Bray, a youthful looking 40, developed an early love for nature in his Pen Argyl hometown and while camping across the nation each summer with his parents. Sketching wildlife was also an early love although he chuckles when talking about his high school art class where he was told by his teacher, "You'll never be an artist."

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A devoted family man, much of Bray's time is spent shuttling his children, Jody and Nathan, back and forth to swim meets or, with the kids and his wife, Karen, treading the woods, fields and streams around his remote home observing nature or looking for subjects to include in his artworks. Anything from mushrooms to dead logs might be hauled back to the studio as reference for a project.

In mid September, the Berks County wildlife artist was selected from among 43 entrants as the winner of the 1995 Pennsylvania Duck Stamp competition. That was followed with the top entry in the state's Working Together For Wildlife art competition, judged Oct. 3, against 31 entries submitted by state artists.

"I take personal pride in having won against my peers," Bray said, sitting in his Huff Church studio. "It's worth a whole lot more than you financially make on the win itself."

Painting for a living, particularly with an eye to submitting entries to competitions, can be all consuming for days or weeks, Bray explained. His buffleheads took 10 days "working 15 16 hours each day until I had it right," he says. He used bufflehead photos taken at a Maryland facility and closely studied mounted ducks, even going so far as to holding bufflehead wings up to sunlight "to see how much light penetrated the wing tips."

The Duck Stamp contest subject was open to any species other than the Canada goose, pintail and shoveler, which were featured over the past three years.

"At some point in every painting I've discovered that I don't like it," Bray explained. "So I keep working and by the time I'm done I'm back to what was in my mind originally."

While he's dabbled in pastels and acrylics, most of his work is done in oils. He's also published 13 prints featuring blue jays, cardinals, mockingbirds, green winged teal and others. While birds seem to be his first love, he's aware that it's necessary to paint what the public wants.

Prior to Bray's double win this year, he placed second twice and third once among state Duck Stamp entries. He also finished third in the wildlife competition. Other credits include finalist entries in Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware and South Carolina competitions, all with waterfowl entries. He's also received commissions and honors in varied Ducks Unlimited projects.

"If the public doesn't accept it and buy it you can't make a living at it," said Bray. "Much of what I do is waterfowl because that sells and most competitions involve (ducks and geese)."

It is the first time anyone has won both of the prestigious art competitions in the same year.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission sponsors both annual competitions which are limited to state artists. Proceeds go to waterfowl conservation for the Duck Stamp program and to non game wildlife projects in the wildlife competition. The agency sells and promotes limited edition prints and Buy Women Canada Goose Whistler Parka Graphite Ireland stamps and features the winning works on the cover of Pennsylvania Game News, the commission's monthly magazine.

Bray's Duck Stamp entry features a pair of buffleheads in flight. The winning "wildlife" entry is a scenic of a beaver dam with a beaver, white tailed deer and wood ducks. Artists were limited to to the "beaver" theme this year, Bray said.

He graduated with honors from the Art Institute of Ft. advertising agencies before going full time as a free lance illustrator and photo retoucher in 1986. He never took a lesson in nature art, however. On a subsequent visit to the Easton (Md.) Waterfowl Festival, Bray took stock of the art exhibits and told his wife, "I can do that!"

´╗┐Berks County Artist Scores Double Win In State Wildlife

However, that was his first and last "no sale" show.

But venturing into such a career has its ups and downs, not the least of which was his initial art show in western Pennsylvania "where I didn't sell a thing," he now laughs.

"But I couldn't see too many people buying a close up of a beaver," he explained. "So I made it more a scenic, to show the attraction of a beaver pond to all wildlife."

"That made me determined to be an artist," said Bray, even though he 'toyed with the idea of being a park ranger from time to time."

And he did. In 1989 he switched exclusively to nature, scenics and sporting art.