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Southwest Spotlight: Oil and art mix: Oilfield worker melts crayons into masterpieces

Press Photo by Virginia Grantier By trade, Tyler Patterson takes to the oilfield. But in his off time, as shown here, he takes to his kitchen to make art out of melted crayons.

There is an oilfield worker, based out of Dickinson, who tries to avoid injury.

But sometimes things happen — like the time he cut his finger with an X-Acto knife while trying to slice the paper wrapping off of a crayon.

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And sometimes he gets splattered by melted crayon wax.

And there was the time that hot crayon wax splattered the walls. No injuries resulted. It was just inconvenient to have to repaint his kitchen walls.

Tyler Patterson, 28, for about 14 hours a day is a roustabout who does such tasks as cleaning up leaks and spills, and he cleans tanks that hold hazardous materials — and describes it as “black, slimy, smelly work.” But he hasn’t had an on-the-job injury.

It’s in his off-hours in his kitchen, making paintings using melted-crayon wax, that has caused him a little pain as the life-long artist learns to work with a new medium.

Patterson said he began experimenting with melted crayon wax in 2011. He now paints award-winning landscapes, people, wildlife and abstracts. In 2013, he received the Badlands Art Association’s “most innovative” award, among other awards.

EDee Steckler, 67, a life-long artist and president of the Badlands Art Association, said Tuesday that she has never seen anything like Patterson’s art.

“He was a one of a kind at our show. It’s beautiful. It’s just beautiful,” she said. “...He has great sense of color. His compositon is amazing. It was amazing to me.”

Patterson has customers, now — and sometimes there’s a wait.

“I’m backed up,” said Patterson, whose paintings generally sell for anywhere between $200 and $800.

Patterson is getting commissions — and he also has various pieces for sale at a downtown Dickinson art supplies shop and art gallery, Celebrations ‘n’ Crafts.

“We love his work,” said Josh Hardin, Celebrations’ co-owner and curator. “... He has a fantastic, artistic eye.”

Hardin, who owns the store with Amanda Galster, said he had never seen a melted-crayon canvas until he saw Patterson’s work at art shows. Now the shop carries and sells quite a few of Patterson’s paintings, Hardin said.

Patterson, who has lived in Dickinson for four years, said he grew up in Standish, Maine, a town of about 9,200 not far from Portland. His grandmother, who had attended an art school but left because of marriage, would drive him to art lessons when he was in elementary school. In high school, he took all of the art classes available.

He said that in the other classes, instead of listening to teachers, he was often doodling, creating artwork — often for friends who wanted his drawings. They would tell him they wanted something of his because they knew he’d be famous, someday. His mother also thought he’d do something in art.

“I blew it off to a certain extent,” he said. “... I always thought anyone could do art.”

Patterson went off to college, then quit, hating the sitting and listening to things he didn’t care about learning — instead wanting to work with his hands.

He went to school to become a massage therapist, never thinking for a second that art could pay bills. He started his own massage business in a Maine salon, and in his off hours worked as a waiter for two restaurants.

At one of those restaurants, Famous Dave’s, Patterson kept used crayons that were handed out for child customers and then left behind. Instead of throwing the crayons away, he planned to give them to charity and brought a huge bag of those with him when he moved to Dickinson.

His friend moved to Dickinson and Patterson decided he would, too, wanting a change — and said he is overwhelmingly glad he did.

“All of the pieces fell into place,” he said.

Patterson found the woman he wants to marry, Tori Knutson, 26, a Dickinson mortgage loan processor, who also has artistic talent. He found a job working outside, with his hands. He found art, again, and a new way to create it. And now that Celebration ‘n’ Crafts is open, he has a place to display his work.

“I’d like to thank Josh and Amanda … with them opening the art store. It’s opened up a lot of doors for me and a lot of other artists,” Patterson said.

He said it was on a day off in 2011 that he decided to make some art. He had seen a melted-crayon painting online and decided to try one, using some of those Famous Dave’s crayons he’d brought with him from Maine.

Three years later, Patterson is still at it. His main tool is a putty knife to quickly move melted material around. Crayon wax solidifies in about five seconds, he said. His studio is his kitchen, where he’ll put crayons in a ladle, put it on the hot stove, the ladle handle resting on a spice rack, to create his art material.

“No kitchen utensil is safe,” Knutson said. “He just finds anything ... the weirdest things (to use).”

But she indicated she loves the outcome.

“I think it’s amazing, unique, different. … He puts colors together that I didn’t think (would) look good together.”

Patterson said Knutson sometimes has to gently remind him that she’s about to cook, so that means no melting, splattering or painting that night in the kitchen.

Patterson said his oilfield co-workers give “strange and surprised looks” when they found out he paints.

And he gets another strange look when he mentions crayons, he said.

He also gets strange looks in Dickinson’s Walmart, he said. That’s where he sometimes can be seen carrying armloads of 120-crayon packs up to the cash register.

Since there’s only one midnight-blue crayon in a pack, for example, he sometimes has to buy seven packs, he said. At home, he guesses he has thousands of crayons, now, in big freezer bags.

Patterson prefers Crayola crayons as they retain their color, don’t become transparent like some other types. He has found crayola.com — and so is patronizing that, as well.

He said he does a lot of paintings for donation — like the one donated to a Ducks Unlimited event — so can be up late to make a deadline. He said if he has a clear idea of what he’s painting, it can take eight to 12 hours to complete. A 4-foot-long landscape painting, “Dakota Dreamland,” took a few weeks.

Patterson said he’s inspired by many things: a picture of a bird; the way a tree is by itself in a field; something about the colors on a television commercial.

“I’d like to think there’s nothing I can’t do with crayon. However, it is difficult to get into great, small details,” he said. “But I am constantly coming up with new tech and ways of achieving different looks. ... I’ve had to create the entire process that I found works best for me.”

Patterson also builds his own frames and stretches the canvas, so the entire piece is a “labor of love,” he said.

He has given some paintings to the Killdeer school, where Knutson’s parents work. He recently demonstrated his technique at a recent downtown Dickinson art festival. Many kids gathered to watch, so he got them involved in creating a group painting.

Patterson said his dad’s simple life philosophy is to “be nice and have fun,” he related.

He also tries to be safe.

Hand injuries are the most common injury in the oilfields, Patterson said.

The artist likes his hands, and tries to be extra careful out there.

And in there, in that kitchen.

Grantier is a reporter for The Dickinson Press. Contact her at 701-225-8111.

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