Weidenaar subsequently wrote to one of the jurors of the Scholastic competition, who responded with praise and encouragement.
Weidenaar used his high school yearbook photo as his publicity photo until he sat for his first professional portrait, taken by famous Grand Rapids photographer Maurice C. LaClaire in 1942.
Weidenaar made hundreds of sketches while still in high school. Many were portraits of his friends and classmates, including John Bouterse.
In 1938, Weidenaar was awarded first prize for Painting in the Kansas City Art Instittue National High School Competition. This Provided him full tuition to the prestigious Kansas city Art Institute (KCAI) in Missouri.
It was here that Weidenaar first had the resources to explore the technique of etching.
Not satisfied with the existing curriculum, Weidenaar arranged for John de Martelly to give special instruction in the etching technique as part of the Graphic Arts class. He continued to learn about etching on his own, particularly through books on printmaking.
Exposed to a broadened world in Kansas City, Weidenaar remained very dedicated to pursuing a career in art in spite of financial obstacles. He received financial help from his mother to whom he wrote regularly. Over 200 of his postcards have been preserved.
"Evening Storm" is the tenth etching Weidenaar completed. In addition to etched lines, he used a drypoint needle, incising directly into the plate without the use of acid.
Seeking further resources for printmaking, Weidenaar made connections with Bertha E. Jaques and James Swann, members of the prestigious Chicago Society of Etchers.
During his week-long visit to their studios in Chicago in May of 1940 they gave him crucial advice and encouragement.
"Marketplace 2" was purchased in March of 1941 for the Library of Congress collection in Washington, D.C., after being shown in the Society of American Etchers Exhibition in New York City.
"Marketplace 2" is a Chicago scene, but he inserts names of Grand Rapids friends such as Dale Rooks and Leanne DeVries as well as his own phone number; “35296 BUT NO SOLICITORS.”
"Grand Rapids Press" notice of one-person show at Grand Rapids Art Gallery, October 1941
Weidenaar demonstrating the etching and printing process at the Grand Rapids Art Gallery, 1941.
"Home From the Forest" is a dynamic image that came from Weidenaar’s imagination, rather than observation. He made the drawing for it while on the train home from his exhibition opening in Washington, D.C.
Leila Mechlin reviewed the exhibition for the Washington Star, March 22, 1942
"What is most interesting about Mr. Weidener’s work is his sense of the dramatic and the manner in which he gives it expression... This does not mean, however, that Mr. Weidner dramatizes his subjects deliberately; they never appear forced, but the possess the essence of the drama of life and in a very large measure."
– Leila Mechlin
Weidenaar’s composition, featuring figures on a hillside overlooking a deep valley, is similar to those found in 16th century Netherlandish paintings and prints, particularly those of Pieter Bruegel.
"NOTICE THIS ETCHER HAS MET HIS DREAMGIRL AT 28, AND IS GETTING MARRIED. GET HIS STUFF NOW – WHILE HE IS ETCHING FOR A REPUTATION – INSTEAD OF A FAMILY"
In 1944 Weidenaar received a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for travel to Mexico. At that time, World War II eliminated the possibility of traveling in Europe, and Mexico was the nearest area in which Weidenaar could observe a different culture. Just as he recorded the world around him in Michigan, Weidenaar was interest in recording the Mexican people, landscapes and architecture.
Weidenaar’s prints of Mexican scenes were the first to be nationally published, through dealers Alfred Fowler and Associated American Artists. This national distribution meant an increase in sales for Weidenaar, and helped to boost his reputation to a national level.
Street of Goats was created using the aquatint printmaking technique. This involves applying a granular, acid-resistant resin to the metal plate before it is submerged in acid. The acid eats away the exposed metal around the granules, creating areas of textures.
Different granule sizes produce different textures, and these generate tonal gradations when the plate is inked and printed.
Nothing in this world will ever suffuse me with such a glow of satisfaction as to be able to hold in my hands a polished sheet of copper ready for grounding. It is in my blood I guess, forever.
– Reynold Weidenaar, 1946
In 1948 "American Artist" magazine asked Weidenaar to write and illustrate an article on the mezzotint technique.
In it, he describes the process step by step, with six drawings that illustrate the individual tools and their use, in addition to a magnified look at the serrated surface of the mezzotint plate.
Weidenaar chose mezzotint as the technique for his print "Self–1950". He created this to serve as the “presentation portrait” required by the National Academy of Design upon his election to associate membership.
In 1951 Weidenaar innovated a new method for creating color mezzotints, an accomplishment in which he took great pride.
One of his color mezzotints is "Darkness and Light" (1952). The print is the result of four mezzotinted plates, each with different elements of the composition scraped into it.
One plate is inked in red, one in yellow, one in blue, and one in gray. When sequentially printed onto the same sheet of paper, the entire image emerges.
Artist’s 1,010th watercolor
“I used to contemplate the Straits during my occasional ferry crossings, and the thought of building a bridge over the vast reaches seemed to me the height of pure fantasy at the time. Today I see this colossus rising in its grandeur and it still seems to me unbelievable—I can only marvel at the vision and the foresight of men who dream the impossible, and then in some stupendous way succeed in actually accomplishing the miracle. . . . I suppose some of the awesome feeling may possibly have crept into the mezzotint of the bridge; I’d hoped in some way it would.”
A tour de force of printmaking, Locomotive Shops won six awards in one year alone.
It became one of Weidenaar’s prints that was most coveted by collectors and praised by critics.
Weidenaar working on the composition of Locomotive Shops, with the aid of a Grand Rapids Herald photograph.
In addition to utilizing photographs, Weidenaar spent a week drawing the locomotives in the C&O locomotive shops at Grand Rapids’ Wyoming Terminal:
Weidenaar was given freedom to work from any safe observation point he desired in order to make the countless on-the-spot sketches from which the final work was created. The figures in the picture are those of workmen who asked to be included, even to the man running the second crane.
Locomotive Shops was inspired by a photograph published in the Grand Rapids Herald of the C&O/Pere Marquette Locomotive Shops at Grand Rapids’ Wyoming Terminal.
In his later works Weidenaar commonly referred to biblical passages, particularly those that relate to the sins of humankind.
Weidenaar’s work had included humorous and fantastical elements from early on. In his 1945 etching, "The Burro Station", an old tree trunk suggests a dragon, with mouth, eyes, legs, and fins or wings.
In The Age of Enlightenment II, the gate at the left has a face incorporated into its design.
Weidenaar was familiar with 16th and 17th century engravings which he saw in museums and books. It is likely that he was influenced by the engraved images of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, in which mankind’s sins are satirized, and buildings take on the appearance of human faces.