Monday, August 9, 2010

Pena and His Red Pen!

During my first year of high school, I got my first “AHa” moment about what it meant to be a professional artist.  As you might have surmised, I found school to be the most crushing of experiences, and an effort in futility.  I also had the grades to prove it! (If only we could show our parents that we wouldn’t become total screw-ups in the future, we would save a lot of emotional anxiety on both our parts).
     During my high school career, I spent periods 1 through 5 hungering for Period 6, which, you guessed it, was ART.  My first real art teacher was a no-nonsense, no bullshit, no whining, workaholic named Amado Peña.
     Many of you will know his work, but I realize now that to know the man, is something special.  Peña taught an art class the way a drill sergeant moves through the unmotivated.  I can still hear him instructing us in his own curt, understated way:  “Fundamentals!   Draw!   Do It Again, It’s Crap!   Not Good Enough!   Fundamentals!  Draw Some More!”  If you didn’t really want to be there, he would politely ask you to leave.  The second time wasn’t so polite.
     The first 6 weeks his class consisted of painting a series of still life objects.  Done again and again.  To hit an obvious snag in technique meant a trip to the man’s drawing table.
     Peña’s solutions were direct and concise…. “This is wrong.  Fix it!”  Then to our (the collective class) horror, he would circle said problem in red sharpie.
     What’s the lesson here?  Several come to mind.
1.  Your drawing isn’t sacred until it’s good.  It isn’t good until it’s right.  And it can’t be right if it’s got a big-ass red circle on it!  (Somewhat self-explanatory).
2.   From the beginning, you need to understand that you and “Rejection” will become best friends.  Hey, you also need to know that he’s going to be routinely dropping by with his buddy “Murphy” for the remainder of your art career.  (And you chose Watercolor!  LOL).
3.  Take the time to get it right!  If a man is going to hack an angry red circle on your drawing, you start to learn to focus.  Quality suddenly becomes the real goal, and you start thinking, “Hey, I’m beginning to develop a real work ethic here!”
     These may seem like mundane points, but looking back I see that this period of my life was an awesome baby step.
     Peña also taught his top-tier students (meaning those with clear intentions of taking the artistic off-ramp) how to start thinking like an artist.  To him, Art was a serious profession and it demanded a certain level of respect.  I still maintain that level of respect for my craft and do my best to instill it in my art friends.  In my world, William Matthews exemplifies this same sentiment and I’ve always respected his knowledge and philosophy on Art.
     Honestly, I launched an Attila the Hun attack and burned all my other academic boats, so Art Period 6 was it----I was all in!
     Amado Peña was a Godsend when I needed him most.  He left L.C. Anderson High School in Austin, Texas after my senior year to go full-time Pro.  But, in my opinion,  he was a full-time Pro when he was a Teacher.

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.  Images © Amado Pena.


  1. Cool post. Nice to reflect back on those that have helped us along the way.

  2. Mark, this was a fabulous tribute. Thank you for posting it.

  3. I have thanked him in person a few times, when we have been fortunate to be exhibiting at the same show. I also felt he deserved public affirmation for inspiring me as a young artist.

  4. Quite a nice start, any other of his former students working artists that you know of?

  5. You know, David, I know that several of them went straight into an art career right out of college, unlike me. The only one that I have kept up with is Mary Frasier of Austin. We have seen each other on the show circuit from time to time and reminisce about the good ol' days!