He often visits Montana, the Dakotas and the Southwest for inspiration. “Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a pretty special spot,” he said.
He won his first major award in 1987 when his painting of a pair of buffleheads took first place in the Minnesota Duck Stamp contest. He has won the Minnesota contest four times. His two wins in the Federal Duck Stamp contest were for portraits of a Canada goose and a pintail.
Big paintings, small stamps
Hautman paints with acrylics, employing a photo realism style. That precision is what’s required to win stamp contests. The paintings also have to translate well to stamp size.
Judges “look at them through a reducing glass. If it’s too busy, it doesn’t reproduce well as a stamp,” he said.
He spends anywhere from a few months to two years on a painting. He works from photographs taken while on hikes or trips into the wild. His entry for this year’s federal stamp contest was a painting of a pair of mallards landing on water, inspired by ducks he saw on a Shakopee lake years ago.
“Trying to get a scene of a landing mallard is hard,” he said. “They always look stiff to me.”
While working on a painting, he tacks up 20 to 150 photos. “One will have a foot you like, or another will have a wing you like,” he said.
Expanding the canvas
Robert is inspired by the wild but also finds inspiration close to home. Bird feeders on his farm attract songbirds, and a photo of his house cat, Moby, once helped him capture the lines of a cougar in a painting.
He never paints outside, preferring the comfort and privacy of his studio.
“Morning is the best time for me. I have to have coffee and a banana before I can function,” he said.
Over the years, he has mostly stuck to photo realism because it’s what he knows. He has painted a few abstract works, and recently he’s been experimenting with larger-than-life images.
So far, he’s struggled with birds painted larger than they appear in nature. But rabbits somehow work.
“I am pretty happy with the rabbit,” he said, pointing to a huge rabbit painting propped up in his studio that is now part of the show. “I want to do more big.”
Robert Hautman said that typically he, like many artists, is not keen on doing shows because of the preparation involved. It also keeps him from painting.
To prepare for this show, he dug through canvasses in his studio for months.
“We’ve talked about doing a show for years, but never did it,” he said. “It’s hard to get out and promote yourself and do it. … I think it’s going to be a really fun show.”