his two daughter never did tackle that handprint canvases for their home, but Coombes started painting in earnest.
“I just started moving paint around,” he recounted, noting he watched YouTube videos, read art books, took up photography, and started attending painting demonstrations and workshops.
He had always heard great things about local artist Murray Phillips, and was inspired by his work. Coombes hoped to one day enrol in one of his classes. As time passed, though, the opportunity never arose.
Then, as fate would have it, Coombes ran into Phillips at a local grocery store, introduced himself, struck up a conversation about art, and soon joined Phillips weekly painting group.
After a few years as friends and fellow painters, and with some fierce encouragement from his new mentor, Coombes finally contemplated selling his work.
“I thought I had more growth to go, but Murray pushed me into a show with him in Cochrane, Alta. in 2012. And that was it,” he said. Coombes sold his first landscape oil painting for $2,000.
“That was the most I’d ever got for a painting and that really sort of brought my confidence up. Maybe I could do this as a living… that’s what I’m working towards,” he admitted, explaining that his goal now is to pay off their mortgage in the next five to 10 years, and to focus most of his energy on his family and painting.
Now, as way of background, this Murrayville resident wasn’t a total stranger to art when he picked up a paintbrush a few years back.
Coombes has dabbled in a few different art mediums through his life, even contemplating a career in computer animation, for a time. In fact, while flying commercial planes in Yellowknife for a few years, he used his down time to sketch a series of aircraft – pen and ink drawings he subsequently sold to his boss and fellow pilots (one fetching a cool $450).
But when 9-11 occurred, and restrictions changed within the Canadian flying industry, Coombes realized his dream of climbing the ladder in the commercial aviation world were no longer viable. He chose, instead, to return home to Langley, and to settle back into that familiar world of real estate sales – which he had first ventured into at age 21.
He never gave much thought to his art again – until the handprint idea came up.
Life-long art student becomes teacher
Coombes is continuing to grow and learn as an artist, describing himself as a life-long student who now tries to take a few hours out of every day to paint and has even taken up teaching.
“I realize my best work hasn’t been painted yet,” Coombes said. “It really hits you once you’re in it, because you’re always trying to create that better work.”
Still busy with real estate, Coombes manages to create about 15 oil paintings a year for the galleries, plus numerous plein air pieces for himself, and he has a bookshelf crowded with sketch books that are filled with watercoloured images he might one day wish to transfer to canvas.
“Painting for me is really a way of deconstructing how we see our world around us and learn how I can mimic that on canvas. It’s a fun way to explore through painting,” he said.
While Coombes has used photographs, and even gleaned ideas from books, his best muse continues to be his own life experiences – sometimes drawing out his concepts in his sketch books with pencil then painting it with watercolour and scanning it through his computer to allow him to enlarge and focus on a high end monitor next to his easel for re-creation on canvas.
“I’m attracted to painting larger,” he said, noting that he likes the guests at shows and exhibitions to “feel like they’re walking into the piece.”
“I’ll see where this goes. As I’m selling more work, and getting more known as an artists, I’d like to start getting my work into institutional places” like hotels and government buildings, he said.
Much like the world of real estate, Coombes said selling his painting is much like selling homes. Some of it is about being at the right place at the right time. But, moreover, it’s about building up relationships with people and being top of mind when they’re thinking about buying – a home or a piece of art.
Unlike his work in real estate, which helps him put so many different families into homes, he garners a much deeper sense of satisfaction from his painting. Art, he said, brought unexpected richness to his life – following what he loves to do.
“As a culture, we need to do more of what we love to do, and how we love to spend our time,” Coombes said, walking into a large studio two-storey tall studio he’s constructed on his property.
For him, part of what he loves doing is painting. Don’t wake up one day “asking yourself, ‘Is this it? Is this all there is, going to work and paying bills’?”
Instead, he insisted: “Do whatever you do that excites you. And don’t wait too long to do it.”
Part of the West Fine Art family
Now, the 43-year-old Langley born and raised artist has sold some of his paintings through the Cloverdale Rodeo, on Facebook, at a few small and shows in the Lower Mainland and Alberta, at Gallery 204 and another store in Willowbrook Shopping Centre, plus at the annual West Fine Art Show.
And once again this weekend, Coombes is one of 15 artists taking part in the West Fine Art Show at the Thunderbird Show Park between Aug. 19 and 21. This is an annual three-day show and sale founded by his mentor, Phillips, as well as another commercial pilot and Murrayville painter, Brian Croft.
The first year at this show, Coombes sold one small painting. The second year, he was somewhat devastated not to sell any. Then, last year, he sold five pieces.
This is his fourth year as part of the West Fine Art Show, and Coombes anticipates displaying nine or 10 of pieces of his original art – several of them larger pieces, which he’s grown fond of painting, of late.
This is the show each year that Coombes looks forward to the most.
Not only is he moved by the charity component of the show – with partial proceeds from the sales going to the Langley Hospice Society, in memory of Phillips’ late wife Betty – but, he appreciates the opportunity to connect with some of Western Canada’s “greatest” artists, to talk, swap ideas, and discuss styles.