Working out of the Plains Perspective Studio and Gallery, a small room attached to the garage behind his home and built by his own hands, Knudson has caught the attention of gallery owners and art enthusiasts.
Like many artists, the soft-spoken Knudson displayed a strong aptitude at an early age.
“I was one of those kids who doodled in the margins of the notebooks all the way through school,” said Knudson with a broad smile and a gentle sweep of his hand.
“It’s something I’ve always had a knack for. This is the natural progression from there.”
On the walls of his studio are a number of framed works done by his hand, small masterpieces that leave a lasting impression on the observer. Not only is it the work of an artist who excels at his craft, but each painting reveals a striking personal knowledge of the subject. It is a distinguishing characteristic of Knudson’s talent.
Growing up in cattle and horse country near Towner has provided Knudson the opportunity to have instilled in him a working appreciation of ranchers and cowboys. He’s been riding horses as long as he can remember and still owns a couple of riding horses today. He has 11 years of rodeo experience. His images of Western life radiate the joys, the anguish, the sweat and the feeling that can only come from spending time in the saddle.
His first sale came at age 12. It was a charcoal drawing of John Wayne, the reigning king of the cowboys on the big screen. Knudson remembers slipping $30 dollars into the pocket of his Wrangler jeans.
“I thought I was pretty wealthy. That turned me on to the marketing aspect of the art world,” Knudson chuckled. “I still love to do Western imagery, the cowboys, and contemporary artwork as well.”
The love of rugged Western life is unmistakable in Knudson’s art. Several Towner area ranchers have trusted him to capture their favorite horses or most memorable moments on the ranch. With seemingly remarkable ease, Knudson captures the friendly smiles and the wrinkled faces of veteran cowboys. From the angle of their old stained hat to the correct pitch in the saddle and perfect look of their favorite horse, each piece of work is stunningly accurate. “You have to have a critical eye,” he said.
Knudson was commissioned by Wild Things Gallery of Minot to produce a Medal of Honor painting of President Theodore Roosevelt. The work was well-received and brought Knudson wide publicity, something all artists aspire for.
“I got to meet Tweed Roosevelt as well,” he said. “That was a real highlight for me.”
His reputation as a skilled Western artist once brought Knudson to a perch on a high scaffolding outside a Main Street storefront in Mandan. “This Old Hat” hired Knudson to paint a couple of cowboy portraits on their building. It took the Towner artist four challenging days to complete the nine-foot-high murals. Knudson received ample publicity for the impressive work from interested Bismarck-Mandan media and onlookers who marveled both at the daily progress and the finished product.
Artwork of birds and animals can be found throughout Knudson’s home and on the walls of his studio. Like his Western works, Knudson takes great pride in achieving perfection when it comes to recreating such images. He knows that outdoor enthusiasts are looking for realism in art work and calls upon his continuing experiences in North Dakota for help in producing impressive and pleasing wildlife art.
“If I’m doing a specific whitetail, whether on a deer skull or canvas or feather, you want to be pretty particular about the antlers,” Knudson said. “There might be something specific about markings on the forehead or something. That is the type of stuff you want to pay attention to. You have to make sure your composition is right to make the animal look right, especially if they are full figure. Any animal is tricky in that respect.”
Knudson spends plenty of time outdoors in the Towner area, whether it be riding horse or sitting in a tree stand with bow and arrow by his side. Both activities provide him with ample opportunity to closely observe wildlife from small birds to white-tailed deer. Every hour spent outdoors is meaningful to the eye of the articulate artist.
“Living here in Towner has definitely helped me in respect to inspiration,” Knudson said. “In any direction outside of town there’s probably something you want to paint, something that would be interesting to anybody. My outdoor activities provide inspiration. North Dakota is the perfect place for that. With the variety of wildlife that we have here, you never know what you are going to run into.”
Knudson’s keen eye recently discovered the tracks of a fisher along a stretch of the Souris River near Towner. The small mammals were once thought to be completely gone from the area but have been making a quiet comeback in recent years.
“I haven’t seen the animal, but just knowing he’s there is pretty neat,” he said.
You can bet that once Knudson has a chance to observe a fisher in the wild, the scene will be transferred from the mind’s eye to a beautiful work of art.
“Bowhunting has been fascinating,” he said. “I’ve had chickadees sit on my arrows as I’m holding my bow. I’ve watched kestrels (sparrow hawks) chase chickadees through the treetops right above my head. And you just never know when a coyote or badger comes walking by.”
Images on Knudson’s studio wall are colorful testaments to his closeness with nature. From small songbirds to majestic moose, even the most minor details are captured with perfection. It’s work that cannot be matched by someone who hasn’t been in Knudson’s shoes.
His work, particularly the images of wildlife painted on turkey feathers, have captured the attention of sportsmen who are eager to have a Knudson work hanging in their home. When Knudson items come up for auction at area sportsmen’s banquets, everyone pays close attention. His exquisite feather paintings often sell for $600 or more when excited bidders engage in high spirited hand waving and head nodding. The unique feather art has given Knudson some special recognition.
“I had to find a niche, something unique,” Knudson said. “The feathers were something that definitely qualified. I started doing wildlife images on the feathers and it just started taking off. It’s become a pretty popular image for me and they really caught fire at the wildlife banquets this spring. Its been great.”
On display in Knudson’s studio are several marvelous examples of feather paintings. A ruby-throated hummingbird is brilliantly captured on a turkey feather. A Canada goose peers out from another. A dog can be found pointing a rooster pheasant, all captured on a single turkey feather.
“I do a lot of pets, a lot of hunting dogs on the feathers,” Knudson said. “Dogs look great on them. They just kind of go naturally with the turkey feather paintings.”
“I do a lot of stuff on request. Anything from portraits to murals and I will try anything,” Knudson said.
He’s working on a collage of seven African animals for a client who resides in Kansas. The man had commissioned Knudson for a previous work depicting his African safari and was so pleased with the result that he quickly requested more. By the time he has filled the request, Knudson will have painted more than 20 African trophies in a series of three original paintings.
His work is sold at various art galleries in the United States, but it is the day-to-day sales and requests that Knudson still counts on to keep him occupied at his drawing board. He works on everything from buffalo skulls to canvas, in color or black and white.
“Most people, once they see my stuff, they just turn me loose to do my thing,” Knudson said. “I get to do something everyday that I enjoy. Sometimes I may goof off a bit in the afternoon and then work at night with no distractions. Right here in my own backyard I can work anytime I feel inspired.”
Towner artist Andrew Knudson works on a collage of African animals at his Plains Perspective Studio.