Eighteen months ago, Dick Sheets took a detour after 20 years as a real estate developer to open an artist's studio in Martinez.
He has left marketing and negotiating his artwork to someone else while he devotes his time to watercolors, oils and sketches. Much of his work expresses a Christian theme and often displays scripture, he said.
Augusta Christian Schools in Martinez will open an exhibit of his work in its fine arts building Monday. It will remain there for about three weeks, he said.
"Art was my first love," said Mr. Sheets, who has a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Ohio State University. "I pursued that career for quite a few years as an illustrator, designer and art director." He was a principal in an ad agency in Columbus, Ohio, and then started his own company.
Eventually he moved into real estate in Ohio and became an even bigger success. His work took him across the country, Mr. Sheets said. He developed Tampa Palms, Fla., a 15,000-acre community voted the best real estate community in the United States. "It was just like developing a new town," he said.
His job was to pull together architects, builders, attorneys, lenders and engineers. It had commercial and residential components, with schools, parks and golf courses, he said.
"I kind of put down the paint brushes and did nothing for nearly 20 years," he said."I abandoned the gifts God had blessed me with."
It was his wife Judy's hope that he use his God-given talents to glorify the Lord, he said.
"Our wives see a quality in us but we are so swept up and we don't want to hear it," he said. "It is a scary and a difficult decision to make and stand by it. I was walking away from a career where I was considered one of the best in the U.S. to start an art studio in who knows where."
As long as he had big real estate jobs, he never had the time to use his talent, said Mrs. Sheets.
When she first met him, he had given away everything but a few sculptures and three or four other pieces of art, she said. "But I told him, `Oh, there is such a giftedness here. You have to use this."'
She gave him a drawing table early in their relationship. He flattened it out and used it as a table, she said.
His interest in artistic expression may have seemed low, but once in a while, a blip of life showed.
He did an oil painting of red roses for her as an anniversary present. "After that he didn't do anything for years," she said.
Later, she asked him to do a scripture verse -- "Not my will, but thine be done,"(Matthew 26:39) -- in calligraphy for her, she said. He enjoyed lettering it so much he asked her for another.
Ideas for more work kept coming to him, she said. "Everyone who saw it said, `Oh, this is beautiful. It must be from the Lord."'
He completed an assignment about two years ago as CEO and project director of River Wilderness Golf and Country Club, a community north of Tampa,and decided to follow the Lord's leading, he said.
"The Lord has given me the time and the talent to do this," he said. "I feel so many years I turned a deaf ear, but now I've decided to be faithful to what he wanted me to do."
He has maintained his real estate contacts and may become involved in other business ventures, if he senses the Lord's leading. He has not retired but taken a different direction, he said. "Who knows -- I may be like Paul, a tentmaker."
"He was a pro of all time," said Paul Berg, owner of Creative Directors, a Miami, Fla. ad agency which works with real estate concerns. "He knows his business inside and out. He was very honest, very straightforward."
Since they made their step of faith, however, they have seen the Lord open many doors, he said. "We really believe that God was leading us here and providing the opportunity," he said.
He works from a studio on Wakefield South Lane in Martinez. Augusta gives him easy access to personal and business contacts in Atlanta and South Carolina.
He has worked for both Christian and secular organizations, including a greeting card company and two companies interested in marketing a line of Christian T-shirts displaying his work. "Most of the T-shirt work is of a fine art nature, that is the uniqueness of it," he said.
He has also had work accepted for traveling exhibits, he said.
Although he's been favoring watercolors lately, he works in several mediums. Sometimes the designs take the form of cartoons with modern, bold coloring. Animals are done realistically. Flowers and other shapes emerge from subtle shadings in his watercolors, deeply stained with fuchsia or teal or maybe rose.
Calligraphy is often a prominent feature, showing an even greater variety, from elaborate Old English-style lettering or obvious brushwork to mimicking a typeface.
When he has shown his portfolio, agencies have been surprised the work is not computer-generated, he said. "I do it with my hand."
He is learning to trust. "In really seeking (God's) direction and wisdom, it has been better than if I had tried to design things for T-shirts," he said. "Sometimes I never know where these things are going."
Who: Dick Sheets
When: opens Monday and will remain about three weeks
Where: Augusta Christian Schools, 313 Baston Road