Carefree artist Dick Mueller

Carefree artist Dick Mueller works in his home studio.

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 painter known for his fluid and original drafting skills, Henri Matisse wrote, “Drawing is putting a line around an idea.”

In the case of Carefree artist Dick Mueller, the concept is more likely to be putting a lasso around his subject. The objective is to draw the viewer back into a bygone and simpler time.

Growing up in Marshalltown, Iowa, Mueller claims he acquired his keen observation skills and initial encounters with drawing from his mother. She acquired a set of art books from the old Federal Artists Schools in Minneapolis that inspired her to try her drawing skills. Mueller was captivated. 

Mueller enrolled at the Minneapolis School of Art, now the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, after graduating high school. His major was industrial design, challenging both his imagination and creativity. 

“One project was to take an existing tool and improve it,” Mueller said. 

“My choice was a hand drill. Instead of a right-angle handle, standard at the time, I designed the drill straight so it could be used in a downward motion without using your hands at an uncomfortable angle.”

Today that design is commonplace, but at the time, Mueller’s instructors thought it would never catch on—a hard lesson to learn about getting patents on your ideas, even if you’re young.

Eventually, out in the career world, Mueller heard from a friend in St. Louis that McDonnell Douglas was hiring technical illustrators for the space program. He sent off a portfolio. That did the trick. Mueller was hired sight unseen.

McDonnell Douglas eventually moved into producing a majority of electrical components. At that point, Mueller called it a day. He had been painting in his spare time for about 10 years by that time. He sold a still life painting to a client that contained an illustrated book page. To her surprise, she could read the words on the page and inquired, “Wouldn’t this be easier with pencil?” Giving this idea some thought, Mueller pick up a set of colored and graphite pencils and never looked back.

Arizona was in Mueller and his wife’s future when her parents moved to Rio Verde in their retirement. After visiting them for a number of years and falling in love with the area, his wife, a McDonnell Douglas employee, was offered a transfer to the helicopter component facility in Mesa. Needless to say, they jumped on the opportunity to move West. 

This would be a particularly inspiring move for Mueller and his art.  He was a huge fan of the stories of the West through TV programs such as “Death Valley Days,” “Gunsmoke” and “Roy Rogers.” Everything “old cowboy” appealed to him. Now, he was going to live the dream.

Art has always been Mueller’s passion, especially the details of the photographic quality graphite on paper can produce. Much of the time he works from photographs, sometimes as many as 20 for one image; most of the photographs he produces himself.

Recently, Mueller has started a new series, “Portraits from the Past.”

“The idea was sparked by a client who wanted a picture of her grandfather, when he was 9, dressed up as a cowboy,” Mueller said. 

This approach has taken on a life of its own in Mueller’s Carefree home studio. Mueller draws from old family photos and researches the era to make sure the items are authentic. 

Many viewers mistake Mueller’s hyperdetailed and mastery of line and shadow for the old photographs, only better! Recently, Mueller was accepted for the Bosque Art Classic, and the International Guild of Realism accepted his colored pencil drawing “Salt River Ghost” to participate in the 15th annual IGOR Exhibition in Charleston, South Carolina. Both enormous honors for organizations that choose the top 1% of works submitted. He also enjoys a large following of clients and collectors across the country. 

Mueller definitely has successfully “put the line around an idea” in his work. He is a member of the Sonoran Arts League and exhibits at the Gallery at El Pedregal. He’s one of the founders of the annual Hidden in The Hills Studio Tour that takes place the last two weekends each November. His studio, Coyote Crossing Studio, will host a group of artists. For more information on the studio tour, visit sonoranartsleague.org; or to view a wide selection of Mueller’s “Portraits from the Past” and other skillfully rendered subjects, visit coyotecrossingstudio.com. Mueller is available for commission pieces, as well as home studio tours by appointment. 

Contact arts columnist Shea Stanfield at flowingquill@yahoo.com.