Arts and Entertainment

‘Marshes, Mountains and Shorelines’ in paint

A detail of watercolorist Mark Van Wickler’s “Beach House” shows the painter’s aptitude for depicting the nostalgia, as well as the beauty, of Whidbey Island’s shorelines.   - Photo courtesy of Mark Van Wickler
A detail of watercolorist Mark Van Wickler’s “Beach House” shows the painter’s aptitude for depicting the nostalgia, as well as the beauty, of Whidbey Island’s shorelines.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Mark Van Wickler

He got to play God for a time, and penguins and chimpanzees enjoyed the fruits of his labor.

Now, nature arranges the subjects of his paintings for him in the way he used to arrange rocks and waterfalls for animals.

Painter Mark Van Wickler spent more than 25 years creating dioramas, rock formations and waterfalls for zoos, aquariums, museums and other commercial projects.

He continues to create residential waterfalls, fountains and garden art on Whidbey Island along with his designer wife, Judy Van Wickler, through their business “Rock & Watershapes.”

But painting is presently his true labor of love, and it steals most of the artist’s focus these days.

Van Wickler’s watercolor and egg tempera paintings are currently on display in a show entitled “Mountains, Marshes and Shorelines” at the Rob Schouten Gallery in Greenbank through July 1.

“I’ve always loved art. I’ve painted in water media and sculpted off and on since my late teens. This is what I love and what I am compelled to do,” Van Wickler said.

He’s been painting professionally full-time for the past four years, having decided early on that an artist’s life was a tough one.

His degree in landscape architecture gave him the technical expertise he needed to carve out a career that served him well as someone with a need to create.

Van Wickler specialized in sculpting realistic replicated rocks, trees, corals and other natural elements. He was so proficient at designing and creating habitats and exhibits that his services have been requested by some of the most respected zoos and aquariums all over the world. His was an office where he replicated rainforests, built mountains and fabricated oceans.

Now he finds himself able to devote long stretches of time walking the shorelines of the island and creating canvases from nature’s dioramas.

“I tend to choose a composition that adds a new, sometimes surprising view of a subject or a unique angle, while still keeping the composition strong. By doing this it can show the subject in a fresh new way,” Van Wickler said.

His paintings reflect his considerate eye.

In “The Wader,” a bird ponders his reflection in the foamy shallows of the waves like Narcissus having second thoughts.

In “Beach House,” piles of perfectly rendered driftwood lean toward a bluff of sun-soaked, waving grasses above which the rusted-blue slate of an antique house peeks out and evokes memories of a time of slow summers and passing ice-cream trucks.

His designer roots are still evident in his painting routine. He said he usually thinks about an idea for a painting for a period of time. He works in quick sketches, testing color schemes and light-and-dark values before deciding to commit the idea to paper or panel.

As a painter, Van Wickler said he tries to put something of himself in his paintings, rather than just brushing out the picturesque scenes of Whidbey.

But capturing the heart of a place beyond its obvious beauty is difficult, and Van Wickler understands the challenges of his new career.

“I believe that hard work, long hours and perseverance can overcome most obstacles if you really want to make something happen. “

More of the artist’s work can be seen on Van Wickler’s Web site with a click here.

The Rob Schouten Gallery is located at Greenbank Farm.Gallery hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For more information, call 222-3070 or e-mail

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