‘Thunderhead artist’ labors to show beautyParks finished a long career in banking before going into art full time

MIDLAND Driving a tractor on his father’s farm, Don Lee Parks was always fascinated by the big cloud-laden skies but didn’t know at the time that they were fueling his future landscape artistry.
“I saw clouds all day, and I’m sure that influenced my appreciation of skies,” he said. “Clouds are fascinating because you will never see the same formation for the rest of your life.”
Parks grew up at Seymour, north of Abilene, where he first felt the painterly inclinations that he gradually expressed while taking bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural economics at Texas Tech University and pursuing a 28-year career in banking.
“They gave us one piece of paper a week in the fourth grade to draw whatever we wanted,” he said. “That was my favorite hour. I also made model airplanes and did leather tooling of horses and antelopes, so it was a hidden desire.”
He was an Air Force supply officer, a Texas A&M ag economist in the College Station area, a trust real estate officer at banks in Corpus Christi and Midland and an administrator at Stonegate Fellowship until becoming a full-time artist in 2006. He and his wife, Minda, have two children and four grandchildren.
Parks is part of a group of landscape artists that has a show at Haley Memorial Library & History Center each fall, and one of his bigger works, “Boomtown,” of a 1926 oilfield scene near McCamey, was enlarged into a 12-by-53-foot mural at the Petroleum Museum. Having studied with such well-known artists as Scott Christensen of Victor, Idaho, Ovanes Berberian of Rigby, Idaho, and Clyde Aspevig of Bozeman, Mont., he worked in water colors for 15 years before going to oils in the mid-1980s.
“The keys to being a realistic artist are to take classes with professionals, read lots of art books, paint outside and paint a lot of pictures,” said Parks, 74. “But I’m never going to learn exactly how to do it the way it needs to be done. It’s a moving target.”
Estimating he’s sold more than 1,000 paintings, Parks said, “God’s creation has a powerful impact.
“He gives us this beautiful world to live in because He loves us so much. I like to go out and see what catches my eye, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. There is beauty everywhere.”
Parks has supplied galleries in Santa Fe, Ruidoso and Dallas, but now sells from his large studio adjacent to his 4310 Tumbleweed Trail home. His paintings range from $350 to $17,000, including the frames.
Working up to nine hours a day, six days a week, Parks favors scenes from the Big Bend and Hill Country, starting on location and finishing with photos and his “reference library of colors” on 400 six-by-eight-inch canvases. But he gets inspiration just about everywhere he goes, including Arizona, California, Idaho and Italy.
“I was studying for an ag economics test in the Tech library in my sophomore year when I noticed a bunch of art books and started looking at them,” he said. “I bought some paint the next day and was painting in my dorm room that weekend. I enjoyed it, but I never dreamed I could make a living at it.”
Parks’ dad C.C. was a farmer who worked for Shell Pipeline. His mom was the former Cleo Powell of Rankin, and he has a brother, Carl, of Dimmitt. The farm where Parks’ appreciation of clouds began was one C.C. leased in Floyd County, northeast of Lubbock.
Haley Memorial Library Director J. Pat McDaniel said Parks “is the pre-eminent thunderhead artist of West Texas.
“Don’s thunderheads and vistas are extremely well-liked by homeowners and commercial installations as well,” McDaniel said. “Besides being a great guy, he is able to communicate beauty in the environment we live in. What distinguishes great artists is their ability to depict what they see. They’ve got to understand what they’re looking at, and Don is acutely focused on his craft.”
Parks said one of the fine points of landscape painting, depicting light, “is kind of a trick because the sun is four hundred times brighter than any paint that comes out of a tube.
“Ovanes Berberian says to make the whole painting a little darker and push the values, or the darkness or lightness of any color relative to all the other colors, closer together,” he said. “You develop your style unintentionally. Paint the best you can on everything you approach, and eventually you start having your own particular way of doing it.”
Considering his version of French impressionism, by which he captures the momentary impression his scenes make, Parks said, “If every blade of grass or all the leaves were there, you could look at the painting for six months and never need to look at it again.
“Leave something for the mind to fill in, and it lasts forever.”
Using a technique recommended by Scott Christensen, Parks works with a big mirror behind him to afford a backward view of what he’s doing and possibly show weaknesses in the painting. “I usually keep two or three going at the same time,” he said, adding that his wife is his most important critic.
“When they go south, there’s no way to salvage them,” he said. “I wipe them off and start all over on something else.”