Casper Watercolor Artist Reinvents the Manic Pixie Dream Girl
This article is part of a series highlighting local talent in Natrona County.
Sitting outside of Scarlow's on a warm, but windy spring day, Ryan Atkins and I chat about the little things.
"I live in a fairy tale. I enjoy what I do."
The artist excitedly observes everything around him, pointing out motorcycles and cars as they pass.
I'm envious of his energy, at this point amped up by an afternoon coffee; he is as animated as his paintings.
Atkins is a watercolor portrait artist. It's fitting we meet at Scarlow's because that's where I first learned of his work.
There's a startling madness and modernity to the portraits. He uses electric colors to create visual stimulation and an emotional appeal.
"Do you have a muse?" I ask, guessing as much already.
He's drawn her at least 50 times, and many of his paintings follow a similar pattern: pouty lips, button nose and puppy dog eyes.
"She's a gamer-girl", the manic-pixie-dream-girl character, stunning, emotional -- the opposite of the Mona Lisa, but similarly reflecting the times.
Atkins is a fourth generation Wyomingite. Growing up, his family did not have a lot of money. They once lived in a teepee he recalls, but they were happy.
As a kid, he learned to love the outdoors. "Rocks and boxes," he says of his passion for geology and computers.
He built his first computer in 1986 pre-internet.
Before doing what he does now -- applying polyurethane to vehicles at his business, Clear Bra of Casper -- Atkins had a career in computer sciences.
His tech background has helped him market to people world-wide using platforms like Reddit and Twitter.
The day after Carrie Fisher's passing, NBC shared a picture Atkins had posted of the galactic princess on the news. He said they found it via Twitter.
Atkins creates most of his art in the evening; "It's not for the day," he shares. "The world calms down at night and I stop caring about things that don't matter." He tells me he is an introvert and prefers to work alone.
"There's a lot of chaos to it."
Most of his portraits take about two hours, but he says he's done 40 hour portraits, too. It really depends on what the client wants.
A painting is not a photograph, and we discuss the tenuous balance of creating something that captures both a likeness, yet flatters the subject. There's also an element of fantasy that goes into his work.
Atkins exudes color.
Pink and blue are in every piece he's created -- "Wild Fuchsia and Andrews Turquoise" to be exact.
He came of age in the Late Eighties. He was inspired by pulp fiction along with sci-fi like Tron, and Star Wars.
"I'm scared of using black" wrote the artist on an earlier Instagram post. "The thought of even having a true black in my [art] seems absurd. Black is absence of color OR an amalgam of all colors but white..."
At some point in our meeting, Atkins flipped the script on me, asking -- (which is a key detail) consent is very important to him -- if he could draw my picture.
About a week later I showed up at his business to pick it up.
The shop is immaculate, two finished cars gleam under bright lights.
He is, not surprisingly, wearing baby blue joggers and striking sneakers. Paintings hang on the walls and a flat screen TV reports news of a writer's strike.
Atkins plucks the newly-finished painting off his desk and hands it to me. I stare at the girl in the picture.
She looks like me, yet processed through the lens of someone far-removed from the face and all its history. The enchanting quality of his style is there -- a dreamier version of the selfie it was drawn from.
Little brush strokes and pencil marks remain, letting you in on an intimate process that results in a unique finished product.