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Feathers are his canvas

Self-taught Waseca artist makes unique creations

Little did Dean Dykema, of Waseca, know that picking up a wing feather from a goose would result in him painting on feathers.

“It started out one day when I was out walking my dog back down behind our house.” Dykema said he lives in a new development with his wife, Jodi. “There are still some open fields. I came across a goose feather, just a regular wing feather from a goose that had been probably taken by a coyote, fox or whatever.

“I was working on a painting at home so I had my paints out. I picked up the feather and was kind of running it through my fingers, and I thought, ‘Well, I wonder if I can actually paint on it.’”

He ended up bringing it home and actually painting on the feather. With the wing feather being from a waterfowl, Dykema didn’t want to take the risk of later on selling it or giving it away because of the Waterfowl Protection Act. “I didn’t know if I would be in violation of that or not.”

Dean Dykema, of Waseca, displays one of his wildlife paintings on feathers. Contributed photo

His mom caught wind of what Dykema was doing, and later on told him she had received an email from someone about a person who painted on wild turkey feathers. “I thought, ‘Maybe I can do that,’ and I bought some wild turkey feathers online and tried it and thought it was kind of fun. It was a good challenge, and it just kept growing and building up to where it is now where I do it more often.”

Dykema said up until he had his art show, he didn’t really paint just for himself. “I would paint what someone else wanted. They’d ask me to paint their dog or whatever, and it went from there.”

He uses acrylic paints, and other than the large turkey fan he did, he doesn’t use any prep beforehand. “All I do is go with whatever design I’m going to use. I kind of figure out what I want to paint and then I take one, two or three feathers, and I find the right feather for what I want for my subject, and I just start painting on it.”

He said if he does two or more feathers he uses a light spray adhesive just so he can tack them together. “They’re not glued; they’re just tacky, and after that, it kind of keeps them stable so I can at least work on two feathers at once with some of the paints, depending on the design.” That’s how they get stuck together, he said, noting he doesn’t use any gesso, and doesn’t use any kind of a primary. “The feathers are truly just natural feathers, and I paint on them with thinned acrylic. It just depends on the color, which determines how many layers, like the whites and bright yellows and some of the brighter colors which require multiple layers of paint just to get them to come through from the darker feather.” The dark feathers require more and more treatment, and pretty soon, Dykema said, he’s doing six and seven layers of white just to get it to look white. “I apply the paint, and it kind of in itself grabs the individual hairs of the feather and helps to support your paint, but other than that it’s just me dabbing.” He said you don’t really have true brush strokes, you’re just stippling until you start to get the base of color and then you can use lighter strokes of paint. Stippling, he explained, is just taking the point of the brush and tapping it onto what you want. It’s like dotted paint if you want to call it that.

When he’s done with whatever he’s painting on the feathers, he doesn’t give it any kind of varnish or finish. “I’ve got paintings now that are seven to eight years old, and they haven’t lost any color. A lot of that, too, comes with where you put them. If you put them in bright light it will affect the paint but that would do that with anything you paint.”

He does mat and frame his art work. “I have made a few frames, but I found it’s easier to buy a frame that works, a shadowbox that’s already made. He takes the back off and puts matting on there to make the colors go with his painting.

Dykema didn’t go to school to learn this art, he’s natural and self-taught. “I don’t have any professional schooling. I enjoy what I’m doing. I also do stamp competitions for the state. I haven’t won yet, but I’m going to keep trying.” He has placed third and fourth. These are conservation stamps for the wild turkey stamp and pheasant stamp. “So far, I’ve only entered the waterfowl, the turkey and the pheasant.”

The largest painting he’s done is the turkey fan. It has 18 individual feathers put together in a fan – they’re the smaller feathers of the actual tail feathers. “That’s all painted in there as well, and there are the body feathers that kind of drape the front of the fan.

As for a favorite work of art. “It seems the favorite is always the one I just finish. The last one done is ‘Oh, I like that one the best.’” He really doesn’t know what his favorite is. “Being I have 20 years in the Marine Corp, I like my Marine Corp emblem on the feathers, but I also like one of my first ones and that’s the wolf eyes. It’s just two eyes, so I don’t know if I could actually pick a favorite, it’s just every one you do that’s your favorite one when you’re done with it.”

Dykema said he doesn’t really paint to let out his creative side, “I honestly paint when someone says ‘Hey, could you do this for me?’ then he’ll do it. It’s kind of by request, and I prefer it that way. I like someone saying ‘I found something, but it’s not really what I want, then to do it and actually have it turn out for them, that’s the reward.”

After serving in the Marine Corp, Dykema worked in the Bureau of Prisons, retiring after 20 years with the bureau. “It’s a far stretch from painting.” He also drives part time for Southern Minnesota Rural Transport just to have something to do every day instead of wondering what to do next.

Dykema and his wife have been married for 35 years. His son, Jamie, is 35 years old. Dean was born in Willmar and spent the majority of his childhood in Montevideo. He joined the U.S. Marine Corp, got married and started a family. He served 12 years on active city and 8 ½ years in the reserves, retiring in 1995.

He began working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, retiring in 2015 after 20 years of service. He is currently a driver for Southern Minnesota Rural Transportation.

Dykema plans to keep painting. “I enjoy the challenge of it, and there is a challenge getting the features to lay the way you want them as you paint. Sometimes they tend to separate, and you have to try make that separation work with painting or hide it some other way.” Dykema said he works with the defects. “Whatever they are I use them. I like all the challenges involved.”

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