The Brian Drake Studio and Gallery, located just off the downtown square, vibrates with color, light and, most of all, imagination. Paintings in the styles of realism, Impressionism and abstraction, as well as pottery, sculpture and cases of art jewelry beckon patrons to take a break from the everyday and enter the artist’s realm of creativity.

While some art galleries can be stuffy, cold and intimidating places, owner Brian Drake keeps the atmosphere at his gallery casual, warm and accessible. He invites browsers to sip a cup of coffee, explore rooms brimming with art and just talk.

“I wanted to create a place where people could browse without being intimidated by a salesperson hovering,” Drake explained. “I enjoy people coming in and just taking a gander and starting a conversation about the artwork or jewelry displayed.”

Drake, who’s usually dressed casually - on a recent visit he wore khaki shorts and a T-shirt — speaks authoritatively about the media artists use to create their works. As a largely self-taught painter, he has studied artistic techniques and theories and experimented with a variety of media before he settled on acrylic painted primarily on canvas. He sits at a white table and works on paintings in between assisting customers.

Some of his pictures, mostly landscapes and seascapes, fall into the category of realism. Others are abstracts that leave the viewer to interpret their meaning.

“Abstracts use form, color and texture to define an emotion; one person might feel a piece of art one way, while others view it completely differently,” Drake explained. “I also use the Impressionist style where I can say more with color and texture than I could with form.”

Drake said he especially enjoys painting places — a favorite lake or stream, a beautiful old barn, a sandy stretch of beach. “Basically, about any place that brings me peace or a chance to remember a special time or place in my life,” he said. He likes to take photographs and paint from them. People often will bring him a photo of a place or an image that’s special to them and ask Drake to create a commissioned piece - so many that commissioned work keeps him busy.

Drake opened the gallery in early 2004. He came to Stephenville after many years of living in major cities from Miami to Dallas. Before settling down in Dallas, he worked for Carnival Cruise lines as a purser, managing the cruise ship.

“It’s like being a hotel manager,” Drake explained.

When he worked on the cruise line, he saw and photographed a lot of the world. Those photographs inspired quite a few paintings.

“When I walked off the ship for the last time, I think I had about 30 pounds of pictures in my baggage!” Drake said.

The artist has been painting since he was a child.

“I can remember an Easter when I got a full painting kit. I think I was around seven years old and I was so excited,” Drake recalled. “I always thought that I would take up my art when I retired, but after working on the cruise line for so many years and taking so many pictures, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer.”

He quit Carnival and began working in jewelry retail until he honed his craft to the point where he could become a full-time artist. Although he displays many of his own artworks in the gallery, he also represents 17 artists working in a variety of media, including Jack Patrick’s raku and horsehair pottery, mosaic, painting, bronze sculptures of horses and lovely turned wooden bowls and vases created by his father, Ralph.

Each month a featured artist fills one of the gallery rooms with his or her artwork. For example, the concise and detailed paintings of Granbury artist Rebecca Zook went on display recently. The gallery also shows art photographs.

Purchasing artwork from a gallery can be expensive at some places, but Drake likes to keep the art in his gallery within an affordable price range. For example, pottery pieces run from $30 to $35. Paintings range from $45 to several thousand dollars.

“I wanted to create a market for fine artwork that wouldn’t cost a fortune,” Drake said. “My style for commissions is different than in the Metroplex.”

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, an art gallery typically charges a 45 to 50 percent commission, so artists must jack up the prices for their pieces accordingly. At the Drake Gallery, the owner charges a monthly fee for displaying the artwork, then charges a smaller commission when a piece sells.

“This makes it affordable for everyone to have a fine piece of art in their home,” Drake said.

Drake’s artworks catch the eye partly because he has designed unusual sculptured frames to accent and highlight each piece as well as extend his art outside of the canvas and become part of the composition. Ralph Drake uses his woodworking skills to bring his son’s frame designs to life.

For example, Brian Drake’s picture of a longhorn, painted from the back, shows the animal looking past the trunks of tall trees that frame a lush pasture. The frame on either side of the canvas resembles a picket fence, adding a layer of meaning to the artwork.

“The frame of a picture can completely change the meaning behind a picture,” Drake said. “Since I use a thicker canvas and paint on the sides of the pictures, I wanted frames that not only display work but add detail to the work of art.”

Drake’s attention to detail spills over to the original art jewelry filling four six-foot-long cases. He personally selects about half of the jewelry, which includes pendants, necklaces and earrings that incorporate beadwork, fine stones and a lot of creativity. Many pieces are priced between $25 and $50.

“I wanted to provide a unique selection that would not be like everything else that everyone wears,” Drake explained.

He did and it isn’t. Individuality and artistic expression thrive in every corner of Drake’s gallery, a space that specializes in the other side of ordinary.

The Brian Drake Studio and Gallery, located at 254 S. Belknap Street, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 965-6677 or 592-6485 or visit www.briandrake.net.

The Texan News Service is a project of Tarleton State University’s journalism program.

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