Rick Lundsten of Park Rapids is a watercolor gouache painter who has won local, state, national and international accolades. Yet in an artistic career that dates back at least to 1986 – when he started earning awards – estimates the number of artworks he has completed to be somewhere in the 30s or 40s.

“Not doing it full-time, I probably work on it about five hours a week, or thereabouts,” he said, adding that a picture may take 300 to 400 hours of work, depending on the subject – from start to finish, adding up to “months, for sure.”

“It goes back into work ethic,” Lundsten said. “I think that’s something that’s really gotten lost, because we live in an age of instant gratification.”

Referring to Bob Ross, host of the PBS television show “The Joy of Painting” who painted thousands of landscape scenes before viewers’ eyes, Lundsten scoffed at the idea that one can create a masterpiece in 15 minutes.

“No, you really can’t,” he said. “To me, that’s not a masterpiece.”

Lundsten reflected on American culture’s “unfortunate” tendency not to take art seriously, “due to a lot of Furniture Mart art and bad art, and a lot of misconceptions about art.”

Acknowledging that artistic styles and tastes vary, he said, “It seems like we’re at one extreme or the other. We’re either so utilitarian that everything has to be ‘function, function, function’ and ‘ugly, ugly, ugly,’ and making money and productivity, or we go to the other end of the spectrum where we’re no good for anything and we don’t care; anything passes for art anymore, and it shouldn’t.”

On the other hand, he said, “I don’t think human creativity is necessarily about making statements, either.”

Asked how the average person may spot the difference between art and home decor, Lundsten said, “I suppose it’s relatability.

“What I look for in art is execution and quality,” he added. “Yeah, it has to be beautiful … but to me, what I’m looking for is, what went into this? What kind of time and effort went into this? Did somebody just bang this out in half an hour, or did somebody actually think this through? Did somebody actually put work into this?”

Again, Lundsten contended with Bob Ross, who popularized the idea that everyone can become a painter.

“There are techniques that pretty much anybody can learn, and apply paint to canvas or paper and make it look fairly good,” Lundsten admitted. “But there’s definitely a gift that’s given to somebody to be able to do what I and other artists are doing. It’s not something that just anybody can do.

“But I think part of giftedness in that area is the drive and the motivation to do it, too. I don’t know of too many people out there that want to spend hundreds of hours on a project, or have the wherewithal to do it, either. There’s a certain determination that’s a gift, as well.”

First brushstrokes

A 1988 graduate of Nevis High School, Lundsten grew interested in art in seventh grade.

“I had seen an art studio of a family member at one time,” he said in an interview, “and I got to see how work looks in progress. I developed a little bit of interest then, and sort of messed with it a little bit. My junior high years, Gary Wolff had seen some of my work and was pretty impressed with it, at that point in my life. I decided to take it as an elective, and it just sort of took on its own life from there.”

Lundsten described Wolff’s teaching method as “more structured in the junior high years,” requiring students to memorize slides and the color wheel and developing skills through certain projects.

At the senior high level, Wolff’s approach was more relaxed and hands-off – “You do what you want to do,” Lundsten said. Other than palette advice, he said, Wolff let his high school students choose the art supplies they wanted to order (within reason) and otherwise turned them loose.

“He knew that they were pretty serious about what they wanted to do, and let them run with it,” said Lundsten, saying that Wolff seemed to recognize in high school art students that “they’re there because they want to be.”

Later, Lundsten studied commercial art and design at Staples Technical College. “After a couple years of tech school, you learn how to illustrate,” he said. “You have to learn precision, and that was definitely something that helped my painting skills.”

However, he didn’t find much work in that field, noting that the curriculum didn’t have much application to the local area. Before joining the staff at Menahga High School, he did customer service and marketing work for 16 years at a local business.

Talent and skill

Lundsten likes to paint nautical subjects, often depicting locations on the north shore of Lake Superior. He mainly uses watercolor gouache, an opaque form of watercolor, though he also uses some transparent watercolors.

Though he admits to using some artistic license, Lundsten said he tends to start with a photograph and strives to add or subtract as little as possible.

“The look I’m looking for is basically what you see,” he said. “I want it to look as close to the real thing as I possibly can, whether it’s a boat or just a lake scene. Whatever the case, I want it to look convincing.”

Despite the appeal of impressionism, abstractionism and other “isms” in the art world, Lundsten said, “Realism is what takes the most skill and talent. Yeah, it takes some skill and talent to swirl a brush around and create an impressionistic painting. But the trouble is, a lot of times, poor quality can seep into that, too.”

The age of digital photography is no excuse to abandon representational art, he said. “To me, it’s kind of a commission to make it more realistic, because we have better resources. My opinion is that the sharper, the crisper, the more skill and more talent, and the more determination that goes into a piece to make it look good, then the better it is.”

Lundsten said he paints each picture with a Bible verse in mind. Prints of the completed work are available with or without the verse reference.

“I believe that God gives us what he gives us for a reason,” he said. “We may not know the whys and wherefores, but as long as we do what we can with what we’ve been given, who knows who we’ll impact and how.”

See to believe

The proof is in the paintings – at least, as far as their critical reception goes.

Early on, Lundsten placed third, second, and first in juried shows for 7th Congressional District high school students. His second-place entry in the district’s Artistic Discovery program was displayed for a year in U.S. Rep. Alan Strangeland’s office.

He also received three People’s Choice awards, a first place and three second-place awards in advanced categories in annual Art in the Sun contests sponsored by the White Birch Artists Group of Park Rapids; a Region 2 Arts Council grant; the corporate-sponsored Holbein Award and Art and Frame Award for sixth- and seventh-place paintings at NorthStar Water Media national exhibitions; a Minnesota Watercolor Society Award at the Arts in Harmony international show; second place at the society’s spring arboretum show; and second place and a People’s Choice award at the Artists in Minnesota spring show.

For private collectors, Lundsten has painted commissioned works including landscape, seascape, aviation and railroad pictures. Six of his nautical pieces were featured on a series of calling cards distributed nationally and on a phone company calendar. His work has been represented by several galleries and entered in many art shows.

Currently, prints of several of Lundsten’s paintings are available for sale at fineartamerica.com and through Serendipity Gallery of Pequot Lakes and Two Loons Gallery of Duluth.