Celebrated painter Larry K. Martin teaches his skills at local gallery
by Sherry Kughn
Special to The Star
Jan 27, 2013 | 5196 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Larry K. Martin flips through his book, ‘Painting with a Soft Acrylic.’ Photo: Sherry Kughn/Special to The Star
Larry K. Martin flips through his book, ‘Painting with a Soft Acrylic.’ Photo: Sherry Kughn/Special to The Star
Well-known local artist Larry K. Martin discovered he loved to teach art in an unusual way — while leading safaris to Africa beginning in the early 2000s. Since that time, he has expanded his skills from simply “artist” to “art instructor.”

Martin has been teaching painting classes since 2010, either while on safari or at the Wren’s Nest, his Anniston art gallery.

“The workshop classes have a full gamut of students,” said Martin. “Some participants want to learn as many specific techniques as possible, and some are just curious.”

Martin keeps a running list of those who are interested in taking each upcoming class. When the list grows to at least a dozen or so, he invites the students in. He advertises only by word of mouth and occasionally by a note on Facebook.

The students pay about a hundred dollars apiece to work with Martin for a couple of morning hours, enjoy a catered lunch, and then pour four or five more hours into their creations under Martin’s oversight. In addition, students receive an attractive booklet of painting tips, “Painting with a Soft Acrylic.” After completing this class, participants may opt to attend classes lasting a half-day. Such classes are advanced and are priced at about half the initial class.

“Taking the class allows one to see how far they can take realism and detail,” said Martin, whose gray hair and grandfatherly personality affirm his 73 years.

His hands are still solid, though, a fact made clear as he flipped through the booklet, tracing the delicate curve of a tree branch with the edge of a firm finger. By using a slanted brush, he said, painters who try his tested technique can create a precise, but rounded edge. A single brush can be used 20 different ways, each producing a different effect.

“The class is not so academic that it would be heavy handed,” he said, adding that he still has fun as he teaches.

A childhood dream

Martin is a medical scientist with a doctorate degree from Tulane University. For about eight years during the 1960s, he researched tropical diseases and conducted field studies in the Amazon rain forests of Colombia and Brazil. During the late ’60s and early ’70s, he pursued a military career at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, serving for eight years.

Martin was torn between his childhood hobby of painting wildlife and continuing his military career. His love of art won. Martin returned to Anniston in 1976 with wife Yvonne and their three sons. He took a job as curator at the Anniston Museum of Natural History during the days of its inception and soon began painting at night.

“The only way to create artwork was by changing my daily routine,” said Martin. “I got into the habit of getting little sleep.”

Martin often slept for three hours a night with only an occasional full night’s rest. He began turning out pieces that could be sold. Gradually, his vision of creating artwork for a wider market resulted in the founding and incorporation of the Wren’s Nest Gallery with business partner Crystal Hancock.

A celebrated career

The Wren’s Nest, located adjacent to The Victoria Inn on Quintard Avenue, displays Martin’s work, which ranges from tropical to local mammals and birds. He has also painted human subjects such as “America’s Goat Man,” pioneer aviator Bob Stroop, two sisters descended from slaves from South Carolina, and Africans in native dress. Martin often traveled with the late Anniston Star photographer Ken Elkins, as they sought other remarkable subjects to photograph and draw. Elkins actually became a subject in Martin’s “American Characters.”

Recently, Martin sat in his front office at the Wren’s Nest as snow fell outside the rustic walls. He talked of the variety of his artistic efforts. Many of his works are known throughout the world, thanks to the licensing contracts he and Hancock have cultivated to allow companies to use his images. One of the companies is the well-known Bradford Exchange, and Leanin’ Tree and Artbeat America reproduce his work on greeting cards.

“There is a new company,” Martin added, “called AMIA that has begun to sell my artwork by hand-painting the images onto glass,” giving it an effect similar to stained glass.

Martin has accumulated a list of accolades. His work has graced the walls of the U.S. Congress, the National Wildlife Federation, the Audubon Naturalist Society and the office of former Gov. Bob Riley. People of note who have purchased Martin’s work include President George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Colin Powell, Muhammad Ali, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Charlton Heston.

Martin holds the “Living for America” Award, the Meritorious Service Award, an “Artists of the Century” award and “Who’s Who in American Art.” He also has a respectable list of commemorative prints and collectibles.

For many years, Martin traveled about once a month, showing his art throughout the United States. These days, though, he stays closer to home, but still enjoys creating his work and teaching his students. He’s considering adding a few classes on sculpture and casting.

“Variety is what keeps it interesting,” he says.

Art class

To sign up for Larry Martin’s art class, call 256-238-0710. Visit www.wrensnestinc.com for more information on the artist.

Painting tips:

• Enjoy “finding and remembering and collecting” references, which is what Martin calls subjects. Often, for many artists, this includes taking photographs of the subject.

• “Tole Brushes,” or fine-quality angle brushes, are important when creating the soft acrylic technique that Martin prefers.

• When painting a subject, use care not to paint sharp lines that are too heavy. Repeating brush strokes made with a fine line produces a softer image.

• Layering, sometimes called washes or glazing, produces a softer image. Paints should be diluted and applied “one on top of the other, to reach a vibrant, toned color.”

— From “Painting with a Soft Acrylic” by Larry Martin
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