Our June issue featured a special portfolio by the artist Larry Toschik. Mr. Toschik’s illustrations of mountain lions, black bears, bison and birds are, simply put, magnificent. As Arizona Highways Editor Robert Stieve wrote in his Editor’s Letter about Perfect Illustrations, “it’s a beautiful portfolio that features a small sample of the nearly 100 paintings and drawings that we published in the ’70s and ’80s.”
Below, Larry Toschik’s son, Robert, talks to Arizona Highways about his father’s special craft:
What was it like watching your father work on his wonderful pieces?
As a youngster, I was always amazed at how he could take a clean sheet and make it come to life. As I grew older, I realized that this was truly a God-given talent supplemented by Dad’s vigorous and dedicated research. Dad truly loved what he did, and it showed, not just in the finished product but in his approach to it and his love of the subject. Pop truly loved God’s wonderful creations and tried to emulate them in his detailed representations in his art. Watching him at work was always fun, as each stroke of the pen or brush would unveil yet more detail and dimension. As youngsters, all of us kids would often ask Dad to draw us a pony or bird, and he never failed, even if was just a quick sketch on a small scrap of paper. He would often hand-write short stories for us — kid stuff, pirates, explorers and the like — and he would always include a sketch to go along with it.
How long did it take him to complete a given piece?
This was a most frequently asked question, especially when people would be viewing a mix of some of his larger and smaller pieces. His answer was always polite and earnest: that there was no real time formula based on size. The best way to perceive the time factor was in the detail, the background research, the medium used and the complexity of the layout. Often, some of his smaller works were more time-consuming than his largest. Unseen in the finished product were the numerous sketches where he would play with the layout of some details in the background or sky to ensure when he did put brush to canvas, it would come together in a perfect orchestration of all the elements that made the finished outcome so great.
In your opinion, what makes his pieces so special?
The authenticity and care he took to relay the most accurate representation of his subject. Not just the bird or animal as the focus of the piece, but he also worked to ensure that the environment in which it was set was correct, along with the correct plumage for the time of year consistent with the correct color of the leaves or the cast of the sky, and all the work on the small details, from the rocks to the bark on a tree. It was all-encompassing in its detail. Dad was often his best critic, where, for reasons unknown or unseen by our untrained eyes, he would often take a piece that was well under way off the easel and set it aside for days or weeks while he contemplated just what it was that was bothering him about the composition. Then, when he had discovered the source of his concern, he would bring it out, make the strategic brush strokes and produce yet another masterpiece.
Can you tell us what inspired him and where this love of nature came from?
God’s creation inspired Dad, no doubt about this — in particular ducks and geese. He spoke about it and wrote about it often. As the Bible tells us, God’s creation is evident in all that we see, and I truly believe Dad saw it unlike the rest of us. He often told us stories about his growing up and how sometimes others thought it odd about his desire to be out and about in nature, seeing the wonder and beauty of it all. I believe he gave all of us kids a different insight into the things around us. Often, when we were with Dad out in the desert, he would point out the little things his eye caught that none of the rest of us noticed, and they were always truly wonderful insights. I can’t drive across town, even today, and not catch myself looking at the things that pass by and catching a glimpse, here and there, of wondrous things I am sure many others miss, and I thank my dad for that. For instance, on a trip down Loop 101 from Phoenix to Chandler at the right time of the year, you see strings and V’s of ducks and geese in their annual migrations. I remember those things when I see them and feel a bit sad for those who miss those small things about them. I know from Dad’s very earliest recollections, he always wanted to paint and share the majesty of creation with others. Being an artist was in his blood, and he did not hold back.
Do you have a favorite piece?
No, I loved them all. Yes, some a bit more than others, but just like reading a favorite author, I was always anxious for the next story, and to me, each of his paintings was a story. You may notice in many of his works that while the primary subject was a specific bird or animal, there was so much detail to the rest of the painting — the formation of the clouds, the color of the sky, the subtle shadows — and often, hidden in the small places were unnoticed objects, like a petroglyph on a nearby rock or a shed snake skin interwoven through a distant cactus patch. The detail and additional content read like a book and like a good story: When you finish one, you are thirsty for the next. Even as a small child, whenever a painting that hung on the walls of our home sold, I remember tearing up as it walked out the door with its new owner and thinking, “There goes my favorite,” only to shed a tear again when the next one sold. So many favorites — all of them.