It could be something as simple as a sand-hill crane standing in the pine flatwood in the very early morning, when the light is softer and there is still a hint of a chill in the air. Maybe it's a wood duck, resting near a mist-shrouded pond, or a hunting dog cocking his head up to listen in a grassy prairie.
Thomas Brooks could try to tell you about the feeling that washes over him when he chances across sights such as this, but words aren't really his medium of choice. So what he does is tell the tale of physically being there by applying colors to a canvas.
In most cases, the end result is a painting that takes you to the places Brooks knows so well, the natural world where man can commune with nature. In other words, exactly the kind of art that collectors browse the Southeastern Wildlife Expo hoping to find.
Brooks, the featured artist at SEWE this year, plans to bring over 40 original pieces to Charleston, including "Island Strutters," which graces the 2009 poster. "It's an honor to be asked to be the featured artist at such an event," he says. "Awesome is the only word I can use to describe it."
Thomas Brooks' childhood was classic central Florida stuff: he hunted with his father, wandered through woods and swamps, and spent far more time outdoors than in.
"Artists are going to paint what they love," Brooks says. "And I love nature, love being outside."
Brooks began developing his own art style early in life, first drawing inspiration from the sketches of Walter Lantz and Walt Disney in his childhood years, and later nurturing a taste for the landscapes of artists like Albert Bierstadt. His love of nature and admiration for great landscape paintings coalesced, and he found himself taking the tools of his trade on location while enjoying the great outdoors.
"The purpose of painting on location is to capture the feeling in the mood and the lighting," he says. "It becomes a culmination of the experiences that you've had."
Brooks, of course, is one of a great many artists — including painters, sculptors, carvers, and photographers — who will be exhibiting at SEWE. At least 35,000 wildlife aficionados are expected to hit the streets of Charleston for the Expo, and the volume and variety of art on display are among the main reasons for that.
Among the other artists are special guests Joseph H. Sulkowski and his wife Elizabeth Brandon, both of the poetic realism tradition, who will be appearing together at the expo.
"We're the guest couple," Sulkowski says with a laugh, adding that he exhibited once before at SEWE in the 1990s and has been wanting to return ever since.
Even a casual glance at his work reveals exactly why he is a suitable match for SEWE. His subject matter is the stuff of the sporting life at southern plantations and Scottish moors: fishing tackle, hunting dogs, and fine horses.
"The quail plantations of southern Georgia have been a great motif for me," he adds. "The landscapes surrounding these places are incredible."
The pastoral still-life paintings of Elizabeth Brandon — familiar to readers of Cook's Illustrated — evoke a similar but distinct feeling of being far from the madding crowd, nestled deep inside a cottage in the countryside, where meals are prepared from scratch.
"Nature, with a capital N, is what we're all about," Sulkowski adds. "Our art is an interpretation of what we've directly observed there."
There will be plenty of local talent among the artists as well. Three members of the Charleston Artist Guild will be showing at Charleston Place and 45 members will be featured in a special group exhibit titled Nature's Beauty at the Charleston Marriott.
Says Russell Buskirk, director of Exhibitions for the Charleston Artist Guild, "I think people will be amazed at the caliber of art this year."