by Maggie See
Will Eskridge is about as “Athens” as it gets. He’s an animal-loving musician with a passion for the color teal. Will’s current work features sharp geometric shapes with brilliantly-colored, impressionistic animals. From driving an “art car” and having dropped art for Free Art Friday to drawing inspiration from some of our best local animal hangouts, it was no question who I wanted to write about for this artist spotlight. Look out for his upcoming plans, including some studio night hangouts and a pretty awesome coloring book!
First, let’s hear about your pet(s), either current or past!
Right now we have two dogs and two cats (rescues, of course). Lola and Norm Peterson are the dogs, and Alfred Hitchcock and Loretta are the cats. We’ve had a total of nine rescue animals at one time, and even a rescue Ball Python named Sue. The late but greats: Rushmore, Leeloo, Mr. Furley, Sophia, Peggy, Hank and my beloved childhood cat Kitty Picker have all entered my life and taught me many lessons.
The child of both a veterinarian and an artist and then taking on a career of graphic design, were there any other career paths that you considered? Was there almost an Astronaut Eskridge?
Let’s see… veterinarian, geologist, forensic sketch artist, wolf biologist and archeologist to name a few. Most of these were fleeting ideas when I was much younger, but I tried to teach myself some things and researched to dig deeper. I love anything to do with outer space, except the height. I have acrophobia and have developed a fear of flying, so Astronaut Eskridge was never considered. I also have always loved the idea of running a drive-in theatre.
How has living in Athens made an impact on your career as an artist? Are there any particular activities around town that inspire you?
Oh, where do I start?! This town is full of energy and inspiration. I have been living here for a little over 10 years, and I keep discovering wonderful nooks and crannies. My favorite place is probably Sandy Creek Nature Center. That or Bear Hollow Zoo. Sandy Creek has the education center and beautiful hiking trails. Bear Hollow is a sanctuary for wildlife, which is in itself dear to my heart and great for animal inspiration and reference photos. Other favorites include Sweet Olive Farm, the State Botanical Gardens and the Greenway.
My wife has an amazing love for plants, and she has done wonders to our home and yard. She has put a lot of love planting perennials, pollinators and other animal-friendly plants that attract butterflies, bees, birds, etc. to provide a nice little ecosystem right in our backyard. I really enjoy the simple things like hearing the owls and woodpeckers in my backyard. I love watching the hummingbirds come to our salvia bush in the mornings or our resident toad and skink that come around after a good rain. I made a bat house a few weeks ago, and hopefully we will get some bats to add to our mini-world. I love that Athens is a town where all this can happen.
You did a series of combination animals, like the Rambat and the Octobear. Would you let us in on a secret and share some of the discarded or rejected ideas that never got painted? If not, do you have any plans to do more?
I am so glad you asked this! Just recently, I have decided to do more but as line drawings to be turned into a coloring book for kids and adults. I am in the planning/sketching stages but hope to have something definitive around the beginning of September. As far as throwaways for the original Creature Feature series, there was just one: Curse of the Coyotelk (coyote/elk hybrid). I mocked it up but never painted it. At the time it seemed too obvious and wasn’t ridiculous or weird enough for me.
When painting animals, which features/characteristics are the most difficult? Which ones are the most fun?
Ah! Most difficult would have to be the ears or feet. Patterned coats, like spots, stripes, etc. are extremely tough. Because their markings are meant to be camouflage, it can be tough to discern highlights, mid-tones and shadows. The most fun are the eyes. They really are the windows to the soul. I also love fur, especially grizzly bear fur. You can really get the depth going because of the highlighted tips.
If you were to design a mural for any space in Athens, where would you choose and what would you do with it?
A depiction of endangered Georgian species’ portraits on a sea-foam green background. The portraits would be composed one after the other in a line horizontally and either organized by size from largest to smallest or by conservation status. I think placement would be somewhere at Bear Hollow, Sandy Creek Nature Center or, for more impact, somewhere downtown like one of the parking garages so that people who might not be aware or normally pulled toward the natural world might stop and think.
Color and animals are constant themes in your work. What is your favorite color? What is your favorite animal?
Tough question! I love color and animals so much. I’ll have to go with grizzly bear (or little brown bat) for animal and seafoam green (or hot pink) for color.