Time seems to stop when Tim Turenne is in his painting studio, located in the basement of his Richfield home. With no clock on the wall, the only reminder the day has gone is the shifting sunlight peeping through the room’s windows.
“When I’m sitting down here painting, it really takes my mind off everything that’s happening in the world, let alone my own life,” Turenne said. “Sometimes I’m down here for three, four, five hours and I don’t even know it.”
The basement is where Turenne paints his entries for the fish and wildlife habitat stamp contests run by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This year Turenne, 57, won four of Minnesota’s five stamp art contests. He capped his streak in late October with the winning design for the walleye stamp (he couldn’t enter the pheasant stamp contest, since he had designed the current stamp).
“What I’ve achieved has never been done in Minnesota before,” he said matter-of-factly.
Turenne was born and raised in West Allis, Wis., just outside of Milwaukee. He grew up hunting small game and deer, and fishing for muskie and smallmouth bass with his family. His surroundings became inspiration for his art, one of his many childhood passions.
He pursued that passion in art school in the 1980s and later as an artist for clients such as General Mills. He used his airbrushing skills to update classic cereal characters like the Lucky Charms leprechaun and Count Chocula.
But his focus shifted purely to wildlife art in 2006, when he exchanged his hunting rifle for a camera. That was the year he entered and won his first contest, a state turkey stamp. He painted in acrylic rather than the gouache method he knew.
Since then, Turenne has won close to 20 stamp art contests locally and in other states, painting about eight entries a year. He paints his entries in either acrylic or using an airbrush, giving an emphasis to the anatomy of the species.
His winning walleye entry is an example. The fish is brown and orange, its warm colors making it pop from its watery background. Feasting on minnows, the walleye’s features will be evident even when the painting is shrunk down to stamp-size dimensions.
State contests don’t have a cash prize, so Turenne makes most of his money as an artist by selling prints of his stamp designs and through commissioned work. He works part time as a home care aide, but painting is what he loves to do.
Minnesota has five contests each year for stamps sold to anglers and hunters for their licenses: waterfowl, trout and salmon, turkey, walleye and pheasant. Revenues from stamp sales go toward habitat conservation efforts.
Fisheries program consultant Neil Vanderbosch said walleye stamps, which cost $5.75 each, generate up to $100,000 in sales.
“Nowadays, most people don’t get the actual stamp itself. They just get an endorsement on their license,” Vanderbosch said. Stamps range from 75 cents for a turkey stamp to $10.75 for a trout stamp.
Minnesota has a rotating cast of stamp artists, including Joe, Robert and Jim Hautman of St. Louis Park, whose federal duck stamps have won them fame and the envy of other artists. Yet artist entries continue to dwindle; Turenne thinks part of it is the rigid rules and judging, which discourage more unorthodox artists from participating.
Contest rules prevent Turenne from entering any state contests next year. He hopes more artists feel inspired to enter designs and that competition picks up once again.
“I’m not going to be able to move into a mansion ever,” Turenne said. “It’s not about that. I love competition, and I love to paint.”