Nick Reitzel believes he was born to be an artist. It's been his vocation since he was in high school.
“I still have the little kid ambition of being famous.”Nick Reitzel
That's one reason he left behind the hustle and bustle of the city and bought a tiny home on the main street of Karlstad.
"I can concentrate better. Small towns are like that," explained Reitzel. "There's not as much noise. It's cleaner. It was almost a shock day to day, seeing what that kind of life is like. "
Reitzel pursues his art with an almost monastic devotion. Inside his cluttered old house, a small wood stove provides the only heat. He has no telephone or computer.
He's working on a commission to draw a caricature of someone's children.
"I do portraits. I'm even doing signs for some of the local businesses in town here," Reitzel said as he stood in his studio before a large drawing table that takes up much of the tiny kitchen.
When he paints he sets up an easel in the living room.
These commissions help pay the bills, but his first love is painting landscapes, and wildlife.
"It's emotional. Just if you can capture a moment. It's hard to describe," said Reitzel. "When I look at a really good work of art, it takes you to a nice place in your mind."
Some of those nice places are memories of childhood hunting and fishing trips with his dad.
As he tugs the fraying brim of his hat, Reitzel ponders the connection between his life experience and his art.
He guesses there may be a reason he has yet to win the coveted duck stamp contest. He's never hunted ducks.
"I guess it has something to do with first hand experience," explained Reitzel. "Just the certain smells like when you're out on the lake, you remember little things, the light. Just all the senses are much more in tune. You just have more sensory data than if you hadn't been there on the spot." Reitzel has won five Minnesota Conservation stamp contests; two pheasant, one trout, one turkey and the states first walleye stamp.
He's also won wildlife stamp contests in Wyoming and Nevada.
"I was entering about five years before I finally won. I was wondering if I was ever going to win. The first one is always the most unbelievable. That was a real celebration," Reitzel recalled with a chuckle.
Winning any stamp contest means a decent payday, perhaps enough to sustain his austere lifestyle for a year.
Reitzel just sold several hundred prints of last years winning pheasant stamp and he packed and shipped them himself in the living room where boxes are piled high and a sheet of plywood leans against the couch.
But he's still chasing the holy grail of wildlife artists, the contest that guarantees fame and fortune.
"The biggest contest is the federal duck stamp. If you win that, you're an instant bona fide pro. And the money would be welcome also," said Reitzel. "I still have the little kid ambition of being famous. That's still with me. Now I'm getting to the point where I have to figure out what it takes to do that. I could possibly be right on the cusp of getting a breakout type of recognition."
Reitzel still isn't sure what might bring him the success of wildlife art icons like Terry Redlin or Robert Bateman.
He's guessing it will take a perfect painting, and a bit of luck.