An Ottawa Middle School art teacher’s creativity produces more than meets the eye.

Patrick Schlotterback, OMS art teacher for the past 27 years, uses art and writing songs as more than just an outlet.

“Creatively, it all works together because writing a song is a lot like putting together a painting,” Schlotterback said. “It is all a problem-solving process. You work through it.”

Schlotterback’s art has been shown in a Lawrence art gallery and may be featured in Ottawa later this year, he said. Schlotterback wrote his own songs and played in a couple of bands for the past quarter century.

Schlotterback admitted he is motivated by challenges.

“I like being able to do things that people don’t ordinarily do,” he said.

His latest work — a painting of country music icon Johnny Cash — was finished this week. Schlotterback said the Phoenix Gallery manager in Lawrence asked him to do a portrait of Cash because the Lawrence Theatre is putting on a play — Ring of Fire — a depiction of Cash’s life. Schlotterback understands the Cash painting will be displayed during the show’s run, which starts the first part of March.

Schlotterback has painted other famous people such as The Beatles, Tom Petty and John Lennon.

“I started off doing no-name people because I like the anonymity of it,” Schlotterback said. “People with interesting poses and interesting emotions. I had a show at the Phoenix Gallery and I ended up painting a Jimmy Hendrix and John Lennon with glasses, and people seemed to take off on that. I am going through a series now of famous people: rock stars, country stars and old movie stars. I try to make it somebody that is fairly well known or popular or pop culture. I am getting ready to do Marilyn Monroe.”

Schlotterback likes to capture the emotion of a person in his painting.

“To me, it is about trying to find an emotion in a person’s face than their behavior,” he said. “I want to paint somebody and see their emotion in their eyes or facial expression.”

He uses photographs to guide him in painting a portrait.

“My idea is to get the photograph, but make the painting more interesting than the photograph,” Schlotterback said. “If I am doing a portrait for somebody, I will take the photo myself. That way I get the lighting the way I want it. If you are going to get a likeness of somebody, you have to get the drawing down first. The skin tones, you have to mix the colors. That is one thing you have to practice.”

Schlotterback said when he first started painting, he found old photos or slides from the 1930s or 1940s at garage sales.

“Then I decided I would do a series on old slides,” he said. “I found a stack of old pinup girls from the 1950s.”


Schlotterback’s interest in art came naturally. His uncle was an art professor in Washington, and was one of his mentors. His grandmother was Walt Disney’s cousin.

“Having that [family] background motivated me,” he said. “I have always liked drawing.”

He said seeing his uncle’s art also gave him motivation.

“I started drawing people’s portraits in high school as a challenge,” Schlotterback said. “I moved from drawing into painting. I was able to draw cartoon characters. I could get cartoon likenesses. It always helps when people would say ‘you are such a good little artist.’ I used that as motivation. Instead of playing outside, a lot of times, I wanted to go into my room and either play the guitar or draw pictures.”

He tells his students that being an artist takes practice.

“I tell the kids that is not a bad thing to stay away from other people if you are into drawing or music,” he said. “I explain it to some of the kids, when you get into that creative mode, it is a lot like when kids are playing video games. You get into that zen moment. That is how I get when I am painting or writing music.”


Schlotterback is more than a teacher to his art students. He is a mentor.

“It is fun,” he said. “It is tough in one aspect, some kids think they are too cool for art. A lot of kids are still excited. It should all be a positive experience. There is always something good about their artwork. In a nice way, I can tell you it is not great. Everybody does a good job in art. This is the time you have to capture them.”

Schlotterback uses his own experiences to keep students interested in art.

“Many times the kids will ask me ‘have you ever messed up?’. I tell them, every painting I mess up.”

He tells them how he washes the canvas with turpentine down to the pencil drawing and starts over.

“I let the kids know that is what you have to do,” Schlotterback said. “You don’t just throw it away and never paint again. Many people quit on their creativity. There is an age when it does not work out perfectly, usually around 14 or 15, then all of sudden they don’t do it anymore. It is a matter of pushing themselves.”

Schlotterback said artists can hide their mistakes.

“You don’t show the people the mistakes,” he said. “You want to keep doing it and not worry about making the mistakes.”


Music is another one of Schlotterback’s passions. Writing or performing music gives Schlotterback another avenue to display his creativity.

Schlotterback put together his latest band, SOLAR, about a year ago. He said he has been playing in a band since the early 1990s. In between, he wrote his own music.

“When you play your own they come to hear your music,” he said. “There are people out there starving to hear original music.”

He said after his first group disbanded, he and another member of the band formed a band, which lasted a few more years.

“I continued to write or record for the next 10 or 15 years,” Schlotterback said.

Last year, he put together SOLAR with his brother, wife and a couple more musicians.

“We play all around,” he said. “It is all our own original music.”