Habitat & Conservation  |  02/03/2021

Behind the Cover


An inside look at the 2021 Spring Pheasants Forever Journal cover art

Photographs capture the world as it is. Art portrays the world of our dreams and desires. Joel Pilcher’s dramatic image of a rooster pheasant crowing on a fine spring morning bridges the gap: We know the splendor of the bird and feel the drama of his dance, yet miss the color of his feathers and the urgency in his call. We heed those harbingers in this, the kick-off issue that introduces something big coming to the uplands... Join us in assuring that there are places from which the ring-necked pheasant — and a thousand other denizens of the prairie grass and wild flowers — can greet every spring forever.
- Pheasants Forever Editor Tom Carpenter

Every cover selected for our Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal tells a unique story helping to tie together the features our readers will find within that issue. 

But our Spring covers are a bit different from the rest. 

For these unique Spring Journal pieces, we wanted to give our members an inside scope on how the artwork came to life on the front of our Spring Journals. So with the help of the artist, Joel Pilcher, we’ve complied a time-lapse video of his process and conducted an in-depth Q&A with him to help us fully understand the magic that went into these stunning pieces of art.


Q & A with 2021 Spring Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Journal Cover Artist Joel Pilcher

Tell us about yourself / your background. How did you start making art?
  • I’ve always loved drawing, even as a little kid. I grew up in Utah and spent a lot of time in the outdoors. It was my dream to become a professional wildlife artist. Early on in my career it wasn’t easy to provide for a family with fine art, so for the first 10 years or so as a professional artist, I focused on digital design including marketing and branding. As social media has become an option for gaining exposure, I’ve been able to shift my focus to my charcoal and painting. It has been a long-term goal of mine and it’s a lot of fun to finally see it working out.
What inspires you? And what was your inspiration for these two pieces, are they similar or different to some of your other work?
  • I’ve always been more of a big game guy when it comes to the subject of my artwork, but I grew up hunting pheasants with my dad. That was back when we’d walk out our back door and hunt the fields behind our house. Now there's a school and neighborhood there. But I love the outdoors and the wildlife that resides there. I mountain bike a lot and use the time on the trails to clear my mind and find inspiration. I also look to talented wildlife photographers for inspiration and reference images. The creation process of these two works is a bit different from what I usually do. I used both acrylic paint and charcoal to create them.
What did the overall process look like when creating these covers? Can you give us a high-level play-by-play on what we see happening in the videos?
  • The first step is an acrylic wash. I mix acrylic paint with water and brush it over the canvas. Once it dries, I lay down a layer of charcoal powder using a dry sponge. Then I sketch out the subject with vine charcoal and use a kneaded eraser to pull out highlights. I add multiple layers and in between I spray the work with acetone to add an abstract water effect and help blend and seal the charcoal to the canvas. Once the layering and values are where I want them, I go back in with white charcoal and add the brighter highlights. Upon completion I seal and varnish them to add protection.
What do you like most about these pieces? And what do they mean to you?
  • The acrylic wash and charcoal process is new and challenging for me and I never quite know what I’m going to get. So that’s always fun when creating a new piece of art. It makes it an adventure and these two pieces were definitely that. I also love the tonal look the wash gives the charcoal and the movement present in the composition of each.
What draws you to this style of art and what are the biggest challenges associated with it compared to other mediums you’ve worked with?
  • I’ve always liked the challenge of trying new things. It’s a unique process I use for these and as I mentioned before, that adds a sense of adventure to the experience. I love working in black and white and have recently started painting in full color, so these pieces with the wash are a nice hybrid between the two. It’s fun to use a variety of mediums and processes. It keeps things exciting in my art studio.
Is there a particular element of art you enjoy working with most?
  • Lighting. No matter the medium or subject, lighting is always a challenge and a critical element in a composition. When I get it right, it’s very satisfying.
While we might be partial to these two pieces, what is your favorite wildlife critter or scene to create and why?
  • Bull elk have always been my favorite. I’m from the western United States and grew up wandering the Rockies. There’s nothing quite like hearing the bugle of a bull elk echo through the pines. The shape and texture of the antlers and the challenge of accurately rendering the facial features all play a part in making it my favorite subject to draw or paint. My elk pieces are also very popular with my audience, so they've put a lot of food on the table for my family which, to be honest, adds to their appeal as a subject for my work.
If there was one thing you would want our members to know about these covers, what would it be?
  • I loved creating them. They were definitely not the easiest pieces I’ve done, (mostly, I think, due to the fact that I haven’t done a lot of bird art) but there is a lot of satisfaction in overcoming a challenge.
Will you be producing more upland art in the future?
  • Definitely. It’s a category that is lacking in my offering and there are so many potential options for fun subjects and compositions. My goal over the next year or two is to expand beyond western big game and offer more options including upland game artwork.

Joel’s original Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal cover art will be part of the biggest online auction in our organization’s history taking place in March 2021. Stay tuned for more details about how you can put these masterpieces above your own fireplace. 

If you’re a current Pheasants Forever member, the spring issue of Pheasants Forever Journal is hitting the mailstream now.
If you want to receive this issue but aren’t yet a Pheasants Forever member, or you need to renew, click here to head to our membership page. Tell editor Tom Carpenter at tcarpenter@pheasantsforever.org that you joined or renewed, and he’ll make sure you receive a special-delivery of this issue as our thank you!