Saturday, July 31, 2010

Whipped 7 Ways From Sunday

Now that we've wrapped up the demo painting of Walt, I thought you'd like a little insight to the personal side of my friend.  Hope you enjoy! 

Walter Weir constantly throws good paintings my way.  Walter is nothing but genuine and doesn’t put on any airs, which comes through in the painting.  After a 300 calf morning, rope-burned hands and an empty stomach, Walter stopped for some much needed downtime before the next group of calves was started. This is where life on the wagon starts to crack lesser hands.  The repetition of work, missing family, wanting a real shower, tough horses, tougher cowbosses, and the elements all start to make thoughts of a town job a real possibility.  But Walter lets all that ride … takes another chew …. And chalks it up to just being whipped seven ways from Sunday.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cowboy Demo Day 6 - Enough Already!

     Today we call it a wrap.  Don’t fret, you non-art demo types… we are moving in for the kill. 
     Photo 1 shows Walter after I put the first hat wash in.  I only used two colors for this wash (Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber).  We could paint the hat more elaborately but I’m choosing to keep this basic for any new artist that might be reading this post.  The wash you see in this picture is one pass with this mix.
     I will add some darks in the next pass and call it good.  I’ve also used Cadmium Red to put an underpainting of red in the wild rag.  Again, keep it random and basic.  Don’t get too caught up in the details.

     Photo 2 is basically just a progression of darks.  Let’s take the hat first.  I add another dark glaze with our purple mixture over the dark areas.  After I let this wash dry, I added some Burnt Sienna into the dark shadow crease on the hat.  There….the hat is done.
     Now I focus totally on the wild rag.  I bumped my red by adding a wash of Perylene Red.  However you could use Winsor Red or even Alizarin Crimson.  After that was dried, I went over just the shadow side with the purple mix.
     WE ARE DONE!  Hope you enjoyed it.  If you hit a snag, just send me a question and I’ll do my best to help.

     Several people have indicated they would like to purchase this painting.  I’m going to sell it unframed and personalize it for the buyer for $500.  First person to email me at, will be the proud owner.

     Tomorrow we’ll say a fond farewell to Walter with a particularly personal memory of mine. 

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cowboy Demo Day 5 - Almost There!

     First of all, let me apologize for the downtime in the blog posts yesterday.  Between torrential rains and Murphy slouching around in my computer, it was an interesting day.  Thanks for your patience.
     Here we go….. Today’s first wash will wrap up the broad washes on the face.  I mixed up a fairly large puddle of Cadmium Red that was again the consistency of coffee.
     I don’t like to dry this with a hair dryer because, in my opinion, the dryer tends to steam this color and make it dry a bit flat.  Put this wash on and let it dry completely, without the dryer.  I promise, your patience will be rewarded.
     Now, we will take our original purple mix (Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson) and restate some of our darks.  I restated the darks around the eye, the crevice darks of the ear and nostril, and applied a light wash on the hair to cool it a bit.

    Today’s second image doesn’t have a lot going on but it’s an important part of making our portrait of Walter look real.  I floated a wash of Cadmium Orange on the underside of the chin.  This wash gives the illusion of reflected light bouncing up from the ground.  This wash will be wet on dry.  Lay this wash and get out of the area.  This is no time to fiddle.  Lay the wash and go! 
     I then used a little Raw Umber and a touch of Burnt Sienna to make the mustache.  Nothing fancy here, just keep it simple.  Let’s call the face done!

      Today’s last photo will move us toward the finish line.  We’ll work on the hat and wild rag that’s around Walter’s neck.  The hat is pretty straightforward:  a bit of Burnt Sienna in warm spots.  (Check your photo).
     The Wild Rag will be a bit more work.  Don’t get caught up here drawing every little paisley and nuance---find the big shapes and free hand some of the detail.  What we DON’T want to do is get trapped in minutia. 
     I quickly indicated the blue areas with Ultramarine Blue and a big brush.  Tomorrow we will tackle the hat and more of the Wild Rag and hope to finish up the painting.  Thanks again for your patience and good luck on your painting. 

You should be able to double click on the images and see them in a larger format.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Big Man With A Big Heart

     I thought I would break up the demo for a day and see if we can’t kill a couple of birds with one rock.  The first rock will be for the story lovers who might be getting a little fatigued with all of us in the one-dimensional art crowd.
     Rock #2 is for the painters who are tuned in for the demo and might enjoy a little insight into our subject.  And you might see your final painting in a whole different light.  Hopefully, we’ll move from an anonymous “face in a hat” to someone you now consider a friend.
     Walter Wier is the perfect choice for such a statement.  He’s as friendly as they come.  Your first impression is likely to be “this is a big man with fists like hammers”.  I know he knows how to use them, but he’d much rather drink an adult libation and philosophize on the intricacies of the cowboy lifestyle.

     I met Walter through my good friend, Shawn Goemmer, who you’ll be meeting in a future post.  From what I can gather, they met in grade school in LaVida, Colorado.  Apparently these two questionable reprobates would have rather been horseback than deskbound (just ask their teacher).  That was enough common bond to connect these two for a lifetime and led to a long friendship.
     I met Walter at the first branding of Shawn’s that I attended.  It was in Arizona 15 years ago.  Walter is a cowboy gypsy of sorts and hints at day working for different operations and outfits.  There are even unsubstantiated rumors of stunt work in his past.  Walter comes and goes and we cross paths when we can.

     I remember sitting at the C.V. wagon while he shot his new .44 mag lever gun at a suspended rock holding a water gap down.  I remember listening to Walt and Ken Haskins talk about their forays into town, which are way too colorful to go any further in polite company…. Let’s just say their whiskey consumption knows no bounds when these two go on a bender.
     When it comes to dragging calves, Walter has quite a reputation for being a bit of a bull in a China closet.   Walt always gets the job done with a jovial laugh and good spirits and two packs of whatever chewing tobacco was on sale.

     When the work’s all done, it’s always a good idea to drift toward Walter’s side of the tailgate; park it and take in the small talk.  You’ll hear a level of storytellin’ that will grab you; you better hang on!  And you won’t want to miss a minute of it.    

All content and images copyrighted Mark Kohler Studio.      

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cowboy Demo Day 4 -- Making Headway!

    Let’s Get Right To It!
    My first wash today is the sample purple mix we started with (Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson).  This first wash just establishes a base tone for the hair and the eyebrow.  I also used this same mixture to punch up the darks of the ear and a small amount just behind the chin. 
     So much of watercolor will be a re-definition of something that we have already painted.  Remember, painting is just a series of corrections, restatements and problem solving, until nothing else is wrong on your paper.  Our job is to mix the right colors and get them in the right place.  That’s all painting is.

     The next wash consists of the same purple mix, but is washed over the entire shadow side.  This wash is the first to cover the eye also.  Mix up a sufficient amount of paint for this wash.  This is no time to scrimp on paint.  I used a #8 and #10 round to paint this wash.  Again I feathered the wash on the jaw line so the form would appear to turn into the light.  Don’t be afraid of such a big wash on the face.  Look at the photo, match the color and go for it.  If it crashes on you, then re-draw the painting and start over.  Remember, REPETITION IS THE MOTHER OF SKILL.

     Now I want to go a bit darker and warmer on Walter’s hair. I want to get as close as possible with our wash to the color and value of his hair. 
     Did I take the time to introduce you to our subject?  His name is Walter Weir, and he lives in Arizona; a tough cowboy with the heart of a teddy bear.  Just thought you should know whom we are painting.  Tomorrow, you’ll get to really know Walter.  I have a couple of stories that should really change how you view our subject.  I hope you find him as fascinating as I do.
     Now, back to our task at hand.  I made our wash with sepia, mixed to the consistency of coffee.  I also used the same mixture on the eyebrow.  
     Before we wrap it up today, I want to take the purple mix and define the darker areas behind the jaw, the area above the eyebrow, the ridge of the nose, and the small area behind the chin.  I work the areas wet on dry by using my brush in a cross-hatching manner.  Again, we are hampered by the format of limited photos.

     Press on, and I’ll see you tomorrow.   Thanks again for stopping by.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Anchor -- The Last Word

You know, one of the goals of this blog, besides giving my opinions on art and my craft, is to give you a peek into the world of  cowboys and let you see why I'm so drawn to their culture.
     After posting “Anchor”, the fateful story of a special dog, I received the following email from Stephen Fuchs, who works on the Wildlife Management crew at a prominent ranch in South Texas.  You will see why these men are a special breed:

    Tate Bannowsky is a good friend of mine, and sent me to your blog the other day….  It was a good one about his dog, ol' Jack.  You know he tried to give him to me when he was pretty young.  He was ugly and awkward and at the time the low man on the totem pole of four dogs.  I couldn't get past the cover to what might lay in the book. I had too many dogs at the time to drag something like him back to the house.  I should have known that something was terribly out of whack at the Bannowsky house when the top of the hierarchy was Barney the wiener dog.  The “Dog Whisperer” could have had some real fun with that pack! 
      I've always been a dumbass, I should have bought into Tate's line of Bullshit about how he thought he would really turn out to be something special if I took him to the South Texas brush.  But, on that day I had my bullshit sniffer on high alert and didn't do it.  I never regretted it a single day, because I know that at the time I wouldn't have allowed him to develop into what he did.  If he would have survived the trip south, he would have probably been gobbled up by a hog or something of the sort.  
     It was a damn sad day when Tate called me, I kept hoping and praying that he would come back around just like he always did.  I offered all the words of encouragement that I could come up with…. But we both knew that if he found him it wasn't going to be good.
     Thought you would like this shot of ol' Jack about to set the anchor!!!

It's obvious that Jack made an impression on all who were lucky enough to have him in their lives.  We all miss him!

I'll be off tomorrow, and will resume my painting demo on Monday.  See you then!

Photo of Jack trailing by Stephen Fuchs.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cowboy Demo Day 3 -- Let There Be Light!

     Today’s post will demonstrate the application of  only one wash.  And this is very important:  No single wash will propel your painting into something special like this phase of the process. 
     This wash consists of Burnt Sienna and Alizarin Crimson.  These two colors serve as a basis for starting to build a lifelike flesh tone.  This mixture can range from either end of its spectrum.  However, the spectrum is rather compressed with only two colors.

     Here is a small color swatch showing the range (with more water on the top row, and more pigment on the bottom row.)  Try this mixture yourself on a separate piece of watercolor paper.  Play with it for some time before you go for it on your painting.

     Sample #1 leans more to the Alizarin Crimson side for a redder wash.
     Sample #2 is a mixture of 50/50, and this is what I used on the demo.
     Sample #3 leans more toward the Burnt Sienna.  This is for a ruddier complexion.

     You can adjust this mixture easily, by choosing which end of the spectrum you prefer.  And here are some colors that mix well with this pair:  Cadmium Yellow will warm your mixture a lot; Cadmium Orange will warm it, but not as much; and Indian Yellow is a good choice when you want less intensity. 

     So here we go….. I chose to paint around the eye and you’ll notice that on the jaw line, I feathered the wash where the form turns into the light by gradating the wash.  This is where the limitations of a blog and photos make a demonstration tough.  But do the best you can.  It’s just our starting point.
     At the rate we are going, we should wrap up our painting by next Wednesday or Thursday.  I will take a breather tomorrow (Saturday) and give you an update on my  “Anchor” post.
     For those bored with this process, hang in there, and I’ll see you on Monday…. Change is coming!

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cowboy Demo 2 --- And Now We Paint!

     So, we’ve made it to Day 2.  I hope the condensed drawing information has been at least an interesting introduction to measuring your drawing.  If it was a complete success, don’t start flying too high, yet.  Watercolor loves to ground flying machines.
     Let’s press on….. Today we begin by establishing some of the darkest darks of our drawing.  I find this helpful in retaining some of the important parts of my drawing.

     Paint Layer #1 -- Let’s start with a puddle of Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson.  I mix these two at about 60% Ultramarine Blue and 40% Alizarin Crimson.  But 50/50 will work, so don’t fret about paint mixture percentages.
     With this mixture I go in and re-state some of my main features and nail down important parts of my drawing.  My paint consistency at this point (water + paint) is about like coffee.  According to Joseph Zbukvic, with watercolor, consistency ranges from tea on the thin side, to coffee (a little thicker), then progresses to milk (thicker still), then to cream, and finally butter.  Zbukvic says “Don’t confuse the color of tea, milk or butter with their relative consistency…”.  We’re concerned with thickness, not color.  Zbukvic’s book is titled "Mastering Atmosphere & Mood in Watercolor."  I highly recommend it.

     Here is my painting after I have completed the first application of paint.
 Let your first layer of paint dry completely. (I hit mine with a hair dryer).

     Paint Layer #2. – I start my next paint layer with a mixture of  90% Indian Yellow and 10% Burnt Sienna.  This wash will go over the entire face.  This means everything!  We will preserve the hat and wild rag and deal with them as separate items.
     So we wind up Day 2 with our painting looking something like this:

     Until tomorrow…… and check out my new video on youtube.  Just enter “mark kohler studio” in the youtube search window.  Hope you enjoy it!

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cowboy Demo Day 1 -- The Drawing

     So here we go!  Today I’ll show you my drawing and how I completed it; using the master photo I gave you yesterday. 
     Notice my drawing is generally produced with straight working lines. These lines are the foundation of my drawing and they are measure lines.  I have talked about using the small sewing ruler in 1/10th increments.  (A special thank you to friend and fellow artist Chris Saper for showing me this wonderful drawing aid).
     Here is how I used it.  I made a duplicate of my master photo so I could show you how I proceeded with my measuring and drawing.
     It’s a bit of a challenge to demo this with a limited number of photos.  I will cover the high points, but if you have questions, please comment and I’ll answer you right away.
     Photo #1 shows the first lines that I will use to contain my drawing.  I almost always bisect my subject with a line, which makes measuring easier for me.  The next marks serve as “proportion containing” lines.  They show me the height and width of my subject.

     So far so good!  Now, I look for easy shape lines in the image.  These serve as measurement points to build my drawing from.  From here I proceed to finish my drawing through a series of measurements. 
     If you have never done this before, don’t fret.  I have recommended several good drawing books that will instruct you in this method.  If you’re bogged down and overwhelmed, then concentrate on learning these drawing skills and don’t worry about painting yet.  Because it’s my opinion, that until you start measuring your drawings, the final product will suffer.
     So here is my finished drawing. 

    This sketch will show you how I try and break the image into dark and light areas before I start painting.  Normally, I indicate this on my initial drawing.  But I always have a small thumbnail to show where the shadow side is versus the lit side of my subject.
     So, do this for a while and it will become second nature to you.  This is how an artist sees.  Look how just separating the darks and lights is already pushing my drawing from a static line drawing toward something that is taking on a more resolved and finished look.  That is what light does for your painting.  

     Enough for today.  TOMORROW WE PAINT!  Good luck.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Flesh Tones & Watercolors (A Cowboy Demonstration Painting)

          I get a lot of requests and pleas for help from beginning artists.  They usually fall into one of two categories:   1)  Fundamental drawing problems (which most beginners perceive as painting problems), or    2)  Mixing the wrong color based on selecting the wrong tube of paint; i.e. they pick a cool Blue when they should have chosen a warm Blue.
     Today I want to tackle a sub-area of Problem 2 and give you a starting point to deal with flesh tones using watercolors.  Generally flesh tones require the use of red, yellow and blue.  My flesh tone palette is simple and provides a great starting point.
     Beginning today, and for the rest of the week, I plan to demonstrate how to effectively use this flesh tone palette.  I am posting a photo that we will be painting from…. Yes, that’s right, you can paint right along with me, and that applies to Beginners as well as Advanced artists.

     If you choose to take my challenge and follow this insightful demonstration, this is what you will need:
  1. A small piece of 140 lb. cold press watercolor paper (Arches or Lana will be fine.)   Our painting image is 5 x 7.
  2. The following Winsor & Newton watercolors:  Indian Yellow, Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red Light.
  3. HB pencil for your drawing.
    So, the first thing you need to do is print out this photo and draw or transfer it to your paper.    Tomorrow I will show you my drawing, and how I simplified it and broke into shadow side and light side.  Then the next day we’ll apply our first glaze!
     This should be fun and eye opening, so tell your art friends to stop by and observe or participate.
     I will tackle the hat and the wild rag around this cowboy’s neck in sections, so you can see the entire process.  And I would like for you to let me know if you’re interested in doing more paint-along demonstrations (I call them Footstep Paintings).
     Also give me some feedback on the blog.  I have tried to keep it informal and fun and still cover a variety of subjects, from personal to technical.  So be honest…. I can take it.
     So click on the photo, print it, and come back tomorrow for my drawing breakdown.  

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Leaps and Bounds

     Today I'm going to illustrate the possibilities that await you when you apply strong fundamentals to your paintings through good drawing skills.  This is the story of one young artist who sought the training that would propel her paintings to a new level.
   I would like to introduce you to  Sarah Phippen, who has been one of my closest artist friends for quite awhile now.  She would probably tell you that no one has pestered (or lobbied or mentored --- um, make that bullied) her more than me.  I'd probably have to agree.
    However, today I would like to submit to you that Sarah will be mentoring us by her example.  First of all, she has exhibited an extreme amount of perseverance in her pursuit to get good training. 
    Sarah set a goal to study with Anthony Ryder in Santa Fe.  Ryder is a well-known art instructor who teaches atelier drawing.  (See the link to his book in "My Favorites" on the blog).  She raised the tuition on her own, and lived very sparsely while completing her training.  She never took her eye off the goal.
       Secondly, Sarah sets the bar high for herself, demanding a superior level of effort in order to advance her drawing skills.  I recognized a kindred spirit in Sarah; she knows in her soul she is an artist and won't settle for anything less than the best she has to offer her craft.
     Why so convicted?  Sarah has inherited her love and passion for art.  Her grandfather was George Phippen, the noted western artist and sculptor.  George was a founding member of the Cowboy Artists of America, and his gift was passed down to Sarah.  She carries that mantle proudly and with a dedication that we could all take a lesson from.
     I have included two paintings of Sarah's in my blog today.  The first is a study of a colt that showed me the promise of Sarah's talent.  (I bought it because I believed in her, and knew she would only get better).  The second painting is one she completed while studying with Anthony Ryder.  The growth in her skills is evidence of the development and maturity she is exhibiting in her paintings.  I am proud of her.
     If this young lady can push herself and her talents down the rocky road of Art, we can, too.  So to Sarah, I say "thank you" for showing us what is possible and how to grab it.

Images © Sarah Phippen.  Content © Mark Kohler. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010


     My part of Texas, like much of the South, uses bulldogs to get things done.  The title of this painting is Anchor, but this good-natured fella’s real name was Jack.
     I’m not sure what the mix ratio was---something like 2/3 pit bull and 1/3 black mouth cur.  Jack was different than most bulldogs.  Jack had brains and braun.  He belonged to my friend Tate Bannowsky, who at the time was head guide for a hunting operation just west of where Pam and I lived in Sabinal, TX.
     Jack was primarily a blood-trailing dog.  Wounded game require every effort to recover them, and trailing dogs are a necessity in the brush country of South Texas. 
     Jack was exceptional at trailing, and could close the distance quickly when the animal was brought to bay or wounded.  That’s why I titled the painting, Anchor.  Jack would arrive and hang on tight until the hunter could get there.  There was no shaking him loose.
     Wild hogs (so prevalent in South Texas) gave him few problems because Jack never tried big hogs on his own.  But he would put up a steady chop (bay bark with a steady cadence) till back up arrived.  There’s an old saying that goes “There’s good bulldogs and old bulldogs, but there are no good old bulldogs.”  Unfortunately, Jack fits this description, as he headed out after a wounded deer, in full chase, never to be seen again.
     Did he catch the deer and take a horn?  Or gas out on the run and heat stroke?  No one knows.  The country was too vast and too brushy.  Tate searched for days, not wanting to give up, but the brush had swallowed up Jack.  Tate missed him terribly, but contained his emotions, as all good cowboys do when it comes to the loss of a good horse or a good dog.  Life must go on.  That’s the way it is on the frontiers of this country.  

I'll be off tomorrow.  See you on Monday!

All images and content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The One That Got Away

     When I look back on my early career, it seems as if things took off fast in some aspects, and in others, it felt like I was crawling.  Within the first year, I was asked to exhibit in good galleries and there was respectable interest in my work.  But I also struggled to gain admittance into national shows, and the major art magazines weren’t exactly beating down my door.  I realized rather quickly that out-producing the competition was going to take focus, direction and action.
     Interestingly enough, while being so totally focused and working on producing the best quality of work I could, I let a painting I really should have kept in my personal collection slip away.
    I had just recently been accepted to a small, but quality, gallery in Breckenridge, Colorado.  In my excitement to stack this gallery with the unbelievable works of Mark Kohler, I sent a painting of my wife Pam, titled “The Ending”.
     I immediately felt a nagging regret as soon as the painting left the studio, but put the negative thoughts on the back burner --- put it right out of my mind.  I might get a sale!
     Two weeks later, with that small still voice picking away at my conscience, I made the call to the gallery to return the piece.  The owner informed me that the painting was out on consignment, meaning a potential buyer was living with the painting to determine if it was compatible with themselves and their home.
     I informed the gallery that I wished the painting returned if the buyer declined the purchase.  This became a lesson I learned the hard way!  The only real chance I had of getting that painting back was to keep my mouth shut and hope they declined.  Of course, since I had expressed my desire for the painting, well, you can guess the outcome.
     Never have I been so disappointed in a sale!  The $850 purchase price was hardly compensation for such a hasty and rash decision.  Fifteen years later, I still think about that painting.
     So why am I telling you this sad story?  To save you the angst I have suffered.  If you have a connection to a painting, live with it awhile; let it hang around.  You might find it has more of a hold on your soul than you realized.  Pieces of soul grow back slowly with time, and are usually accompanied by regret….. and more time ….. and more regret.
     Use my map through the fire as an example of what not to do.   Paintings are a part of you and meant to be shared.  But there are some that lay claim to your heart and you should never let them go.  Take it from me!                                            All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tools Of The Trade

     Today’s blog is about a reference tool I bought from Winsor & Newton called “The Hand Painted Colour Chart”.   It’s a four-page laminated color swatch of applied paint on actual watercolor paper.  They used to have this booklet at the art supply stores, but people were stealing them, so they’ve replaced it with a cheap paper substitute.  These often give you a false rendering of what the color will look like when you apply it your work of art.   You might think the color is what you want, but it could be a transparent or granulated color and your eye doesn’t pick that up when you’re looking at a 4-color process printed chart. 
      As you get familiar with watercolor paint, you’ll begin picking up the specific characteristics of each color.  You’ll start to know that sometimes Cadmium Red can be a very sedimentary color, sometimes not; and that French Ultramarine Blue is almost always sedimentary, just like Cerulean Blue.
     You only learn the traits of these colors through repeated use; you really get to know their idiosyncrasies.  So why have a Color Specifier?  There are several reasons.
     It allows you to narrow down a color choice, at a glance (assuming you have a palette you’re comfortable with).
     Let’s take a look at a specific scenario:  you’re asked to paint a portrait of a little girl who is wearing a green dress.  The green you choose to use, say Permanent Sap Green (a pretty common color) is not the right chroma (the difference between two colors – too warm, too cool, too much yellow, etc.).
     If you run into this problem, you can open your Color Specifier and look at 12 different greens and decide which green you need to complete your painting.
     Typically, artists go to the art supply store, open up a tube of Hooker’s Green, put some on their finger or smear it on a piece of paper lying next to the display.  If this is your method, it’s really hard to decide which green is going to work best for you back at your studio.
     Even if you take your photo with you, the paint sample you look at is usually going to be a lot darker than if you had added water to it in the studio environment.  You really need a Specifier to make a good color decision.
     Another attribute of the Specifier is the inclusion of a Key to Coding section, which rates each color in regard to several different aspects.
     One is PERMANENCE.  Paint runs from Extremely Permanent to Moderately Durable, which means it’s going to eventually fade.
     This code system allows you to look at a color and tell what its properties are, relevant to permanence.  For instance, French Ultramarine Blue has a rating of A (Permanent), which is one ranking below AA (Extremely Permanent).  It will hold up very well over time.
     A color like Alizarin Crimson can be very unstable (depending on the manufacturer) and may have a rating of B (Moderately Durable), which means it is known to fade.
     With the Color Specifier, you can decide, at a glance, if this is a color you want to add to your palette, just based on its permanence.
     Another code that’s useful to know is TRANSPARENCY.    There are four different ratings that tell you the level of transparency for a specific color.  Example:  Raw Umber has a rating of G, which tells you it will granulate or separate if you use a rough or cold-press paper.  Little pieces of paint, or granules are going to settle in low spots in your paper.  It can be a nice effect, but if it’s not what you want, you need to know so that you use it in the top layers of your painting, rather than the bottom layers.
     Another feature of the Specifier that I like is that a new artist can study other artists’ palettes and form their own, from a very informed perspective.
     Typically I think a lot of students or new artists go to the art supply store and make decisions based on what they think their eye is telling them.
     Is you are diligent in your research, you’ll find that there are recurring colors that most artists have come to rely on because they’re easy to work with, they mix well with other colors on the palette, they create good grays, etc.  You’ll be able to target your palette to your subject matter and style.
     Another book you might you add to your arsenal is Albert Munsell’s “A Grammar Of Color”.  This book is actually a college study course on the attributes of color, from chroma to hue to value to where they fall on the color wheel.  It almost gives you too much in-depth information, but I have referred to it quite often.
     Harley Brown’s book, which is listed in My Favorites, actually shows you how to understand and apply the Munsell Color Wheel to your individual palette.  I’ve told you before, I highly recommend the purchase of Harley Brown’s book, and you can click on the icon in the right-handed column and purchase it directly from my blog.  (And I’ll shamelessly admit that Amazon rewards me for your purchase, as well).
      So, I highly recommend that you call Winsor & Newton (1-800-445-4278) and order this valuable tool.  You MUST call, it is not available online.  When I purchased mine 10 years ago, it was priced at $21, so I would expect it to be in that same range.  It is well worth the effort and money, and I think you will find it to be a valuable tool.  I’d be lost without mine.

Content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Good Man

     I met my friend Maurice Chambers over 20 years ago.  Our newfound friendship was built on the common bond of our love for the re-curve bow and hunting dogs.  
     Our friendship continues to be characterized as mentor and student.  I will never be able to learn all the ranch, dog, hunting and work knowledge that seeps from this man.  
     Maurice is larger than life; colorful and loves talking to people.  He has never met a stranger and, lucky for me, is eager to teach you what you need to know about life.
     Maurice has a unique and unconventional style of teaching us lesser mortals ---- he assumes you know all he knows.  This sinister technique teaches you two things simultaneously….kinda like a double bitch slap.  Obviously, it teaches you the skill you don’t know (slap #1) and it is the impetus by which you have to sheepishly, and reluctantly, admit what you don’t know, and ask for assistance.  This second slap teaches you humility, a virtue he highly esteems.
     He’s a Renaissance Man of sorts.  He’s as tough as a boot, with a God-fearing, loving and tender heart.  He loves teaching his Sunday School class.  He still owns a Texas high school track record, and in his mid-70’s, he can outrun men more than half his age.  He loves a DQ Peanut Buster Parfait with the delight of a child…. Almost as much as he loves his 2:00 nap and watching Bill O’Reilly; two things I’ve learned never to interrupt. 
      To list all I’ve learned from Maurice would be a painful exercise in admitting how little I actually knew about all things outdoors, before I assumed my apprenticeship under him.  But here’s a few of the high points:
1.     Get your (re-curve) bow out in front and extend your arm prior to pulling the string.  You’ll make more successful shots.
2.     Set up for an eight-yard shot.  Twenty-yard shots are for beginners.  Why handicap yourself?
3.     Always brace a shovel on your knee when lifting dirt from a hole.  This saves your back and allows you to work 2 more hours for Maurice without complaining.
4.     Two-blade broadheads are twice as good as 4-blade broadheads (you do the math!)  (The two blades penetrate better.)
5.     Never, ever, think of hunting in one of Maurice’s own ground blinds without his permission.  (If you doubt this, ask my friend, Kendall).  Maurice will check your boot bottoms to see if it was your track in his blind.
6.     Carbon steel knives are King.  Stainless is for those guys who are shooting 20-yard shots.
7.     Aim low and shoot lower.  (You bow hunters know what I mean).
8.     How to stitch a hog cut and how to treat a Javalina chop.

     I treasure the quality time Maurice and I have spent together:  mountain lion hunts in Balmorhea, Texas; hog hunts from La Pryor to Del Rio with good and bad outcomes.  We’ve been to rodeos and ropings and brandings.  We’ve worked on fence, dug septic tanks, replumbed a beater house in 34-degree weather, and put tin roofs on old Texas farmhouses.  We’ve blood-trailed bad hogs and threw a rock/paper/scissor to see who got to go get him.
     He was an early champion of my art career, and one of my favorite subjects to paint.  He encouraged me to listen to God and trust in Him, following His lead.  Good advice for anyone. 
     Maurice Chambers is a generous and good man.  He was Augustus McCrae before McMurtry ever dreamed him up.  I’m proud to call him my friend.   

Content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Word To Jeannette: Tell The Truth

     This post is in direct response to one of my followers, who wanted my advice in determining what she should paint.  If we think about this logically, subject matter comes down to personal preference that, in reality, is dictated by what the artist wants to say, or what the artist wants to portray.
     No one can tell you what moves you or what is important to you but you.  So that’s something you have to find on your own, but I hope to give you some of my own philosophy to help you tackle this question.
     The first point I’d like to make is that if you’re not yet a full-time professional artist, then use this time to research and experiment with different media, different subjects and different styles.      This is the time to develop your style and take chances.  Go down roads you might not have the luxury to follow if you’re a professional artist and in the midst of making a living.  Believe me, once you’re in the thick of paying the bills through sales of your art, the schedules, deadlines, and demands get in your way. 
     So don’t get so wrapped up in finding the perfect subject that will make you a successful artist.  Instead, enjoy the latitude you have right now.  It’s a gift, and use it wisely.  Experiment.  You might find you’re comfortable with an avenue you might never have otherwise considered.
     Generally, I think it’s a good idea to begin your search for your potential passion by taking note of what other paintings move you.  Study other artists, go to museums, and look at pieces that touch your soul.
     If something is keeping you up at night, entertain going down that artistic road.  Ask yourself---why am I drawn to this artist?  This style?  This subject?  This is where you have to focus and determine what excites you and how to incorporate it into your own work and how to develop your own style.
    I now give you a mild warning:  the art market, the galleries, and sometimes collectors will do their best to put you in a box.  The galleries want to box you into what’s selling.  Their motives will be apparent and crystal clear.  “We want big paintings” or “We want seascapes.”   Before they invest in your work, the collector wants to know you’ve settled on your “star”, so to speak, and won’t be bouncing around genres.  All these different parameters come into play and they are things that effect what you paint.
     But if you stay true to yourself and pursue your own artistic passion and your own artistic vision, that honesty will come through to a collector.  They can see it and feel it.
     If you’re trying to do something that’s not true to yourself, the public will pick you off a mile away.
     At any one show, I may have figurative cowboy paintings, or dog and horse portraits, and occasionally a bird study, still life, or fly-fishing piece.  These are all subject matters that interest me and I enjoy painting.
     I paint these different subjects because they move me and I purposefully want to keep myself out of any pre-conceived box.  And this philosophy has never been an issue with a gallery or a collector, because they can tell this is something that is important to me.  My passion is evident, no matter what the subject.  People can see it’s a part of who I am.
     As a final thought, I’m going to reiterate something I’ve said before.  Inexperienced artists sometimes put discovering their passion ahead of learning their skills.
     I know you’re tired of hearing this, but I can’t stress it enough.  Learn your skills first, so that you can paint anything you want and say anything you want through your paintings, and be satisfied with the results.  Then you can experiment with different subjects matter to determine what touches your soul.
     Sometimes artists get stuck painting a particular subject because their inferior skill level won’t allow them to move beyond it.  If you develop good fundamental skills, you can paint anything you want, and discovering your passion will only be limited by your imagination.
     Jeannette, I hope this helps answer your question.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.


Monday, July 12, 2010

The War Of Art

Today, I’m going to share a secret weapon in my arsenal.  It’s a little book I stumbled upon a few years ago.  Steven Pressfield published it in 2002. 
     You might be familiar with a couple of his other books.  He wrote Gates of Fire, the story of 300 Spartans holding off hundreds of thousands of Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae.  
He is also the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, a classic account of the warrior/hero try to finding his true path.  As different as these two books might seem, they actually have a lot in common.  And he’s applied the same theme to a small little tome called the WAR of ART. The subtitle is Break Through The Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.  This is where we come in.
     Pressfield wrote this book primarily for writers, but his advice applies equally to any artist.  The title may sound a little “self-help-ish” and sterile, but I promise you it is worth the read.  From the Foreword to the last page of the book, it was written to motivate and inspire artists.  If you’re just sitting there and intimidated by a blank piece of paper or an empty canvas, and you just can’t get over the hump, this is the book for you.  
A good portion of the book is written about our arch nemesis:  RESISTANCE.  At the opening of the book, he has a short and simple page titled What I Know:  “There’s a secret that real writers (artists) know that wannabe writers (artists) don’t, and the secret is this:  It’s not the writing (painting) part that’s hard.  What’s hard is sitting down to write (paint).  What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”
 The next section of the book he tells us what resistance is in all its forms and in all its nasty qualities.  Basically he tells us what to look for: “Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable.  Resistance aims to kill.  Its target is the epicenter of our being:  our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us.  Resistance means business.  When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.”
     What I find most helpful with this book is that it moves the artist who wants to be a professional into thinking like a professional.  Pressfield sees himself as a pro, and that’s how he wants you to envision yourself.
     In a chapter titled Professionals and Amateurs he says, “Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait.  They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.
     The moment an artist turns pro is as epochal as the birth of his first child.  With one stroke, everything changes.  I can state absolutely that the term of my life can be divided into two parts: before turning pro, and after.”
     Pressfield wants you to find your passion and be a professional.  As you can tell by the following topics, he knows his stuff and the issues we artists confront in getting off center:  Starting, Get Moving, No More Waiting, Ego, Fear, Moving Beyond Resistance, The Muses (which in my opinion is a substitute word for God).  I think he’s playing to a large audience and wants to keep a single term for the Creative Force.  But he makes it quite clear that you better incorporate your God into what you’re doing.
     He wraps up the book with what I thought was a clever manner.  It’s called the definition of a hack.  This is where he pushes us to be a professional for more reasons that the monetary benefit.  This is when you find your passion.
     “… A hack is a writer (artist) who second-guesses his audience.  When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart.  He asks what the market is looking for.
     The hack condescends to his audience.  He thinks he’s superior to them.  The truth is, he’s scared to death of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing (painting) what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting.  He’s afraid it won’t sell.  So he tries to anticipate what the market (a telling word) wants, then gives it to them.”
     If you recognize yourself in any part of this post, then go buy this book.  There is a link to it under “My Favorites”.  Mine looks like it’s been through a war.  It’s dog-eared, highlighted and underlined.  I read it over and over.  It keeps me focused on what’s important and where I’m going.
     Pressfield wrote this book for you.  He wants you to succeed and so do I.

  All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Realities of Life Out West

My good friend Walter Wier rode this bay horse for only a day while I was in Prescott one summer.  The bay was part of a big working remuda, and I wanted more shots of him with Walter's big Wade saddle and long tapederos.  Walt liked the bay, but kept drawing 3-year olds with few rides on them.  The Jigger Boss was taking advantage of a good cowboy with a "bring me your best" attitude.  I assumed I would get more shots of the bay, if not that trip, then the next year ---- but it wasn't meant to be.  At that particular time, Arizona had been unseasonably wet, and one of those low rolling clouds coming out of the west, touched the bay with the electric finger of God.  I wonder if good horses really do go to heaven. 

Have a good weekend! See you on Monday! 

All images and content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Anthony Robbins Was Right!

     Pam and I had been married only a short time, when I felt like I was stuck in a rut as Art Director at an advertising agency.   The downside was a total disconnect from my God-given talents, and a disillusion with the whole creative process.   I did a complete about-face, left the field, and we moved to Houston where I took a job as far away from art as I could get. I’d say Liability Adjustor for Farmer’s Insurance is a pretty huge leap, wouldn’t you?
     Long story short, this was the impetus I needed to re-discover my priorities and seek a way back to my passion.  (In another instance of God’s Infinite Wisdom, I learned valuable tools during my tenure at Farmer’s that would later help in my art career, but that’s a future blog).
     Feeling I wanted to do it right this time, and seeking some inspiration, I ordered Tony Robbins’ first motivational cassette series, called “Unlimited Power.”
  The substance of his plan was threefold:  #1 – Find your passion,  #2 – Be good at your passion by repeating it until it becomes a skill, and #3 – Take that skill and make it a profession.
     Sounds simple, right?  Today I want to focus on the second principle of his plan. 
     Generally, most everyone who might come to this blog will know that their passion is art, or in some field of creativity.  And I think, that as artists, we all can agree that one of our goals is to increase our skill.
     Tony Robbins says something in “Unlimited Power” that has stuck with me throughout the years:  “Repetition is the Mother of Skill”.  For an artist, nothing truer has ever been said.
     Any great discipline, whether it’s painting, music, dance or sports requires 7 to 10 specific skills, that if they’re mastered, will allow you to perform at a high level.
     Time and again you see people who want to skip the fundamentals and jump straight to “the good stuff”.  Let’s face it, fundamentals are boring.  Repetitive drawing, if done sloppily and incorrectly, is boring.
     But if art is your passion, then you must figure out what you passionately want to say with your art.  What is the subject matter that touches your heart? What images are you drawn to? What can’t you get out of your mind?
     You’re going to have to use repetition to perfect your skills, so you might as well be drawing something that you never get tired of.  You’ll never be bored.
     Repeating the basics is all you have to do to become a master craftsman.  It’s that simple.  Find your passion and repeat fundamentals until you’re highly skilled.
     Here’s something to think about:  If you do a major drawing 365 times in a year (that’s one a day), I promise you that the 365th one will be easier, better and faster than the first one.
     Why?  Because repetition allows you to improve your skills.  And I’m not talking about rote repetition here, either.  It’s not like writing, “I will draw every day” on the blackboard 365 times.  Repetition has to be self-critiqued and pushed by you!  Repetition without self-critique is a waste of time, pencil and paper.  Repetition with a will to improve is POWER.
     Tony Robbins said, “If you do what you’ve always done, your results will be what you’ve always gotten.”  Tony Robbins is right!  Increase your skills by repeating the fundamentals and improving with each attempt.  Now go for it!

The paintings displayed in this blog are of my good friend, and one of my favorite subjects, Mark Kirkpatrick.  Because I am passionate about painting him,  I am never bored, and my body of work includes numerous paintings of Mark.  The repetition has resulted in a familiarity and a level of skill that refines each succeeding painting.
All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Velvet Rock

     Today I introduce you to a friend.
     Amy Hale Auker is a lot of things… wordsmith, mother, rancher, horsewoman, poet, rock hound, writer, part-time explorer, and loving companion.
     We met two years ago in Prescott, AZ at the Phippen Museum Art Show awards banquet, where my painting titled “Brother” was given the Museum’s Foundation Award.  Interestingly enough, this painting was our common ground.  The subject of my painting, Brother Daniel, was a friend and mentor to Amy during her “growing up” years on the Pitchfork Ranch.  
Coincidentally, (I’m not sure that word ever applies to my relationships in this blessed life I live) I had happened upon the house she lived in when I visited the Pitchfork last year.  The small talk at our table grew into a conversation of the heart, and she has become a long-distance friend to my wife, Pam and me.
     Amy is representative of so many of the women I have captured in watercolor, and I am looking forward to painting her story soon. 
She wears her past on her sleeve, and it’s her interesting life and the many decisions that have brought her to where she is now that make her so colorful.
     She has a unique gift, which combined with her vision of ranch life, has given her the ability to see as a writer sees.  The cadence of her prose seeps into your soul.  Descriptors and subtleties of life on the ranch become her world, and she will transport you, if you will go with her …. dusty tack rooms, powdery round pens with coyote fences of long cut cedar, and the sound and smells of horses and cattle; this is her world.  Savor her words, for there is much wisdom to glean from those who live at the end of dirt roads.

     Meet my friend Amy:

Lots of Gone In Her Eyes

She’s a better hand with a horse than he is, and she has to be because brute strength and courage-from-a-can are not tools in her box.

He scorns the tools that are in her box, her soft, quiet ways, her determination to let the colt come to her, the time she spends in a pen that’s round, the advice she’s listened to from old men gone soft.

He’s more wham and jam, rope ‘em and choke ‘em, make ‘em spin a hole in the dirt, jerk, job, jab, give ‘em a taste of iron, teach that son of a bitch who’s boss, and he’ll get a horse with lots of white in his eye, lumps on his ribs, fear on his breath, a hard mouth, and don’t turn your back.

He’s all big hat, no cattle, big spurs, no balls.

She watches videos from the guys who advocate a better way than the Lonesome Dove-get-on-‘em-and-ride while he makes fun from the kitchen where he drinks whiskey with his buddies.

She knows about wham and jam, choke ‘er while you make ‘er spin, jerk, job, jab, give ‘er a taste of a real man, teach that bitch who’s boss, and he gets a girl with lots of gone in her eyes, plans on her mind, fear of the dark, a hard heart, and sympathy for every horse he rides.

Amy’s first book, titled Rightful Place was edited by famed singer/songwriter/poet Andy Wilkinson, and is being published by Texas Tech University Press.  The book will be part of their Spring 2011 catalog.  An excerpt can be read at, a site that offers poetry, prose, and contemporary expressions of the American West. Amy will be performing both prose and poetry at the Prescott Cowboy Poetry Gathering in August (Lots of Gone In Her Eyes will be one of her oral presentations).  In January 2011, she will appear at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.  

All images © Mark Kohler Studio.