By Richard Mundy
For Hometown News
Four score and two years ago Mother Nature brought forth on this continent a rainstorm.
Conceived in boredom, and finding a watercolor set, a five-year-old boy painted a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on a shirt cardboard, dedicating the proposition that all artists are not created equal.
Don Renner was that boy and he has yet to stop painting in this his 87th year. He admits he has slowed down a little. He recently underwent triple bypass heart surgery and he is still in process of gaining all his strength back.
Mr. Renner is a quiet spoken, yet articulate gentleman who freely shares experiences. He has grown a goatee because he said he always wanted to see if he could and wondered what it would look like.
No one in his family exhibited any artistic talents, which right away shatters any genetic theories. After his first experience with the portrait of Lincoln, Mr. Renner said he enjoyed it. He continued to draw and paint and evidently caught the attention of his Dad, who found a local "guy" in town that would teach art to four or five guys once a week. He joined the group.
"Everybody wanted to be a cartoonist," he said.
So he went to the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts on Saturdays to learn to be a cartoonist. Then he started going at night to learn the rest of the "art work." But he claims he didn't really start to learn how to paint until he got married.
"While attending the Chicago Academy, I was still cartooning and going to high school and only 16 and began taking classes using live models," he said. "One day my mother asked me why she hadn't seen any of my recent work from the Academy. So I brought out an envelope that only showed four of the models (they were nude). She said, "Oh my! Wait 'til you see your Father.
"The next morning my Dad hands me the envelope back and says, 'Well, you might as well continue, you've seen it all now anyhow.'"
"I graduated from high school in '43; everybody knew they had a job you know, you had to go to war. The trouble is I had just turned 17 when I graduated so my folks wouldn't sign me up for anything ... I turned 18 and I joined the Merchant Marines because I couldn't get into the Navy or the Air Force."
It was the "best thing that ever happened to me," he said.
He was able to go overseas as an able-bodied seaman and made several crossings on Liberty Ships after the war, which kindled his future love of traveling. His last port of call was in Spain, a country he would later move to with his wife and daughters, and where he would win first prize in the International Art Festival of Gibraltar.
With the war over, Mr. Renner quit the Merchant Marines and returned to his hometown of Chicago.
One weekend he visited an Art Fair and saw this one woman's work and wondered if she would teach anyone. At this point, he was about 28 years old and married. The woman "took me in." He had been earning his living at this point as a lithographer, stone or a metal plate with a smooth surface to create images from wax etching.
After a three-month visit to Denmark, his parent's native land, he came back to the states and met his future wife at a dude ranch in Wisconsin.
"Last May 17, on our 60th wedding anniversary she died ... Hell of a way to celebrate that. And then two days later I had a heart attack. And on the third day they operated and gave me a triple bypass," he said.
His Ormond Beach house and studio, where he moved in 1998 after growing tired of crowded South Florida, are full of his paintings, and they are just the tip of the iceberg of the many hundreds of portraits and other works he has painted. He also is teaching portrait painting at the Art League of Daytona Beach.
Mr. Renner has painted a variety of subjects, from Figurative (Portraits), Children, Landscapes, Still Life and Indians. He has worked in oil, acrylics and watercolor, switching to watercolor almost exclusively in 1990.
Today's watercolor is not your "Father's" watercolor. Mr. Renner explained that the painting goes a lot faster, but it's a completely different technique. Water colors dry two shades lighter than when you apply them whereas oil stays about the same.
But his experience in lithography and in layering watercolors as he would if he were using oils, gives him an advantage over those without the experiences. He said most artists don't think that way (using 4 basic colors). Previously watercolors were never as precise as oil or acrylic, but with the new techniques it brings a clarity and realistic look that oils just do not accomplish.
As for making a living strictly with his art, in the early 1980s he and two others formed a printing and color separating business. "And then one guy left and there were two left. And finally my wife said that's enough. Either get out or ... So I got out."
"In the meantime I had been selling portraits, and some advertising and mostly word-of-mouth brought me more business. But I was taking a lot of time running the business. I had been doing some nautical chart work for a store in Fort Lauderdale, and I got the idea of doing somebody's boat on a chart. So the store liked the idea and he would call me up and say 'I've got a job for you.'"
"Most of the time I'd photograph the boat and work from the photographs onto the charts. I couldn't use oils so I used acrylics. And I got the idea; wonder if the cruise ships would like this idea? Maybe they could sell them. So I contacted one of the cruise lines and they said yeah, they'd try it. So before I knew it I had 25 cruise ships out there."
He then added covers for financial digests (over 300) and all along was painting portraits. Mr. Renner has rendered hundreds of commissioned paintings in his long career, both in oils and watercolors. He has painted many celebrities, such as Robert Wagner and Virginia Graham; political dignitaries; Seminole Indian Chiefs; and tribal leaders.
Also a photographer, he has taken pictures of a variety of well-known figures of movies, television and the stage. One of the more enjoyable portions of his life was doing portraits of the stars as they came and acted at a local theatre, staying for a week (long enough to get a portrait painted).
Thirty-two of his paintings were installed in the ceiling of the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale in a two-year project. His works have been published in national art magazines, numerous newspapers and books "The Best of Watercolor II," "People in Watercolor" and "American Artist Magazine."
Renner has participated in numerous exhibitions and one-man shows. His paintings are included in private collections throughout the U.S. and Europe. He has been a guest on numerous TV and radio shows, and also is a signature member of a number of art societies.
A number of his paintings are available as giclee prints at http://danay-design.com/products-page/artist-prints/prints-by-don-renner/ as well as on his website at donrennerartist.com.