By Laurel Ciohon
A Door County native, Joe Risch says growing up on the Peninsula clearly shaped his “artistic soul.” The youngest of three siblings, and raised on a former cherry orchard in Gills Rock, Joe fondly remembers his childhood as a series of often-solo adventures.
Exploring the cherry orchard, and experiencing the beauty and color of his immediate world, his family’s old farmhouse was filled with canvases created by his talented father and sister. Creativity was praised, inspired and instilled, and now Joe has plunged into the discovery of his own creative niche.
Joe says he always knew he would eventually find his happiness in creativity and art, and ultimately went to school to study music and landscape architecture. After many years of random jobs, in 2018 he invested himself fully in becoming the artist that he felt lived and breathed within him. He bought and borrowed art supplies and tattooing equipment, and found a new determination to show the world his perspective on life.
In October, Joe took on the “Inktober” challenge, a social media event in which artists and illustrators of all skill sets display their creativity and perseverance by creating a new piece of art every day for 31 days in a row. Joe used the challenge to showcase his talent to prospective tattoo shops seeking talent, give his family, friends and vendors some insight into his skills, and prove to himself he could successfully finish such a grueling project. Inktober has since resulted in a rejiggering of his work as an artist: he has since been flooded with commissions and even sold some Inktober designs to an Amazon.com program that markets t-shirt designs through the massive online retailer.
The new commissions range from designs for business marketing, fanboy and nerd art, tattoo concepts, and even joint portraits of owners’ past and present pets. Joe feels he’s on the cusp of big things. He says the proverbial life of the starving artist isn’t at all easy, but it IS a life that this burgeoning artist is determined to redefine for himself and live to its fullest potential.
From left to right: 1. During Christmas break, my dad attached a sled to our German Shepherd and we went for a ride. Just getting dark, snowing, Christmas lights…we moseyed along Hwy 42 before heading back to the house. 2. Seeking thrills was easy in summer, and one of our favorite pastimes was jumping off docks. Whether by foot, board, or bike, we created some big splashes. 3. Wildlife was everywhere, but I best recall a family of rabbits who came back year after year. Living under the chicken coop, they drove my parents bonkers. 4. Living on an run-down cherry orchard, our property was dotted with dilapidated buildings. The largest, this eerie old barn, sat right outside our front door. 5. Every local kid had a summer job, some year-round. My all time favorite was being on the team at Jerry’s Flowers. Watering plants offered a meditative space where my imagination soared. 6. Our property sat atop a hill that provided a surreal picture of the Gills Rock Independence Day Fireworks. Some years we threw parties, other years we enjoyed the view alone. 7. My friends and I loved skateboarding. Some of us were great, others not so great, but it brought us together. We made skate videos, hung out day and night, and roved around in a pack. 8. We were always climbing on buildings, but one of our favorites was the Walkway Shops in Sister Bay. And, a nice contrast to goats on the roof, Al Johnson’s in winter…with snowballs! 9. My fantasy vision of the Skyway Drive-in, where just about every local tried to sneak in at least once. I’d often imagine I was James Bond or that we were having our own D-Day invasion! 10. Some of my best memories are camping with dad, listening to surf guitar records, cooking steaks. If I’m in Door County, camping is involved. Potawatomi and Washington and Rock Island are favorites. 11. Living between Gills Rock and Northport, getting to school every day was a haul. It eventually became a favorite part of my day, listening to CDs, imagining myself playing music to a crowd. 12. Another fantasy vision! Although closed in 1998, Thumb Fun holds fun and scary memories for everyone who ever visited. Owner Doug Butchart died this year. RIP, Doug, you made a lot of people happy! 13. In my abundant high school dreams, here’s what it looked and felt like when I finally took center stage at a Gibraltar High School varsity football game… ah, the musical glory of rock ‘n roll!