Fine Art & Photography

Here’s the short version:  I am totally self-trained and love to share my art

when and wherever I can. 

Or, the longer version:

I remember just being curious about everything - probably no different from any other boy in the south.  But as I grew I wanted to know how things worked; how things related to each other; cause and effect; and I especially enjoyed all things sensual.  That is, I remember being thrilled with my senses.  What is known as a

But it wasn’t until high school that I determined to express some of the things that I sensed, or enjoyed.  I took several art classes and loved the feeling of making things, whether they were of paper, canvas, Mache’ or clay. 

Because of my stature and energy, I was on several sports teams and in band.  One day in art class, another football player and I were very innocently throwing small balls of clay against one of the walls.  Our art teacher was the most diminutive of ladies and threatened us to no avail.  As we persisted, she proceeded to write a note for us to carry to the office.  It was there that we met our nemesis in the assistant principal, kindly known by the student body as
Lurch!  After having us tell our version of the art teacher’s accusations, he pulled out his Board of Education.  It was what then seemed like an 8 foot two by four.  It was, in fact, much smaller, but it had the intended effect of getting my attention. It was the first and last time I was found in his office or in the action of throwing clay

Following high school in that small southern Virginia school, I enlisted in the Air Force.  While I never really had a full-time art job, I always found myself turning to art (and music) when I wanted to fulfill myself or gift someone.  Probably the most enjoyable act I’ve enjoyed has been in creating something, simple or detailed, and giving it away.  I still have photos of the art, portraits and photography I produced since then, contained in dozens of personal sketchbooks

One of the things that I never did (because I was always sidetracked with a career to support my family) was take art lessons beyond high school.  The year I got married, 1973, I took an introductory ceramics class at a community college in northern California.  I’ve had several occasions to sit at a potter’s wheel and love the feeling of pulling or throwing a vessel.

I got my undergraduate degree in Business Administration while in a four-year apprentice program at the Naval Weapons Station, in Yorktown.  8 years later, I started my Master’s in Management.  Both of these degrees were solely in night classes.  I had kids and art was a sideline.  But I’d always find some art books in my hands in my off-study time.

I signed up for a sign lettering correspondence program with a seasoned sign painter in North Carolina.  I took about 3 lessons via the US mail and realized I was far too impatient even for this professional’s instruction.  So I trekked to an art store in Newport News, bought all that I thought I’d need, including a small book on lettering fonts.  I practiced and practiced on everything: lettering paper, my wheelbarrow, my tools, and everything else that didn’t move.  I got rather proficient and then decided it was time to quit my government job and seek the American Dream: self-employment.

I ran a part time business doing screen-printing.  I ran it out of my two-car garage in Glass, VA.  I was able to pick up some really professional equipment from the US Government auction at Cheatham Annex.  Everything I did was improvised: the screen making, exposure lighting, I designed and had a boat builder friend in Mathews construct a 6-color T-shirt press with very accurate registration, and the chemical cleaning of the spent screens.  Between the volatile cleaning chemicals for the vinyl inks and the combination of toxic chemicals used to reclaim the screens, it’s a wonder I’m alive or haven’t ruined my lungs!  I did screen printing part-time  for about 17 years.

The art required for commercial work such as this is different from my love, that of fine art and realistic representations.  I took all of my commercial experiences as great education.  Whenever someone of any talent or inclination puts his or her work out for sale to the public they are opening themselves up to real and unmitigated criticism.  Which, in reality, is the very best thing that can happen to an artist and entrepreneur.  You either sink or swim.  You either pay attention to what’s saleable and make the necessary adjustments and succeed, or you dry up and blow away

In 1997 I took my second formal art class as stone carving at the Community College in Manassas, VA.  

In 2004 I wanted to upgrade my digital camera to something better.  I owned the Nikon D40 and looked to get the D70S, but lacked the disposable income.  So I responded to an advertisement for artists to at nearby Hershey Park.  There was training available on weeknights.  I went and was definitely the old guy - lots of high school and few college kids.  The instructor, older than I by some years, ran the entire concession group there. 

The income is based on a minimum hourly salary and then on commission.  The sales items started with: a black and white caricature for $10.  Then there was additional for color, multiple persons, adding a cool background, matting of the finished product and frames!  So an artist had the opportunity to upsell from a $10 item to one of possibly $80!  Some of the returning college artists were paying for their entire education doing this art in the summers alone!

The sales objective was to do a B&W in 3 minutes.  That was an amazing challenge at first.  But the real challenge was in getting a likeness in that amount of time.  AND do it in front of all the spectators and passersby!  This was one of the best art experiences for me!  It put a lot of pressure on the artist to do a decent likeness in that amount of time while having a few dozen would-be customers watching you ‘perform.’  I was the only artist assigned to both the caricature and formal portrait stands. But opted out of the portraits as no one wants a serious portrait at an amusement park

My career in the Department of Defense had me travelling rather frequently.  I would either take art supplies or my guitar on my trips.  I loved spending my idle hours making any advances.  On several flights I’d pick a stewardess and attempt to do a realistic portrait of her while inflight.  This, again was a great challenge.  I discovered how little you actually see a stewardess’ face while inflight.  But a good likeness given before the landing approach often ended with her giving me a ‘complimentary’ bottle of wine!

I moved back to Gloucester, Virginia October 2015 fully retired and have been working at my lifelong passion.  I've added oils to my toolkit of media and am in love with its flexibility and adherent challenges.  I've won several awards in different media and find being able to choose which medium to render a particular subject very enjoyable.  As will be seen from perusing my site, I love doing just about every medium, style and subject!  I also love teaching!

I look forward to having fun painting and sculpting and not necessarily getting into the 'production' of art. I hope it always remains 'fun!'



I would be remiss if I didn't say this:  I have worked assiduously at learning and mastering my craft.  My main resource was always books.  The internet and YouTube have made it so easy and readily available to learn everything.  Today's masters are online and most are giving away all they have studied and learned.  Yes, and FREE!

There's almost no excuse to learn and grow to amazing levels of competency!  I continue to watch and learn.  Just do it!



Mike Dirle