COLUMBIA — Hunched over a pebble the size of a playing card, Sid Brown handles his thin paintbrush with painstaking care.
He dips the tip in gray acrylic paint, glancing at a photograph of a howling coyote that he ripped from the pages of a magazine.
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With jeweler's glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, he studies each detail of the coyote — the color of the fur, the icy blue eyes, the fluffy tail.
Stroke by stroke, he brings the animal to life.
"I believe I am the only one doing art like this," Brown said. "The process is time-consuming and often tedious, and most artists don't have the patience required to even come close to what I do."
An intricate process
Brown's speciality is painting realistic miniatures on flat, gray stones. He has painted 500 to date and counting.
He has displayed them at McAdams' Ltd and Tucker's Custom Made Jewelry. They're not for sale, but he has had some offers. He hopes to market the stones online eventually.
"There's a lot of crafters out here, so if you put your work in a craft, show you won't get the money you deserve," Brown said. "Jewelry stores appreciate art more."
Brown prefers Mexican beach pebbles, also known as river rocks, which tend to be smooth and natural gray in color. He buys them at local nurseries, where they are generally sold for landscape projects.
The finished products portray his favorite animals — big cats, birds and small mammals such as raccoons. He also paints animals that are seasonal, such as bunnies for Easter and raccoons for spring. During the winter, he paints Santa rocks.
Brown considers himself a self-taught decorative artist; he learned the process of painting on stones by using books from the library. He relies on photographs from magazines and similar sources to create his portraits.
"I approach my paintings like a blank canvas," Brown said.
Creating pebble artwork is a multistep process. After priming the rocks for adhesion, Brown marbleizes the back and sides. He uses a hairdryer to speed up drying time before painting the subject matter and adding protective clear coats. He then fashions polymer clay to fit the rock and slowly bakes it in a slow cooker to harden it.
"Then I glue the art to the rock and, like magic, it all comes together," Brown said.
Pursuing a dream
Brown, 59, grew up in Poplar Bluff. From an early age he recognized a passion for drawing animals.
"I started out in third grade painting cats. And here, 50 years later, I'm still painting cats," he said with a laugh.
He couldn't take art classes in high school because none were offered, but his love for art was always tucked away in the back of his mind.
From 1975 to 1979, Brown served in the Navy, where he visited more than 30 countries. His travels rekindled his passion for art.
"I saw things overseas that inspired me, like the Sistine Chapel and other great, great artworks," Brown said. "I thought, 'well, I'll never be able to do that, but I still want to paint and draw.' "
After he returned home from the Navy, he enrolled in Columbia College's art program. He took art classes for four years but was unable to finish a degree.
Walking through the library one day, he spotted a book that seemed meant for him — Lin Wellford's "Painting on Rocks." Her ideas were more whimsical than the realistic subjects Brown wanted to tackle, but he had grown weary of painting on canvas, and rocks were a new, inexpensive way to display his art.
About a dozen years ago, he was encouraged to continue after sending then-President Bill Clinton a painting of a trout on a rock.
"I wrote in Latin the trout's name because I figured he would know Latin," Brown said, "and he actually sent me a letter he personally wrote."
When Brown isn't painting, he's playing fast licks in his bluegrass band Good Turn Daily. Brown believes he will always have a way to entertain his passions through fine art and bluegrass.
Brown currently works as a painter for Columbia Parks and Recreation. While he is happy to have a paintbrush in his hand for a living, he said his creative outlet really keeps him going.
"It's more than a hobby, but it's something I can't do full time," he said. "For me, it's like following my dreams. You're never too old. If you have a passion, utilize it."
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.