Important changes for Mountain Workshops 2020Show me more

Living double

For several decades, John Ward, 57, has been a senior civil site designer at the engineering firm HDR in Lexington. Away from work, John pursues his interest in art. A print of his painting that took first place in the National Wolf Alliance Competiton hangs in his cubicle.

Fluorescent lights reflect off the walls in the offices of the engineering firm HDR where John Ward, 57, has worked for several decades as a civil site designer. Cubicles fill most of the office space, and the gentle hum of productivity fills the air.

John’s world takes a colorful turn when he returns to his home in western Mt. Sterling at the end of the work day.  The house where he lives with his wife, Susan, son, Brandon, daughter-in-law, Melissa, and two of his three grandchildren bustles with family activity, and his grandchildren’s voices echo through the rooms.

It's in this little slice of heaven that he creates his art. Original paintings and drawings of horse racing, dogs, birds and farm life decorate the walls. At the kitchen table, which doubles as his studio, John paints subjects he believes embody the spirit of Kentucky.

John says he's blessed to make money from his art. “It makes me humble because it’s not something someone has to love,” he says.

Kentuckians demonstrated their love for his art when 50,000 of them sifted through 1,800 submissions to select three concepts for the Kentucky State quarter. Two of the three concepts were John's.

He attributes his success as an artist to his father who taught him from early childhood in southern Ohio. John went to college to pursue his passion for painting but abandoned art when his teachers tried to change his style.

“They wanted me to do impressionism, abstract," he says. "So instead of enhancing what I could do, they were taking me a different direction. I didn't like it, and I quit."

John didn’t pick up a brush again for 10 years until a colleague happened upon his work and commissioned him to create several paintings. Since then, his art sales have exploded.

Often working weeks on a single painting he says, “When they buy my art, they buy me.”

When he isn’t painting, he seeks inspiration from his experiences outdoors: raising beagles, hiking and animal watching. He spends as much time with his family as he can.

“He loves his grandsons," says his daughter, Courtney Goodpaster, who also lives in Mt. Sterling. "I think that when I see him smile and laugh the most is when he’s around them.”

In the mornings, John leads a stretching session at work as part of a health and wellness program. Employees receive points when they attend the sessions, which can be redeemed for benefits such as discounted insurance.
In his day job, John has noticed that his artistic side bleeds into his construction renderings. It was in a batch of renderings that a colleague stumbled upon one of John's paintings and commissioned several.
At home, John's life centers around his family and his art. He creates his realistic art with pencils, markers and paints, or a combination. A single piece may take weeks to complete.
Courtney bounces her son, Knox, on her stomach while visiting with family in John's living room. "He's always been a supportive, involved dad," she says, and now he's an involved grandfather.
John's daughter, Courtney Goodpaster, holds her son, Knox, 2, while John seeks inspiration from previous paintings, sketches and photos. The painting he is working on will have three panels when complete.
Picking and choosing different elements from photos and drawings, John pieces together his art. He isn't sure what background he wants for these hummingbirds, because he doesn't want it to overpower them.
John attributes his success as an artist to his father. Now he's passing down his artistic knowledge to Knox and his other grandsons.
Tubes of paint fill a plastic bucket on the kitchen table where John spends his evenings painting. Oil paint is one of his favorite mediums due to its forgiving nature. If he make a mistake, he says, he can just paint over it. With watercolors, even a tiny mistake is irreversible.
John kisses Knox goodnight before Courtney takes him home to bed. His wife and children are his biggest supporters, and he wouldn't have been able to pursue his art without them.