‘Wild Man’ Hunts With Camera

By Gina Delfavero
DERRY, PA—When Joe Mattock trekked into the woods at the start of hunting season last year, he loaded up with more than just his rifle and ammunition.

Tucked in his bag, there’s always a sketch pad and camera, loaded and ready.  A hunter ever since he was old enough for a license, Mattock, 57, hasn’t had much luck in recent years. He usually shoots his camera more than his gun.  Not that that bothers him. As a wildlife artist, he gets more enjoyment from photographing and sketching his prey more than he does cooking up venison.

Many of his pieces are portraits of life experiences. A recent captivation with fly fishing has resulted in a pair of richly-hued paintings depicting the sport.  In one, he captured his brother deep in concentration mid-cast, which he called “The Presentation.”

Golden fields, leaf-layered forest floors, and snowy slopes are the backdrops to most of Mattock’s paintings, so when he decided to take a stab at a more aquatic pursuit when he took up fly fishing three years ago, it was a challenge.

Acrylic paints, water colors and colored pencils are his tools of choice. When the mood strikes, he’ll sometimes combine colored pencil and acrylic for a different effect, but the majority of his work is done in acrylics.

“I have more control over (acrylics),” he said compared to its oil and water color counterparts. “You get more detail. I like to have a lot of detail in my painting. If I want to, I’ll put people in,” Mattock added, noting that most of his paintings have wildlife in their natural habitat—no humans. Hunters will sporadically pop up, though, especially in his commissioned work.

A graduate of Latrobe High School, Mattock continued at the Pittsburgh Art Institute for three years after high school. Illustration was his focus. “I wanted to be an illustrator for a magazine, but it didn’t turn out that way,” he stated. Just two weeks after he graduated, Mattock had to endure a major setback to his art career—the draft. He was in the Army for three years, and was handed a camera due to his art background.

“I wanted to do something related to art, and I wanted to learn photography,” so it seemed natural, he said. But Army photography was not what he expected.  “It didn’t turn out,” he quipped, adding that his duties included making maps and keeping the 60-pound cameras loaded, prepped and updated, so that when fighting broke out, the cameras were operable.

He served in Vietnam for a stint, making maps using the overhead photographs he took. When he returned to the States, Mattock did not have an easy time finding a job within his career goals. He ended up taking a job with Latrobe Steel, but continued his artwork on the side.

Mattock’s passion for art was drawn from his father, also named Joe.  Joe Sr. owned a butcher shop in Latrobe, but like his son, he always kept up with his drawing and painting.

“I’d watch him paint,” Mattock said, noting that his father had a knack for drawing a broad selection of subjects, including store fronts, animals, and people.  Mattock Sr.’s work still circulates among local art markets.

Mattock’s partiality to the more casual forms of art has continued since his illustration education.  Aside from his wildlife painting, he continues to draw cartoons and caricatures, and in the past has enjoyed designing album covers.  When co-workers retire from Latrobe Steel, Mattock is often enlisted to draw a keepsake caricature. But still, the majority of his work spawns from hours of sitting outdoors, watching, photographing and sketching nature.

“I never knew you could make any money doing wildlife,” Mattock said. But his wildlife art seemed a natural progression from his illustration beginnings. “I like hunting and being in the woods, so the two kind of intertwined,” he noted.

It was around 1988 that Mattock and his wife, Mona, walked into Nature Nook Gallery in Greensburg, in search of a painting of a Red Fox. He ended up chatting with owners Chuck and Kathy Hayden, who asked Mattock if he did any painting or drawing himself.

“We told him, ‘Why don’t you bring some of your work and we’ll take a look at it,’” said Kathy Hayden. When he did, “We asked him, ‘Why are you buying a print of a Red Fox when you can paint one?’ We were in awe. Being in this business, we get a lot of people who bring in artwork, and it’s usually good, but his was just exceptional work. His stood out far above other wildlife artists whose work we had seen.

“Obviously, we love his work because we invest our money to publish it. We were really impressed with some of the things he’s done.”

He began doing commissioned work for both people and pet portraits, “And it all just snowballed,” he said. His blend of outdoor life and painting has led him to memberships in a variety of wildlife organizations. He belongs to Pheasants Forever, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The Latrobe Art League, of which he’s also a member, is an outlet for his art interest. Mattock has submitted his work to a number of wildlife-themed art contests, and usually comes away with an award for his work.

A few years into his wildlife painting, Mattock decided he would try his hand at cover illustrations. He first submitted work to Pennsylvania Game News, but wasn’t accepted. The second submission he gave in 1990 established him as one of the magazine’s artists. His first magazine print was a black and white sketch of a turkey scene—as required, he had also turned in pencil drawings and paintings. He worked with Pennsylvania Game News for 12 years, ending his stint with them two years ago.

People, homes, and scenery also supplement his work of portraits, but it’s pets that people most want to be captured on canvas. One of his more unusual paintings was for a man who had studied Shrews all of his life. He came to the man’s house, where he sketched and snapped just a few Shrews that made their home on his land.

Every once in a while, Mattock will still be asked to draw a cartoon or caricature. He recalled an unusual phone call from a man asking if he could draw a cartoon of his friend. They had been biking one day, when the man ran his bike right into a Groundhog, wrecking the bike and breaking his leg.

Between Mattock’s success with wildlife magazine covers, portraits and his love for illustration, he found his market and his art career has prospered, though discouraged at his start when he didn’t find a job in the industry out of the Army.

“We really didn’t think it would take off like it did,” noted Mona Mattock who handles most of the business end of her husband’s art work.

“I’ve pretty much painted everything,” Mattock said. “You name it, I’ve done it.”—Blairsville Dispatch