With rain coming down, Chancy Walters managed to pull his attention away from the vista in front of him and focus on paying the bills.
Diving into his part-time job and full-time passion is sometimes hard for the 26-year-old Walters. His attention jumps, especially with the view provided by the house he squats in near Sterling.
Walters earns his keep by painting, but not on a medium most would think of.
“They sell like hot cakes, man,” he said with a grin.
Pulling a few completed and framed samples from the basement of his temporary summer home that overlooks miles of Central Peninsula backcountry, Walters talked about his unique artwork. The feathers featured cape buffalo, sockeye salmon, black bears and turkeys.
“Ever since I got out of high school I’ve been painting these turkey feather paintings and I’ve sold over 3,800 of them things,” he said.
“That’s all I’ve been doing. It is one of them deals where there is a really big demand for them and if I’m not fishing and hunting, usually I’m … well I guess I need to be painting more than I am.”
But, that’s the problem, he contends.
The inspiration is the country — Alaska and Southwestern Iowa.
The motivation is the activities — salmon fishing and whitetail deer hunting.
The distraction is all of the above.
Walters feels he is only reaching about one-fourth of his potential.
His parents — both artistic in their own ways — never put their foot down to advocate a career for their son.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
But, Walters is happy.
“God gave me this talent and told me this is what I should do,” he said.
But, the focus is sometimes gone.
Flashes only surface when he is able to buckle down and turn out a larger canvas painting — say a life-size recreation of The Creation of Adam, an Italian countryside scrawled on a bathroom wall or a canvas scene showing a giant king salmon hooked up on a Quikfish in a foggy Kenai River.
“Painting is one of those deals where if you aren’t into it, you’re wasting your time,” he said. “You’ve got to be in the mood to paint and being here, in the promised land, where the fishing is unbelievable this time of year, it is tough to focus. I want to be out fishing right now, rain or shine.”
Walters grew up in southwest Iowa — half corn, half timber country.
Out the back door was the “best whitetail hunting in the world.”
“That’s the high of my life,” he said.
Inside was a desire to draw. The two passions were destined to meet and compete for his attention, he contends.
“Pretty much I’ve always drew my whole life and I’ve always been inspired by wildlife because I love to hunt and fish and be in the outdoors,” he said.
But Walters never really applied his skill until a chance encounter with a high school art teacher who forced a paintbrush into his hand.
“I didn’t want to draw shapes and fruit — that annoyed me,” he said.
“She begged me to join her art class and … she said, ‘Draw whatever you want, I’ll give you a good grade. I just can’t stand you not painting when you are an artist.’”
The first time Walters came to Alaska was to help a friend build a house.
He was supposed to stay for a week and a half, but ended up sticking around for a few months. Inspiration struck, too.
“I just like how wild it is here,” he said. “There are places where people have never been. Just being here is so different than being down there.”
Locals Ross and Suzanne Baxter let him come and go as he pleases in their home near Sterling. This is his third summer in the area and he said he is working on a host of other projects, including getting his guiding license.
He’s also got other “coals in the fire,” he said.
From guiding hunting trips in Texas for imported African beasts, to painting nude models to look like the creatures from the movie Avatar in Las Vegas, to coming home to run his whitetail deer hunting business — BBD Outfitters, his interests have been untamed.
The latter is his favorite.
“If they didn’t have big whitetails there, I’d be living here,” he said.
A rainy afternoon gave him time to reflect on the life he has led — one of luck and fortune, he contends.
“I didn’t want to be like everybody else,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I did the things that I loved and everything will happen when I’m ready.”
It’s been a journey — one he’s thankful to be on.
“I’ve always wanted to come to Alaska and everything just fell into place,” he said. “Everything I’ve done in my life, it has just fallen right in my lap. I haven’t really had to work for it.
“I think everything happens for a reason and I’m so thankful for the things I’ve done.”
The fuel for that journey has been and likely will continue to be his feather paintings. He paints Wednesday nights at a private area lodge for customers and has even hosted a feather painting exhibition with the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.
“This is what I do to get by,” he said. “This is what I do to have money for gas, to do my traveling.”
It isn’t always easy, he contends. And becoming a professional wildlife artist won’t happen overnight.
“There’s nobody my age making it big,” he said. “It’s mainly people who are older and their stuff is famous, like Terry Redlin.”
But, with no immediate plans for a lifestyle change and an eye on returning to the Peninsula next year, Walters will have plenty of inspiration for whatever avenue his artwork takes.
Chances are, though, that he’ll be doing a version of the first feather he painted in 2004 he contends. It was a turkey on a turkey feather.
“An old guy actually gave me the idea,” Walters said. “He collected turkey hunting memorabilia … and called me up one day and was like, ‘Chancy, I got an idea for you. Come over to the house.’”
Inspiration struck when Walters saw he saw he could combine the two themes of his life — hunting and art. But little did he know where it would take him.
“I said, ‘You know what, I think I can paint on these things,’” he said.
“That’s a damn good idea.”