When Barry Westerland’s parents first bought him an oil painting set, it sat around for years, unused. It wasn’t until he was 25 years old that he first put brush to canvas.
Westerland had just finished serving in the U.S. Army Reserves and was temporarily back in his parents’ home near New York City, looking for a job.
“I think my mother got tired of waking me up at 1 in the afternoon,” he said with a laugh.
She suggested that on the days he wasn’t headed into the city looking for work, he try painting, and something just clicked.
“I loved it,” he said.
Westerland started out recreating other people’s paintings and photographs, but once he built up his skill level, he began producing his own creative originals.
“My mother was pretty perceptive, because once I started painting, I thought, ‘Gee this is really neat, I really like this,’” he said. “It’s a nice fun thing to do; it’s challenging.”
Westerland kept painting, even as a job with JP Morgan Chase Bank in New York City kept him busy. After a few years he fell in love with a new medium — watercolor.
“I like the way the final thing looks, obviously, but I think the process of painting in watercolor is very pleasing to me,” he said. So he made the switch and now his work is almost exclusively watercolor.
With his work schedule, city commute and a growing family, Westerland averaged three to four paintings a year, doing it whenever his limited time allowed.
Then, during the 1980s, the bank transferred him to the Denver area. He and his wife bought a home in Summit Cove and stayed for five years, raising their son and daughter and learning about life in the High Country.
“That’s when we fell in love with Summit County,” he said, “so when it came time to retire, we knew where we were coming.”
In addition to permanent relocation to a beautiful area, retirement has brought Westerland more time to devote to his art. He finally has an entire room in the house dedicated as a studio, rather than the spare bedroom he had to use before. The studio has a southeast-facing window, perfect for painting in the afternoon. It’s also not unusual to hear some Miles Davis or Keith Jarrett in there as well. Westerland, a saxophone player and former jazz group member, is a big fan of the genre.
“It’s always been my favorite music medium,” he said.
Since 2003, Westerland has been a member of the Arts Alive Gallery, a co-op of artists in Breckenridge. This has not only given him an opportunity to show his artwork at the gallery, but to connect with fellow artists — from discussing art to sharing tips and techniques.
“It’s always important to exchange ideas,” he said.
As part of the co-op, Westerland takes his turn manning the gallery from time to time, greeting art viewers and sharing information about the gallery’s collection. He’s also the featured artist for the month of February, meaning his work will be on display near the front of the gallery.
Most of Westerland’s paintings are inspired by photographs, either those he’s taken of scenes around the county and Colorado, or images from his travels abroad, which include Europe, South America and Africa.
Westerland’s artwork often features landscapes, both of the city and wilderness variety. Every once in a while they may have some human figures in them, but for the most part people are absent, though their presence is not. Old buildings and antique cars make frequent appearances.
Unlike some watercolor artists, Westerland’s work is incredibly detailed and precise, down to wood-grain patterns.
His “secret,” he said, is creating a detailed pencil outline first. Once that structure is in place, he adds the watercolor.
Westerland has become proficient, despite never getting any formal art education. He’s read a lot of books, keeps up with current art magazines and isn’t afraid to try a new or difficult technique. Sometimes that’s even the reason he chooses to tackle a particular scene or photo.
“Oftentimes, it will be because I see something in a painting that’s going to be a challenge for me,” he said, “that I haven’t really attacked before, and in those circumstances I (like to) challenge myself, try to do something a little different than I’ve done before.”