It may seem like Trevor Swanson figured out his life calling at a young age––and by most accounts, he did––but to his family, the realization couldn’t come soon enough. Though they never pushed him to pursue art, they could see his innate talent and knew it would one day beckon him.

Trevor was raised in a family of artists and though he had painted since he was a child, he wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of making a career of it. But after his first art show, Trevor knew there was no place he’d rather be. He began experimenting with new techniques, learning quickly what to do and what not to do. He also began incorporating his love of nature into his work.

This led him on expeditions to various remote regions around the world and often face-to-face with some of the largest creatures to roam the planet. Though it can set the stage for some terrifying experiences, for Trevor, it’s all in the name of research. To translate the energy of those moments captured to the canvas or metal, he often turns to heat and acid to create backdrops rich with movement and mood––and these backgrounds often help inform the story he wants to convey through the piece.

Read on or watch the video below to learn more about Trevor and what inspires his work.

When did you know art was your calling?

I knew at around 20 years old. I was a scuba instructor and I wasn’t making very much money––it was a great way to meet girls, but you can’t make a living doing that. So I went back to school. I had always been doing art and grew up in a family of artists, and I was just looking for a way to express myself.

I did a few paintings, and everybody in my family knew this is what I was going to do. They were just waiting for it to click for me. I participated in a show with some quail pieces and sold them, and I felt like, “This is it. This is what I want to do.” And everybody was like, “Ok. Finally, you realized it!”

I started working more with my dad and uncle to refine my work. I did some training in school but was never that great at it because so much of what they teach is how to get from A to B, but I could already do that. I needed to learn through mistakes and just getting out there, and practicing and playing with it. Because those are the things that stick with you. And it was great to have all these different viewpoints and different perspectives from people in the art world.

What do you love most about creating art?

I love the beginning and the end because I love that potential. It’s looking at a blank canvas and having that feeling of, “This can be anything.” I carry around sketchbooks with me all the time and they’re filled with different ideas that I can go back to see where they might fit in. It’s the same thing with the patina process. It’s that blank metal and just watching these colors develop, and figuring out where it’s going to go. It’s the whole generation process of it and seeing the very end. There’s something satisfying about it.

There’s this interesting feeling you get when it comes time to sit back and look at the completed piece. When that vision in your head suddenly gets to that point where it matches what’s on the canvas––there’s something magic about that. When you get to that moment of completion and it feels like, “This is it. This is the story I wanted to tell.”

How do you convey stories through your work?

I start with acid and heat, and that creates this beautiful kind of colorful canvas for me to then start on. I usually paint nature, so I spend a lot of my time out researching the natural world, whether it’s critters like bison or beautiful settings. Now, I usually try to control the patinas I use to create different stories before I even start to paint. I’ll use the patinaed metal to tell that story, and find the right subjects and the right designs to put in there. I use that patina to really create the mood or the feeling for whatever the painting is going to be from there.

What brings you back to the Celebration of Fine Art?

I love the people more than anything. I love this little tribe of misfits that get put together every year. I’ve learned so much from everybody here and I look forward to seeing my friends and meeting new people. There is really something special about this that has become something I look forward to because the people here understand your day-to-day of work and the mental ups and downs that go with it. You have all this understanding around you that is really hard to explain to somebody that doesn’t have that creative spirit. And to be able to create in an environment with a bunch of other creative people, it just seems like that mental energy just really pushes you to do something really special. I look forward to coming to this every day just to spend time with my people.