Moving in Essence


Mention to someone, “It feels like Monday” and he will likely nod knowingly. Whatever it is about Mondays, they seem to be notorious for problems and things not going quite right. On the other hand, we can have days that are productive and everything seems to fall into place.  What makes the difference between a “good” day and a “bad” day?

A few years ago, Russ and I took a self-awareness class. One of the concepts they taught us was Moving in Essence.  The idea is that if you move at your personal optimum momentum you will not bump into people, drop things, or make mistakes.  Basically, you can do away with “Mondays.” You will be aware of everything around you and can maneuver yourself to avoid collisions.

The exercise we did to discover our “Essence” was to walk in random directions around the room. The goal was to walk as quickly as we could, but not bump into or touch another person. We were all going different directions, with no set pattern or rhythm. As we moved around the room, we were eventually able to move within the group without knocking into each other, completely aware of each person as we passed by them. The tempo was different for each individual.  Being aware of our own Essence allowed us to move through the crowd without mishap. It was interesting how many were surprised that their Essence speed was slower than they expected.

I have learned a few things about Moving in Essence since my self-discovery.  One thing I have learned is that our Essence changes its tempo. Some days, you just have to move a little more deliberately. The key is to be aware of self and aware of your surroundings.

When doing something you are not familiar with, your Essence will slow down to accommodate the learning mode. Allowing yourself the time to be in essence while learning a new skill will actually help you to learn more quickly, even though it feels as though you are moving slowly.

Moving in Essence is crucial for an artist. To be fully aware of one’s self is to be fully aware of what is around you. Gina Soleil, in an article published on, calls this being grounded. Soleil states

“Being grounded means your feet are firmly planted in the here and now. You’re rooted firmly on Earth, present and mindful of your surroundings. When you’re grounded, you can actively engage in a conversation rather than looking right through the person in front of you. When you’re grounded you feel confident, strong and acutely aware of what’s going on around you — characteristics of someone who’s outrageously productive and calm.”  Gina Soleil

As an artist in touch with your Essence, your ability to capture the intrinsic nature of your subject will come more naturally. The clarity and honesty you see around you will be communicated to your audience through your art.

Tomorrow, when you step into your studio, take a moment to become aware of yourself, and your interactions with your surroundings, Feel the brush in your hand, or smell the clay on your wheel. Notice the light on your canvas, the movement of air against your face, or the sound of your pencils as they move over the paper.  Move in Essence and make tomorrow “a good day.”

Image: The Harvest is Ready and the Laborers Few by Russell Ricks, Oil on panel, 20 x 16


Don Ricks and His Legacy of Art


Don Ricks (1929-1996) was often referred to as an artist’s artist. He was highly respected by his peers and aspiring artists, alike. Don was born to a turkey farmer in the shadow of the Teton mountains.

He knew from an early age that he wanted to be an artist. His fifth grade teacher enlisted Don’s help to draw illustrations on the chalkboard for the class. This kept the active boy constructively occupied, and helped Don realize that he enjoyed creating art.

When Don graduated from high school, he went to Ricks College in Rexburg on a football scholarship. After serving a two-year LDS mission in Helsinki, Finland, Don returned to Ricks. Here he met his beloved wife, Iris Hunter.

Over the next few years, Don and Iris pushed through the struggles of starting a family while attending college. They ended up at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

Eventually, they found their way back to Rexburg where Don set up a sign shop. It was difficult in the beginning, but eventually the business took hold and Don was able to support his growing family.

Through it all, Don never lost sight of his desire to paint. His family always came first, but he knew there must be a way to take care of his family and paint, as well. And always by his side was his greatest ally, Iris.

In 1968, Don was introduced to a Russian artist, Sergei Bongart. Bongart invited Don to come to California to study with him and in 1970 he was able to go. Bongart suggested that Don sponsor a workshop in Idaho, with Bongart as instructor. As soon as the Rickses got home, Iris got to work making arrangements for a workshop. This would be the beginning of many more workshops known as Painting Vacations.

Painting Vacations evolved to be highly successful, on-location plein air workshops held in different spots around the western United States. Don eventually became the principle instructor, as well as Milford Zornes, watercolorist.

The Painting Vacations were a family affair, involving Don’s children, as well as Iris. Russ has fond memories of helping his dad’s workshop attendees set up their easels and then painting along with the rest of the class. He received a unique art education in this way.

Eventually, Don was able to give up the sign shop and focus entirely on his art career. Because he involved his family in his creative journey, his sons, Douglas, Russell, and Marty have all pursued art as a career. Douglas has since passed away, however, Russell and Marty are both actively following in their father’s footsteps, chasing their art with great passion.

Don Ricks was a man who worked hard at whatever he pursued. He was determined and passionate about his art. And now, his legacy lives on through his sons.


Falling in Love with Montana

When I was a teenager I visited Butte, Montana to spend my August birthday with my nephew who shares the same birth date. I remember thinking after that visit that Butte must be the ugliest place in the world. I couldn’t imagine anyone living there by choice. (Sorry, Butte fans, but that is how my teenaged self felt about it.) Through the years, as I would meet people who loved Montana and spoke longingly of going back to Big Sky country, I just didn’t get it. I thought they must be a little nuts.

Fast forward a few (ahem, 45) years and I have newly discovered Montana. My son and his wife moved to Kalispell, in the northwest region of the state. During my visit in September, I was amazed by the crystal teal-colored waters of Flathead Lake. Then I noticed that the rocks around the lake were teal and purple. Their color was reflecting through the clear water of the lake.

As if to welcome me to my new state of appreciation, an eagle flew along side our car and then disappeared over the trees. The sky, clouds and air were brighter and fresher than any I had ever experienced.

Thanksgiving brought with it some extra time off from our normal obligations, so Russ and I took advantage and headed back up to spend the holiday with our son and his family. Kalispell didn’t disappoint. Even though the weather was a bit chilly and foliage was heading into winter, we still saw plenty that was scenic and paintable.

I was so excited to show Russ this beautiful place! It turns out he had been here before as a teenager. His father held a painting vacation workshop at Flathead Lake, so Russ was quite familiar with its exquisite scenery.

We took a day to wander the galleries of Whitefish, just 15 minutes away from Kalispell. We met some great gallery people and saw some incredible art. We were planning a trip to Glacier National Park for the next Monday. When we walked in to the Walking Man Frame Shop & Gallery, they were just in the process of framing up some old prints of Glacier Park. The best conversation about Glacier, hiking, and plein air painting then ensued.

Peter, the owner of Walking Man, is a photographer. Daniel, his assistant, is a painter and digital artist. Both are in love with Glacier National Park. Daniel knew all the ins and outs and closures and habits of the park. He even enthusiastically offered to go paint with Russ anytime. The conversation ended with Peter telling us, “The sun is shining right now! You need to get your butts up there to paint!” Said like a true artist.


We made it to Glacier on Monday. It was pretty chilly, fluctuating between 21° and 34° fahrenheit. The Thermos of hot chocolate that our daughter-in-law sent with us, and Russ’ ingenious setup for keeping his paint supple allowed him to paint as long as the battery held out.


The sun and cloud cover played hide-and-seek creating some stunning play of light through the low hanging clouds.  When we started out, there was just enough of a breeze to create little rippled waves across the lake, but not enough to make it unpleasant. Geese flew overhead and called from the opposite shore. Little nuthatches foraged and played in the trees, keeping me entertained while Russ painted.

By the time Russ was ready to pack it in, the wind had picked up and the temperature dropped dramatically. The waves across the lake became more brisk. It was beautiful. And cold.

Tuesday came and it was time to head back home to Utah. We had decided to make it a material-gathering drive home, so we had planned to stop whenever we saw something worthy. We were like cartoon characters, driving a short distance then pulling off, jumping out, and running around taking pictures. Drive a few more yards, pull off, jump out, run around. It literally took us two days to make a 12-hour trip.

There was one good stretch where the snow was coming down pretty heavy. The snow falling from the sky even looked different, more fluffy, more lovely than any I had ever seen before.


Pine forests stood guard, keeping their treasure secret, until we snuck past them and discovered the lake hidden behind them. We saw lakes so still and clear that they gave a perfect reflection of the mountains and trees surrounding them. The snow created an almost dream-like effect. Fog clung to the surface of one lake, disguising where the lake ended and the fog bank began.

Never again will I wonder how anyone could love Montana. As John Steinbeck said, “I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”




Do You Have a Creative Soul?

008My mother always said she was not creative, yet she would fill our dining room table with visual aids she had assembled for teaching her little nursery children. She could organize a drawer or a cupboard using different configurations of dividers cut from cereal boxes or milk cartons. She made everything fit perfectly. Items you and I would toss she would repurpose and bring back to life. She couldn’t draw a stick figure or a five-petal flower, but she instinctively knew how to cheer a friend or make a child feel welcome in her class.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, creativity is defined as the ability to produce original and unusual ideas, or to make something new or imaginative. People, in general, equate creativity with the Arts, but there is so much more to it. If an individual doesn’t draw or sculpt or write poetry, they label themselves as not creative. I am here to challenge that idea. I believe that every child born has a creative soul. It is evident in how a child learns to play, to walk, and even to talk. There are as many different ways to crawl as there are babies in the world. As Brenda Ueland   says, “Everybody is talented because everybody who is human has something to express.”

Since we all are born with a creative soul, here are some ideas on how to awaken your creativity:

  • Broaden your experiences. Go someplace you haven’t been before, eat something you have never eaten, start a conversation with a stranger. You don’t have to travel worldwide to broaden your experiences. Don’t be satisfied with an internet experience, either. Get out there and rub shoulders with Life.
  • Accept your mistakes. Use mistakes as a learning tool, or even a way to discover new ideas. I taught poetry and bookbinding to a class of sixth graders. When a student would approach me and say, “I did it wrong,” I always replied, “You didn’t do it wrong. You did it different.” Giving them that freedom to make mistakes produced some amazing book formats from some very creative souls.
  • Brainstorming is a great way to open up your ingenious mind. Learn to ask yourself “what if.” “I could do it this way, but what if I did it another way.” I played a game with my children when they were small. They would throw out some impossible idea, like children will do. Instead of saying, “No, that won’t work. We can’t do that,” I would say something like, “That sounds fun! And then we could…” We would come up with some outrageously fun ideas.
  • Sensory experiences like music, gardening, dancing, or walking in the fresh air can trigger the imagination. Bringing ideas into existence oftentimes starts on a sensual level.  Be present in the moment. Smell the smells, feel the feels, hear the sounds.
  • Set the stage for creativity. What things trigger your creativity? A cup of peppermint tea and some Daniel Ketchum piano music does the trick for me.
  • Be Grateful. Feeling gratitude heightens your awareness of everything around you. Things come into focus and you notice colors and shape with more clarity. Words of appreciation form in your mind. A gratitude journal is a great way to put those images and words on paper.
  • Be willing to be uncomfortable. Creating something new can bring up strong emotions and make us feel vulnerable. Flow with it, ride it through, and on the other side you will find you have a new perspective and stronger self-confidence.
  • Stay curious. Think like a kid, with boundless curiosity. If someone hands you a crayon, ask yourself “what can I do with this?” and explore the possibilities. Remember the children’s book, “Harold and the Purple Crayon?”

Don’t be afraid to embrace your creative soul. Your life will be richer and more fulfilled because of it. I love Maya Angelou’s philosophy on creativity. “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

(Here are some simple activities to cultivate creativity.)

To see Russell Ricks’ newest pieces, visit his website at






How to Enjoy the Journey

Setting goals is often thought of as the path to success. Once you have your intention clear, you set off to secure your future. Too frequently, however, the enjoyment of creation and progress is lost on keeping your sights too focused on your goal. You get on that train and start shoveling that coal as fast as you can. Pretty soon the air is black with soot and you can’t see what is going on around you.

Don’t misunderstand. I think goals are crucial to achieving your dreams and driving you to success. You have to have a destination in mind or you will get nowhere. I just think sometimes our energy is so focused on the objective that we miss out on great opportunities and vistas along the way.

img_2727Russ, gathering inspiration.

Here are some ideas to accomplish both reaching your long-range goal and enjoying the journey along the way:

  • Continue learning. Who do you admire in the art world? Study their creations. Look at the details such as brush strokes, palette choices, placement of light and shadow, how they manipulate their medium. Is their work realistic, abstract, or somewhere in between? Read what they say about their own art.
  • Do quick studies. In 20 or 30 minutes, create a simple painting. Let the process be the focus, as you lay down paint and minimize your brush strokes. Let this be a time of experimentation and discovery. Use colors and techniques that you have wanted to try, but haven’t felt confident about using in a major piece. This is where you attempt that method you have been reading about from the artist you admire. Don’t worry about the subject matter. Open your cupboard or look out your window. You will find plenty to paint for a quick study. If the painting doesn’t turn out, it was only a few minutes of your day.
  • Participate in inspirational or creative diversions There are days when you just don’t feel like arting. For whatever reason, (headache, stress, fatigue, boredom) it will affect your work that day. Change it up. Go for a walk. Look at inspirational art. Read something uplifting. Hang out with someone who encourages you in your pursuit of art. Do something nice for someone. Do something you love to do, just for the sheer joy of doing it. It is not just paint that makes a painting.
  • Keep a record of your progress. Take photos of your work and archive them. Every so often, pull them out and look at them. You will be surprised at the change and growth you will see in your work. A written journal of your experiences and struggles can also remind you of everything you have put into your career and how far you have come. It can also remind you of why you are pursuing art.
  • Do something that scares you, such as put on an art show or take your work to a gallery. You could even do something totally unrelated to your art. Try learning a musical instrument, or bungee jumping. Fear is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to achieving goals. If you can learn to overcome fear in another area of your life, it will help you overcome fear that holds you back from reaching your desired destination with your art career.
  • Embrace your mistakes. We tend to beat ourselves up over ruined paintings or failed projects. Look at them as learning experiences. My very wise son said he certainly enjoys seeing his 10-year-old son win his hockey games. But, he is excited when the team loses. It gives him a chance to see where this little goalie-in-the-making needs to improve his skills and then they get on the ice and get to work.  It gives purpose to their practices. Your mistakes can give purpose to your quick studies, direction to your research of art, and ideas for your inspirational excursions.

Your journey can teach you a lot about your destination. Be mindful of each step along your path. When you reach your goal you will have had a journey that you can look back on with joy, gratitude, and satisfaction.


For more information on how to do Quick Studies check out Kathleen Dunphy’s post here.

To learn more about how to enjoy the journey, follow Steve and Tonya Vistaunet on Instagram at @ahappyvista, @stevevistaunet, and @tonyavista, or their website at


Trust in the Process

Time  seems to be running faster these days. People are trying to get things done more quickly, always looking for shortcuts. Deadlines, Internet speeds, microwaves, and bullet trains move our activities along at breakneck paces. With this whirlwind momentum, do we lose something? What are we dismissing along the way? There is something to be learned by taking our time and focusing on the process, as well as the outcome.

Everything we do requires a process. Learning a new instrument or skill, cooking a meal, or creating art have necessary steps we must take before we arrive at the end result. It can sometimes feel discouraging to be standing at the beginning and looking forward to what has to be done before we reach our desired goal. Or, it can be exhilarating! It can change us. It can change the world around us.

Art, in every aspect, requires a process. The mere viewing of art asks us to stop, observe, ponder the subject and its context, and even put ourselves in the artist’s mindset. In the end, the artist’s hope is that his art has influenced the viewer in some way.

Many an artist has been asked, “How long did it take you to paint that painting?” This question can be answered in a couple of ways, depending on which process we take into account.

The time it took for the artist to put together a pleasing composition, work out the piece in rough-sketch form, block in the basic shapes, lay down colors of middle value, add light and dark contrasts, and finish with final accents can vary from project to project. Some may take only a few hours to bring to completion, where other projects could take weeks, months, or even years to produce.

When considering the time it took the artist to understand and hone the skills necessary to make beautiful works of art, we are looking at a process that lasts a lifetime. It has been said that to master a skill it requires at least 10,000 hours of practice, or 6 to 10 years. The reality is, there is always more to learn. World renown cellist, Pablo Casalis, at the age of 83 was asked why he still practiced his cello four to five hours every day.  His reply, “Because I think I am making progress.”

As we go through this process of mastering a skill, we learn and grow as individuals. We develop discipline by pushing ourselves past obstacles, learning to have patience with ourselves and respect for the process as we make mistakes of inexperience. Passion for our art and determination to rise above any hurdle will shape and embolden our abilities.

Russell Ricks, mural and landscape artist, states, “Looking at a blank canvas can be daunting and intimidating. Putting down shapes and brush strokes moves you past the fear and forward to completing your painting. First, create the bones and muscles, and don’t try to jump into it too fast. In order to create and express what is in your heart you have to trust in the process, just like trusting in God’s timing in your life to make you one of His masterpieces.”

Trust in the process. Trust that you will become the artist, musician, writer, or businessperson you envision for yourself. Trust in yourself. And enjoy the journey!

For another great article on this subject, by one of our favorite artists, check out this blog post by Sarah Richards Samuelson, the Tulip Painter.

Come back next week when we will talk about specific things you can do to get past the hurdles that inevitably will come along in the creative process. We will share ideas on how to Enjoy the Journey.


Seven Secrets to a Successful Art Commission

One of the most common dreads I hear from many of my artist friends is having to handle an art commission. Why is creating a specific work of art for a client so nerve racking? Yes, it would be nice if with every new commission, the artist was free to exercise their creative license at will, but this is not reality. Every once in a while, there will be those who will understand your need to be free to paint from your intuition and not interfere with your creative process.  If you have such a willing art collector, you are one of the lucky ones. The reality is for most of us, bread and butter jobs are the ones which put the food on the table and the roof over our head. The bread and butter jobs are also the projects that often seem to bind and bridle our creative processes. Some artists flatly refuse to do commission work, but I love the challenge of new and unusual projects, making the customer happy and pushing the envelope of my ego. Through this process, I am able to stretch my abilities, increase my confidence as a professional artist and broaden my reputation.

When I’m asked to paint a specific commission for a client, I want to get as much information from them as possible. I try to get into their head and be on the same page as they are. So how do we go about getting into their head? How do we overcome any objections which may or may not come up?

  1. Get to know as much as you can about the individual and why he wants the commission.
  2. If possible, go to the location where the artwork will be installed.
  3. Create a sketch.
  4. Write up a written description of the project.
  5. Write up a contract spelling out the size, the price, the substrate and the terms of payment, extra charge for anything added or major changes once contract is signed, etc.
  6. Go the extra mile and add value (extras) to your sale.
  7. Make arrangements to have an “unveiling” at the place of installation, connect with the clients friends for potential art sales.
  1. Getting to know your client

Growing up in an artist family, I was taught and had always believed that if you paint great paintings, they would sell themselves. I still believe there is some truth to this, but I’ve come to learn there is more to art sales than just making great art. For example; if you are the one displaying your artwork and tending your booth at an art fair, you need to also need to master the art of sales. Don’t panic! It’s easier than you might think!

Ask simple straight forward questions that get the client talking about himself/herself, then sit back and listen. Let them do most of the talking. There is much you can learn about them, their likes and dislikes, their passions, what they are looking for in the art they desire to purchase, where they envision it will hang, what size the painting needs to be and how much they are willing to spend on an individual art piece, etc. Once you know what they want and you have built their trust, hand them a sales contract form, get them to sign it and quickly close the sell.

2.   Meet with them at the installation site

Whenever possible, it is often a good idea to meet with the client in the space your artwork will be on display. This gives you, the artist, a better idea how your future art piece will look in their environment. You can also gauge the client’s aesthetic taste, by observing works of other artists they’ve already collected. If they ask you what you think of their art collection, pay genuine compliments, but do not criticize the artwork. You have worked hard at gaining their trust and friendship– don’t hurt it!

3.  Create A Sketch

Creating a sketch, even a rough sketch is a good idea. As an artist, we are very visual persons. If we want to know whether we are on the same page as our client, creating a sketch can help. It can also reassure the client that you know what they want. If any changes need to be made, better to do it now in a rough sketch form than after you’ve started the real job! I used to be in the sign business before I became a full-time artist. Most of the time, a rough sketch was all that was needed to sell the sign job. A few projects required a tightly rendered finish sketch, but these were the big jobs. I usually offered to draw up a sketch for free, when knowing my chances were high that I would get the job anyway.

4. Write up a Written Description

Back in 2007, Cabella’s hired me to paint five large murals for their East Hartford, Connecticut store. My next door neighbor at the time was a taxidermist. He was always swamped with work. I soon found out why. Cabella’s, a well-known outdoor outfitter for hunters, fishermen and camping gear, etc, had hired Troy as a regular subcontractor for their game bird displays. I was very interested and asked him to help me get my foot in Cabella’s door. He obliged and five years later, I got my first job with them. They sent me a thick packet of paperwork, in which I forced myself to patiently comb through and fill out. I was asked to draw up a rough sketch. They said it didn’t have to be fancy, but to just give them the idea that I understood what the wildlife habitat would look like for each mural. I was also asked to write up a detailed written description of each habitat. I was then instructed to fax it to their corporate office, where they would look over the contract, the sketch and the written description, make changes or corrections, then send it back for me to start the process all over again. I drew up a simple, but clean rough sketch and then googled photographs of wildlife habitat for Moose, White-tailed deer, mule deer, beavers, wild turkeys as well as African wildlife. I also found books with descriptions of each habitat, consuming as much knowledge as I could stick in my brain, then wrote a very descriptive story for each habitat I had drawn up. I faxed it in and a few days later, they said I had done what they required of me so well, they didn’t need to send the contract back for revisions and asked me how soon I could get started.

5.  Write Up A Contract

It’s a very good idea to write up a detailed contract, spelling out clearly the size, the price, the terms of payment and any other details you deem necessary. Spanning my nearly 40-year art career, I have learned the importance of writing up a contract. I also have experienced dealing with frustrating customers who try to alter the terms of an oral agreement. For example, expecting the biggest size for the smallest price and adding additional items such as people or animals, while expecting to pay no more than the agreed original price. This subject is a whole other blog post, which I plan to write about in the near future. Be watching for it.

  1. Go the Extra Mile

Go the extra mile to make your client happy and continue to develop a friendship with him. For example, when you deliver or ship the painting, include a gift card with a dinner for two at a fancy restaurant. A fruit bouquet is also a popular gesture. If your client likes to golf, perhaps a day pass at the local golf course would be appreciated. The point is, do something out of the ordinary and unexpected for your client after the sale. Adding extra value, beyond the contract is a nice unexpected courtesy that will make the client feel you value their friendship.

  1. The Unveiling

Once the commission is finished and hung, it is time to do an “unveiling” with the client’s friends. Quite often, the client will invite their friends over to “show off” the newest artwork in their collection. If they’re planning on having an unveiling, ask the client if you could be a part of this celebration. This would be a great opportunity to network with their friends, which could lead to more potential art sales. This is also great PR for you  to get your name out to the public.

Adhering to these seven secrets has made painting commissions a less painful process. Perhaps more suggestions could be added to my list, but I know that if you follow these principles I have discovered so far, painting a commission can be a positive learning experience.