Photo by Claire Ramsay

The work of Craig MacIntosh is being installed at the Robert Trail Library in Rosemount. Highlights of the show include a watercolor depicting the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior.

Pen and watercolor paintings on display

Craig McIntosh has been sketching for as long as he can remember.

Whether it was playing Pictionary with family, drawing political cartoons for the Star Tribune or illustrating Sally Forth, the Rosemount resident sketches every chance he gets.

MacIntosh is the featured artist in the Rosemount Area Arts Council’s gallery at the Robert Trail Library in Rosemount this summer.

He will have 34 of his watercolor sketches hanging in the library until October.

During the school year, the Robert Trail Library hosts monthly art galleries featuring area students.

“I’m replacing middle school artwork,” he said. “It’s beautiful stuff. It was a hard act to follow.”

Although much of his published work has been under the title of political cartoonist and syndicated comic strip artist, the works on display this summer were done in pen and watercolor.

“Watercolor is my favorite medium, due to its immediacy; one has to work so quickly,” he said. “I often carry a sketchbook to capture a moment or particular scene. And, for years now I have been using my cellphone’s camera to snap locations that I may want to paint later. I generally draw in pen or pencil and add watercolor later.”

He remembers a drawing class during his senior year at the University of Illinois.

“The instructor said that our grade would be dependent on a full sketch book by the end of class,” he said. “I had been there before. There are people who had the assignment, but then waited, and then would go nuts the week before it was due. But I started sketching right away like you were supposed to do. I ended up filling two books with drawings.”

He said it was the only A-plus he received in college.

“I learned not to procrastinate, and if someone asks you do to one, give them two,” he said. “I showed I really enjoyed that course, and now I’m really into this genre of sketching and watercolors.”

He said there’s something therapeutic about sitting alone, dashing off a line drawing and then adding watercolor later.

It’s a medium he loves share with friends and family.

“Anyone can do it regardless of their skill level,” MacIntosh said “I’ve painted alongside each of my grandchildren, and now a 3-year-old great granddaughter. It’s my idea of how to spend a few relaxing hours on a summer day, or indoors when winter’s snow piles up outside your window.”

One of his pieces was inspired by a photo of an abandoned truck laying in the weeds at a farm in Lakeville.

“We took our granddaughters out to this farm to pet the animals,” he said. “I took my cellphone, which is such a great thing. I can take all the pictures I want. I can go back and draw it later. No one has to wait for me. We saw the truck as we were leaving. It was just sitting there. That kind of stuff really attracts me. I took a couple pictures, made a sketch and added watercolor. That kind of serendipity happens. I’m working on a bunch of sketches from photos of my granddaughter feeding goats.”

He also has a series of paintings of Vietnam at the library.

After graduating from the University of Illinois with a fine arts degree in 1966, MacIntosh was drafted into the Army and served as an infantry platoon leader in Vietnam from 1968-69.

Some of the sketches were made when he was in Vietnam during the war. Others are sketches from photos he had taken while in Vietnam.

Following in the war, he moved with his family to Dayton, Ohio, in 1970, he got a job with the morning Journal-Herald. Five years later he moved to Minneapolis to work as a political cartoonist for the evening Star.

When the Star and morning Tribune merged into the Star Tribune in 1981, MacIntosh became the editorial illustrator. He was also was co-creator, along with Tribune editorial cartoonist Steve Sack, of Professor Doodles, a syndicated children’s cartoon strip.

Sack is the current editorial cartoonist with the Star Tribune.

“We go way back,” MacIntosh said. “We conspired to do something beyond the editorial illustrations. He’s brilliant. He’s won a Pulitzer for his work.”

MacIntosh recognizes that political cartooning is a dying art.

When he got his start, there were about 300 political cartoonists working.

“Now, I don’t know if there’s 50,” he said.

For the most part, he focused on the comedy, but there’s a “handful of times that I really went for the jugular,” he said.

“Every so often you set someone off,” he said. “Sometimes you’re happy your work struck a nerve but then there’s the fallout. There’s this time in Dayton I made something that upset people to the point where I thought my editor was going to fire me. He took me down to the school a made a public apology on the school announcement system. I had to watch myself for the next month or so. That’s the nature of it. Politics have always been like that. Editorial cartoons go way back to the post Civil War days.”

In 1992, he left the Star Tribune to draw the popular cartoon strip Sally Forth, which is still going.

“Old comic strips never die, man,” he said. “They just keep running forever.”

MacIntosh retired from illustrating Sally Forth in 2013.

“I’m just an old horse out to pasture who likes to do watercolors now,” MacIntosh said. “I’m just an old relic from the old newspaper days.”

He’s lived with his wife Linda in Rosemount since 2004.

He also turns his art into note cards, which “is also a dying art. People just send emails now,” he said. “But I love it. I made them for family and friends.”

His creative endeavors don’t end with illustrations. MacIntosh has also written several crime fiction books including the WOLF series featuring Navy SEAL Tom Wolf.

They’re fiction books with a nonfiction twist. The series is inspired by a real retired Navy seal.

“He’s always giving me ideas and he knows a lot of people in special forces. I use his last name, Wolf, because it’s too good to pass up,” MacIntosh said. “It’s not a comic book. It doesn’t have a huge body count. It’s very real. He’s introduced me to people on active duty (to keep the stories accurate). I try to keep it as real and as probably as could be.”

RAAC is having a reception for MacIntosh at the Robert Trail Library from 1-2 p.m. June 26. All are welcome.

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