Commissions, Collaborations, and the Workshop Life


Editor’s Note: A version of this essay was originally published in the Great Falls Tribune.


As a maker of paintings I am constantly thinking about images and concepts I want to create. Some of them have been put off for years and others have just come to light. Some are evolving into works with new materials, which generate unexpected and fresh visual aspects while other pieces evolve in unexpected ways.

People who know my work occasionally offer suggestions. I appreciate their input and I listen, but must admit resistance as I already spend a portion of my time working on commissions, which are essentially collaborative works of art with a client or collector. It has been my great good fortune, over the years to form long lasting friendships with many of the people that have been my clients.


Undertaking the research for my natural history and conservation posters have often become adventures, including river floating, horseback riding into the wilderness and traveling by small aircraft to remote landing strips. Investigating and searching for imagery has also helped me become a better observer, sketcher and photographer. And it can be a lot of fun. I just returned from 5 days on the Smith River doing research for an upcoming commission celebrating the 75th anniversary of Montana State Parks in 2014.

Accepting a client project and learning about an organization’s mission has often been like a series of enlightening science and natural history seminars. I feel like a graduate when I complete a challenging commissioned work.  These experiences often give rise to more personal, self-directed paintings that are better informed.

Placid-Lake-Sunset-Dog-is-My-Co-pilot dig planet 2

Placid Lake Sunset. Dog is my co-pilot. A collaboration with Montana State Parks.

Researching new paintings whether self directed or commissioned takes on a purposefulness journey of discovery as well as a quest for information, beauty and paradox. The hunt for an image can be as or even more amusing and stimulating than the making of the painting later in the studio.  A combination of the two, finding an image and tangibly capturing it on the spot, is the practice of painting en plein aire, which is the French expression referring to the act of painting outdoors or in the open air.

Painting en plein air is compatible and comparable with other quiet outdoor pursuits such as fly-fishing, bird watching and even golf. It is a good excuse to be outside and the activity heightens one’s perception and observation of the environment. A painting done in these circumstances also records the changing effects of light and time. The leading figure of the French impressionists, Claude Monet was one of the first and in my opinion the greatest practitioner of this art. The Montana summer offers opportunities and appropriate weather and stimulating visuals for this pursuit.

Missoula Valley - A collaboration with Destination Missoula.

Missoula Valley – A collaboration with Destination Missoula.

Whether researching a commission or pursuing a passion, painting in the open air becomes more arduous in dramatic or hostile weather conditions or very low light. I find conditions such as these quite motivating for certain kinds of paintings. With a painter’s eye I find myself “hunting” resolutely with my camera and a small notebook. Like a hunter you need the right tools and must locate the precise location and time of day to carefully hunt your quarry, but in this case there is no loud noise and nothing dies.

2013 Western Montana Fair

Home Grown & Hand Crafted Since 1879. A Collaboration with the Western Montana Fair.


A native of Great Falls, Monte Dolack grew up surrounded by the same sweeping vistas and big sky that inspired Charlie Russell. His love of Montana and passion for the West’s diverse landscapes and wildlife are evident in the images he creates and the commissions he undertakes.

His best known early works – wild animals wreaking havoc in human homes – comprise his “Invaders Series,” exploring the myths of the West and how we view our relationship with our environment. The irresistible appeal of these images helped build Monte’s national reputation and continues to attract collectors.

A love of the natural world, combined with his exuberant curiosity and travel experiences, has shaped the content of Monte’s imagery.  Blending mythology, technology, and elements from nature and the landscape, his work is infused with a sense of humor and irony.

To see more of Monte Dolack’s artwork, visit his Gallery or check out his newly renovated website.

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