Butler Township's Russin puts in time to perfect each piece of his art

| Friday, June 14, 2013, 3:51 p.m.

Andy Russin can't bear to settle for anything less than perfection.

That's why he dresses as if he were going to Sunday church every day. That's also why he meticulously picks apart his garden and one acre of land every week.

And that's why he won't stop drawing until every detail in his artwork is just right.

“My drawing of Mother Theresa's face has about a million wrinkles in it and lights and shades,” said Russin, 94, of Butler Township.

“I want to see someone else duplicate that, but there's no way, no way,” he said.

Russin has cultivated local fans. Karen Smaretsky-Vavro, 60, from Center, has known Russin since she was a little girl. Her parents were his childhood friends.

“I feel that this man has so much talent, and I feel that should be recognized,” she said.

“If he had gone away from Butler and somewhere else, New York or Hollywood, he would have been famous like another Norman Rockwell.”

Russin began drawing cartoons when he was 6 and modeled them after the Sunday funny pages of the 1920s.

“My mother used to run me out of the house, because my parents didn't believe in that stuff,” Russin said.

Soon enough, though, Russin was noticed by every art teacher he had.

“They knew I could draw, so I kept working at it with art teachers giving me pointers the whole way,” Russin said.

One art teacher would have Russin start a drawing every Friday and want it finished the following Monday.

“She was giving me a challenge to see what I could do,” Russin said.

Russin picked up the secrets of artist Norman Rockwell through the Famous Artists School in Westport, Conn., organized by Rockwell and other artists and illustrators.

Russin took a course of study that lasted four years to learn modeling and shading.

“That's the trick,” he said.

Russin said he will work in just about any medium: “Pen and ink, water color, opaque, soft pencil, hard pencil and color pencil — I love it all.”

It's not unusual for him to “put in three hours on an eye, three hours on a lip, three hours on a nose” to get the details just right.

Russin didn't always have so much time to perfect his work.

“When I was sergeant in the Army I used to sit at the end of a table in the big mess halls and pick out guys that were a little bit on the attractive side and do their portrait real quick,” Russin said.

His work was so good that he easily sold the portrait to whomever he drew.

“I sold it to them for $15, and they sent it home for safekeeping,” Russin said.

Discharged from the Army after World War II, Russin worked in the steel industry for 35 years and did his artwork in his spare time. Russin said his drive to be a good artist stems from others not believing he could do it.

“I won't sell it, because I'm so proud of my work I can't part with it,” Russin said.

At some point, however, the elderly artist's work will go to his daughter.

“I want her to have it all,” he said.

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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