If you’ve ever walked along Wilton Drive on the third Saturday evening of the month, you may already know Rob Saunders.
Until COVID arrived, you could find his affable presence in a tent lined with oil paintings, pastel and charcoal drawings, and prints mostly of nude or seminude male figures. He hopes to rejoin the Art Walk one of these months.
Living in Fort Lauderdale since 2009, spending his time as an artist, has truly been a second act for Saunders. He studied electrical engineering in his native England but didn’t want to work at it. Instead, he joined BBC Radio as a tech and moved over to producing. Through an exchange with NPR in 1975, he found himself in Washington, and after his time there was up, he got a job at Physicians Radio Network. He moved to New York with that operation and eventually wound up working for Reuters.
When first in New York, married with kids, Saunders would “escape” once a week to the Art Students League.
“Portrait painting was the only course open, and it took me about a year before I got the hang of it,” he said. “I thought I could supplement my income by painting portraits, but I discovered I hated doing commissions because of having to please the sitter in addition to myself.”
Saunders came out in his early 40s, left his marital home, and eventually divorced. He also stopped painting for two decades. He remembers saying to himself, “Once I retire, I will take it up again. And that’s what I did.”
Through weekly classes with instructor Kirk Nicklas and his own experimenting, he developed a signature style.
“Figure drawing or painting is a three-way thing: subject, painter, and viewers. The human image immediately draws viewers in. I don’t work in photorealism but interpret the subject loosely in a way that viewers can add their own story to the canvas,” he said. “At this stage of life, I don’t have a lot of roads ahead of me. I can’t just evolve organically but have to push myself to try different styles. I enjoy finding out what I like.”
Saunders finds his second career very fulfilling.
“I don’t do it to make money; I do for its own sake. It’s nice when someone buys a painting or appreciates it, but that’s not what I’m really about,” he said. “My prices are quite reasonable. By making prints, almost everybody can afford to own my art. I have a website, but I don’t really market through it; it’s just a showcase for my work. I am, however, starting to use Instagram.”
Saunders said current COVID restrictions have taken some of the fun out of making art.
“I do miss the Wilton Drive Art Walk and exhibits at Broward Art Guild and other places, where I can talk with the people who come by,” he said.
It’s important, Saunders said, to find your passion once you retire.
“While you’re working full time, you never really have time to cultivate a side talent,” he said. “I do sometimes wonder where I’d be if I had done this all the way through.”
To see more of Saunders’ work visit SaundersArtwork.com and follow him on Instagram at @saundersartwork.