New artistic endeavor is a rock-steady venture

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Tootsie Schmidt has been painting on Kansas limestone and creating rock art for about two months.

Intended as a decorative piece inside a home or displayed outside in the yard, her artwork is etched into the natural stone surface and painted in bright or subdued colors.

And images range from the Hillsboro Trojan mascot to deer in a mountain landscape.

“The reason I started this is I felt this was something I thought Jerry could help me with. And since he’s going to be retiring, I wanted something we could both work on.”

Husband Jerry is the assistant police chief at Hillsboro Police Department and plans to retire in February.

“I’ll do the coaching,” Jerry said with a chuckle.

Tootsie and Jerry have been married for 25 years and have four children and three grand-children between them.

Her part-time hours as a respiratory therapist at Hillsboro Community Medical Center allow her to enjoy creative hobbies, such as painting on T-shirts, collecting eagle art and most recently, creating rock art.

“I don’t know what other people who do this type of thing call it, so I just call it rock art,” Schmidt said.

“You go to the fairs and see these things and you think ‘Well, that’s really neat.’ So I just decided there’s got to be a way to do this.”

Schmidt took on the challenge of learning how to paint on rock without taking any lessons or reading any instructional books, she said.

“I’ve had no training on this.”

Limestone rocks line the sidewalk in front of her Hillsboro home. And more rocks await her artistic touch. Some are stored in her back yard and others are in her two-car garage work area.

A sandy sedimentary rock formed close to the earth’s surface, limestone is considered soft and in some areas contains fossilized plant and animal life.

The couple takes their pickup truck out on rock hunts along roads or in fields and pastures in Kansas.

“Or some friends will say, ‘I’ve got some rock-come get them,'” Schmidt said.

“And when I pick up a rock, I don’t know if I’m going to use it, and I don’t know what I’m going to use it for.”

The first thing Schmidt does is to prepare her rock by washing it with a portable power washer to get the surface clean for the painting process.

“Then, I decide what I’m going to put on that rock,” she said.

“And I kind of look at the rocks ahead of time and see what may look good.”

She keeps patterns used for her T-shirt art or searches through magazines, books and catalogs to find the right picture for a particular rock or for a customer who commissions her work.

The stone surface is kept natural, and the bottom is smoothed off so it will be stable.

She limits the size of her rock art to no bigger than she can handle picking up-about 40 pounds, she said.

To capture an image on her rock, she uses an overhead projector.

“I use pencil first and look at it and see if I need to change anything,” Schmidt said.

“If you use the pencil totally by itself on the stone and rub your hand across it, it’s going to smear.”

Using a fine permanent marker, she traces over the pencil to get a crisp image.

She also uses carbon paper if she wants to duplicate favorite patterns.

“I put that on the rock, center it and trace around it.”

To create definition and depth, she uses a Dremel tool with different bits to chisel the lines created by her markers.

“The marker gets all wiped out when you drill into that,” she said.

“And the rough texture, when you use the Dremel, it highlights the image better.”

Wearing safety glasses and a mask, she protects herself from any dust particles or rock chips flying into the air during the etching process.

“It produces a dust, not a lot of dust, so you have to constantly be wiping or blowing that off,” Schmidt said.

Although limestone is an easy rock to work with, it can have a mind of its own, she said.

“In certain areas, sometimes you’ll find out that the rock is hard in one spot and just beyond, it’s not. So sometimes you have to use a little water to soften it.”

Relying on past successful experience with yard sculptures or her T-shirts, Schmidt uses the same acrylic paints on her rocks.

“I can buy those at Alco, Hobby Lobby, Wal-Mart or any craft store, she said. “And the thing about acrylics is it dries fast.”

She’s learned that mistakes can be easily repaired on rocks.

“It’s much more forgiving than doing T-shirts,” Schmidt said. “If I go off to the side with paint, I can take the Dremel and go lightly across it and clean it off.”

After the paint dries, Schmidt signs the bottom with the initials “J” and “T,” an identification number and the date.

She also takes photos of her finished art work.

“That way, I can make a little book of it and show somebody this is what I’ve done-to look through it and see what they like.”

Schmidt has completed nine pieces of rock art, the first was the Trojan mascot with Hillsboro Trojans etched underneath. She’s sold one of those for $35. And her howling coyote would cost about $40.

The Trojan rock art took about five hours to complete, and the more complicated coyote took about eight hours.

After showing a friend recently how to work on rock, Schmidt said he was surprised with the start-to-finish process.

“He said, ‘You know, this is a lot of work. It’s no wonder people charge what they do. This is time consuming.'”

Images Schmidt said she hopes to tackle some day are an American eagle, the U.S. flag and a cardinal.

But her favorite piece to date is the deer she sold to a physician in McPherson.

“The way the colors went, I was really pleased with how it came out,” Schmidt said.

The scene featured deer standing on a hill, surrounded by grass and a fallen tree log, and the images were framed against a cliff.

The doctor told Schmidt he was going to display it above his fireplace.

Plans are to continue selling her rock art from her home, and future customers can call her at 947-2365 to purchase or commission rock art, Schmidt said.

Although selling the Trojan mascot rock art at athletic games would possibly be financially lucrative, Schmidt said she doesn’t have plans to do that.

“But Jerry and I have talked about donating a Trojan rock to the booster club and letting them sell raffle tickets at a basketball game.”

And has she considered setting up a booth at the Hillsboro Arts & Crafts Fair?

“I’d have to see how much I can get done through the winter and summer to even think about doing the Arts & Crafts Fair,” Schmidt said.

If she could have enough pieces available, she said it was a possibility for the future.

But for the present, Schmidt said she gets personal satisfaction from knowing she has produced a quality piece of rock art.

“I enjoy doing this,” she said. “For me, if I don’t do a good job, I’m not happy with it. I’ll work with it until I get it to where I’m satisfied with the way it looks.”

And for those people who want to try it, she’s willing to teach others about her art.

“It’s really not that hard,” Schmidt said. “I think if most people want to try something, they’ve got to make up their minds that they can do it.”

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