Wednesday, October 6, 2010

You Gotta Learn To Get Your Ass Handed To You & Still Act Like A Pro

     You may or may not know that I’ve spent the past two weeks on a big loop around the cowboy epicenter out West.  I logged 4,967 miles traveling to Wyoming, Montana, Nevada and back to Texas.  Part of my trip was Cody, WY, where I was invited to exhibit at the Buffalo Bill Museum Art Auction.
     This event centers around the Buffalo Bill Museum and is an invitational art auction, along with a Quick Draw event.  The Museum Board and Coordinator were first class and they really cater to their artists, which is not always the case.  I am truly honored to participate in such a prestigious event. 

Kickin' Em Off Top
     I sent four paintings to this event and felt very good about the quality of the work that I submitted for the auction.  Not knowing what to expect and being the newcomer are tough, but every show must have a starting point from which to make progress.  This is where I’m guilty of losing my perspective.  I forget that every show and group of collectors is unique and this event was no different.
     My main piece came up about mid-way through the auction, and I was a bundle of nerves when the auctioneer started.  Checking your artistic ego at the door is tough.  I tried to run Pressfield’s advice through my head . . . “Be a pro.  Be a pro.”  But to be honest, I was initially disappointed with my final sale price.  I’m terrible at masking my feelings---it’s there for everyone to see.  I left the auction feeling I had shortchanged the event and myself.  I kept repeating the scenarios in my head.  Is the size of my painting wrong?  Did I set my reserve too low?  Maybe my position in the auction wasn’t helpful?  The eternal search for how and why I dropped the ball eluded me!
     Saturday morning Pam and I left out early to grab a good spot for the Quick Draw event.  (Each artist has one hour to start and complete a finished painting and frame it for the Quick Draw Auction.)  I have to admit that this event is self-inflicted high pressure for me!  I arrived early so that I could gain access to one of the electric outlets so I could use my dryer during the one-hour painting.  It was the only way I could guarantee a finished painting in that time span.
     The bell rang and I dove into my Quick Draw with abandon.  I admit that I am not a great “fast” painter.  My friend and fellow artist Michael Ome Untiedt lives for painting in Quick Draws.  He chats with the crowd, frolics with small children and somehow knocks out a spectacular one-hour masterpiece.  Me?  Not so much. 
     I do Quick Draws like I’m in a Hitchcock movie.  Initially I try and block out the world.  But then I get that weird zoom out, zoom in vertigo feeling….Holy Crap!  There’s 50 people watching me and they want to chat!  I’m so in the painting zone that I don’t realize that the thumping on my arm is Pam trying to introduce the collector who bought my auction piece the night before.
Low Down & Nasty

     I do my best to express my appreciation while trying to mix the perfect buckskin horse color.  I’m beginning to feel totally disconnected, distracted, and, yes, even a little frustrated. THEN SHE SAYS IT!  “This is the first original painting I’ve ever bought.  I’ve never had the desire to own art, but I was so moved by your piece, that I bought it.”
     Well, it’s like applying brakes on a train!  I thank her and Pam moves in to offer her a copy of my book in appreciation.  This allows me to continue with my painting, but as I stop and take the time to realize just how moved this woman was by my painting ….. Well, it was the moment that I needed.  Our efforts aren’t always about us.  When I looked back with a different, more clear perspective, I knew I had some things to consider:
1.   There were 15 pieces that were "no bids" during the auction.  I wasn’t one of them.  This in itself is a huge success.
2.   My painting had a buyer who was moved by my efforts.  That alone was worth the experience.  And she could become a repeat collector.
3.   I sold all 3 of my other paintings.  You should never lose total perspective.  I was the new guy, yet I still received many new buyers who are just discovering my work.
4.   The Event Coordinator, Kathy, was a gem of a person.  She really does appreciate the efforts of the artists, and lets them know it.
     So, I sum up this blog post with a classic axiom:  “Do what I say, and not what I do.”  Art is not an easy road, and there will be days she politely hands us our artistic asses.  We must keep our wits about us and focus on the little victories.  Although I’ve been at this business for over 16 years, I still must remind myself of these important considerations.  Each new show and experience has something to teach us.  Embrace it all!

All images and content © Mark Kohler Studio.


  1. thanks for putting it in perspective and the words of wisdom.

  2. Mark,
    We are so proud of you and Pam and the heart you have for your Cowboys. What a wonderful world God has blessed for the two of you to be apart of and to be able to share with your collectors, friends and family.

    Our love, Mom and Dad

  3. Great post (I'm catching up on some unread posts while I was in Germany.) I am looking forward to seeing you next month and yacking about all this in person.