Rusty Frentner Wildlife Artist 

Rusty Frentner, biography

   Rusty was born in the late 1950’s in the Ypsilanti Michigan area. When he was about 3 years of age, his parents moved to the country and built a house. The home was on ten acres and was surrounded by farmland with an apple orchard out back of the property. From an early age he was fascinated by cowboys and horses. His grandfather had gotten him a cowboy hat and toy guns to play with. He also had a big stuffed horse, bigger than he was. Then as he got older and he learned how to use a pencil, he would draw horses. Then later he tried to draw his hero’s.

  Rusty grew up with woods, fields and wetlands that slowly took over the fallow farm land. He spent a lot of his spare time exploring and playing in the natural wonders. He learned about the birds, animals and the insects that he saw. He learned what the trees and plants where, and developed a great fondness for nature. Then when he got old enough, his parents got him and his brother a couple of Shetland ponies! He was able to range out further and further to explore with his special four legged friend.

  Rusty received art supplies for Christmas and birthdays. The next step was crayons, an opportunity to start learning about color. Next came Prang water color paints, where he started learning how to mix colors. As he got older, he got oil paints. He also had a lot painting and drawing books, the Walter T. Foster series. His favorite was how to draw horses. The books became dog eared and smudged from use.

  Rusty still continued to use the graphite pencils throughout school. When he got into high school he started drawing the pretty girl’s portraits. There were quite a few to draw! He received awards throughout his high school years. Upon graduation, he received a special award in art and another for biology, his favorite subjects in school. He had taken independent study in biology and illustrated a guide for butterflies in the area from the species he had collected. The guide was done in water colors.


  Rusty had been introduced to acrylic paints in high school. They were a fairly new kind of paint and no one around really knew how to use them. He struggled with them and decided that he didn’t like them and set them aside. Then later someone asked him to paint a clown on a cup. He tried the acrylics again with better results. Then he did a painting of the high school art teacher’s horse. It turned out great! The acrylics could be used to do a lot of detail in the fur and he fell in love with acrylics. 

  After graduation, Rusty went to college with a scholarship and studied commercial art. The favorite classes involved drawing and illustration. Then one day, he saw the Michigan Natural Resources magazine and it had an article about the Michigan Duck Stamp competition. The article showed the winners and runner’s up. He decided that he wanted to enter the competition. He worked hard to gather reference photos of mallard ducks. He then drew a number of sketches of the ducks working on a design to enter into the completion. He used acrylic paints to do the painting, and worked diligently to finish it. Then months later during the competition, he was crushed when the painting didn’t even making it the top ten. Rusty dusted off his disappointment and decided to do more studying to improve his painting skills. He took workshops with some of the best Wildlife artists. Over the next ten years, his painting skills improved as he got more workshops under his belt. Then finally in 1995, He finally won the Michigan Duck Stamp. Meanwhile, he fell in love with painting wildlife art. He had found a way to record the world he had grown up with. This started a lifelong desire to capture this world on canvas.

  Rusty has also drawn a number of pet portraits for people over the years. He has done portrait commissions of dogs, horses and cats done with color pencil, acrylics or oils. He was surprised to see some of his clients burst into tears when they saw their favorite pet’s paintings. What an experience that was for him touching him in a special way.

  Rusty has traveled to a number of states to exhibit in big wild life art shows. He has been to states that include Michigan, Minnesota, South Carolina, Kansas, Florida, Washington DC and Washington State. Often times when he has traveled to these states, he takes the time to visit national parks on the way.

  Rusty’s favorite park is Yellowstone National Park. He has been there a number of times. His first time was on a trip to a wildlife art workshop held in the Tetons. What a wonder to see the Teton Mountains. He had traveled through Yellowstone to get to the Tetons, taking hundreds of pictures along the way. What an adventure to see moose, grizzly bear, buffalo, eagles, elk. He fell asleep in his tent listening to elk bugle, an unforgettable experience. Then watching buffalo swim across the Yellowstone River, shaking the water from their coats and snorting as they made their way up the bank. A favorite memory is the time he was in Yellowstone by himself. He had gotten up from his tent in Slough creek and was driving along the road toward Lamar Valley. He spotted a Bald Eagle setting in a cotton wood tree top. He watched as the bird flew off and he followed as it made its way to the edge of the Lamar River. He parked the car and sat down to do a sketch. But the eagle flew off. Rusty had noticed a splashing noise coming from the river. He had assumed it was a trout fisherman. But upon inspection, there was no one in sight. He walked quietly to the river bank to find out what was causing the splashing. What a surprise to see a family of river otters swimming towards him! These memories have made their way into a number of his paintings with future plans for other paintings.

  Another of Rusty’s favorite parks is The Badlands National Park. On a trip there, he had been on the verge of setting up camp in one of their rustic camp grounds. Upon arrival to the camp, he discovered it had a lot of buffalo at and around the camp. He had parked his van and could not get out because of the buffalo that were walking through the camp. Snorting and shaking the dust out of their coats, licking their noses with funny looking black tongues, they walked right past the van. He could have just reached out and touched them, but he didn’t. They moved on, making their way south. Rusty looked around the campground and thought about the experience. He found a trail that headed in the general direction that they had gone, at least a mile ahead of him. He followed the trail and saw them stopped at a prairie dog town in the distance. The buffalo were busy rolling and digging in the mounds of dirt that the prairie dog’s has piled up. Rusty could see something else flying around the prairie dog town, birds that reminded him of a moth as they flew. He could not make out what they were, but maybe, just maybe…. He made the trek back to the van to get his sleeping bag and binoculars and to sign the register to stay the night in the outback. The buffalo had moved on, but he could still see the birds and the prairie dogs. The binoculars confirmed his suspicions, they were burrowing owls! What a trip! Rusty rolled out his sleeping bag on the other side of hill near the to the prairie dog town. He propped himself next to a tree to settle in for the night. The moon was up and covered with a thin veil of cirrus clouds reflecting the setting sun. Mule deer were walking around on the next hill over and the sound of coyotes filled the air.

  Rusty has done a number of paintings in acrylic of buffalo. He is awed by their size and laid back manner and curly haired coats. He has also painted moose capturing their “don’t mess with me” attitude and the way the light reflects off of their coats. Another favorite animal is wolves. Rusty did a series of wolf paintings for the Bradford Exchange that was featured on a time limited edition of collector plates. More of his images appear on t-shirts, mugs, steins, greeting cards, and the list goes on of items featuring his artwork.

  Rusty has also been invited to teach at a number of workshops. His favorite was a two day workshop at the Soix City Art Center in Iowa. He shared his knowledge of painting wildlife with the students, adult classes of about twenty five students. He showed slides of a painting demonstration and took reference photo files and guided the students through the painting process.

  Rusty has also supported groups that provide habitat for wildlife. He feels that is important to save areas to protect wildlife so that future generations can enjoy it.

  Rusty has continued his learning and growing with his art by taking up plein air painting. Plein air painting is the process of setting up your paints and easel out in the open somewhere and doing a painting. He believes this style of painting has taken his skills to another level. He usually goes to Kensington Metro Park near Brighton Michigan. It is another of his favorite parks. He enjoys the company of the other artists that are part of the Michigan Plein Air Painters. They paint all year, snow or shine. Rusty has also made several trips out west doing plein air, as well as in the Smoky Mountains. He plans to make more trips to do Plein air.

     Rusty has received numerous awards for his artwork, both in local shows and international shows. As he visits these places with paints and exploring, he believes what is most important is “KEEPING IT WILD!!!”