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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

Putting a Line Around an Idea

Henri Matisse wrote, "Drawing is putting a line around an idea." In the case of Cave Creek, Arizona artist Dick Mueller the concept is more likely to be putting a lasso around his subject. His objective is to draw the viewer into a bygone and simpler time in the American West. Growing up in Marshalltown, Iowa, Dick claims his keen observation skills and initial encounters with drawing were from his mother. She acquired a set of art books from the old Federal Artists Schools in Minneapolis that inspired her to try out her drawing skills. Dick was captivated by the process.

Dick enrolled at the Minneapolis School of Art, now the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, after graduating from high school. His major was industrial design, challenging both his imagination and creativity. Dick remembers, "One project was to take an existing tool and improve it. 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, Dick's instructors thought it would never catch on. A hard lesson to learn is not getting patents on your ideas, even when you're young.

"The idea was sparked by a client who wanted a picture of her grandfather when he was 9 years old, dressed up as a cowboy."

Eventually, out in the career world, Dick heard from a friend in St. Louis that McDonnell Douglas was hiring technical illustrators for the space program; he sent off a portfolio and was hired sight unseen. McDonnell Douglas eventually moved into producing a majority of electrical components, at which point Dick decided to call it a day. By that time, he had been painting for about ten years. 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. She commented, "Wouldn't this be easier with a pencil?" Dick took the idea under consideration and picked up a set of colored and graphite pencils and never looked back. The medium would become his signature style.


Dick and his wife Sue considered living in Arizona when her parents moved to Rio Verde in their retirement. After visiting them for several years and falling in love with the area, Sue, a McDonnell Douglas employee, was offered a transfer to the helicopter component facility in Mesa, Arizona. Needless to say, the couple jumped on the opportunity to move West. The relocation would be a remarkably inspiring move for Dick and his art. He was a huge fan of stories written about the early West through television 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 Dick Mueller's passion, especially the photographic quality that 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, Dick has started a new series, "Portraits from the Past." Mueller said, "The idea was sparked by a client who wanted a picture of her grandfather when he was 9 years old, dressed up as a cowboy." The approach has taken on a life of its own in Mueller's home studio in Carefree, Arizona. One of the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of drawing from old pictures and family photos is the amount of historical research involved in assuring the items in the scene are the time period illustrated.

Many viewers mistake Dick's hyper-detailed and mastery of line and shadow for the old photographs themselves, only better! Recently, Dick's work has been accepted into the Bosque Art Classic and the International Guild of Realism. His colored pencil drawing “Salt River Ghost” will participate in the 15th Annual IGOR Exhibition in Charleston, SC. Both are enormous honors for Dick as these organizations choose the top 1% of works that are submitted. He also enjoys a large following of clients and collectors across the country.


Artist Dick Mueller has succeeded in "putting the line around an idea" in his work. He works from his home studio "Coyote Crossing Studio" and is active in the Cave Creek arts community as a member of the Sonoran Arts League. Dick exhibits at the Finer Arts Gallery in Cave Creek, Arizona and is one of the annual Hidden In The Hills Studio Tour founders. Dick is available for commission pieces and home studio tours for those interested in his "Portraits from the Past."


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