The artist Brian Depew began what he calls “self-imposed” art training when he was a mere twelve year old. After building an easel, the young Depew set about making detailed pencil sketches of still life arrangements. Working in his bedroom, Depew focused on the effects of light and shadow on his subject matter.

“I had no instructor,” he said, “and was happy to be without outside influence.”

When he was 14 Depew received his first set of oil paints and spent that summer learning the ways of oil paint. Working again in his bedroom cum art studio, Depew said that he spent the time alone teaching himself how to paint, painting subjects from imagination.

“Sometimes I would wait until everyone in the house had gone to bed, and I would put on a pot of coffee and paint all night long until my father got up in the morning to go to work,” Depew said. Several years later he added watercolor painting to his quickly building array of artistic skills. But he found that learning to paint in watercolor was frustrating. He had begun his studies by following traditional methods of preparing paper, of applying water and paint. And he was not satisfied with the results.

“So I bought some watercolor paint in tubes and good quality paper and started over from scratch,” he said. “I decided to first learn about the quality and behavior of the paper, so I spent hours putting paint on paper with no objective in mind, no desire to actually paint anything in particular. These exercises were about developing my muscles in the intuitive sense.”

But he had more to learn about the intricacies of watercolor painting. After encountering the work of Winslow Homer for the first time at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, Depew said he had discovered an artist who believed that watercolor had muscle and power of its own, that watercolor was not just a sweet, delicate medium for use as a pleasant pastime.

“I was completely blown away by Homer’s powerful composition and use of color. Everything about his approach to art appealed to me. For the first time, I saw watercolors that sparkled, that were not just preliminary studies, or nice depictions of floral arrangements. These were about the struggle of man and sea, man in his environment. This is when I knew I wanted to be a painter.”

That was the beginning of Depew’s journey into the realm of art study. Much more was to come. Depew found college a difficult and alienating experience and, by his own admission, was an indifferent and undisciplined student. In the late sixties conceptual art, performance art, art that was new just for the sake of being new, was the order of the day.

“Art instructors were completely intolerant of my sensibilities,” he said. “Art had to be tied to theory, to have an intellectual justification. Realism, representational art was dead. I was quietly ignored. I painted my watercolors, worked on etchings and kept to myself.”

So he spent the next years drifting through college and finally dropped out, working odd jobs to pay bills and buy art supplies. He made the rounds of art galleries, selling a painting here and there. But that was not enough.

In 1970 Depew loaded up his old Chevy Nova station wagon and headed up the Pacific Coast for a month of painting, the first of the many forays that left an indelible mark on his landscape painting. He settled on the San Juan Islands, in the Puget Sound between Vancouver and Washington, and spend days roaming the islands, painting whatever caught his fancy.

“I lived in the same turn of the century hotel where Zane Gray lived and wrote some of his western novels.” said Depew. “I drove around the islands every day and painted right on the spot whenever something caught my eye. This was the first time I felt I had made it as an artist. My paintings started to stand out as my own. They were totally spontaneous, painted as quickly as I could. Sometimes I painted two watercolors in one day with several sketches. I learned to paint fast and uncensored. This was the first time I knew that I could paint in a way where I could lose myself in my work. I didn’t care about money or making a living. I just painted free as a bird.”

But reality returned when Depew got home and realized that while he had found his voice as an artist, he had no visible means of support. A variety of jobs followed, many related to medicine and the environment, but Depew realized that the time to return to college had arrived. So working during the day and going to school at night, Depew earned a law degree and entered the practice of law in 1979, taking time off to paint in Italy for a month along the way.

“After returning from Italy,” he said, “I continued my search for subject matter closer to home. I carried my paints with me on long walks into the mountains, sketched locations around the city, and continued my travels up and down the coast.”

Although he continued to concentrate mainly on watercolor, Depew began experimenting with every medium and material he could find. He used inks, oil and wax, egg tempera and pastels, as well as working on etchings and mixed media “of every conceivable combination.”

He currently lives in a house nestled in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains with his wife and little dog Jake, painting in a studio where he has worked for the past 18 years. And although he continues to practice law, specializing in the environment and medical issues, he is first and foremost an artist.