Winter is full of ugly realities.

We slip on ice, skid on curvy roads, shiver during a short walk and  have to scrape our car windows.

As temperatures drop, there is plenty to dislike.

But, one area artist considers it his life's work to show the other side of winter.

Through his eyes, winter is full of beauty. 

'Seasons are everything'

When Lee Kimball and his wife, Julie, drive on snow-covered roads near their home in rural Orion, Illinois, they both expect frequent stops.

When Kimball sees a barn, set of trees or road he likes, he often pulls over to snap a photo and draw a quick sketch that will later be turned into a painting.

"I can't go anywhere and not see a painting," he said. "I want to capture what I see and put it on paper."

Julie is used to reminding her husband to keep his eyes on the road.

“Every trip we take, it involves searching for that next painting,” she said.

Kimball, 67, thinks back to his previous career in advertising, when spending his days driving, seeing, capturing, painting was a faraway dream.

“It was scary to change, but I had to see what would happen,” he said. “

For the past two decades, he has lived out his dream and his work is frequently on display at area galleries. You can view about 20 of them at the Bereskin Art Gallery through Jan. 10 in his exhibit, called "Near to Nature.”

He paints, with oils or pastels, seasonal landscapes of Iowa and Illinois. He calls his style “contemporary realistic style.”

“When you live in the Midwest, seasons are everything,” he said. “Each season you get a different mindset and a different scene to capture.”

He owes his love of seasons to a live lived in the country. After growing up in rural southwest Rock Island and now living in rural in Henry County, he has a “deep and abiding love of nature.”

“One of the things I try to do is celebrate the beauty of the Midwest,” he said. “A lot of people don’t think Illinois is all that pretty, but it’s a quiet beauty. Sometimes you have to search for it.”

'Keep your eyes open'

Wintry weather doesn’t get Kimball down.

“I know a lot of people hate winter and I get it,” he said. “But to me, it can be cold, miserable, beautiful at the same time."

Even in icy conditions, Kimball drives on back roads with his sketchpad and camera looking for the next scene. He’s made a rule to paint only what he sees — he doesn’t create from submitted photos.

“Not everyone gets to do what I do and see what I see, so I want my paintings to be like looking out the window,” he said.

In between his searches, Kimball steps inside his tool shed-turned studio — what he calls a man cave — and plays piano compositions from Puccini, throws logs onto the wood-burning stove, drinks a cup of coffee and paints. Some paintings are finished in a day and others take years.

“I always get to the point where I need my fix of painting,” he said. “I say it’s my drug of choice. It always pulls me back in.”

Snowy scenes are his personal favorite.

“Everything is fresh and quiet and hushed in the winter,” he said. “It seems like it forces you to slow down. Every other time of year is a little more frantic and fast paced.”

And his biggest cheerleader, his wife, says his winter scenes are his best. 

“It sounds odd, but there’s a warmth to his style," she said. "Some people don't want anything to do with winter, but living out here ... we love it. We bundle up and go on walks and soak it in." 

They'll be doing plenty of that this season — Kimball says he won't be able to stay inside. 

“There’s a beauty to winter that can’t be found any other time” he said. “You just have to go out and see it and keep your eyes open.”


Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).