by Rachel Perry
photo by George Bredewater
William (Bill) Smoot may well be one of Brown County’s best kept secrets.
Working out of a small converted garage at the end of a long wooded lane in Annandale Estates, Mr. Smoot creates award winning pen and ink, pencil, and charcoal drawings as well as watercolors, pastels and oil paintings.
Each morning, Mr. Smoot makes the short walk, coffee cup in hand, from his attached house to the well-lit and neatly organized studio. There he pursues the art project that currently interests him the most.
This idyllic lifestyle was a long time in coming. Mr. Smoot left his boyhood home in Crown Point, Indiana, to study at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts as well as the Studio School of Art (also in Chicago) before accepting a position as a commercial illustrator for the Vogue Wright Studios. He then free-lanced out of his own studio for eight years.
His next position as the illustrator/designer for The Anderson Company lasted until he took early retirement in 1985. During the years of his employment, he and his wife often took many short trips to Brown County and so the decision to settle permanently in the area ten years ago was an easy one to make.
Even while working as an illustrator, Bill Smoot found the time to cultivate his talent in fine art. He entered shows, exhibits, and did commissioned projects. His work was exhibited at the Salmagundi club in New York City; the Academic Artists National Exhibit in Springfield, Massachusetts; and the Patron’s Water Color Gala in Oklahoma City. His paintings were included in the annual juried Hoosier Salon Exhibitions. In the 1987 Salon, his watercolor titled, “After the Storm,” won the Floyd D. Hopper Memorial award.
Several unframed portraits in Mr. Smoot’s studio demonstrate his talent for capturing personalities through his depictions of facial expression and body language. A watercolor of two artist acquaintances playing checkers uses soft edges and dense color to set a tone of relaxed concentration. Two pastel portraits convey artist Fred Rigley’s forthright personality through his stance and bearing.
Although watercolor is sill Smoot’s primary medium, he is proficient in oils and recently started working more in pastels. “Charlene Marsh, a few years ago, had models come and we were painting outdoors. So I went to a couple of those sessions and I hadn’t done this in a long time. At first I was doing charcoal sketches but I wanted to use color so I took my pastels because it was easy. And that got me back into pastels,” he said.
Mr. Smoot’s versatility is the result of his constant search for new and interesting projects. “I work in one medium for a while and then I get tired of it,” he admits. “Then I switch to something else.” An artist who works exclusively on one painting at a time, Mr. Smoot usually paints intensely until the piece is finished. He remarked, “If I leave a painting and don’t work on it for several days, I’ve lost interest in it.”
Ever on the lookout for new challenges, Mr. Smoot has recently begun to experiment with clay sculptures. Figures of Civil War soldiers and several comical characters stand on a large table as though waiting for a stage appearance. “I’m still learning about different clays and how to preserve them with paint,” he said.
The comical sculptures may be the result of Bill Smoot’s early artistic ambition. “When I went to art school in Chicago, I started out as a cartoonist,” he laughed. His cartooning talent can be seen in Motleyville, a publication of observations and stories by Brown County artist and local character, Von Williamson.
Despite his attraction to whimsical figures, there is nothing frivolous about Mr. Smoot’s art philosophy. “I’m a big believer in the basics (color theory, composition),” he declares. “In order to paint, even in the abstract, you need to have a basic knowledge in perspective. The old cliche, `a painting is no better than the drawing,’ is true. If you have a beautiful technique and it’s a lousy drawing, it’s a lousy painting.”
Once the basics are in place, however, an artist must find his own way of expressing himself. Bill Smoot confided, “One of the best pieces of advice I ever had—I was in an art fair and next to me was an Italian fellow…I really liked his stuff…And he came over to me and said, `You know, your paintings are just like you. Neat and clean and nice. The best advice I can give you is to get bitchy!’ And I took it to heart. I knew what he meant. I started using some raw reds and big blues. And it made a world of difference in my approach to painting.”
Mr. Smoot’s subjects are as varied as his materials. In addition to portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and nudes adorn his studio walls. Although he has been a member of both the Brown County Art Guild and the Brown County Art Gallery, he now primarily markets his work out of his own studio.
Bill Smoot is featured in a one-man show at the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts in Seymour, Indiana, from March 20 through April 21, 2001. If you can’t get to the exhibit, take a short trip down a wooded lane in Brown County to see his studio. Call 812-988-1627 for more information.