MAPLETON — Little did Josh Evan know the colorful Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife stamps his father collected would one day feature his own work, but that’s exactly what happened this month after his walleye painting won first place in the DNR stamp contest.
Exposed to the outdoors on hunting and fishing trips with his father, Evan also developed artistic talent from a young age, spending countless hours drawing comics and cartoon characters. He got pointers from a local artist when he was 6 and immersed himself in art classes at school. He recalled paying extra close attention to the unique stamps his father brought home featuring ducks and pheasants.
“I always enjoyed looking at the stamp and the artist that did it,” Evan said. “I didn’t realize there was a competition at that age.”
Years later as an adult, the Mapleton resident would take time out of his busy schedule with work and family to sketch pictures of outdoor scenes, turning them into paintings for family and friends as gifts.
Evan’s wife, Chelsey Evan, said her husband’s love of painting wildlife, along with fishing and hunting, blended with his advocacy for conserving wildlife habitat in southern Minnesota.
“He wants to see southern Minnesota lakes get the attention they deserve,” she said. “He wants walleyes to be stocked in our southern Minnesota lakes. He wants to see the improvement in conservation keep going and the aquatic life really thrive so everyone can keep fishing. He’s just really passionate about that.”
Each year proceeds from the stamps help the DNR stock walleye in about a thousand lakes in Minnesota, including many near the Mankato area.
Upon learning the DNR’s stamp contest was open to any Minnesota resident, and that proceeds from the sales of those special stamps directly went to conservation efforts, Josh Evan entered his first walleye painting five years ago after first submitting duck and pheasant paintings. He’s submitted five walleye paintings since he started. From the very beginning, he has made the drive to the Twin Cities to watch and learn from the judges.
“It’s open to the public to watch the judging of the stamps,” he said. “Over the years I’ve entered, you pick up on little things that the judges say or tell you. Afterwards you can talk to them for a bit.”
With each subsequent entry, Evan honed his skills, keeping in mind the acrylic painting would need to be converted down to the size of a stamp. He said keeping it simple, while still providing enough details and vivid colors, is key.
While winning honorable mentions the last two years, his most recent entry — depicting an ice-fishing scene with a walleye about to bite a hook underwater with two holes up above — will become a stamp. DNR officials told him they sell on average about 20,000 walleye stamps a year.
“When I started this competition, in the back of your mind, you want to win it,” he said. “It’s a pretty sweet moment saying that you’re going to be part of this whole thing about walleye stocking in Minnesota.”
He immediately texted his wife from the DNR office in St. Paul to share the news. Their two young children often paint alongside their father, using watercolors on their own pictures while he works on his own. Like his father before him, he’s acquired his own collection of past winners, which he hopes to one day pass on to his children.
“When he’s painting, they very much want to be involved in the process,” Chelsey Evan said.
Josh Evan said it helps that he fishes for walleye himself, as a fresh catch can provide the blueprints for the sketches that ultimately become the painting entered into the contest. When he catches one, he’ll take numerous photos of the fish from different angles to see how their colors react to the sunlight.
He usually begins with the habitat and background; the actual walleye is added last. A big part of the allure, he said, is to watch the painting transform from a blank board to a lifelike picture of an animal in its natural habitat.
“It’s really rewarding when you’re done, to actually see what you come up with,” he said.
The stamps will be available online and anywhere DNR licenses are sold, and Evan is already gearing up to enter again next year, although he’s required to try a different species because he won this year’s contest.
“I’m totally going to keep pursuing it,” he said. “There’s five stamps Minnesota does, so I’ll keep chiseling away as much as I can to see what I can do with the other ones.”