FARMINGTON — When John D. Cogan got a paint-by-numbers set for Christmas at age 11, he had no idea how it would change his life.
Fifty years later, Cogan's art is displayed at the Henderson Fine Arts Gallery at San Juan College.
He still credits the Christmas present for getting him into painting, although he only finished one of the three pictures in the set.
After finishing that first painting, he got bored and started using the oil paints for his own projects.
His parents saw him branching out and enrolled in him art lessons.
Cogan said he later switched to acrylic in 1979 because it dries faster and doesn't have the dangerous oils that acrylics have.
About 31 years ago, Cogan became a full-time artist.
When he received an email from a British man looking for artists to paint for the Sultan of Oman, he said he first thought it was a scam.
"There are some that go around for artists," he said.
He said these scams often offer to buy paintings but the artist sends a check before hand to cover the shipping and, when they receive the scam artist's check, it's a bad check.
The next morning, the British man called him.
The man had seen his work on his web page.
"Believe it or not, websites work," Cogan said.
Cogan agreed to paint the paintings for the sultan and he was sent a series of images the sultan wanted.
He said his favorite images were of oases.
"They reminded me of New Mexico," he said.
He explained that Oman, like New Mexico, is dry with pockets of water, sort of like the rivers that run through Farmington.
However, the scenes were also completely different than New Mexico. He said many of them had palm trees reflected in the water.
In 2012, Cogan finished the final paintings in the 25 piece series.
Unlike those 25 paintings, all of the works Cogan has produced are of places he has visited, from Alaska to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. He does both small plein air paintings, which means the artist works outside, and larger studio paintings based on photos he has taken and sketches he did on-site.
"When I paint, I emphasize the important things that I see," Cogan said.
Because of this, he said his paintings are not like photos of the landscapes or wildlife.
"I'm telling a story and I'm telling it in paint," he said.
One of the 37 pieces he has displayed at the Henderson Fine Arts Gallery is a painting he did at Yaki Point at the Grand Canyon. When he started, the sun was hidden behind clouds. But he knew it would eventually peek through, so he painted it with that in mind and emphasized the colors on the cliffs when the sun finally came out.
"I like the whole process of painting, of going out to places where I find the beauty that I want to paint," he said.
He said he also likes to show his work and has made some of the frames used to display the paintings.
At the reception, Cindy Roberts, Mayor Tommy Roberts' wife, went up to him and told him about the painting her parents had purchased from him about a dozen years ago.
She said it is a painting of red sandstone bluffs and she likes its realism and how familiar it looks.
"It just looks like New Mexico," she said.
Later, his friend, Rose Carter approached him to ask him about one landscape that was uniquely familiar to her — a painting he did at the river behind her house.
Cogan's wife, Karen, boards her horse on Carter's property along the Animas River in Farmington. She said Cogan often comes and paints.
Carter proceeded to buy the painting. She said she isn't quite sure where she will hang it, but she is considering her dining room because the room has good lighting.
"I knew it was (the area behind) my house whenever I saw it," Carter said.