Jeff Kapfer has been captivated with art since he was a kid. Growing up in St. Louis, he loved coloring books, using chalk on the sidewalk and making a mess with Play-Doh and clay. After graduating from Wentzville Holt High School, he attended Saint Charles Community College for two years before transferring to Webster University.
“I thought I wanted to be an art teacher, but that quickly changed after taking several education classes,” Jeff jokes. “One of my professors suggested I take a graphic design class. I loved using the computer as a tool to create art and design, and today I use the computer for composition, layout and color to help create my paintings,” he adds.
After graduating from Webster University in 2002 with a BFA in Graphic Design, Jeff moved downtown to the Art Loft Building on Washington Avenue long before the area became a hip and trendy neighborhood. While looking for a design job, he started working in the backroom doing stock at The Galleria and eventually became a manager. On his days off, he would do freelance design and work on his paintings. Jeff landed his first graphic design job as a contractor at an information technology consulting firm.
“Throughout that time, I was painting and had my first show in 2005 at Houska Gallery in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis,” says the artist. “In 2006, I started working in the creative department at Build-A-Bear Workshop, and in 2010, became the creative director for the Vital Voice magazine for two years. Finally, I left BABW in 2016 to paint full time and incorporated my studio into my apartment at Printer’s Lofts on Locust Street,” he notes.
During Jeff’s process, he typically starts a painting with a sketch—either on the computer or on paper—and then transfers it to canvas. Next, he applies several layers of acrylic paint to get an extraordinarily smooth and flat application of color. Then, with his impeccably steady hand, he paints the bold, black outlines of the colorful birds that have become his signature mark.
“Birds have always been a part of my life,” explains Jeff. “I enjoyed watching birds at the feeders and looking at both of my grandmothers’ collections of bird figurines. My family had chickens for pets—I came up with most of their names,” he laughs. “We had a small coop in our back yard in Lake Saint Louis, where we started with five chickens—one for each family member—and eventually grew to be more than twenty.”
Jeff began duck hunting with his family when he was just eight years old. He didn’t shoot for several years and enjoyed just sitting back and watching the ducks circle the blind. Then, when a duck was brought back to the blind, he would investigate how the wings spread and the feet opened up. He would keep as many feathers as he could, turning them into ornaments. In school, almost every project revolved around a bird.
“It just happened naturally,” Jeff recalls. “My classmates called me bird crazy—bird-obsessed. I guess I was and still am. Birds remind me of my childhood—going antiquing with my grandma, going duck hunting with my dad, brothers, uncles, cousins and grandpa. So my paintings are always inspired by a trip, a person or an experience—but as a bird,” he laughs.
Jeff recently traveled to the Smokey Mountains and one morning went on a guided birdwatching trip. He spotted several birds he’d never seen before—sparking inspiration, new shapes and new color palettes. He is constantly working on new projects and products and currently has included silk-screened tote bags, coffee mugs, bird pins and bird ornaments in his repertoire.
“My favorite thing about being an artist is that I get to do what I love doing—creating,” he notes. “I love seeing my work in its new home. Art can really change the mood of a space—and my work typically brightens up a room, giving you a happy, positive feeling.”
Jeff has been showing his work at Houska Gallery for over 15 years. His studio is open by appointment only, and he typically holds a Holiday Open House in early December. See his work at the Foundry Art Centre in St. Charles for the Winter Juried Exhibition and at Houska Gallery for the 2021 Winter Group Show, both held in December. Visit JeffKapfer.com to see his latest work and information about upcoming events.