Neighbor Scott Bodell combined his love for science and art in college to launch a career as a medical illustrator.
Now he’s separating those two worlds again, focusing on watercolor paintings. The shift has been a long time coming, he says.
“My whole career as a medical illustrator, everybody would look at my medical art, and they’d say, ‘What kind of art do you like to do in your spare time?’” Bodell says.
“And I’d say, ‘Well, I don’t have any spare time.’”
The pandemic brought the lull he needed.
Following his training in medical illustrations at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Bodell primarily created art digitally. In that medium mistakes can be erased with the flick of a pen or the addition of layers to hide an imperfection.
Bodell figured he could pick up watercolor painting easily after his many years in the industry. He instead found that it requires a different understanding of the brush and colors, and led him to return to studying art.
“I put myself back in school to relearn a lot of things,” he says.
A cactus flower was one of the first paintings that helped Bodell see the beauty in his imperfect watercolor paintings. After working on it for a bit, it landed in a drawer, just one move away from the trash bin.
A few weeks later, he found it and tried again. Bodell still wasn’t convinced, but his wife encouraged him to enter it in a Utah art show, where it won a prize.
“Changing your expectations for fine art versus commercial digital stuff is something you have to work pretty hard to do,” Bodell says.
Next, friends and family began requesting pet portraits as birthday gifts, and social media shares brought more and more requests.
“It became a lot more personal,” Bodell says.
He was first struck with emotion when the wife of a veteran asked him to paint her husband with his dog, which had recently died. She said the dog helped him walk through some dark times. In the painting, “Looking Out for You,” purples and dark colors swirl behind the man, becoming more peaceful and lighter as the eye moves toward the dog. Both look off to the horizon.
“That backstory fueled all these decisions about the art,” Bodell says. “I was just so inspired to paint that because I really had a heart for the guy and what he went through.”
Bodell began taking on more portraits of people, painting babies and pet parents with their dogs by starting with a picture, which at first he thought was cheating.
“All the great purist artists would never do that,” Bodell says.
But then he painted the portrait of someone who had died, and it changed his perspective. Bodell has since decided to paint his grandfather’s portrait from a small black-and-white photo.
Getting better means something different to Bodell than it did when he started painting with watercolors. It now means painting more loosely, more expressively, rather than fine-lining details.
“The watercolor needs to do what the watercolor wants to do,” he says. “Sometimes you just need to let it run. Being loose means you’re going to try to capture an impression of what you’re trying to depict.”
Bodell says he’s also planning to add acrylics back to his portfolio. And as doors continue to reopen for medical illustrations, he expects his work to take on a new light after gaining so much insight from his work with watercolors.
“We’ll see how it goes,” he says. “That’s what artists do, they keep exploring.”