The piercing red eye of a loon has put artist Bob Metropulos on a new path. Although this industrious entrepreneur has, for the most part, made a living from his talent, it was this bird’s captivating stare, and a quirk in a Photoshop tool, that has launched his career on to a more literary path. And that alone is an amazing phenomenon, especially for Bob.
“I’ve struggled my entire life with dyslexia,” he said. “I never dreamed I would be able to write a book. But when you believe in a higher power and are open to that power it’s amazing what can happen.”
Bob admits that his life has not always been easy. As a kid he struggled unendingly with his learning disability because no one really knew exactly what he had. It wasn’t until he was in college that he was diagnosed with dyslexia. “Once I got tested and diagnosed I was relieved,” he said. “I was glad to know there was a name for it and it gave me the opportunity to find ways to cope.”
However, it was his disability that made him turn to art at a young age. While words and reading frustrated him, the smooth strokes of a paint brush or the familiar feel of a charcoal pencil in his hand gave him solace. Bob’s mother was also an artist and as a youngster he would go into her studio painting and drawing to his heart’s content. Being creative gave him a sense of accomplishment and provided a way to relieve some of the frustration he felt as a student.
In 1979 Bob moved to the Northwoods from Cedarburg, where he grew up. He was determined to make a living from his talent and initially opened an art studio in Lake Tomahawk and then eventually opened his Parkside Gallery in Minocqua. He was fascinated with the wildlife of the Northwoods and soon was winning awards, particularly with his beautiful paintings of migratory birds. Over the years he has garnered many, including state and national duck stamp designations and people from all across the country have commissioned him to paint artwork for their homes and cottages.
It was about three years ago that he set out to paint another picture and, as he often does, turned to some photos he had taken for inspiration. Bob spends many hours out in nature capturing his subjects by camera before he sits down with paint and brush. Using technology to his advantage, he downloads them onto a computer and then studies them meticulously to get ideas on lighting or the subtle nuances of a creature’s character.
One day, he was studying the beautiful coloring of a loon he had photographed and was thinking about painting. He often uses the tools built into a computer program called Photoshop to highlight certain aspects of his photographs. One of those tools is called a marquee, and allows users to section off pieces of photos to study closer. Bob was doing just that when he heard the bell tinkle at his front door signifying that a customer has walked in his gallery.
After completing his business, he came back to his computer to find the marquee had worked its way over the eye of the loon photo, magnifying it into an abstract enigma. “For a second I couldn’t even figure out what it was,” Bob laughed. “But then I looked at it closer and thought ‘that’s pretty cool.'” He couldn’t stop thinking about that red eye, and late that night went into his home studio and painted a rendition of it. “I only spent about four hours on it,” he said. “It was like it almost painted itself.”
The next day he brought it to his gallery, placing it up front among his other artwork, and it wasn’t long before customers were commenting on it. Their main question was, “What IS it?” “Kids had the most fun with it,” Bob said. “Some thought it was a sea monster, others thought it was some kind of dinosaur. But one thing I did notice, it brought people of every age together, talking about art, and I loved that.”
Bob decided to take advantage of the painting’s uniqueness and wrote a little poem about loons nesting to recite to customers who were stumped by the lone, piercing red eye. And then suddenly the floodgates opened. “I thought ‘Why not do an entire series of paintings like this?'” he said. “People were really engaged in this painting and I wanted to continue that.”
So once again Bob returned to his easel and painted similar single eye compositions of four more birds including a snowy owl, a pheasant, a wood duck and a vulture. Then another inspiration-“Why not compile them in a book?” So he started the wheels turning to publish his first What is it? book.
But Bob knew how frustrating reading had been for him as a youngster and he wanted his book to be appealing not only to kids of every age, but also of every ability. He thought about books he would have enjoyed as a child struggling with dyslexia and decided to make the book interactive. So in addition to the fascinating eye paintings of these creatures the What is it? book has a button to push that activates the calls of these birds. There’s also a little poem hinting at what type of birds belong to the lone eyes staring out at readers. Bob uses his photography and paintings and includes compositions of the birds sitting on fence posts, feeding their babies or running through a field. There are also questions that make the reader think about the creatures featured in the book such as “Can you swim underwater like a loon?” In addition, each bird has a flap over its eye that when opened reveals the same image of the one Bob has painted. “This is a book kids can read by themselves or parents or grandparents can read to kids,” he said. “It makes both kids and adults think about these creatures and gets them talking and interacting together.”
While the book does feature a lot of Bob’s artwork, the information about each bird was written by him and the little poems that give hints about the identity of each bird were also his creations. “To see this book in print gives me a lot of satisfaction,” he said.
In fact, he is so inspired by his writing experience he is working on an entire series of “What is it?” books. In addition to promoting this first book, Bob is now underway creating the series which will include house pets, farm animals, insects and other creatures that are just waiting in this artist’s mind. These subsequent books will follow the same format as his first one, teaching readers not only about animals but also about such aspects of life as manners, the importance of working together and how our actions have certain consequences.
“Going from an artist to an author is a step I never would have believed possible for me,” Bob said. “But I think a lot of things that seem impossible are possible when you keep your mind, and your heart, open to the power that is guiding you in life. I truly believe that power can make anything happen if you let it.”
Editor’s note: To learn more about or to order the What is it? book, visit artisticimages2.com, or visit Parkside Gallery, 201 W. Front St. in Minocqua which is located off the main thoroughfare heading north. The phone number is (715) 356-7001.