Monthly Archives: December 2016

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 grew up in the shadow of the Teton mountains. His humble beginnings as the son of a turkey farmer gave no indication that he would achieve the level of success that he did.

Ricks 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 College. 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 where Don studied Studio Art.

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 Russian artist, Sergei Bongart.  Bongart invited Don to come to California to study with him and in 1970 he was finally able to go. Don came up with the idea to sponsor a plein air 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. His work has been collected throughout the world. Many of his paintings are now familiar prints that have found their way into homes and businesses.

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