At A Certain Point In My Life I Blew it up!

Chicago  Exp 2 1.jpg

At a certain point in my life I blew it up!

I'm talking about my career. But it's more than that.  See, running a business is one of the most demanding jobs in the world. 

If you do it right and you are "all-in" the business becomes all consuming.  There are products, associates, banks, margins, vendors, competitors, marketing plans, transportation, customs, laws, taxes, inventory, and audits.  Oh, and please don't forget our friend the customer.

I hired great people.  But I thought about it all day.  And night.

See, things change.  And they change fast.   So I would make decisions.  Some days, hundreds of decisions.  Little ones.  Big ones.  I had to be a great decision maker. 

On top of that, to lead you need to have a vision, and a passion, be a team builder, and have compassion for everyone. 

We were very successful. 

So "to diversify and grow", we sold the company.  And you know what?  Investment bankers do not have empathy.  They may be great people.  But they only care about one thing!  Making money.  And more money.   They hire lots of analysts to ease their conscience.  See, if the numbers say it so.  Then it is so.  Everything else be damned.

I was totally stressed out.  Losing my mind.

So I would get up at 3 AM and paint for a few hours.  It put me in another world.   I could escape into my imagination. It was better than drugs.  It was better than drinking.  After being lost in creation,  I look back at my art and say "how in the world did I create that?"

Then the investors and a few other companies asked me to take on more.  I was asked to run multiple companies.  I was offered jobs in Seattle. In San Diego. In Florida. I was offered more money.  More stock. Do more.  Be more.  Make more.

Renee would talk to me sometimes and wonder where my head was at!    Renee would say, "I want Stick back!"

I wanted to be with Renee.  I wanted to spend time with my kids.  I wanted Stick back!

So, I walked into work one morning and sent an email to our board. Then,  I talked with my management team. I quit.  I walked out the door. I never went back. I gave up stock. Prestige.  A career.  But, what sort of career kills you?  Too many I suppose. 

I blew it up!

I chose my passion.  I chose my family.  I chose my art.  

I was and am still lucky Renee loves me.  I love her.    

I love to escape. I love my art and to blow things up.  I work at it every single day.  It's frustrating.  I'm trying to "diversify and grow" as an artist. 

I'm alive.


Stick Vega is the American Gunpowder Artist.  He creates and blogs from The Blast Factory in Madison, WI and Bucktown, Chicago, IL.  Follow Stick at Facebook and/or Twitter.   


Vega Readies Explosive Artist Edition Clothing

American gunpowder artist Stick Vega is preparing  to introduce an initial collection of fashion items that will look cool and embody his explosive art.   The limited edition graphic tee shirts, hats, and scarves will feature original artwork of Stick Vega.  The items will be selected and designed by Vega  in collaboration with Renee Vig.  Stick Vega has partnered with Alternative Apparel and Mad Town Printing for the initial production.  The items will be made in small quantities and have soft, sexy, feel with a graphic edge. Incorporating the original art will be unique to the market and will be a blast to wear.  The items will be available at and select retailers.

"A few months ago, I blew holes in one of my tee shirts by accident.  It looked cool, but didn't wash very well.   This new line is a much better way to make some cool and explosive looking fashion", said Stick Vega.

Stick Vega is the American Gunpowder Artist.  He creates and blogs from The Blast Factory in Madison, WI and Bucktown, Chicago, IL.  Follow Stick at Facebook and/or Twitter 


Equity Analysts. Detail. Explosive Art.

Close up of Buzzifolia. 

Close up of Buzzifolia. 

I was in a quarterly board meeting a few years ago.  The private equity firm we were working with had brought in a number of young analysts.  Smart kids from Duke, Harvard, and Stanford.  They had poured over our numbers in great detail, eager to make their mark.  To make an impression.

Our numbers were good.  Sales up.  Inventory down.  Expenses down.  Profits at an all time high.  One rookie analyst asked me, "Why are margins off from .6724 to .6721?".  Everyone at the table turned and looked at me.  A "gotcha moment!"   

 Are you really asking me to explain a .0003 difference?   I said, "Well, we sold a few more goods with less margin than we did last quarter".  

Stunned with my quick response. The group looked at each other.   Then back at me. Then back at each other. The analyst furiously took notes and said, " You sold more... goods... with less margin... than last quarter."   

I said, "Yes." 

The kid smiled and the meeting moved on. 

I know its hard for people to see the big picture.  And that's okay.  I hope you enjoy my creative work on many levels.  The immediate explosion.  The full work.  The detailed texture.  

Even if you went to Duke, Harvard or Stanford.

I have left my mark.  My impression.


Stick Vega is the American Gunpowder Artist.  He creates and blogs from Stick Vega Studios in Madison, WI and Bucktown, Chicago, IL.  Follow Stick at Facebook and/or Twitter

How To Make Explosive Gunpowder Art!

Harald. The Norwegian.

Harald. The Norwegian.

Harald. Explosion.

Harald. Explosion.

Discovered. (Sold)

Discovered. (Sold)

Gunpowder. Acrylic. Paper. Boom!

Gunpowder. Acrylic. Paper. Boom!

Here are seven of my key points.  Seven rules of thumb.  Seven stepping stones. Seven things I did not learn in MBA school.  Follow these religiously and you will see explosive results, or at least an explosion!

1. Make sure your audience will care about what you are making.  Then blow it up! 

2. Make sure your gunpowder is dry.  Nothing is worse than doing a lot of planning, prep work, laying the gunpowder, then lighting the fuse and nothing happens.  A dud.  A disappointment.  This sucks!

3.  Bring a gang of your friends and customers over when you explode your art.   If three or more of them hate your work, you might have a problem.  Or, perhaps you are a genius.  Talk to them, figure it out.  Blow it up again!

4.  A bigger explosion does not mean a happy ending.  Your fans will love bigger, but the art sometimes gets blown to bits.  So it goes like this.  Light the fuse.  Boom.  Everyone cheers!  Then you pull out the art.  A charred mess.  Fans look at you like "WTF". 

5.  Love your work. But have some conflict.  Gunpowder naturally conflicts with things. Blow it up.

6.  Pick the design and look of your art.   Think about it over and over again.  Visualize it in the shower, when you are out for a walk, even when you are at Genna's Lounge.  See what happens in your mind.  How all the substrates, paints, explosion and fire interact.  Hear the explosion.  Feel the heat of it (don't stand too close).  This is your art.

7.  Draw it. Paint it.  Know your situation.  Will the neighbors narc?  Will the surrounding foliage start on fire? If not, light the fuse. Explode it.  Brush it off.  Frame it. Hang it. Admire it.  Be proud.  This is your work.    Few people get this far.

So creating some incredibly beautiful gunpowder art isn't rocket science, if you know what you are doing.  Follow these steps and you will see results.  Or, at least you will have a blast trying.    And who knows, if you know how to handle fire, you'll  know how to light up a room.  

Please hit me up and follow along.  There are a lot more tips, images and artwork on facebook and my blog!

Here is a follow up post for a more details! 

How To Make Explosive Gunpowder Art! (An Open Letter)


Stick Vega is the American Gunpowder Artist.  He creates and blogs from Stick Vega Studios in Madison, WI and Bucktown, Chicago, IL.  Follow Stick at Facebook and/or Twitter




Vega Exploding Experiments!

BUZZMAN #5  stencil and gunpowder.

BUZZMAN #5 stencil and gunpowder.



Rock and fuse. Prepping  AQUA BUZZ .

Rock and fuse. Prepping AQUA BUZZ.

AQUA BUZZ  explosion.

AQUA BUZZ explosion.



I've been on the hunt for a way to produce new looks with gunpowder.  And, I have had a desire to make a few smaller, more intimate pieces. Over the past several weeks I have been testing new papers a few new techniques.  Two of them have brought great results.

The first technique was to cover and wrap the gunpowder artwork with cardboard prior to blowing it up.  I used watercolor for a base color and shape.  Then cut out a stencil to protect the main design from the blast.  I put a layer of gunpowder on the piece and created a form by moving it into place with a small brush. Next, I covered the entire piece with cardboard and put rocks on top of it to force the blast back into the piece. 

I exploded the artwork.  Flames shot out the side of the cardboard.  I loved what the fire and explosions left behind.  The result, BUZZMAN #5, looks like the lines of an explosion imprinted on the piece with a nice gritty texture.  I will continue to work in this process with both watercolor and guache. 

The next experiment was using one of my classic techniques with gunpowder and high speed fuse held by rocks on a new acrylic coated paper.  The fuses burn so hot and destroy most substrates.  But in this case the paper chars and erupts with texture, but does not burn through.  The first of these is AQUA BUZZ.  Small in scale but big in impact.

I love the uncertainty of the explosions and the resulting work.  Pushing to learn more techniques and tesing new substrates gives me more tools in the arsenal to create beautiful art.  Boom! 

Artists Among Us: Stick Vega

The Monona Lakesider, page 2,  March edition.

The Monona Lakesider, page 2,  March edition.

Stick Vega and  BUZZING.

Stick Vega and BUZZING.

Explosion event.

Explosion event.

Written by Rachel Digman and published in the March edition of The Monona Lakesider (BVM).

Artists Among Us is a chance for you to meet and appreciate painters, writers, bloggers, musicians, dancers, and other artists in the greater Madison area. Each month we’ll interview a local artist about their life and latest work. Enjoy the inspiration provided by your neighboring artists.

Long-time Monona resident, Chris Vig, also known as Stick Vega, is an artist who has a blast, literally. Working with gunpowder, fuses, and more typical art materials, Stick explodes his art to create a final piece. Check out more about his work and explosions at 

BVM: How does your background in Mathematics and Economics inform or play a role in your art?

Stick: There are two types of math - pure and applied. Higher level math, “pure math”, is very abstract and creative, much like painting and poetry. Some of the math “geeks” I know are the most creative people I have ever met. Gunpowder, fire, explosions, and substrates all have physical problems. In a “pure” sense, I am driven by abstract problems and in an “applied” way I use fuse and gunpowder to make them concrete. I tread both grounds.

BVM: What inspired you to explode your artwork?

I had been painting for a number of years. Then, in 2007, I read an article in the New York Times about Chinese gunpowder artist Cai Gou-Qiang. He had just completed some massive gunpowder murals and was preparing the fireworks show for the 2008 Olympics. The process looked incredibly fun and the results were beautiful. I learned many of the basic techniques I use from watching him. I then developed my own artistic way of doing it. My work is much smaller, more intimate. I continue to learn and evolve.

BVM: What was one of your most exciting explosions?

The first piece I did, THE ORIGINAL STICK was a blast! We had friends at our house for a cocktail party. I had just received some high-speed fuses and the base compounds to mix gunpowder. I did a small sketch on a 24” square board. Friends watched warily as I mixed the gunpowder then sprinkled it on the board. It did not look like enough, so I put more gunpowder on the piece. Then, even more. At that point I layered some cardboard on top to force the blast back into the piece along with some rocks from the garden. I placed many rocks from our garden on top of it. I lit the 20-foot fuse.  Nearly immediately, and before anyone was prepared, the piece ignited. Boom! There was way too much gunpowder. Rocks blew into the air and all over our guests!  All the oxygen was sucked out of the area. A thirty-foot high mushroom cloud of white smoke appeared. I was hooked.  I still have the piece - it looks cool.

BVM: Would you describe the inspiration behind one of your favorite works of art?

Stick: BUZZING (2012) was inspired by my crazy dog. Working with high-speed fuses and gunpowder shaped and held in place by rocks, the painting was exploded onto red/orange acrylic painted board. The result expresses happy energy and is bold, bright, and textured.  BUZZING was recently acquired at the One Inspired Evening art auction to help the homeless in Chicago.

BVM: What advice/words of wisdom would you give to artists who are looking to push the boundaries with their artwork?

I would say to keep trying things. Don’t settle. Study. Learn. Test. Try again. If you find a process you like, work on it every day. I work on my art 7 days a week. Some days for just a few minutes, others for hours at a time. Realize that perhaps out of an uncertain, smoky, hazy, explosive process, comes something beautiful. And, if you are going to try painting with gunpowder, start small!

The Original Stick



The first piece I did, THE ORIGINAL STICK was a blast!  We had friends at our house for a cocktail party.  I had just received some high speed fuses and the base compounds to mix gunpowder.   I did a small sketch of my trademarked stickman on a 24” square board.  Friends watched warily as I mixed the gunpowder then sprinkled it on the board.  It did not look like enough, so I put more gunpowder on the piece.  Then, even more.  At that point I layered some cardboard on top to force the blast back into the piece.   I placed many rocks from our garden on top of it.  I ran about a 20 foot length of fuse to it, thinking it would give us some space and time to get to a safe distance and anticipate the explosion.  

I lit the fuse.  And, it was a fuse that burns ten feet per second (which was much faster than expected).  Nearly immediately, and before anyone was prepared, the  piece ignited.  Boom!  There was a huge flash. There was way too much gunpowder.  Rocks blew into the air and all over our guests!  All the oxygen was sucked out of the area.  A thirty foot high mushroom cloud of white smoke appeared.    

I was hooked.  I still have the piece, it looks cool.

ART Milwaukee Selects Vega's BLOW!

BLOW   with a single light.

BLOW  with a single light.

Stick Vega Studio is pleased to announce ART Milwaukee has selected Stick Vega's abstract gunpowder painting BLOW as it's featured piece of the week. Each week, ART Milwaukee features an artist on Facebook, Twitter, in the newsletter and the website. Each pieces receives thousands of views.

ART Milwaukee's goals:

  • Make art consumption a fun, social and easy experience for a new class of art enthusiasts.
  • Build collaborative, dynamic and unique events that increase cross-promotion of many artists and art organizations.
  • Initiate and sustain long-term art projects that that impact neighborhoods through cultural and economic development. 
  • Create opportunities for public art installations and large-scale organic promotion of the works. 
  • Produce programs and services that bolster and support the development and promotional needs of local artists and arts organizations.

BLOW was exploded to life in early 2013.  It is 36" x 36", double exploded gunpowder and high speed fuses on a polenta painted board.  It is a gorgeous and thoughtful piece.

Stick Vega said of his selection, "This is pretty cool.  Thank you.  Boom!"

Blow. New Double Blown Art from Stick Vega!

Blow.  Explosion. (2013)

Blow. Explosion. (2013)

Blow . (2013)

Blow. (2013)

Working in my studio, I spent a lot of time conceptualizing my new abstract work.  I needed to keep pushing forward and beyond the controlled blasts of my popular animal series. I settled on this direction after testing and experimenting with a number of pieces exploded on bamboo paper.  For, Blow, I put down several layers base paint.  Outside the studio, I exploded some concentric circles onto the panel with high speed fuses.  After cleaning the piece up, I added more layers of paint, some stencils, and applied gunpowder.  Still outside, I exploded the piece a second time!  Boom!  As the fire went out and the smoke cleared.  A new Vega was born.

I hope you like my new work and the direction I am exploring.  And, sorry, Blow is not for sale.

Vega One Inspired Evening

BUZZING (2012) 36" X 36"

BUZZING (2012) 36" X 36"

My exploded gunpowder painting, BUZZING, has been selected by the art jury for One Inspired Evening!

The event will be held on Friday, March 8 from 6-10pm at the Stephen M. Bailey Auditorium at the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Union Hall, located at 1340 W. Washington Blvd.

 All the money raised from One Inspired Evening will go directly to support Inspiration Corporation programs and our mission to help people affected by homelessness and poverty attain self-sufficiency.

One Inspired Evening promises to be another amazing evening with inspiring art, fantastic food and great people!

Highlights of the event include a juried art auction by Chicago business owner Steven E. Gross, artist and managing director of Firecat Projects Stan Klein, and artist and founder/director of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative Deborah Maris Lader featuring more than 100 pieces from local and national artists; live music from the Sam Sinclair Trio; Priceless Package auction; the Wine & Dine Wheel; cocktails and heavy hors d’oeuvres buffet catered by Inspiration Kitchens, our food service training program and social enterprise, with restaurants in Garfield Park and Uptown.