The first thing you notice about Jim Smith's watercolors is the astonishing amount of detail they contain.
It's possible to trace the outline of individual feathers in the wings of mallard ducks taking flight over a pond, to read the label of a green Quaker State Motor Oil can plunked on the ground beside a rusting, old pickup truck or to discern a quizzical expression in the eyes of a deer looking right at you from a winter landscape.
Smith's watercolors grow more amazing the closer you get to them. His landscapes that depict wildlife songbirds, wild turkeys and red foxes look more like engravings than paintings, so meticulous are they.
"That comes from 36 years of working at Hallmark. I like using a little two-haired brush to paint," Smith said, laughing.
During his career at Hallmark Cards Inc. of Kansas City, Mo. Smith retired a year ago his creations were used on a wide range of Hallmark products, from cards and calendars to giftwrap and party ware.
A 1980 painting he did of wood ducks later served as the design for a Hallmark jigsaw puzzle. The original work is hanging in Smith's house in the countryside northwest of Lawrence.
"I did a little bit of everything," said Smith, 60.
Now, after nearly four decades of toiling over the drawing board at Hallmark, Smith is free to paint whatever he likes.
And he's busy preparing for his first one-man art show.
Smith will be the featured artist on Friday at Southwest and More, 727 Mass., as part of the First Friday Gallery Walk.
Smith will attend a reception and viewing of his work from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Twelve of his watercolor landscapes and wildlife paintings will be on display throughout July at the gallery.
Five local art galleries, plus the Lawrence Public Library and the Lawrence Arts Center, will participate in the First Friday Gallery Walk. They will feature special exhibitions, demonstrations and other activities.
Smith is a bit nervous about his big debut at Southwest and More.
"I'm a real amateur at these shows. I've been locked away in the corporate world for 36 years. This is my new life," he said.
Maria Martin, owner of Southwest and More, is deeply impressed with Smith's work. She has two of his earlier watercolors hanging in her home.
"I just think he's one of the best watercolor artists I've seen in a long time. It's a very hard medium, and he has a wonderful gift and a control for it," she said.
"The ones I have of his are marvelous landscapes. They transport you to the exact place that he's painting."
Smith, a Lawrence native, graduated from Lawrence High School in 1959 and earned a bachelor's degree in commercial art from Kansas University in 1965.
He started at Hallmark in 1965, right out of college, as an entry-level artist. His last 22 years with the company were as a master artist the highest level one could reach while still working on the drawing boards.
"I couldn't have picked a better job. I never regretted a minute of it," Smith said.
He and his wife, Jennifer, have been married 19 years. The couple lived in Olathe before moving to Lawrence in January.
The Smiths have a vacation home in Salida, Colo., and enjoy traveling in the West and Southwest especially throughout Colorado and New Mexico.
"We love the Southwest. We're really stimulated by all the color and creativity," Jennifer Smith said.
They've had their modest house in Salida for three years. Last summer, they made seven trips to the small, artistic community in central Colorado.
"I like the scenery, the rustic nature of it. I can see a corral made out of logs and get off on that," Jim Smith said. "I like old, rusty trucks and log cabins. I'm an American rustic."