You’ll often find Mike Potter at Starbucks, headset on, large iPad in hand.
His tool of choice is rather unobtrusive — a simple, thin white stylus — that he moves back and forth over the device.
What separates Potter from the rest of the tech-savvy, coffee house clatch, is that he’s not updating his blog or polishing a corporate report — he’s painting.
His brushes are digital, but his subject matter is decidedly realistic: scenic landscapes, often dotted with wildlife or native elements, with inspiration drawn from his travels in both Montana and Colorado. Painting digitally allows the Whitefish native to create anywhere at anytime, provided his device has a charge.
Artist is the latest title to join Potter’s already expansive resume which also includes soldier, cross-country cyclist, media expert and fitness trainer. His foray into the art world began in 2016, on the heels of his 7,000-mile cycling adventure, with a hand-drawn poster and a little encouragement from his mother, Shirley.
Two summers ago, Potter had recently returned home after a 23-state bike ride around the perimeter of the U.S., on a Fat Bike, no less. He produced two documentaries during his ride and needed to market the films. He illustrated the posters himself, and received positive feedback on his inaugural creations, prompting him to consider delving deeper into the visual arts.
His mom, who is part Chippewa, inspired his first series of paintings titled the Native Born series. From July 5, 2016, until Aug. 30 of that same year, Mike completed 13 pictures. But 22 days after his final piece, his mother died.
“I just gave up,” Mike Potter said of the period following her death.
For four months, he quit painting altogether.
But his burgeoning passion was reignited by happenstance when he came across a video of the iconic instructional painter, Bob Ross.
“I watched a Bob Ross film and that was it. I was hooked,” he said.
Potter knew he had to create, and that digital paint was the way to do it.
The files he creates are massive, he explained, and can be blown up as large as a 40-inch-by-60-inch canvas. He isn’t limited by cost or availability of supplies either — he can paint anywhere with his iPad and can customize colors and tones to his exact specifications. He works in coffee houses where he feeds off the “sound and energy of the people,” but sources his ideas from the natural world. Potter may be inspired by a local scene, or combine features from three or four different vistas into a single painting. Potter’s paintings take him, on average, between 15 and 20 hours to complete and on Dec. 31 of last year, he polished off his hundredth piece.
“Back in the Day” is a black and white digital painting with a few color highlights that depicts downtown Whitefish over half a century ago. To produce it, he studied over 100 historic photographs to get everything from the style of cars to the light fixtures down accurately.
Many of his pieces feature his native Whitefish. Potter’s 15th painting, shows a footbridge spanning an icy river — a scene that hits close to home.
“My inspiration for this piece was my mom because I would walk along this river to go to where she lived for all those years,” Potter said. “Every time I do painting, there’s not a moment that I don’t contribute it mentally to her … she’s very present, her memory, in every single piece and will be for the remainder.”
Potter’s work has local roots and regional reach. He began marketing his paintings through Instagram, Facebook and the good ‘ol word of mouth, and has since sold nearly half of his inventory. Potter has sold paintings across the west, from Colorado to Alaska, and offers original works — where the files are destroyed after the piece is sold — or limited series of five prints.
His next venture will take him along the western coastline where he plans to travel from the northern most point of coastal Washington to southern California to capture animals, and another favorite feature of his — the water.
“It allows me to share my energy and my passion with other people. Not only do I have the the joy of expressing myself, people can then connect on an emotional level to that inspiration,” Potter said. “It’s kind of like the gift that keeps on giving.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.