Donald “Rusty” Rust

Donald “Rusty” Rust is an American artist who has created over 15000 paintings in a variety of styles. Even though he is famous mostly for his pin-up artwork, his optical illusions are some of our all-time favorites. In this special interview, he shares with us his thoughts on painting, op art, and everything which drives him forward in his long and successful career. If you like Rusty’s artwork, you can order some of it through his official store on Etsy.


Q. Hello Rusty. This is such an interesting nickname. I assume it is derived from your last name?

A. Having been born with red hair and having the name, Rust, made the nickname, “Rusty”, come easily!

Q. How did you get into painting? Was it a hard choice to devote your life to being an artist?

A. My painting career probably began one day when my grandfather, who was an artist, looked at a small drawing I had done. I must have been four or five years of age. He put me on his lap and took a drawing pencil, which he firmly pressed onto my drawing, showing me how to make my drawing more effective. Of course, that comes with confidence, something I did not yet have. My school years found me doing most of the posters within the school. After graduation, I learned that painting signs could supply enough income, so, that went on until I was about forty-nine years old. Then, I began doing portraits, which eventually led to other subject matter. No more sign painting!

Q. Apart from your grandfather, which other famous artists have inspired and influenced you?

A. Well-known pinup artist, Gil Elvgren, did work I admired. His guidance and help played a big part in the quality of my work. Bobby Toombs, Gil’s apprentice, also offered a great deal of help.

Q. Art trends have been changing a lot throughout the years. What do you think of contemporary art and how do you compare it with the more traditional art forms?

A. Times change and I welcome new ideas and styles of painting. Years ago, artists did not have projectors, air-brushes and digital images that could be altered with a click of a mouse. Always interesting!

Ambiguous optical illusion by Donald Rust

Q. You have been creating all kinds of compositions – pin-up girls, landscapes, portraits, illusions… What is the reason to be so versatile and what type of work are you currently focused on?

A. I’ve been versatile, mainly because I continually look for subject matter that “catches on”. Everything I tried provided a variety. My studies were geared primarily toward realistic painting. Over the years, my interests have changed. Now, I am doing more fantasy-type work, which allows for more creativity and originality.

Q. What is your secret for creating such amazing optical illusions? Do you first start with the hidden image and then try to conceal it, or first draw the main picture and then incorporate the illusion inside?

A. I have no formula for the creation of illusion images. My main concern is to mislead or trick the viewer. A good example of that is my painting, “The Hidden Tiger”, which was done when camouflage art was so popular. Viewers were accustomed to searching for an animal or something that is hidden within the scene. They could not find the hidden tiger. I had tricked them by hiding the lettering, “THE HIDDEN TIGER”, which was the stripes on the tiger. Sometimes, it is necessary to turn the image upside down to see the solution. 

The Hidden Tiger

Q. Sounds like it requires lots of preparation and inventiveness. How much effort and time does it take to create such optical illusions, starting from the concept up until the finished product?

A. Some paintings can be done in a short length of time, while others take longer.  Often, more time is spent on planning than painting. I’m usually regarded as a rather fast painter, but I spend several hours on research and planning. I try to incorporate the elements of good art… things like ideas, drawing accuracy, composition, tonal planning. color, etc.

Q. Finally, what are your hobbies and what do you like to do in your free time?

A. My free time is roaming the jungles of Florida and getting good photos of scenic and wildlife subject matter. Those photos are often used as a reference for my paintings.

Q. Sounds like a terrific pastime! Thank you for the interview Rusty. Wee don’t want to take any more of your jungle exploration time.

A. Thank you, Puzzle Prime.

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