For Michael Kienzle, it's become as much of a morning routine as coffee and the New York Times.
Every weekday for nearly 10 years now, Kienzle has sent an email card to a list of 800-some people that contains four elements. There's a colorful work of abstract art of his own making, a title, a "quote of the day" from a famous (or semi-so) person that relates to the title and Kienzle's own commentary on the quote.
It is a daily practice that he calls "part meditation, part education."
A painting called "Blue Shore," for example, has the title "Out of Sight."
The quote is, "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore," by French writer Andre Gide (1869-1951).
Kienzle's rejoinder is, "Exchanging the familiar for the unknown is difficult and not always willingly done."
The cards look simple at first blush, but many are deceptively complex.
The starting point for the cards is the art.
"It's a good way to put my art out in front of a lot of people," Kienzle says. "Pictures could be hanging in an art gallery for years waiting for the right person to go by. And that person may never go by."
But with email and social media, exposure is instantaneous and wide-reaching.
"Whenever I create something I put it on Instagram and tag it as abstract or modern and you get responses from all over the world, in seconds. Someone is always awake."
With this exposure, he's sold hundreds of paintings.
By profession, Kienzle is a cardiologist with a full-time practice in Iowa City. That's where he was born and where he lives during the week.
But on weekends and other off-times he lives on a Century Farm homestead in rural Scott County with his wife, Susan Frye, who retired from her Iowa City law practice in 2008.
Together they have restored and repurposed buildings on the family farm, including the dairy barn and the hog building that Kienzle has converted into his art studio. In the summer, Frye operates a chemical-free CSA or Community-Supported Agriculture business, selling all manner of vegetables and flowers.
How his art began
Kienzle was not always an artist. That he knew of, anyway.
That avocation came out of the blue one day about 12 years ago when he was standing in an art supply store and his eyes fell upon an artist "starter box," with paint and brushes.
"I thought, 'I wonder what it would be like to paint?'" he said earlier this month, sitting on a red vinyl kitchen chair in his studio with a cracked concrete floor and walls covered with art.
He bought the kit and, at the age of 55, sat on the porch of the big Frye farm home with a photograph and his paints.
The photo was of a black-topped road flanked by corn and a fence, topped by a blue sky with white clouds, and Kienzle rendered a somewhat representational image of it on canvas.
In time, he moved away from representational art — that which looks like real life — to abstract compositions full of geometric shapes and lines and always very colorful. Sometimes he added other media, such as fabric from an old shirt or pieces of tissue laid on top of each other to build textures. He put frames on his paintings and began selling.
In 2009 he was asked to make a postcard representing Iowa for a show in Las Vegas. The result was a darkish blue and green piece with three golden suns in the middle, but nary the hint of a windmill or silo. "It's an abstraction of a passing thunderstorm," Kienzle explains.
The email cards
He still creates paper postcards and sends them through the postal service, but now his emphasis is on electronic postcards, beginning with scans of actual painted works or pictures he created electronically.
The second step, once he has an image, is to title it. "I think to myself, 'What word or words could I attach to that image?'"
Then he consults an online data base of quotations and scrolls through until he finds a quote that correlates. Finally he writes his own rejoinder. And that's where his wit, wisdom and sense of humor really shine. Along with his political bent, or world view.
"Some people tell me that's their favorite part," he said of the rejoinders.
And therein lies the complexity of these seemingly simple emails.
He regards creating the cards a meditative practice because it involves a repetitive series of steps. Work of art, title, quote, commentary. And all the thought and creativity that goes with each.
He regards it as educational because when he considers quotes, he looks up background on who said them and reads about the person.
Being a medical student, "I don't think I really had a very good liberal arts education," he said. "If I pick a quotation and I don't know about it, I research it. There's an element of on-going adult education."
On average, he devotes about an hour a day to this practice, and he looks forward to it. Sometimes he puts a card together the night before so all he has to do in the morning is hit "send," while other times the entirety of the creative work occurs between 4:30 a.m. and when he sees his first patient at 8 a.m.
If a card hits a nerve — "especially when it resonates with current events" — he'll hear about it.
But whether he hears or not, he wouldn't miss sending any more than he would miss coffee or the newspaper.