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Gordon Johnson, 74, of Hughesville wins awards at local county fairs every year for his paintings.

But his favorite was winning Best in Show for his painting, “The Old Barn,” at both the St. Mary’s and Calvert county fairs in 2011.

He said that when he went to gather the paintings he had entered for competition, the painting of a barn was missing. When he went in search of it, he found that judges had awarded it Best in Show.

The judges might never have guessed that Johnson just started painting in 2008.

“I like to create things,” said Johnson, who has three children, three stepchildren, five grandchildren, four stepgrandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Johnson grew up in Oxon Hill. He had a career in the HVAC industry, working at the College of Southern Maryland until 1978. Then, he opened his own home improvement business, called G.R. Johnson Home Improvement.

“He would do his drawings in the home improvement business,” Betty Johnson said of her husband’s earlier artistic ability.

When he retired five years ago, Johnson said, he looked for a hobby to keep himself busy. He thought about building cabinets, but the tools were expensive.

One day, he came in for lunch and saw “Joy of Painting” artist Bob Ross on TV. Johnson soon set up a studio in his garage for oil painting. A year later, he began painting with acrylics. His home is full of his paintings of landscapes, seascapes, animals and portraits. Stacks of paintings sit in his garage studio. He also has a studio in his home.

Betty, Johnson’s wife of 32 years, said her husband will paint requests for family and friends. He painted a 9-foot-by-4-foot mural of her sister’s house at Myrtle Beach, S.C., for her sister, with depictions of family members in locations along the shore.

Gordon Johnson estimates that he paints at least two or three paintings per week. On display at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center in California are more than 60 of his paintings available for purchase.

The inspiration for his work, Johnson said, comes from childhood memories and images that just come to him.

“Not always, ’cause you just wonder: are they trying to be nice to you?” Johnson said of whether he believes people who say his work is good.

He attended art courses for about two years in Calvert County from a private instructor in order to learn tips, shortcuts, what to do and what not do.

One shortcut Johnson learned early on in his painting career was to keep colors prepared and labeled.

“This is one thing I found out over the years: instead of trying to always mix your colors, I have all my colors here,” Johnson said. He also keeps a chart designating the name of each color’s shades.

“I’m always challenged. I keep going on the Internet to find newer techniques,” he said. For example, he works on improving his ability to paint trees and to paint feathers on birds.

Johnson said he has no plans to stop painting anytime soon. “I just love it.”

His wife said he gets angry sometimes if the couple has other plans, and he cannot “sit down and paint.”

Johnson estimated that he has painted 500 to 600 pieces so far.

rbarnabi@somdnews.com