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 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.



What Are The Odds?

I’m writing this post while I still have it fresh in my mind after an interesting day. This morning I took the UTA bus (Utah Transit Authority) to the FrontRunner train station (part of the UTA’s major transit artery along the Wasatch Front) in Provo. My goal for the day was to approach a specific company in Salt Lake City about sponsoring our Painting the HeART of America plein air tour across 16 states. I didn’t have an appointment, but I did succeed in getting her direct contact information and sent her an email with a teaser about our tour. What this blog post is about though, happened on my return trip back to Provo.

I’m calling this post, “What Are The Odds?” and I will attempt to form my thoughts into intelligible words….

Timing is everything. I believe that when we want something bad enough, the Universe delivers. And sometimes the Universe (or God, as I prefer to call this great manifesting power), let’s us know by some indicator if we are on the right path toward reaching our desire. Sometimes however, we may often and unknowingly play a role in becoming another person’s delivery man (otherwise known as an angel) toward manifesting what they, themselves desire. This happened to at least two individuals that I am aware of today… myself, (a Mormon by faith) and an Amish man in the center of Utah Mormon country. What are the odds of the two of us meeting together who are both residents of states which are thousands of miles apart at a specific time and place? Two individuals, peculiar to the rest of the world, who discovered we had a few things in common and became fast friends! Utah is about sixty percent Mormon (also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint or LDS) and has the highest population of LDS members in the United States than any other state. As far as I know, there are no permanent Amish residents here. The further you head east from Utah, Mormons are a rarity. My new Amish friend, named Melvin is from Indianapolis, Indiana, one of the few states with largest concentration of people of the Amish tradition in North America (the other, being Pennsylvania)… what are the odds that the two of the most unlikely people to get together, would meet at a specific time and place?

I shared with Melvin, why I found the Amish culture so interesting and how this people related to the purpose our painting tour across the USA. Once Melvin understood clearly what our project was, he suggested a few of the best places in Indiana where we might find the type of subject we are looking for, if we choose to record the Amish way of life. One of the areas we must witness is in northern Indiana, called Amish Acres. Melvin also suggested we check out the Shipshewana community and Lancaster, PA as well… Unfortunately, I couldn’t find Shipshewana anywhere on our road Atlas map book.

Ah, ha!… I just Googled it! Shipshewana is within the Amish Acres area East of South Bend, Indiana. Perfect!

One of the things Amish do not like is to have their picture taken….

How the Amish Feel About Photographs

Amish Gentleman from Indianapolis

From my memory… this is not an exact likeness of Melvin nor is it a great drawing, but it gives you a general idea what the Amish men from Indiana look like.

The Amish hold humility as a highly-cherished value and view pride as a threat to community harmony. Because items such as personal photographs can accentuate individuality and call attention to one’s self, they are prohibited from the home. Moreover, the Amish believe that photographs in which they can be recognized violate the Biblical commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image.” They want to be remembered by the lives they lived and the examples they left, not by physical appearance.

Just as the Amish do not carry personal photographs or display them in homes, they do not want others to take photographs of them. Many visitors to Lancaster County, find it difficult not to do so. Yet, if there is one that appears to frustrate the Amish, it is tourists attempting to take their picture. Please follow our lead in taking no photographs in which faces are recognizable. Refraining from taking photos is more than just a courtesy; it’s a respect for our Amish neighbors and their way of life.

(The above taken from

I told Mevin he looked just like Brigham Young… we had a good laugh about that! Then I said, “What if I painted your portrait, but titled it Brigham Young? Would you sit for me if I do that?” We had another good laugh! Mevin was pretty good natured and easy to talk to. Actually, my new friend looked more like Sylvester Stalone with a thick and mildly curly graying beard, beginning at his chin and ending at the mid section of his chest. Dangling out of Melvin’s traditional Amish straw hat, his thick wavy locks of air hung slightly over his ears in a modest, but not-to-stylish bowl cut. My friends nose was large and Romanesque-like, with a dominant bridge and he had a very prominent brow. His smile was genuine and he smiled easily, with a broad grin and a slight overbite. When he smiled, his bright blue eyes would light up. He had an air of confidence about himself, yet there was not even the slightest indication of pride. Melvin also displayed a quiet humility, as if he a a sure knowledge of and great reverence for someone far superior than himself and all mankind.

Once we made it to our Provo FrontRunner destination and began to board a UTA bus, I let Mevin know about the bus fare, how much it costs and where to deposit it on the bus. My friend looked surprised and said, “I just came from a Greyhound bus, but I didn’t know I had to pay another fare!” I then showed him my $7.20 all day ride ticket, good for one day, which allowed you to take the FrontRunner, the UTA bus or the TRAX (similar to an electric trolley car) system all day long. Even though Melvin and I just met, he had already gained my admiration quickly just by the way he carried himself– Yet my respect for the honesty, integrity and character of this new friend went up several more notches as I observed what he did next…

Instead of shrugging his shoulders and letting it go, he jumped out of the bus and made a jog over to the computerized ticket vending machine to make things right, squaring his unblemished honesty before himself and God. Struggling with the modernization of technology, yet not shying away from it, Melvin took several minutes in his attempt to make things right, but not getting past his lack of computer savvy. Finally, I watched a kind individual step up beside him and help him through it. Once he had his own ride pass in his hand, he made a mad dash back to our bus just in time before it pulled away. There are a few really good people in this world, Melvin is one of them.

After Melvin settled back into the seat I saved for him, I asked him where his final destination was. He said, Provo, to the downtown “Mario” Hotel. At first, when I heard the word Mario, I of course thought of the Mario Brother’s computer game and was confused. I knew there was no Mario Hotel anywhere in Utah and was humored by what he said. It then occurred to me he just mispronounced Marriott Hotel, leaving the double t’s silent. I promised to walk him to the hotel myself. He was my angel, because God put us together and gave us a sneak-peek at and a sampling of the kind of good people we will encounter on our way east. He was also my angel, because he helped me learn more about his people and the best places to find them in his state, New York and Pennsylvania. I became his angel by helping him find his hotel and convention center and I think I made him feel a little more comfortable about Utahns in general. What are the odds? I will remember this day for a long time

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This painting is for sale!

PATRIOT’S DAY 48 x 24 inches, artist Russell

One day while walking past this old Payson, Utah hotel, I became intrigued with the lines embedded in it’s original architecture. The building’s architecture to me seemed to fall somewhere within the realm of Greek Revival and early American architecture from the new England area, the century following the American Revolution. By the latter 1800’s America had prospered and flourished, as it’s boundaries had officially reached the Pacific Coast. The United States of America had firmly established itself as the most prosperous nation on earth, as well as the place for the people from all other nations to retreat from tyranny and other forms of oppression.

The title of this painting, PATRIOT’S DAY, is rich with symbolism. I hung the flag above the first story porch to emphasize the repetition of lines in this historic Greek Revival Payson Hotel. When it was first built, there was honesty, purity and integrity within it’s core. After faithfully withstanding the test of time, keeping it’s integrity and purity for many generations, corrupt amendments, revamping and remodeling with modern ideas and adjustments, it’s integrity is becoming lost. Just like the integrity of our own Constitution is hanging by a thread, the original intent of the building is no longer recognizable.

The United States Flag, which is filled with the symbolism of the blood, sweat and sacrifice by our founding fathers and the brave men who fight today in our armed forces with the intent to keep our nation from free from tyranny, is hung in this work of art with the blue field on the right instead of the left… this is a sign of DISTRESS. In this painting, the artist himself is pleading for American citizens everywhere to arise and awake, to stand up for the integrity of that which once made our nation the Promised Land.

The red and white lines in the American Flag repeat the horizontal lines of the old hotel’s wooden ship-lap siding. Lines are also repeated in the banister and turned wood balusters of the porch. The lattice work on the right, the slivers of light breaking through the cool shadows and the windows repeat the white stars on the blue field of our glorious flag. “God Bless America, Land That I Love. Stand Beside Her and Guide Her, Through The Night With A Light From Above…”PATRIOTS DAY 2