After ski accident, British businessman slides into stable, successful art career
By Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily
John S. Gibb was sitting pretty after selling a commercial diver business in the Caribbean in his early 40s.
Actually he wasn’t sitting much at all, at least not during winter ski season. But while racing down a mogul run in Maine 26 years ago, one of his knees tore apart, causing him to wreck and break his shoulder in five places.
“You drink too much, and you go skiing in Vail and you spend your money faster than you think,” Gibb, 70, said, recalling how quickly he went from living the high life to lying flat on his back in a hospital wondering how he was going to support himself and pay mounting medical bills. “That was the end of that sort of life.”
That sort of life had involved lumberjacking in Norway during the summer and working on ships for the British merchant marine in the winter before starting his own business as a commercial diver.
Once he became physically hampered, Gibb re-invented himself by returning to one of the few school activities he enjoyed as a dyslexic student growing up in England: drawing.
Now, nearly three decades later, the Ulverston, England, resident finds himself thriving in the art world and attending shows like this weekend’s Southern Wildlife Festival at Calhoun Community College.
The show continues Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“As a kid I could draw,” he said, noting his dyslexia made him a poor student in everything else, lining him up to be a tradesman in a factory or a mill. It was a dismal future that he would later flee to Scandinavian forests and the wide open sea to avoid.
“When I looked at other people’s art, I thought, ‘I could do that.’ But when I started, I wasn’t that good, not by today’s standards,” Gibb said.
He sold a few paintings, gained confidence and kept painting and learning. Eventually, he realized he didn’t possess a joy for painting, but he did enjoy the work of sketching out his paintings in pencil prior to applying the brush.
“I got obsessed with the pencil,” he said. “And I’m very disciplined about it. I’m up at 5:30 every morning working on it.”
Tools of the trade
Gibb mostly uses three tools for his art work: a drafting pencil that allows him to switch out various shades of lead, a red rubber eraser and a pencil eraser, which he sharpens with a razor blade. The latter allows him to create crisp white lines through dark tones of graphite.
Even after 26 years as an artist and numerous awards, Gibb said he’s still learning and improving his art. He pointed out his wildlife drawings all feature animals sitting still, but he’s striving to improve to where he can draw birds in flight with the same fine details of his still life subjects.
Gibb said the art career came along at the right time, and that he wouldn’t have had the discipline to stick with it in his 20s and 30s.
Comes with age
Age also brings new interests and ambitions, he added, particularly with viewing and drawing wildlife.
Gibb’s favorite subjects now are wildlife and mariner scenes, but he also does artwork of railways and horses.
Drawing ships was a favorite subject because of his years in the merchant marine, but an admiration of wildlife has grown as he has aged, he said.
“It’s really a matter of having the time to be able to enjoy it,” he said, noting he and his wife, Rosalind, usually spend about six weeks in America each year, visiting national parks and refuges in between art shows. “I think it’s just a passion that comes later in life.”
On the Net
To see more of John Gibb’s pencil art, visit www .johnsgibb.com.
Southern Wildlife Festival
What: Art show and sale; working decoy competition; children’s arts and crafts activities.
When: Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Calhoun Community College gymnasium.
Cost: $3 for adults; $2 for students and senior citizens; free for children 6 and younger.