PANAMA CITY — Dennis Landingham has taken his lifelong love of the Florida Panhandle, its bayous and beaches, its people and wild creatures, and discovered a second career after a lifetime of working outdoors.

His oil paintings will be toasted at a solo exhibit opening with a reception 5-8 p.m. Thursday, March 22, at The Artist Cove studio and gallery, 36 W. Beach Drive.

I visited him at the studio last week, as he was working on a painting of Apalachicola Bay oystermen.

"I took about 1,600 pictures that day," Landingham said of the trip to Apalach. "I stayed all day, puttering around, talking to them about oystering. Never put (the boat) on plane. They have a three-bag limit, and they can't even make their limit." 

A native of Bay County, Landingham grew up along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. From an early age, fishing was his passion. His family enjoyed many offshore trips catching grouper and snapper. In his early teens, he and his brother worked before school each morning to earn the money to buy their first boat.

"Daddy took me fishing for speckled trout in the Gulf with a cane pole," the 57-year-old said. "He would buy a pallet of cigar minnows. ... We'd typically come back with 300 pounds of fish to sell to Buddy Gandy and Miller's in Southport. We'd go out through the pass before sunrise and see nothing but the lights on the beach coming back."

Landingham is skilled at throwing a castnet to catch mullet, and ties his own flies for fly fishing. He worked on an offshore shrimp boat, and in college he interned at the National Marine Fisheries. He has caught snook in the Everglades and bone fish in the Florida Keys and Bahamas.

Always fascinated by fish, Landingham has also had exciting experiences underwater spear fishing and taking in the sights of fish in their natural habitat. He has participated in the IFA Redfish tours and won the Florida Sportsmans’ Northwest Florida spin cast and fly casting contest.

"I cut grass for 23 years," he said, referring to his lawn maintenance business. "I was an artist with the weed-eater."

Landingham started painting in 2011, the year before he closed his lawn service because of a back injury. His fishing experiences and the seascapes and coastal landscapes of Northwest Florida have inspired many of his paintings of life on the water. He has steadily expanded his subjects to include landscapes, wading birds, boats and portraits of both humans and animals.

"I drew some in high school, but not any more until about seven years ago," he said. "My first painting was a grouper, and he is rustic compared to today. I painted about six months on my own, then took lessons from Vickie Bush. She was really surprised at what I had already picked up."

He said he's fortunate to have two mentors, Victoria Bush and Kathy Voorhis, who provide support and encouragement as he continues to work on his craft — as do his wife, Kay, and their three children, Josh, Megan and Mallory.

"I would paint a mountain with snow on it if somebody paid me to," he said, "but that's not my interest. "If you'd asked me why I started, I wouldn't think I'd have ever painted people. But Vickie said, if you can paint a fish, then you can paint a face."

Although he started working in acrylics, Landingham paints strictly in oils now. He took second place at the 2014 Spring Art Festival in Panama City, and he received a merit award for his painting, "Linda," in 2016.