Getting Started


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


Getting started on new works of art is a challenge. I am just preparing the studio for a series of new paintings and have been thinking about their content and what I want these new works to look like. This is an exciting and scary time. What will my next painting look like?  I am plotting how I will settle down and keep the world at bay while I slip into that vulnerable and subtle mode and allow the muse to murmur in my ear.

I commence by collecting and creating a series of ideas. Sometimes these are in a sketch format and other times a quickly written idea. These ideas and visual thoughts appear in my journals and also on available scraps of paper such as napkins or the backs of beer coasters, when a sketchbook is not handy. I sometimes go through my old journals, looking for sketches or seemingly unimportant doodles

My wife comes in and needs help with a mysterious plumbing problem or yard work assistance. This is welcome, as I can’t seem to find the direction or the right concept to work with.

The excitement starts to build as one idea leads to another and another. These go up on my wall of sketches. This is a 6 x 8-foot “Idea Wall” expressly for this purpose, and is usually papered with possibilities. I have sketches that have survived on this wall for years-with the hope that they may yet become paintings when they grow up.

Monte Dolack. Idea Wall.

My Idea Wall.

Some new ideas that seem brilliant in the evening can seem lackluster the next morning or a few days later. But, the good idea sketch is like a potent seed. It contains possibilities for growth and flowering, and holds true over time.  Carl Yung saw these “thoughts” as ripe fruit falling from the tree, often after years of “ripening”. You just need to be there and record it when it happens.

That reminds me that I need to water the front garden. Also a cup of coffee might be a good idea and a few minutes with the morning’s newspaper.

Then I turn back to the studio to review the sketches and select the ideas or drawings that have endured my editing process. On the computer I comb thru my photos to find accurate research that will help with the picture-making process. I started keeping a file or “morgue,” while in High School, of collected photos, magazine cuttings and, later, my own photo prints.  All of this information and memorabilia now fill a large file cabinet. I still use this reserve, as well as my extensive library, but Google “images” and my own hi-tech electronic photos have become an increasingly important resource.

Eric Plsn 4

My wife, Mary Beth and our dog are the perfect distraction.

Now I’m hungry and since I work in a studio attached to our house the kitchen is not far. Sometimes we escape the house and studio and head to our gallery for other related business and also the possibility of a nearby café.

Back at the studio a cluster of sketches that relate to a common theme starts to coalesce in an area of the Wall. These are rarely larger that 5 x 7 inches and often smaller. The shape and size of the content is the next problem to solve, and then what materials are appropriate to an idea?

The phone rings. Often times I talk on speakerphone while continuing drawing or painting.

I take the best or most interesting idea-sketch of the group and start a larger and more finished drawing on good paper. Usually this is approximately 9×12 inches.

I can’t stand it and have to check my e-mail. Half spam and a few jokes and perhaps one or two I want to answer.

Changes are made and unexpected things are added or subtracted. I play with my copier that enlarges and reduces and I frequently use it to change the scale of areas of the drawing. I make another drawing with transparent velum and try and finalize all the elements of the drawing. Something starts to happen and I begin to feel excited as a good picture is starting to materialize.

Bark! The dogs remind me I have promised them a walk. Wag, wag, bark.

Back in the studio as evening approached I realize I am tired, and hungry again.


Time to walk Dora and Stella.


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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