For Joshua Been, a career in art has been an art unto itself. As a working artist, change, adaptability, and growth – as well as the U.S. Army and the wildlands of the American West -- have been essential to his success. And that eclectic, self-crafted path was enabled by his ability to carve his own academic vision – both personally and professionally – at FLC.
“I went to the Fort after having been in the Army, so I was ready for college. But I also had that military discipline instilled in me a little bit, and that certainly helped,” Been (Art, '99) says. “I majored in art, but I was all over the place, very interdisciplinary. I took classes in theatre and science and geology. I even took a course in astrophysics. It was fun. And I graduated magna cum laude, so it was a very good experience.”
Today Been is a painter, gallery owner, teacher, and author – fulfilling dreams he had since he was a kid, even if his route there wasn’t a nice, neat straight line. He lives in Salida, Colorado, with his wife and two children, surrounded by the mountains, rivers, valleys, and big skies that inspire and populate much of his work.
"Mother Nature serves up the greatest inspiration for me. And I’m also learning about the landscape from painting it."
Artisit Joshua Been
“Since I could hold a pencil I was always drawing,” Been reminisces. “Cartoons were my thing, and I especially loved animation. So the whole time I was in the Army, I was just kind of dreaming of this art path and wondering how I was going to go down it.”
After the Army, he moved on to FLC, where, he says, “I was gearing my portfolio towards what I thought the animation studios were going to be looking for. I even did a weekly cartoon in the school newspaper the whole four years I was there. While I was at the Fort, I never got into painting much, but I took the general painting class, and I built good foundations in drawing and everything else.”
That effort and education paid off: After FLC, his long-time aspiration came true when he worked as an animator for major film studios in California, including the Cartoon Network and Disney TV. But, as often happens, his life and work still had an artistic plot twist to throw at him.
“I was feeling like this was my dream job at first,” he remembers. “And then I took a painting class -- you know, one of these little night classes to kind of tune up my skills and stuff -- and I just realized, whoa, this is maybe what I was born to do. Once I got a taste of that, I wanted to be outside painting instead of locked down at a computer all day. And so I switched gears at that point.”
His professional animation work had given him some financial security, so he packed up and moved back to Colorado “to start pursuing getting outdoors and doing plein air painting,” he says.
“That's ultimately where I wanted to go with my art – to take it more toward fine art, and be more in control of my own destiny and open my own business,” he adds. “The animation field can be a lot of fun, but it felt like I was always making somebody else's dreams come true. I really wanted to work on me and figure out how to make my creative dreams come true.”
Been’s creative dreams now mean translating the beauty and grandeur of the West’s majestic landscapes into visuals that live on a two-dimensional canvas. And his dream is also to pass on that ability to see the world through visual language to other aspiring artists seeking similar perceptions.
That’s why Been now also teaches oil painting courses both in his own gallery and around the region. And it’s also why his book on the subject, Learn to See, Learn to Paint, is subtitled “the science of SEEing, a foundation in visual language, and painting on-location.”
“I really enjoy the visual language and knowledge that you get from plein air painting of landscapes,” he explains. “I think painting outside makes painters better, because you're constantly getting challenged by the time of day and the changing light conditions and stuff. So you learn to be very efficient and effective. And you have to broaden your horizons visually and build a strong visual vocabulary.”
“All in all, Mother Nature serves up the greatest inspiration for me,” he says. “And I’m also learning about the landscape from painting it, everything from man-made structures on the land, to rivers, lakes, streams -- everything is really wide open. In that way, painting is almost like a visual journal of my life and the scenes and the community around me.”
Watch the episode on Joshua Been from FLC's "Summits" alumni-stories series.