The Varied Life of Rick St. Dennis

The Varied Life of Rick St. Dennis

RICK ST. DENNIS was one of our contributing artists in our February issue, with two gorgeous Valentine designs. We were thrilled that he agreed to be our July featured artist, with five more amazing designs! His work ranges from spooky renderings to adorable drawings to gorgeous works of art.

Color On!: You studied Design for Theatre at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Tell us about designing for theatre productions – what is involved?

Rick:   I very much think I am a reincarnated Theatre Designer – I was making little stage sets and designing costumes when I was really young, like 4 or 5. My sister says she had the best paper dolls in the neighborhood; I would draw and colour dolls on “tag board” and then design clothes for them – we spent a lot of rainy days making paper dolls.

dennis-2In school I was always the “artsy” guy, so it was natural for me to do the designing like program covers and costumes, etc. I designed my first major production for The Whittier Civic Light Opera when I was about 18 – a huge production of Funny Girl, the Story of Fanny Brice – I did sets and costumes. My dad was my first assistant set designer and my Mother on costumes (by the way my mother studied costume design and art at The Ringling Art Institute in Florida.)

So what does it involve? It’s art in 3D. When one is lucky enough to be able to control sets and costumes (makeup) in a collaboration with a great lighting designer, (I am afraid of heights so I left the lights to others,) you paint a huge moving painting with living components. When the curtain goes up and the audience applauds your work, it’s better than any drug. I was also lucky to design on a grand scale, opera and musicals mostly.

Opera is a beast unto itself. When I designed Aida for the Redlands Bowl Summer Festival we had dozens of extra bodies to fill that huge outdoor space – well over 100 people. We had to do body makeup because Egyptian costumes can be skimpy, so we set up production lines and used foam paint rollers to make them up. It’s a part of my life that you can see in my artwork – my drawings are often costume or set designs.

Color On!: I’m sure doing theatre design involves a lot of interesting stories. Can you tell us one or two?

Rick: I designed a musical revue once where we had no budget, maybe a hundred dollars. It was for charity, so we used bed sheets – lots of fabric that takes dye very easily. (They were cotton in those days).

While I was studying in Europe, I had an opportunity to meet with a curator at the Louvre and see parts of their amazing costume collection. There are pieces of garments belonging to Marie Antoinette locked up in their vaults. I got to see Barbara Streisand’s costumes for Hello Dolly at Barman’s and Nathan’s costumers when they were here in Los Angeles. It’s amazing to see the work that goes into a dress with a twenty thousand dollar budget! Next time you watch that movie pay attention in the “Hello Dolly” number – the gold beaded gown she wears is entirely lined with green velvet, even the parts the camera doesn’t see.

The oddest request I ever had was from a friend who was directing an opera in South Korea. He needed a design for making hoop skirts without metal or manufactured hoops – I just said “BAMBOO” and that’s what they did – bamboo hoop skirts worked just fine.

Color On!: You’ve also worked at Disneyland Resort. What did you do there? What was it like?

Rick: I grew up at Disneyland. It was very close to the little town where I lived, and I had always wanted to work there. In the 70’s, I was a VIP tour guide at Universal Studios (people in the arts tend to have a wide variety of jobs to span the slow times.) I was invited to Disneyland to audition as a guide for them, but at that time they only had ladies as guides and circumstances just didn’t work out. The stars were not aligned… So, when I moved down here to Seal Beach, I was 12 miles from Disneyland. I decided this was my chance – I actually wanted to do tours, but ended up starting in Merchandise. I sold rubber cobras and Indiana Jones hats in Adventure Frontier lands. Then I auditioned for a job as a Leather Writer (carving guest names on various items) and ended up being the trainer for that position. It is truly magical to work for Disney. The pay is terrible, but the benefits for full time are great. Being able to go “backstage” whenever and wherever one likes is so much fun, and just wearing that Disney cast badge makes you feel so special. My badge is framed and I see it almost first thing every day.

Color On!: In your online bio, you mention being a craft and street artist. How was that different from being a gallery artist?

Rick: Remember that I started my career in the “Hippie” age of the 60’s – being a street artist was pretty much the way most people started. I was lucky to be in the Los Angeles area, so there were really good street shows.

A man named Joe Ochs had a parking lot spot on La Cienega Blvd every Saturday and Sunday. I think we paid five bucks for Saturday and ten for Sunday. I sold art to many celebrities at that show, and it opened doors for other opportunities. I designed Tattoos for rock stars, did murals in celebrity homes, and more just because I was at that street faire.

I also learned about business, how to buy wholesale and lots of life lessons that have served me well all my life. In the 90s I did The Country Folk Art shows mostly in the eastern part of the USA. I was a decorative painter and had written several books on the subject. I approached decorative painting from my stage design experience, so it was different from much of what was on the market. If one is adventurous, loves road trips, and selling their work, those sorts of art faires can be great fun. Gallery shows are too detached for me – I like being right there selling.

Color On!: How do you create your art? Do you create digitally or with pen and pencil? Tell us about your process for creating new work.

dennis-3Rick: I draw it out with a pencil on Strathmore Bristol vellum and then I ink it with a Pigma Micron (.005,.01 and .02.) I erase with a kneaded eraser. I am a dinosaur. I actually tried a digital drawing system – it went back to the store in less than a week. Lines drawn by hand have a vitality that is missing in digital work in my opinion.

Where digital comes in with my work is scanning into Photoshop and cleaning up some lines. I have also started adding some half tone screens and little bits here and there. My original drawings go out to my design team or special customers. I occasionally sell one to a collector and my nieces and nephews and special friends grab the rest.

When I sit down to draw I see what I want to draw in my head before the pencil touches the paper. I also have requests for designs from fans and friends – what I try NOT to do is look at other artists’ work. I concentrate on what I do and my collective experience – it’s all out there in the ether. You just grab an idea and go. Much of my work is inspired by theatre and opera – if I have a “dry spell” music will send me off on a new road. I listen to classical, opera, Broadway, film soundtracks and “vintage” music like 1920s and 30s recordings.

Color On!: When coloring your own art, what is your favorite medium(s)?

Rick: Prismacolour Pencils and Dr. Martins Intense Watercolours. I collect coloured pencil sets. Remember the “paper dolls” – all coloured with coloured pencils. For decorative painting, I use Deco Art Products almost exclusively. They have a wide range of new products for paper called their “MEDIA LINE” – really fun and worth playing with.

You know, a great deal of creating is directed play – one needs to connect to the kid that lives in your head, and that awe and exuberance that comes from the child within.

I recently was given a grant to teach art to seniors who could not otherwise afford art lessons. It was humbling to watch people in their 70s and 80s, who had never held a crayon or used watercolours, find art and connect with their creativity. Too many people take art much too seriously. I do what I do to please myself,  not to impress others.

Color On!: Do you enjoy relaxing with coloring books by other artists? If so, do you have a favorite artist or book?

Rick: I have to admit I just don’t have time, and I have said I try NOT to look at other artist’s work. I have coloured in DOVER PUBLICATIONS books, and I hear VOGUE is putting out a book. I will look for that one. There are a lot of good artists out there and so many books. Teri Sherman is an artist I know. Her work is very original and she has a range. I think she is the last artist whose work I coloured.

Color On!: What color(s) do you most love to use?

Rick: Pink, greens and blues, lavender, mauve, clear yellows – soap bubble colours . I am funny about greens; I prefer mossy, yellow greens over bluer greens.

Color On!: Tell us a little bit about your art. Do you have a favorite piece that you created?

Rick: I can’t tell you how many pieces of art work I have created over the years – thousands literally. Picking out one or a favorite would be really impossible. I have forgotten so many pieces, especially from the street art days when I was drawing for survival.

I did a large watercolour clown that I sold at a Harvest Festival at the Los Angeles Convention Center. I was really sad to see that picture go – it sold the same day I put it up. Similarly for a huge pen and ink wizard coming down a stairway with a candelabra in a turret which I sold at a street show in Pasadena, CA.

dennis-4The oddest one was a little picture of a Perrot with some marionettes. When a lady said she wanted it, I almost said no, and after she went away I cried for a little bit. It must have touched some cord from a past life.

People are surprised when they come to my home. I have NOTHING that I have created on display anywhere.

Color On!: What brought you to the online market, creating digi stamps?

Rick: My dear friend Dee Moran is responsible. I didn’t even know what a “digi” was! Dee suggested that I do some freebies for an organization that does cards for service persons. I started a little Etsy shoppe, and the response was good.

I was in a very bad place in those days- I had major life changes and it shows in my art from those times. It was sort of dark and elfin. Some people still think I do only dark art, when in truth it’s less than 30% of my total catalog.

Color On!: You have two distinct styles of work, one much darker than the other. Tell us about them.

dennis-5Rick: I think I have many styles. I have a very DISNEY-esque style; I am inspired by Aubrey Beardsley, Bougereau, Waterhouse and other Pre-Raphaelites. In my school days, I always envied people who could do those shiny car renderings or spooky dark scenes. I literally didn’t think I could do that sort of work. I love Frank Frazetta – wonderful artist – and while I will never be as good as he is I think my work is like his. It stands on a bridge between the light and the dark. Sometimes it slips a little one way or the other, but not very far. On the other hand I could be completely delusional. It’s just hard to be slapped with a style. As I said, many people think I only do dark work, while others still aren’t even aware I exist and only think of me doing ladies in hats.

Color On!: Other than creating art, what interesting hobbies or activities do you enjoy?

Rick: I love antiques, especially figural art. I just sold off my vast collection of mermaids, which I had been collecting for 40 years. I just felt it was time for a new start.

I love old films from the 30’s and 40’s, musicals and going to lunch. In Private Benjamin (movie), Goldie Hawn says in a moment of desperation that amongst other things she wants to go to lunch. I knew exactly what she meant. There is something about strolling into a cool dim restaurant on a hot California day with a good friend in tow, having some delicious food and good , and then facing the day. Going to lunch once a week should be REQUIRED.

Color On!: You’ve sold art to some well-known people. Have you had any memorable responses to your art work from collectors?

Rick: I don’t know how interesting it is but a well know celebrity, who had a number of my pieces, insisted I meet them and go over the collection and give them my appraisel prices on the work. At the end they offered to sell the collection to me at 50% of MY appraised value. I guess they were on hard times.

Color On!: If you had to choose one superpower, what would it be?

Rick: I would love to have the power to heal anyone of anything. I can’t stand suffering – especially when good people are hit with bad things. If I could end the suffering with a thought – wow! Less noble – I would like Samantha Stevens’ witch nose so I could clean house with a twitch.

Color On!: Who is your favorite artist or artists (not necessarily coloring book artists)?

Rick: Pre-Raphaelites – Alma Tadema, Waterhouse, Bougereau. I love monumental portraits like Gainsborough and Lawrence, Beardsley, and Impressionists, especially Monet and Mary Cassatt.

I am developing an appreciation for Klimpt.

Color On!: Is there some person, place or thing that inspires you when you are creating your art?

Rick: Music and Light – the world should have a soundtrack. I find great films and theatre very inspirational. My fans inspire me often – I will get a little note suggesting a subject and off I go. Most of those designs are dedicated to the person who suggested them.

Color On!: Tell us about your plans for the rest of 2016. Do you have anything interesting coming up that you’d like to share with your fans?

Rick: The future – I have been on a bit of a hiatus after turning out quite a number of books in a few months.  I will be doing more books, assuming the trend doesn’t collapse under the weight of the number of books that are flooding the market. I am always looking for new areas to explore so who knows where I will wander next? I hope to develop a larger YouTube presence and do more videos – I love to teach and miss it when I don’t do it.

Rick, thanks so much for sharing a bit of your life and your art with us. It’s always such fun to learn more about the artists of the work we all love to color!

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