Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Quiet Paintings That Speak Volumes

     I know.  C’mon, admit it.  You are upset with me.  Not one watercolor artist until now?!?  Well, I saved the best for last for several reasons.  I’ll come right out and say it:  no single artist has had a more profound impact on my work than Thomas A. Daly.
     I, like Daly, have a huge appreciation for the works of Chardin.  Growing up in the sporting life, no woodsman can see the fruits of his labor through Chardin’s eyes and not be moved.  Daly quietly picks up the ball and moves farther with this theme.  Thomas Aquinas Daly is a master painter.
     Why did I save this one for last?  First, because Daly is the one artist that I feel moves between watercolor and oil painting in a seamless manner.  What I mentioned in yesterday’s post that could be learned from Michael Workman, can also be applied to Daly’s work.  His watercolors are made stronger by his oil paintings and if we could ask him, I bet he would acknowledge that his oils were deeply affected by his mastery of watercolor.
     I have studied Thomas Daly’s writings and paintings and I have recommended his book Nature’s Quiet Places several times.  This brings me to my second point in explaining, “Why is Daly last?”  If you read Mr. Daly’s book, you will see that he encompasses all the things we discussed this week.

Afternoon Olives
By Thomas A. Daly

     What is most fascinating about this man is that he lives his art.  In no uncertain terms he IS his art.  The emotional connections of his daily life – hunting, archery, fly-fishing, carving decoys or making his own skiff – all come together to create his unique vision that is nothing more than an image of himself.  Yes, his paintings will live on, and in every painting you see the man.
    Please consider Mr. Daly’s book for your collection.  The pearls of artistic wisdom are too numerous to count.  He gives us real content we can grab hold of and use; big concepts that will carry over to any subject matter you choose.  This is why I saved his impact on me until the end.
     Let me explain further:  what I find so incredibly influential about Daly’s advice is his ability to simplify.  His painting style simplifies the landscape into daubs of color, placed in just the right spot on paper or canvas.  If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed about where to begin a painting, Daly will sum it up for you nicely:  “The subject must be regarded in a purely abstract sense, completely devoid of an identity.  Thus, instead of seeing a rabbit or a kettle, I have altered my thought process to envision an array of colored shapes, delicately juxtaposed in almost a mosaic fashion.  If successfully translated into paint, that vision will inherently depict the subject’s texture simply as a by-product of good painting.”
      Enough said!  I hope you will consider his words and his paintings.  If taken with sincere appreciation, they will find their way into your own subjects, and maybe someday you will be the “Daly” for another young artist.

Image © Thomas Daly.  Content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Man of Texture

     I saw my first Michael Workman painting about 12 to 15 years ago at Meyer Gallery in Santa Fe.  I was dumbfounded and speechless as I studied what Workman could do with paint.  Then several years later, my friend Chris McLarry (owner of McLarry Fine Art) bought a fantastic Workman painting, that I now get to visit and scrutinize on a regular basis.
     I’ve never met Michael, but I know several artists who have and he sounds like a wonderful person.  He routinely gives workshops around the country and seeks to help painters improve their craft.
     Michael Workman grew up in Highland, Utah, a rural high desert town that has been the impetus and inspiration for his paintings.  At, there are two paintings that really capture my attention:  “Summer Cows” (see in Art For Sale gallery) and “View Toward Mora With Cows” (in Recent Works gallery).
     “Summer Cows” reminds me of that first chance meeting with a Workman painting.  Workman’s layering and paint texture are a force of their own.  No one handles edges like he does.  The blend of soft and hard edges in his work, as well as good drawing, are where the impact of his work has an effect on me.  Also, note how he uses the edge of the painting.  The underpainting becomes a huge part of the impact of the overall work.

"View Toward Mora With Cows"
by Michael Workman

      In the Recent Work gallery you will find a series of smaller paintings with a very early summer feel to them.  The greens are handled magnificently.  If you have trouble with greens, look at this series of paintings.  Workman’s subtle color changes and variegations are masterful.
      The painting titled “View Toward Mora With Cows” has great atmospheric qualities on the mountain background.  Also note that the extreme foreground is handled very loosely, but reads perfectly.  This is an oil painter that can teach us watercolorists about broad areas of color and foregrounds, and how to use his handling of the subject to our benefit.  Check out “Mora River with Cows #2” and see how simplified the foreground is.  This can be adapted to watercolor!
      Please stop and take the time to view these master works.  They will only serve to improve your own painting and inspire you to achieve greater things. 

Image © Michael Workman.  Content © Mark Kohler.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Immerse Yourself In Your Subject

     I like a lot of Western artists, but one stands head and shoulders above the fray.  His name is Bill Owen.  Bill has been a member of the Cowboy Artists of America since 1973, and in my opinion, he has continually produced the highest caliber body of work.
     Bill has shown at everything from the Grand Palais in Paris, France to art shows in Beijing, China.  He has participated in every great Western Art show in the States, including the Prix de West and the C.A. shows.
     The first time I ever met Bill was at the Cow Punchers Reunion in Williams, Arizona, about 4 or 5 years ago.  Bill and I were in the same empty bucking chute, photographing cowboy bronc rides.  We both took the same photo of Cody LaSeur sailing headfirst over a big black bronc.  (Truth in advertising laws require that I admit Bill’s painting sold for fifteen times mine).
     I found out several things that day.  Bill Owen is a nice man and a class act.  I also noticed that Bill immersed himself in his subjects.  Bill has owned cattle ranches and knows cowboys and their craft intimately.  But the image that stands out in my mind is one of Bill shaking hands and strolling through friendships that were many years old.
     I think that Bill teaches us that we must strive for perfection in our craft and know our subject in every possible aspect.
     Visit Bill’s website and look at the quality of his work.  I especially enjoyed reading about how a painting titled “Leading In A Maverick” came to fruition. (Click on the Journal tab).  This alone should give any young new artist great insight on how to develop a painting, and the work and research that are required to execute such a difficult painting.
     His work, as all good work usually is, is rooted in fundamentals:  good drawing, good composition and good stories.  Bill Owen is not only a cowboy’s artist, but he’s an artist’s artist.  And that is no easy feat.

Images © Bill Owen.  Content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Technician

     When people ask me who my favorite artist is, I toss it around a bit and generally come back to my preferred artistic technician, Jacob Collins.  I’ll let you read his resume and artistic credentials at  It is impressive and thorough.
     It is rather difficult to study with such a great artist, even though he has established several ateliers, and continues to teach even today.  I suppose someday he will provide insight to the masses.  But transferring his type of wisdom doesn’t come easy and it can’t be obtained through any self-taught discipline.  It’s the same reason there are no self-taught black belt masters or brain surgeons.
     The very nature of atelier drawing is rooted in the apprenticeship method of learning.  I would point you to one of the best books available on the subject.  The book is titled “Classical Drawing Atelier” by Juliette Aristides, and several works by Jacob Collins grace its pages.  I suppose with the Charles Barque drawing book and the Aristides book, you could launch yourself a great deal of the way down the road.  Collins’ mastery of his craft is remarkable, and I consider him a true Master Artist.
     His website is full of drawings and paintings that continue to motivate and inspire me.  Within his drawings section, notice the working sketch titled “Study For a Red Head”.  This drawing of a woman’s torso will show you how in-depth Collins’ pre-study and working sketch information is.  Notice that nothing is being left to chance.
The drawing and painting, both titled “Carolina”, are among my personal favorites.  I saw a photo of this painting several months ago and Pam was able to locate the show booklet, so I could study the painting in more depth.
     In many ways I feel access to someone with Collins’ skill level is difficult to obtain without taking a three-year sabbatical to study in Italy or New York.  Maybe this is a self-imposed obstacle commonly known as “a good excuse”.   In the meantime, I will keep the bar high for myself, and seek inspiration and knowledge from great artists like Jacob Collins.  See if his work doesn’t inspire you.   

Images © Jacob Collins.  Content © Mark Kohler.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Out Of The Box

     I thought this week I might try something a bit different.  I want to introduce you to some of my favorite artists; what I like about their work and how I try to incorporate what they are accomplishing into my work.
      The first artist that I think we can all grab some inspiration from is Jon David Kassan.  I will skip the bio information, because my intention is for you to spend this time studying this young artist’s work.  His website is and I would ask that you spend some time reviewing both his drawings, as well as his paintings.
     Please don’t think that since Kassan doesn’t do watercolors, we have nothing to glean.  I have watched his drawing demo video on YouTube, titled “Salmagundi Club Drawing Video”, many times.  This is a most informative 7 minute 55 second video.  Notice how the drawing moves through a measuring with straight lines, to a block-in with a separation of shadow side and lit side, to establishing dark darks, turning of form and finally, highlights with chalk.  This is traditional drawing at its very best. 
     Kassan says on his website, “I am interested in the concept of a painting’s technical and transformative powers”.  If you watch this Salmagundi demonstration, you will be witness to his statement.
Kassan uses the Brushes app
on the iPad to create this piece
     Another video I beg you to watch is his demonstration on the Apple iPad.  Kassan is not only a technical genius with brush or pencil, but he understands self-marketing maybe better than any artist I’ve come across.  The video titled “Finger painting on the Apple iPad” is a mesmerizing feat on two fronts.  First, is his absolute complete and total mastery of his drawing craft with any medium, including a new electronic one.  Second, you will notice at the end of the 7:51 demo, that there is a tag line that says, “streamed live from Brooklyn, New York.”  This may be why this video has captured well over 1,000,000 hits.  Apple would be wise to use this demo in their advertising.
     We must make the effort to learn from “out of the box” thinkers like Kassan.  He has much to teach us if we are willing to take it all in.
     He also reiterates what I mentioned last week in my post “Time Stealers”.  Kassan says, “Time is the most valuable thing we have; the one aspect of daily life that we cannot get back once it’s gone.”
      He’s absolutely right.  You’re an artist and time to create is limited.  Get busy and learn from everyone you can.  Start here with David Kassan. 

Images © Jon David Kassan.  Content © Mark Kohler.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Travels Out West: Battle Mountain, Nevada

Over the past week or so, I've shared posts about my recent trip to Nevada. Now I'd like to share a video that Pam shot. This is just a glimpse of the amazing people who live this lifestyle, and I think you'll see why I'm passionate about them. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Coyote Dun

     If any of you are familiar with my collection of work, then you know that I am partial to portraits of horses.  They each have their own personality and their own story.  The following is one of my favorites, and as it turns out, a favorite of everyone.
     The Coyote Dun is my most popular-selling print to western art enthusiasts; far out-selling the others.  And to the cowboy crowd, it is so popular that it appears on the outside of my good friend Chris's horse trailer, and on the back of a cowgirl as a full-blown tattoo!  I can't say that I ever imagined that application when I decided to tell the Coyote's story.  But there is something about his pose and bearing that captures the hearts of all who see him.  I hope he speaks to you.

The Coyote Dun
I took this shot of one of Shawn's favorite saddle horses.  He's a big old dun horse with a real blue, dark mane, black socks and a little coyote in him.  Shawn had just finished working on him and gone to the branding pen to start up the burners for the branding irons.  I snapped three or four shots with the horse's back bowed because he was about half asleep on his feet from working.  Shawn pushes him pretty hard, I guess, for a ranch horse. 

I visited Shawn just a couple of weeks ago and we reminisced about the Coyote Dun.  It's been over 12 years since I captured his iconic image, and both mine and Shawn's paths have taken many turns.  But the memories of the Coyote Dun are still as strong as the day I laid paint to paper.   May he live forever!

Here's wishing you a great weekend and I'll see you back here on Monday!

All content and image © Mark Kohler


Friday, October 22, 2010


     It’s a one-word answer that artists rarely use.  I know, we are the sensitive types who don’t want to walk on others’ feelings.  But if you want to produce good work, adding “No” to your vocabulary is a must.
     “Time-stealers” come in several categories, and I’ve broken today’s post into the three that torpedo me the most: 

     The Drop-By
     This is usually an art appreciator in some regard; however, they rarely purchase anything and there is no clear purpose to their visit.  To say they are the “art groupie” type sounds a bit vain, but it’s the best description of this type of time-stealer.  They actually get more enjoyment by knowing an artist, than by purchasing the artist’s work.  If you don’t know these folks, don’t worry, you will.  They are masters of their craft.
     Many times, they will bring their friends to meet you during their extended visit.  Kiss your next 2-½ hours good-bye because the DROP-BYS don’t take subtleties or hints at all.  Consider going to lunch or providing a free print to move them on their way; but start working towards the door as soon as they arrive or you might still have them at nightfall.
     I write this hesitantly, because I do welcome sincerely interested art appreciators to my studio at anytime.  They often bring a fresh infusion of encouragement and motivation.  But the Drop-By never calls and never knows when to leave.

     The Hangout
     These guys mistake your art studio for a saddle shop.  They put you down as a stop to be made on a routine basis, and if I owned a saddle shop, they might be good to have around.  But trying to make painting decisions with three of your closest hunting or roping buddies is no way to create good art.  The Hangout generally doesn’t get what you do, or what it takes to do what you do, so clearing your room is going to be uncomfortable and awkward.  Being up front and direct is the best way.  They don’t mean to, but The Hangout gang will suck the life out of your creativity.  Handle it!

     The Favor Gang
     This group works together as a collective.  They don’t realize it, but combined, they are death by a thousand cuts for a producer.  One wants you to do a small painting for his business card; another for his mother’s 34th divorce anniversary…. Did you know the high school in town needs a muralist for “Oklahoma” sets?  The production is next week!  This is where the magic word “NO” comes in. 
     Some of the folks just expect you’ll do it because they know you.  You must have them put some skin in the game or you will resent what they’ve done to your work schedule.  Trade, barter, or give them a reduced price, but freebies will again suck the artistic life from you.

     The truth is, these people are fans and generally appreciate you for your abilities.  And some decorum is necessary, as we all want to be civil in these matters.
     But your time is all you have.  Don’t let trivialities use up this prime time of your artistic life.  Set some ground rules and hold fast.
All content © Mark Kohler Studio.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thoughts Are Things

     Remember that “Old School” talk we had last week?  Now I’m going to really out myself.  Today’s post is about a book I feel people who are pursuing a passion must read.  First published in 1937 by Napoleon Hill, the book definitely qualifies for “Old School” thinking.  Many of my friends accuse me of being a pessimist.  Actually, they mistake my direct opinion and forward nature for a “doom and gloom” attitude.   I consider myself a realist.  I’m a firm believer in “good stuff in”—“good stuff out”.  That’s where Think and Grow Rich comes in.
     For a person who is pursuing their passion, Think and Grow Rich is the Alla Prima (by Richard Schmid) of “positive thought” books.  It gives you the tools to follow your passion and persist in the face of overwhelming odds.
     A close friend of my father first gave me this book.  His name was Brue Alford, and he was a successful man by any measure or standard.  Brue would accept you where you were, but he had a way of moving the expectation bar higher, and wanting you to achieve that mark.  However, he did it with the kindest and most sincere motivation I have ever seen.
     You know how much I lean on The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield.  With these two books, an artist has the essential information needed to trudge on when things get tough.  Being a full-time artist demands not only your time (and lots of it, at that), but it makes demands on your soul.  If you fail to put your soul into your painting, the collector will see right through you, not to mention your art peers.
     Think and Grow Rich has chapters that start with Desire, Faith, Imagination… just to name a few.  This book was made for dreamers.  It was made for us!
     I won’t give you a blow-by-blow critique, but I do want to give you one of my favorite stories from the book.  It’s in the chapter, “Thoughts are Things”, with the subhead “Three Feet From Gold”.  This section has but a few paragraphs and is a small story to illustrate one of the most common causes of failure, which is QUITTING when we are overtaken by temporary defeat.
     To summarize, a man named Darby got caught up in the Gold Rush in Colorado.  He struck a large vein, bought a drilling machine and went to work.  After one mining cart was filled with gold, the vein ran out.  Darby drilled on and wasn’t able to locate the vein.  HE QUIT and sold his drilling machinery to a junk man for a few hundred dollars.  The junk man, not satisfied with the end of the story, called in a mining engineer.  The engineer quickly determined that Darby wasn’t aware of a fault line that moved the vein.  The vein was located 3 feet from where Darby had stopped drilling.  The junk man retired a millionaire.
     I think this analogy applies to many young artists.  How many quit or toss in the towel after a tough show or failed painting?  How many say, “I can’t draw” or “I’m just not a natural with color”?  You only fail if you quit.
     Sure, Think and Grow Rich is old and outdated, and I bet Oprah has some young new talent who would have us Zen our way to success, but I’m “Old School”, so I’ll be just fine with Andrew Carnegie and Napoleon Hill, if you don’t mind.  Give them a try!

In celebration of my 100th post today, I would like to offer a free coffee table book of my work to the person who posts the most inspiring comment.  I appreciate all of you who come to this blog to read whatever ramblings, masked as pearls of wisdom, that I decide to share each day.  I appreciate you all!

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Leaning On My Favorite Drawing Aids

     Today’s post will be strictly informative and to the point.  I want to cover three of my favorite drawing aids.  They encompass and are tailored to specific, yet different situations.  They are the 1/10ths clear sewing ruler, the proportional divider and the 10” knitting needle.
     As you know, I am a fan of measuring my drawing as I go.  I suggest adopting an Atelier-style drawing program as a good starting point, and then tailoring it to your specific needs.

     Let’s start with my favorite tool:  the clear 1/10th sewing ruler.  The portrait artist Chris Saper turned me on to this little gem about 5 years ago, while we were both exhibiting at a show.  The strength of the 1/10th ruler is its’ use for drawing “from the flat”, as the atelier school would call it.  The 1/10th ruler is also valuable when working from photos.  Size your photo to the size of your painting and start your drawing like my early post titled Cowboy Demo Day 1.   The drawing is dated Wednesday, July 21, 2010.  This post gives detailed information on using the ruler.

     My second favorite drawing aid is best used in a life-drawing atmosphere, utilizing either the cast or the live model.  I have used it on both and find it a necessary friend when measuring from life.  If you have ever used the sight size method, you probably have used your pencil or brush handle for this purpose.  I like having a tool designated for the job at hand.

     A Canadian artist named Juan Martinez gives a great demo in one of the back issues of International Artist.  (Issue #42-47, “The Academy Way).  You can call them to order previous issues.  Please consider adding the sight size method to your drawing arsenal.
     My final drawing aid is a great tool when working from life and you wish to enlarge or reduce the size of your subject in relation to your canvas.  The device is called a proportional divider.  By measuring off the small end and using the opposite larger end, you can enlarge your drawing proportionally.  This tool is somewhat difficult to describe in print, and requires some tinkering to get familiar with, but it is a great drawing resource.  You can get one from Mark Carder, who has demonstrated a great drawing and painting method that I feel is worth viewing.  Check out Mark’s great DVD series and you can purchase his divider at
     I’ve just lightly touched on these drawing aids, but you will find them all a welcome friend around your studio.  No doubt, if you are reading this blog, you are a self-starter, so take the initiative and start teaching yourself to use these drawing aids.  They will increase the accuracy and quality of your drawings.  Good luck!

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dally and Riata

     You may know that Pam and I just completed a cowboy jog out West and that one of my stops was Battle Mountain, Nevada.  I’ve been friends with the Goemmer family for many years.   Since the beginning of my art career, they have played a huge role in whatever success I have accomplished.  We’ve been friends long enough to see their girls grow up and to see them progress from “ranch kids” to “handy kids” in a very short time.
(L to R) Mindy, Riata, Dally and Shawn Goemmer 
      Shawn said he basically runs 400,000 acres with his wife, Mindy, and two young daughters.  At first, this might sound outlandish and unbelievable, but to see these two young girls go about the business of handling their own mounts and working cows is to clarify any misgivings you may have had.
     Ranch life is all they’ve ever known, and for generations, the Goemmer family has been steeped in the traditions of raising cattle.  One of the reasons I was so drawn to Shawn and Mindy was their adherence to the customs and rituals of the Old West.  You won’t find helicopters, four-wheelers or squeeze chutes on any of Shawn’s operations.  Everything is accomplished on horseback, and brandings consist of time-honored methods of roping and dragging to the fire.  The Cowboy Code is alive and well if you’re associated with Shawn.
     And you’re never too young to start learning.  Dally and Riata are not only home-schooled in the customary subjects that our society requires, but they are receiving an education that no city kid would ever dream of.  They were horseback before they could walk, and they’ve learned to count on their wits and common sense to get ahead.
     Pam and I watched them take off alone, over sage-brushed terrain, in search of cattle spread over countless acres; gathering and driving them to the branding pens, nearly 4 miles away.  Their parents each went in an opposite direction, and they would all meet up, pushing cattle to the pens, in a little over an hour. Shawn’s only word of caution was to make sure they had their cell phone and their pocketknives.  In my eyes, they lead an extraordinary life.  To them, it’s just how they live.
    Dally and Riata are very different in personality, yet very much the same in attitude.  We hadn’t seen them in probably 4 or 5 years, so they were naturally cautious, as ranch kids will be.  But once we earned their trust, they were warm and friendly, and ready to tell us about their rodeo winnings from the year.
     Riata is 10 years old and bleeds all things cowboy.  Shawn said the colder, wetter, dustier, and harder the cow work, the more she revels in it.  She goes about her work in a very quiet and intense way.
     Dally is 12 and seems to be a bit more jovial with the task.  She is a jokester and doesn’t mind giving her ol’ dad a hard time whenever she can.  She handles the work in a light-hearted manner, but don’t think for one minute that she’s less capable. 
Jette Black (L) and Dally
     I also watched both Dally and Riata go out of their way to help the younger neighbor children who were learning the intricacies of the branding pen.  They each showed amazing patience and grace for ones so young themselves, and gave constant support to the novices.  I watched them nurture and encourage a young 8 year-old cowgirl named Jette Black, whose confidence grew under their tutelage.
     I took some great working photos of the two sisters, but the picture I was most excited about was an interior shot of the girls.  (It reminded me of something Gordon Snidow might paint).  The dark shadows of the interior and the serious nature of the pose were fantastic.  I’m still not sure how to strategically attack this painting, but I am looking forward to it.
Riata (L) and Dally Goemmer
    I suppose the long road to Nevada will keep us at bay for a few more years, but I am most excited about our next visit.  Dally and Riata will be around 16 and 14, and will be seriously handy ranch kids at that age.  Their skills under Shawn and Mindy are compounding rapidly and I look forward to the gift of being able to document and paint their progress.  Once again, “Thanks” seems too trivial a word for what the Goemmers have given us.  I’m indebted to you, Dal and Ri.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The High Jump Theory

     I spent a great weekend in Post, Texas gathering painting material at a Bronc Ride.  I always feel grounded hanging around real working cowboys.  I spent most of my time with a fellow watercolor artist, who is also a good friend.  The food choices in Post are sketchy at best and the town was completely overwhelmed by the throngs of attendees, so my artist friend and I bugged out for the nearest steak house, 26 miles away in Lubbock.
     Our conversation ran the gamut from cowboys, tack, the local ranches, and of course, Art (specifically the intricacies of watercolor).
     On the drive home, my friend, who is very accomplished at his craft, was discussing how to climb to the next level.  I found this conversation very engaging because, as artists, this is the one thing we all share in common.  Whether you are an absolute beginner or a seasoned high-earning professional, we all seek to improve our technique and climb to another rung on the artistic ladder.
     We shared our similarities in having breakthroughs, and discussed our expectations of watercolor.  I asked my friend if he felt watercolor has, in any way, ever been limiting.  This question is very likely the same for all of us in some regard.  I’m sure oil painters, pastel pushers, and those who choose a monochromatic media like pencil ask this same question. 
     Our shared goal is to tell a story, or express a vision of something that lives inside us.  Early in our career, making huge strides is exhilarating, and we can see our progress.  But the closer we move to perfecting our craft, we see the strides become shorter and shorter.
     I was thinking about this on my drive home, and the best analogy that illustrates this, in my opinion, is the high jump. The bar from 1 foot to 3 feet is an easy road, with possibilities of great improvement.  Like in our craft, the strides are great, and we make huge headway in our skills.  Then as we close in on becoming a proficient high jumper, our success is measured in fractions of an inch.  Now we must perfect our technique with fine control, making micro adjustments to what works, only to gain so very little.
     It is the same with our artistic craft.  The basics are gone rather quickly, and we find ourselves at one of the rungs, moving the fine tuner and searching for that breakthrough.  The only way we don’t get there is to quit. 
     As artists, we must embrace the frustration that is a parallel partner with the breakthrough.  They exist in a symbiotic universe; one with the other.  My friend said he now enjoys the frustration of a breakthrough because he knows it’s time, and now starts to prepare, to climb another rung.
     So, if you’re frustrated, congratulations!  You’re well on your way to becoming an artistic high jumper.

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Thoughts of Lowell

     Two nights ago, I got a call from my good friend Shawn Goemmer.  I have just returned from visiting him and his wife, Mindy, and their family in Battle Mountain, NV, where I was able to get some amazing photos for future paintings.  Shawn has been very instrumental in my career.  Not only have I painted him more than any other cowboy, but also he has opened doors for me into the cowboy culture that I would never have had access to without his introduction.
     If you possess my coffee table book, then you will see what a great subject he is.  He embodies all the distinctive and honorable traits of the American cowboy, and I am proud to call him my friend. 
     But his phone call bore some bad news.  You see, Shawn comes from pure cowboy stock.  His dad, Lowell, ranches on 50,000 acres in New Mexico, and has been a favorite subject as well.  He is as tough as they come.  But Shawn was calling to tell me that his dad had been involved in a roping accident, and it was pretty bad.  He had lost his thumb in an unfortunate dally, and they were fighting to save it and reattach it.  Lowell is no stranger to horse wrecks; a broken pelvis and being drug by a spooked horse are just a couple of his adventures.  But he always comes back stronger and tougher. 
     I’ve known Lowell for over 15 years, ever since my career started, and I have no doubt he’ll overcome this misfortune just as he has the others.  But if you’ve got an extra prayer lying around, I’d appreciate one for Lowell.  Here is one of my favorite paintings of Lowell, and the story behind it.

Lowell Goemmer

This cowboy’s name is Lowell Goemmer.  He is quite a character and tough as nails.  I first met him when he was still at La Veta, Colorado, before he moved on to Willard, New Mexico.  He told me both of his sons are ranchers on pretty big outfits that they run themselves.  I think he gets a lot of satisfaction seeing that his kids went with ranching; fighting the good fight in a tough world and holding their own.

All content and image © Mark Kohler Studio.

I'll be off tomorrow, but I'll see you back here on Monday. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

I Think Galleries Have A Big Problem

     In my opinion, galleries just don’t get it, and I dare say galleries are thinking, “Generally speaking, artists just don’t get it.”  Perspective is everything.  Please don’t get me wrong.   This isn’t a rant about galleries.  Instead, I’d like to tighten up the focus and delve into the Artist/New Media relationship.
     I admit that I was a latecomer in jumping on this train, but the importance of this new direction hit me squarely between the eyes, when I took a critical look at the music industry. 
     For years, the major labels, just like in Vegas, held all the cards and owned the dealer.  Then seemingly overnight, the customer could go to Itunes and pay $1 to get the one good song that had previously cost him $19, when he had to buy the whole album or CD.  And now you could skip the other 14 songs on the CD that you never listened to anyway.
     I believe that very soon the musical Artists will detour the Music Label Machine altogether.  Check out Kid Rock’s marketing savvy.   He’s even bypassing Itunes and selling his music himself!
     So where do we fit in?  Well, using the internet and our websites seem pretty much unchanged.  However, we now have ways to drive or funnel art appreciators to our website images without magazines or galleries.
     Facebook allows an inquiry to become a “Friend” and allows the artist to converse in a very casual manner with appreciators of your work, your lifestyle and your vision.  They are very serious about deterring the hocking of your wares, so you need to get out of a business model and into a casual conversation model.  Facebook is for meeting new people and introducing yourself.  They will find their way to your website, where your work will speak for itself.
     So what’s the future?  I’m sure it will change many times in the coming years.  Google ate Yahoo, and Facebook ate MySpace.  YouTube is the second largest search engine, behind Google.  Things change fast in the New Media.  Keep your eyes open and look for the next thing.  It will come at some point and you need to be prepared to jump aboard.
     But I think the galleries need to rethink their business model.  It’s showing signs of becoming antiquated and I see no indication that gallery owners or art magazines are aware of the paradigm shift that has taken place.  This New Media train is coming fast.  Figure out how to get on!   

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

You Can't Mix Work and Play

     I know the title of today's blog post sounds trite and trivial, but in this case, it’s the truth.  When it comes to procuring research material, the time spent behind the sketchbook and camera are, I find, the most fruitful, next to actual painting time.
     However, in my case, the temptation is to always leave my work behind and saddle a horse and be with the cow crew, or load my gun and head out with the bird dogs and shooters.  It’s easy to forget that I’m there in a professional role and my purpose is to gather images, not partake in the proceedings.  In both cases it requires a strict discipline to leave the gun and saddle in the truck.
    But, Mark, you might ask, “Aren’t the best images where those guys are?”  Yes and No.  It requires looking at the opportunity you’re given and trying to make an informed decision.
     I’ve learned that big gathers rarely translate into spectacular images, but once in the branding pens, or when horses are being roped, it usually means there are photos everywhere.  You’ve got to be where the action is, but once there, you should slow down and look for good vantage points and good subjects.
     Trying to shoot from horseback while gathering generally results in a poor composition, unless I pull away from the activity.  I am usually wary of creating a distraction to the cattle, so in my opinion, it’s better to wait for a more controlled area, like the pens. 

     It’s very much the same for shooting birds and hunting scenes, or fly-fishing subject matter.  I’ve discovered that trying to shoot birds over a dog with a camera is just not enjoyable for me.  So I much prefer to walk away from the subjects and start looking for paintings.  If I’m moving around pointing dogs, it isn’t a problem like moving around cattle.  And shooting images for fly-fishing paintings is the least imposing of all.  I’ve had good luck shooting fishermen without treading into their space at all.
     There’s a time to participate and a time to ply your craft.  Be a professional and get your work done, without getting in the way.  There will be a time to play on most every trip.  If the ranch needs you to work on the ground, then set the camera down and pull your weight.  (Or in my case, I send Pam into the fray---she has her own stories to tell!)
     Generally speaking, most of my photo gathering requires a lot of money, effort and travel, and is subject to conditions over which I have no control.  If the weather doesn’t cooperate, there is little I can do about it.  But when opportunity knocks, and offers good images, it’s time to get to work and act like a pro.  

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The New "Old School"

     It’s something that I pride myself on.  I’m not sure where it’s overwhelming influence emanates from.  Maybe it’s the people I come from, or the effects of the society I keep.  But nonetheless, it’s true.  I’m “Old School”.  I jostled this around in my head, trying to figure out why I’m constantly drawn to all things handmade, old and antiquated.
     Really, it’s not an affliction, but I have found myself in unique situations because of my appreciation of tradition.  Here’s an example:  Pam and I are in Montana roaming around an antique store, looking for interesting objects to add to a still-life painting.
     In every antique store, there is always one consignor who leans heavily toward hand tools.  Hand tools rarely fit into the type of still-lifes I enjoy painting, but I find myself holding a cobbler’s hammer, and I am completely enthralled with it’s small hickory handle that is as slick as porcelain from years of use in another “old-schooler’s” hand.  The sweeping curve of the claw and d the over-sized face of the hammer are, in themselves, a work of art.  Clean lines, American-made quality.  And I can’t put the damn thing down.  I decide I can’t justify the $25 price to Pam, without a vision of a painting nailed down, and yet it continues to haunt me these two weeks later.  Rest assured, I will buy the next one. 
     When I look at my entire existence, it’s clear.  I love traditional bows, both recurve and longbow.  And I prefer to shoot two-blade broadheads that haven’t changed in a thousand years.  I still enjoy the time spent sharpening them with a file. 
     There are split bamboo fly rods, leather goods, silver work, wool jackets (Filson or Bemidji).  For knives, it’s carbon steel over stainless (preferably 01 or D2 tool steel).  Maybe it actually is an affliction!
     I like Japanese water stones and oilstones over any modern sharpening widget.  Give me a Dutch Oven (Griswold), old butcher knives, lever guns, and I damn sure want my film camera back.
     I know this world is out-pacing my bush craft ways, and me and in many regards, I must find a way to embrace new technology, new media and a future, that on first appearance, will spit me out.
     But the real truth is I fight back in my own way.  Pam and I, if nothing else, chose our own road.  We turned our back on the ‘burb house (with two trees of your choice), company car, and profit sharing.  We built our own version of a secluded homestead.  I have the dog kennels I can’t live without and the music of coyotes most every night.
     I have chosen a simple life of painting what I choose to paint, and refining and reveling in all things “old school”.  All indications are that this world is changing fast and might get tougher from here on out.  Who knows…. Maybe the new “Old School” is coming back around.  Count me in!

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Blue Stingray Shirt

     Here’s a funny little story that most artists who do commissions can probably relate to.  Many years ago I was in Montana gathering reference photos of some cowboys that once worked on the legendary Flying D Ranch, out of Bozeman, MT.
     I had saddled a horse for the morning circle, which would be a rather long gather.  The guys were gathering around a small mountain, but had to kick some of the cattle from off the top of the little peak.  We made the full circle and pushed the stragglers into a small trap.
     My circle brought me up last, so I ended up near the end of the herd.  Several dudes who were attending a horse clinic nearby worked their way into the gather and it just so happened the rider that fell in next to me, was one of these clinic dudes.
     We engaged in small talk while I shot several photos of the moving cattle toward the trap.  The gentleman had seen my work and inquired about me shooting some photos of h is wife, who was also attending the clinic, for a commissioned painting.  We discussed my price and my terms and he instructed me that I must photograph her in a “Stingray Blue shirt”.   (It’s a classic Corvette color, and would be easy to distinguish).  So far, so good.
     The next day we branded a small bunch, and gathered a small little trap next to headquarters.  The Dude and his wife are untrailering horses and she’s wearing an electric blue shirt.  I make a mental note to work near her end of the gather to shoot photos for the painting.
     Over the course of the morning ride, I got what I needed to do the piece.  Typical of my process, I tell the gentleman that I will forward the painting, and if he agrees that I’ve captured the likeness of his wife, then he would send me a check.  I returned home several days later, took care of some deadline paintings, and then proceeded to tackle the commission.

     The painting was rather cut and dry.  The subject was a very attractive woman and she was mounted on a very expensive and superbly confirmed horse.  I framed it, boxed it and shipped it with an invoice.
     About two weeks passed and the gentleman phones me and says, “We have a problem”.  I ask him if he feels like I didn’t capture an appropriate portrayal of his wife.  “No, Mark, it looks just like her.  I mean, you captured her perfectly and you nailed her horse---the horse looks awesome!”
     I’m at a loss for words.  “Well, what’s the problem?  Do I need to change out the frame?”  “No, the frame is perfect.  The problem is, Mark, ….” .  He pauses for effect.  Yes?  “The problem is, it’s the wrong Stingray Blue shirt.” 
     I know I matched the color in the photo perfectly, because I had purchased a new tube of blue that was a dead ringer for the shirt --- almost right from the tube!  The gentleman explains to me that the color was perfect, but she wore the short-sleeved shirt, and he wanted the long sleeve shirt.  At first, he tried to say that I had missed photographing her in the correct shirt.  But I told him that she had only worn one blue shirt during my stay, and this was it.
     Long story short, he mails the painting back to Texas from the West Coast, and actually enclosed in my shipping crate, is the long-sleeved shirt for my review.  He writes me a note and says, “Here’s the shirt I would like to appear in the painting.  Please add sleeves onto the painting and reship it to me.”
     First I hit the roof, and then, re-gaining my professionalism, I hit the phone.  I explain to the guy that watercolor doesn’t work like oil paint.  We don’t just add sleeves.  I offer the painting at a wildly reduced rate to save the sale, thinking,  “Maybe he’s just horse-trading me.”  He refuses.  He wants sleeves!  I realize the painting is about nothing more than the shirt, and his power.  I set my jaw and inform him that I will not be able to accommodate him.  We go our separate ways.
     But the painting was not wasted.  Stephanie, a close personal friend of Pam’s and mine, had desired an original painting for quite some time.  She was gifted this one.  At least she would appreciate it far beyond the West Coast Dude.
     Flash forward a couple of years.  I am exhibiting at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, when who should walk into my booth, but the Dude.  I recognize him instantly, but he doesn’t acknowledge me at all.  I play it cool and continue to chat with Pam.  He studies one of my paintings, and then I see him scanning my signature.  He turns 180Âș to look at my booth sign:  “Mark Kohler Watercolors”.
     I see the blood drain out of his face.  He slumps and approaches me and sticks his hand out.  We shake and exchange pleasantries.   He looks at my wall of paintings, then turns back and quietly says, “I should have kept that painting, shouldn’t I?”  I said, “Yes, you should have.”  “Is it still available?”  “No, I gave it to a collector who really appreciated the subject.”  He just grimaces and walks off quietly.  Although I held no animosity for the Dude, there was a small amount of satisfaction in knowing he regretted his power play.  And there was great pleasure in knowing that Stephanie is enjoying the painting.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.


Monday, October 11, 2010

"How Long Does It Take To Do A Painting?"

      Have you ever heard the “Picasso Napkin Story”?  It goes something like this ….. Picasso is sitting in a Paris cafĂ©, when a woman and admirer of his work approaches.  She asks if he would do a quick sketch on a paper cocktail napkin.  Picasso politely agrees and deftly executes a one-minute sketch.  While handing it to the woman, he asks for a rather significant sum of money.
     The madame is shocked!  “But sir, how can you ask such a princely sum?  This drawing only took one minute.”  Picasso quickly reclaims the sketch, and replies, “Madame, this sketch has taken me 40 years!”
     Picasso makes a great point.  What we should learn from his witty remark is this:  the time you’ve invested in a specific painting is the length of time to finish that painting plus the number of years you’ve logged in perfecting your craft.  Many, and I dare say most, collectors haven’t considered this point.  The price is relative to the time spent.
     Your collectors have no idea how much you have invested in art school, studio equipment, art supplies, frame shop equipment, art booth, art trailer, art books, trade publications, workshops and everything else I can’t think of right now.  I think if I liquidated just my store of watercolor paints and brushes, I could probably pay off a small country’s debt---at least Zimbabwe’s!
     I would also caution you that it’s really not the customer’s fault.  Many galleries use the square-inch measurement method to influence their artists’ pricing of their works.  In my opinion, this is an artificial process.   An elaborate 8 x 10 painting may have taken you four days to paint, while an 11 x 14 vignette could have taken half the time.  This tells me that many galleries don’t comprehend what it takes to produce a piece.  They have a slanted frame of reference to measure from…. namely, the sale.
West of Paulden
     Therefore, the question “How long does it take to do a painting?” must be met with careful consideration.  I think it is better to err on the side of longer than shorter, simply because of the perception that time should determine price. 
     It bothers me to hear artists say they knocked out two paintings before lunch and will complete two more before day’s end.  Can this really be quality work, deserving of the price they are asking?  This is a bit of an exaggeration, but we all know the type.
     My advice to you is this:  Take pride in the amount of time you’ve invested in your craft.  Your final product reflects your time and your soul.  Ultimately, the square inch, or the number of minutes to completion, should not dictate the price.  Your finished painting is a culmination of your vision, your experience and your sweat.   Only you can set the value of your work.  Treat it with respect.

Content and West of Paulden © Mark Kohler Studio.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fall of Warm Light

     If any of you have been following me on Facebook, then you know that it is hunting season in South Texas.  And this time of year combines two of my passions.  Being a hunter, I've always justified the Sporting Life, because I only kill what I eat.  But the line becomes a bit fuzzy on the subject of painting.
"Pheasant with Hunting Bag" by Chardin
      Chardin, Weenix, Van Aelst, or Oudry never broached the subject beyond technique.  These artists obviously conveyed an intimacy with their subject, and that is what I feel, as well.  The truth is, I have to paint what I know, and what ignites the passion.  I have tried to describe my deep feelings about the subject in the description below the painting.  
"The Fall of Warm Light"

This still life was born of the mesquite thorn’s branch.  Unlike, Pam, I find the South Texas brush exhilarating and romantic.  From my childhood, it was a special event to hunt south of San Antonio.  For a wide-eyed Central Texas boy, the brush country meant huge deer, large coveys, and javelinas.  For me, the romance of South Texas was linked to the disregard in which it is held.  The thorny brush takes care of itself and its inhabitants rather effectively.  Ironically, its upside is all it’s downside.  "The Fall of Warm Light" illustrates the natural symbiosis that exists between the land and the animals it cradles. 

Have a good weekend and I'll see you Monday!

All content © Mark Kohler.  "Pheasant and Hunting Bag" painted by Chardin. 


Friday, October 8, 2010

My Favorite Art Publications

     I was recently speaking with one of my many art friends on the phone, and we took a detour into discussing our favorite artist publications.  I told my friend I had paired down my previous plethora to only two.  Keep in mind, this is just my opinion, and I generally do find something of worth in every publication.
     The two publications that I consistently find worthwhile, and which have the best information in the areas of technique, theory and general art, are International Artist and American Artist Workshop.  International Artist is a monthly publication, and Workshop is a quarterly.  Let’s separate them and discuss their merits.  I will start with International Artist.  
     International Artist is my single favorite publication.  No other magazine covers a wider gamut for every type of artist.  No matter what your subject, media, or drawing style, you will find something of value in this magazine.
     My favorite part of the magazine is the section devoted to the Portrait Society (  This section provides wonderful insight into technical greats like Jacob Collins, Casey Baugh, John Sanden and other great instructors.  You need not be a portraitist to grasp great knowledge from these artists.  Great art consists of the same ingredients that we all must use:  drawing, tone, color and composition.  This magazine routinely features artists that are very well known, and who give great step-by-step demonstrations.
     I just grabbed a past issue from April/May 2010 and Morgan Weistling does an extremely detailed step-by-step demo on his process of painting, preliminary sketches, models and more.
      International Artist tries to cover every type of media in every issue.  But I suggest that you try to grasp something from every editorial.  Do yourself a favor, and subscribe to this great publication.
     Now, let’s cover my close second favorite.  Workshop magazine is marketed for the artist who enjoys attending workshops.  Don’t let that mislead you as to the importance of this magazine.  Every issue features detailed information on 8-10 nationally recognized artists.  Jeremy Lipking, T. Allen Lawson, Richard Schmid, Nelson Shanks and Robert Liberace are routinely reviewed.  The little gems of their processes and techniques are everywhere to be gleaned.  There is a resurgence in atelier drawing skills and nowhere else is this more aptly demonstrated than in the pages of Workshop magazine.  As a plus, you might find the workshop artist that really fits your style and vision.
     No publication will take the place of good drawing, honest self-critique, and hard work.  But the art mind can be fed with insight from other artists.  Give these two publications a try and see if they don’t increase your desire for better and better painting execution.

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.