Jason Peck: Artist with DM Teaches Others Online

Painting and teaching motivate MDA’s 2011 Personal Achievement Award recipient for Tennessee, who has dermatomyositis

Artist Jason Peck, with one of his paintings, "Dexter Park, Missouri."
Article Highlights:
  • Jason Peck, who has dermatomyositis, loves painting and teaching, and shares his technique with others by way of his online blog.
  • In addition to receiving MDA’s Personal Achievement Award for Tennessee, Peck will be featured in the January 2012 issue of American Artist magazine.
by Richard Senti on September 16, 2011 - 12:33pm

Jason Peck’s memory of his childhood has some missing images: running, jumping, swinging, and sliding into home.

Although Peck, who received a dermatomyositis diagnosis at age 4, missed out on playing ball in the backyard with his buddies, he discovered early on that he had a talent his speedy friends didn’t — the ability to draw rather well. And he’s never looked back.

Jason Peck working on a painting
A work in progress image of a little girl by artist Jason Peck
Top: Peck at work on a current painting. Two tools vital to his work are his Mahl stick, which steadies his painting hand, and his old ball cap. Bottom: Still an untitled work in progress, this painting can be seen in various stages on Peck’s blog.

Now 33, Peck has developed into an accomplished fine artist who works primarily with oils and pencils. The Muscular Dystrophy Association has named Peck, a resident of Memphis, the recipient of its 2011 Robert Ross Personal Achievement Award for Tennessee.

He was selected for MDA’s highest achievement award in Tennessee for his persistence in overcoming the challenges caused by his disability and for his outstanding artistic accomplishments.

Staying active

Dermatomyositis (DM) is a neuromuscular disease that causes weakness of shoulder and limb muscles, in addition to joint pain and occasional respiratory problems. Peck is still ambulatory, although long distances give him trouble. Exercise is an important part of his daily regimen, but he takes care not to overexert himself.

“Part of my routine is to take my dog for a walk each morning,” Peck says. “I don’t have to go too fast or too far, but keeping my muscles moving really helps.”

Although his disease keeps him close to home, it doesn’t keep him from creating his art or from sharing it. His brother, who is a computer programmer, has helped him build both a website and a blog, Adventures of the Brush. Peck is constantly updating his blog with new work and paintings in progress. When it comes to his art, he has no secrets.

“I like to teach,” he says. “A lot of how-to information isn’t shared today. So I’ll take photos of a painting when I start it, then periodically photograph it as the piece progresses and post these on line to show my technique.”

Painting the traditional way, with adaptations

Though he uses the computer for sharing his work and connecting with other artists, Peck is strictly a traditionalist when it comes to creating his original art — pencils for drawing and oils for painting. "I know Photoshop like the back of my hand — for years I’ve used it for color correcting copy photos of my paintings. And I’m currently using it to create the graphics for a video game my brother is creating."

Peck's painting: Professor Wexler
Professor Wexler, World Explorer: “This is from the end of my comic book era when I started getting really good at it," says Peck. "It’s probably one of the last paintings I did in this style. From this point on I switched from doing imaginative work to drawing strictly from life.”

But when it’s time to paint, he switches off his computer and moves to his trusty easel. “With my condition, my arm will start to shake, so I use a supporting stick in my left hand to keep my right hand steady for painting. It’s called a Mahl stick. Artists have been using them as far back as Rembrandt. I also need to sit down while I paint. I know most painters like to stand at their easels to work but I would tire very quickly if I did that.”

From comic book heroes to real life

Peck says two contemporary artists — James Gurney and Frank Ordaz — have been very supportive of his work and have inspired him in his painting.

And many other art lovers will soon learn of Jason Peck because the editors of American Artist magazine recently selected him as American Artist of the Month for its January 2012 issue.

When viewing Peck’s art on his website — which exhibits selected work from high school all the way up to the present — the viewer is presented a wide range of styles, from comic book superheroes to realist street scenes to spectacular fantasy landscapes inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien.

“When I first started painting at around age 11, I wanted to learn how to draw comic books,” Peck says. “I’m really glad I did that because that’s when I learned how to draw people. I started buying books on how to draw comics and I learned how to draw human forms and facial expressions.”

Peck’s early work came mostly from his imagination; he was unencumbered with the real world around him. In recent years, however, he’s transitioned into painting from direct observation. “Now I draw strictly from life,” he says, “from what I see in front of me.”

A painting done from a photograph
The Look: “I made this painting of a friend of mine for my final art portfolio in high school," says the artist. "I photographed him in this pose and painted it from direct observation — one of the first pieces I’d done that way.”

MDA like his ‘second family’

One of Peck’s early oil paintings as a teen was selected as one the first pieces in the MDA Art Collection, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2012. He remains a big fan of the Collection.

“When I view the collection on the MDA website, I’m just blown away by the quality of work produced by people with muscle disease, many with conditions much worse than mine.”

Peck’s relationship with MDA goes back even further than the donation of his painting to the Art Collection.

“All the people at my local MDA office are like my second family — I’ve grown up with them,” Peck says. “Without their help I don’t think I would have been as successful at painting as I am today. For someone with a disability, MDA steps in and helps you realize that you can pursue your dreams and do the things you want to do — they’re there to help you.”

One of Peck’s fondest memories as a child was his MDA summer camp experience. Not surprisingly, he loved the arts-and-crafts sessions. Now he’s looking forward to giving back to MDA by returning to camp next summer as a teacher.

“They want me to put together some art projects for the kids and help out with the arts-and-crafts program,” he says. “I’d like that.”

imaginitive scene of a cafe, inspired by Peck's mom, Cindy

Cindy's Café: “I painted this for my mom," Peck says of this piece. "She always wanted to have her own café; it represents her dream. The whole scene is from my imagination.”More of Peck's work can be seen on his website.

To learn about the MDA Personal Achievement Award recipient from your state, visit the PAA page.

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