The only way Ronnie and Donnie Hughes' parents could keep their identical twins quiet during those terrible twos was to sit them down with watercolors and stacks of paper. When they started first grade, their exasperated teacher also quickly learned that painting was the only way to keep the boys happy.
Having reached middle age and outgrown temper tantrums, the two brothers do not need paints to pacify them. They do, however, need paints to make a living. Still living in South Carolina (Ronnie in Anderson and Donnie in Columbia), the brothers produce originals and prints of their paintings, which are sold nationally in shows and galleries, including an art gallery which they also own.
Twindom sets them apart from other exhibitors, a benefit they're thrilled to cash in on. "It's our little gimmick," Donnie laughs. "We act alike, we look alike, and we paint alike." And, in the spirit of siblings, they compete ruthlessly with each other. "The best competition is my brother," Ronnie says. "That's what makes me work hard. We compete with all the other big-name artists but because we are artists, we especially have to compete with each other."
That competition is far from nasty. "It's our greatest asset," says Donnie. "We encourage each other more than discourage...We inspire and help each other...We learn from each other." When Donnie started using the airbrush, for example, Ronnie was eager to play apprentice to his brother.
"Donnie's technique was just superb, so when I had a few problems with my last painting, I asked him for help," explains Ronnie. "We got together with the airbrushing and it really made a difference in my painting...When I get down and discouraged, he'll do something incredible that will inspire me. We pick each other up."
The brothers insist, however, that no jealousy exists. "There are times when Ronnie will do a beautiful piece-much better than my painting of the same subject-and I'll just think, "Gosh, that's beautiful." Then the next week he may look at my creation and say that mine is better."
Although they don't currently work in the same studio, the Hughes Twins still paint the same subjects in the same way. Both brothers tell stories on taking separate research trips to the same places and ending up with similar paintings. "We both sense the same things at the same time," Ronnie explains. "I can almost read his mind. There are times when I feel like I did one of this paintings."
The differences in their paintings are as subtle as the differences between the two men. "I think you can tell us apart because there are always differences in any twins," Donnie says. "Still, most people take a second look...I really think we are as alike as two people can be."
The twins have studied with international artists Daniel Smith and Carl Brenders.
Ronnie's daughter, Amanda, is also a professional artist who works alongside her father in the art business. She owns Shadetrree Graphics LLC, a custom t-shirt business that caters primarily to the movie and television industry, while also creating her own paintings using gouache. Donnie, Ronnie and Amanda all share the same passion for creating art using much of the same subject matter and techniques.