Painter and gallery owner Jeffrey Hull once had business cards describing his work as “coastal life in watercolor.”
He has since included oils in his collection, but his talent for capturing beach scenes in watercolor is what prompted him to pursue a career as an artist. His paintings hang in the Jeffrey Hull Gallery, operated by Hull and his wife, Carol. The gallery celebrates its 35th anniversary this month.
“We opened up in April of ’87, it was unventful. We just tried not to have it collapse on us,” Hull said. Even in an arts focused town like Cannon Beach, galleries aren’t guaranteed success. In the gallery’s early days, winters were often spare of visitors. Economic fluctuations affected sales and the pandemic caused uncertainty.
But customers who became lifelong friends have supported and encouraged the Hulls, enabling the gallery to remain open in the same downtown location on the second floor of Sandpiper Square. They are drawn to Hull’s seascapes that reflect beach life in all its moods. Rocky outcroppings fading into morning fog. A single wave of a turbulent ocean. Orange and yellow sunset reflections on the sand.
Hull, a Portland kid who visited Cannon Beach, fell in love with surfing and never left. He pulls inspiration from his surroundings. “I try really hard to just pay attention to what’s going on around me,” Hull said. “When you make your living as a painter, your job is to paint. On the heels of that is to be inspired. There’s just such variety here.”
Hull believes people connect with his paintings because he paints what’s here. “People don’t come here to buy art, they come here because they love the coast,” he said. As a teenager, Hull first wanted to pursue a career as a potter but realized there was too much competition.
He also was skilled in watercolor painting, which is more difficult to achieve, and fewer people are accomplished watercolorists. After visiting artist-run galleries, the idea of operating his own gallery began to form early on. Hull graduated from Ecola Bible College and worked at a local gallery in Cannon Beach for six years. His friendships with fellow painters who owned galleries in the area persuaded him that he could earn a living through his artwork.
“My work has always sold, and it has never been wasted on me that it’s very rare for artists to be able to sell well,” Hull said. There are three steps to being a successful artist according to Hull. First, do the creative work you like, then seek acknowledgment from people who enjoy the work, and finally, sell it.
Hull also credits the former Sandpiper Gallery, a place that many local artists have cited as a starting point, for convincing him to open his own shop.
Owned by Cannon Beach entrepreneur Maurie Clark, the Sandpiper was available at no cost to artists who wanted to display their work. “Here was an opportunity to have a show in a gallery you were completely responsible for. You were responsible to show up, open the doors, to have a reception or not, to represent yourself,” Hull said. “I thought ‘why couldn’t we do this all the time?’ Why would this have to be a weeklong show once every year or two when your turn came around again?”
While operating a gallery dependent on your own creativity and inspiration can be challenging, there’s also a business side to it. According to Hull, it’s no different than operating a fishing boat. “You have to have somebody who needs what you have to offer, you have to be competent at what you do to be able to help them, you have to pay your bills so you can get what you need,” he said. After 35 years, is he ready to retire? Not yet.
“Artists don’t really retire,” Hull said, “Maybe they get to do more of what they love to do, or they don’t have quite the need to produce as much. But if it’s what you love to do, why would you stop?”