Inspiration all around

Craig Orback's cover of 'The Can Man' is featured in the scholarship show.
Craig Orback's cover of 'The Can Man' is featured in the scholarship show.

It's a familiar sight in cities nationwide: A man digs through a trash can, filling his grocery cart with aluminum cans.

But the painting of this scene isn't to promote recycling or assist the homeless, it's the cover of a book illustrated by former Los Osos resident Craig Orback.

During the Morro Bay Art Association's 36th annual student scholarship show, art by former winner Orback will be featured.

Now 39 and living in Bellingham, Wash., Orback has gone on to become a successful illustrator of children's books. He returns to the Central Coast annually to visit his family, Gary and Eileen Orback and brother Mark.

The Morro Bay Art Center will feature the original oil from Orback’s most recent book, “The Can Man,” along with a drawing from one of the scholarship shows.

As a Morro Bay High School student Orback took second place in 1989 and first place in 1990. He again earned a first-place award as a Cuesta College student in 1991 and another award in 1994.

Orback recalls that like most other children, he enjoyed doing art, but for him it was more than fun. “It was something I took kind of seriously,” he said, entering competitions as often as possible.

The monetary awards from the Morro Bay competitions came in handy, for art supplies, tuition and travel, Orback said.

“Travel has been a real inspiration for me. I always come back usually invigorated to do more art.” He's been to New Zealand and Australia a couple of times, and he and his wife recently returned from a cross-country trip.

Orback headed to Seattle to attend school in 1994, earning a BFA degree in illustration. He said he grew frustrated while trying to get established as an illustrator when a friend suggested children's books.

“I didn't even think about children's books at that time,” Orback said, but he did some research, created a packet of samples based on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and started contacting publishers.

In the past 10 years, Orback has done the art work for 13 books, as well as stories for kid's magazines. He's also been teaching classes in children's book illustrations at community colleges in Bellingham and the Seattle area since 2002.

Orback's models for his illustrations are based on their size, age, enthnicity, and appropriateness for the characters. He selects from friends and their children, his students or teachers' suggestions.

“Usually people are really excited” about having their images used in the books, he said.

When he was a child, Orback's grandmother, Ethel Schneider, also an artist, had given him “Treasure Island” and “Robinson Crusoe,” illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. Wyeth became his favorite illustrator and a major influence with his own realistic style. Other artists he admires are Edward Hopper, John Singer Sargent, and Norman Rockwell.

One book Orback especially enjoyed illustrating was “Nature's Paintbox: A Seasonal Gallery of Art and Verse” where each season was represented by a different medium.

In addition to his illustrations, Orback paints landscapes, either in plein air or from his photos. Just like the Central Coast, the Great Northwest gives him plenty of beautiful scenes to paint.