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Artist sketches at Coupeville festival

Jim Simpson will be an Artist in Action at Coupeville
Jim Simpson will be an Artist in Action at Coupeville's Arts and Crafts Festival this weekend.
— image credit: Christine Smith

Retirement is anything but slow for one Oak Harbor man, who turned a lifelong hobby into a second career.

Artist Jim Simpson’s talent for portrait sketching has evolved into a small business since he retired in 1994 from the National Parks Service.

Now, the former park ranger, biologist and resource management specialist balances his schedule between volunteer work and creating art for clients from all over the country.

“I’d never been so busy in my life as after I retired,” Simpson said this week during an interview in his home, which doubles as his studio. “It’s a little more than a hobby now. A little bit of a small business, but very low key.”

Simpson will set up a portable studio this weekend at the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival, an annual event in which he’s taken part for seven years now.

For just $12 festival-goers will be able to pose for Simpson, who will pencil-sketch a portrait. Simpson only needs about 20 minutes to create a remarkable likeness of his subjects.

For those not wanting to sit for the sketch at the festival, Simpson also creates portraits from photographs. He will mail the finished piece to the buyer. The portrait will cost a tad more, but that’s just to cover wrapping and mailing charges.

“It’s a reasonable price and a good gift for the family,” Simpson said of his work.

Some of his clients visit him every year at the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival, to get an updated portrait of their children. Others return every few years.

Simpson says he has been sketching since childhood. He believes he inherited his artistic talent from his mother, Sally Simpson, now 88 years old and still taking art classes.

“For as long as I can remember she’s always been doing old buildings in charcoal,” Simpson said.

He credits both his parents for helping him to develop his talent.

“Both my parents always encouraged my sister and I in whatever we wanted to do,” Simpson said.

During his 26 years with the National Park Service, Simpson was stationed in both Missouri and Arkansas. For 20 years he sketched at craft shows on weekends and in his spare time. He says he has met many interesting people, some that he remembers still.

“It’s fun. I really enjoy sketching people at fairs,” Simpson said.

Aside from pencil sketching, Simpson also works in pastels, pen and ink and charcoal. Additionally, he is taking watercolor classes and is developing skill in that medium. Mostly, he appreciates the opportunity he has had to have two careers he really enjoys.

“I’ve often wondered if I’d gone into artwork instead, if I’d been able to make a good living at it,” Simpson said. “But I was drawn into conservation.”

Simpson and his wife, Joan, an animal-lover who volunteers her time to Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation, share their comfortable home with dogs and cats. The pair also volunteer their time to Beach Watchers.

Joan often encourages Jim to sketch animal portraits, one of which, a pencil sketch of his beloved elderly black Labrador retriever named “Duffer,” appears on Simpson’s marketing brochure.

But Joan’s support of Jim goes beyond encouragement. She is downright amazed by his talent and is his biggest fan.

“I know it’s something you have to be born with,” said Joan Simpson. “No amount of instruction will give you what Jim has.”

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