By Maureen Post Special to Published Mar 19, 2009 at 11:24 AM

Artist Steve Wenhardt traded one artist culture for another. Moving from his hometown in Door County, Wisconsin, Wenhardt cultivates his profession and artistry in the creative Third Ward.

Wenhardt began painting at 15 under the instruction of another watercolorist in Door County. In the subsequent eight years, Wenhardt found inspiration in watercolor masters like Charles Peterson who also flourished in the concentrated artistic culture of Door County's peninsula community.

"Watercolor was just the right element at the right time of my life. It steered me in the right direction and gave me a connection to the medium. You can't control water and that intrigues me," Wenhardt says.

Watercolor's complexity and challenge sustains Wenhardt's interest in the medium. Spending years learning the characteristics of washes and how to anticipate color bleeding, Wenhardt acknowledges there is no chance to re-do or go over watercolor work. Instead, he's confident from start to finish with the possibility of what he refers to as "happy accidents."

"Watercolor is a medium that is extremely challenging to a lot of people. It's very hard to control. You're working in reverse, so white is never used; it's just the paper itself," Wenhardt says.

Wenhardt graduated from the University of Wisconsin- Stout with a bachelor of fine arts in Industrial and Graphic Design.

"I wanted to go to school for design because it teaches you how to recognize design problems and solve them. They taught me how to think. But sometimes over thinking in watercolor can be a problem; you have to just go with it," Wenhardt says.

Wenhardt's dual background in graphic design and watercolor poses an interesting juxtaposition of arts. Knowledgeable in technical aspects of digital design, Wenhardt looks to watercolor to express incalculable creativity.

Bartending at the Third Ward's Rustico Pizzeria continuously serves as a great source of Wenhardt's creativity. In both Door County and Milwaukee, Wenhardt finds inspiration in customer interaction and the continuous possibility of new conversation and perspective at his bar each day.

"I really enjoy people. This is what I love to do (referring to bartending) but watercolor is my passion," Wenhardt says.

Just as many Milwaukee artists contend, Wenhardt's bartending schedule lends itself perfectly to the artist lifestyle. Able to paint during the day, Wenhardt uses his Fifth Ward apartment as part living space, part studio.

"Showing my paintings at Rustico allows a lot of critique from people of all different lifestyles and trends. Even the bad can be really good in a way; there is a truth and honesty that really helps me to develop as an artist," Wenhardt says.

Recently leaving the serenity of Door County, the subject of Wenhardt's work has also transitioned. Previously doing serene, nautical themed paintings, Wenhardt now looks to the urban landscape to fuel his creative edge.

"Door County was an ideal location for the kind of watercolor I was doing. There's water on both sides and rolling hills; it makes it feel like you are always leaving and entering an area. The perspective of things always changing is one thing artists really respond to," Wenhardt says.

Wenhardt's work can be seen on display at Rustico Pizzeria, 223 N. Water St. He plans to show 10 nautical themed pieces at the upcoming Gallery Night in spring.

Maureen Post Special to staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.

After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.

Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.