It's early on a Saturday morning as artist Joe Netherwood readies his easel for a day of painting. Wearing a tan cowboy hat and royal blue neckerchief, Netherwood is setting up shop at his "home away from home," a small makeshift studio inside the landmark big white tent alongside Scottsdale Road in north Scottsdale.
"It's really enjoyable to me to meet a lot of people I may not have met another way," Netherwood said of his growing legion of art collectors. Netherwood has been greeting local and visiting art patrons and painting his signature oil portraits daily for nearly ten weeks at Booth 241 at the 18th annual Celebration of Fine Art juried art show.
Netherwood is among a select group of about 100 artists, working in a variety of media, featured in this year's show, which will end its 2-month seasonal run on Sunday. This year marks Netherwood's ninth appearance at the long-running event.
Drawing since his childhood days in Richmond, Va., Netherwood worked as a graphic designer and as a stand-up comic before he ever thought of becoming a full-time painter.
His career path took a turn in the early 1990s, when, in his early 40s, he came across the Western-themed works of artist N.C. Wyeth.
"I fell in love with it (Wyeth's works) and said this is what I want to do," Netherwood remembered. He said with his wife Stephanie's support, he spent two years taking art classes and teaching himself to paint through "trial and error."
The West became a source of inspiration for his work.
"I grew up in the 1950s and all my heroes were cowboys," said Netherwood, fondly recalling the likes of Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger. "It's wonderful Americana and the spirit (of the West) continues today."
At the time Netherwood began seeing contemporary Western art appear in magazines back East and thought he could perhaps make a living doing it himself. He sold his first two pieces - a portrait of a cowboy and a mountain man on horseback - to a pediatrician in New Jersey.
Netherwood began frequenting Arizona to get background material for his work. He soon was won over.
"I came out to do a show here (Scottsdale) and fell in love with the place," Netherwood said.
The couple eventually moved West, leaving their home in Pennsylvania for Scottsdale in the late 1990s.
Netherwood said he visits reservations and ranches to sketch and photograph the Native Americans and modern-day cowboys and cowgirls that often appear in his oil paintings, which range in price from $850 for smaller-sized works to $20,000 for larger creations. He is also known for depicting African-American cowboys - a group not widely represent in Western folklore.
"They love my faces," said Netherwood of the comments he hears most often from the Celebration of Fine Art show attendees, who stop by to watch him paint.
"That's my favorite thing to do. It's very important to me to put soul into my work," said Netherwood, who deftly captures his subject's "personality" on canvas through vivid colors and detail.
Netherwood said he doesn't mind the nonstop daily schedule he's kept at the Celebration of Fine Art show.
"If you love what you do," said Netherwood, "you never go to 'work.'"