Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Framing 101 - Day 2: The Fillet

     On most of my paintings, I choose to inlay a small piece of wood moulding inside my matte's edge.  This is called a fillet.  The process of measuring and cutting the fillet requires a bit more time and effort.  But the final product is a first class presentation.  I use a chopper to cut my fillet pieces (below).

     By measuring each fillet corner I am able to custom fit al four pieces of my moulding for a clean professional look.

     After each piece is cut, I color the ends with a brown marker.  This keeps my cut marks from showing.  Now I apply a special tape which holds the fillet in place.  Each side is carefully fitted and taped into place.

     In the above photo, the first side is taped in.  I proceed to tape in all 4 sides until the fillet is secured.

     In the following photo, all the fillets have been taped in and are ready to be secured on the back.

     I use framer's tape to reinforce my fillet on the back side of the matte.  I use my trusty bone folder to carefully crease the tape, so that my tape is perfectly flat against the matte.

     Tomorrow I'll show you how I build up the matte to fit the frame.  Things are progressing nicely!

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Framing 101 - Day 1

     Today we start the process of framing one of my paintings to be exhibited at the Coors Western Art Show in Denver.  My first order of business is matte selection and cutting a foam board backing.

     Here's my selection of backing board along with a neutral linen matte manufactured by Bainbridge.  It's a nice warm white that looks good on most of my work.
     Once I've selected my matte, I must decide the width of the matte.  I typically use a 4" width.  This means I will have 4 inches of matte surrounding my painting.

     In the above photo I've set my matte cutter to the 4 inch designation and proceed to mark the back of my matte with a light pencil.  Once all 4 sides are marked I use the cutting head to carefully make all 4 cuts and complete the matte.  (See below).

     With the matte cutting completed, I quickly check the matte with my painting to see if I have any measurement errors.

     It's a precise fit, and I'm ready for the next stage, which we'll tackle in tomorrow's post: the fillet.  See ya then!

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cowboy Prayer

     This is the painting that brought me my first success.  As I told you in yesterday's post, it was the painting that was the driving force behind the encouragement I received from my very first collector.  The painting is of my friend, Mark Kirkpatrick, who lives with his wife Pam, in Junction, Texas.  And yes, when the two couples are together, there is a plethora of "Marks and Pams".

Cowboy Prayer

     This painting is special to me in many ways.  It represents the start of good friendships, and the recognition of a Power that humbles us all.  It has spoken to more people than I can recall.  The painting is nearly 17 years old, yet I still get comments from those who say it moved them.  And I am grateful for the opportunity it gave me.  Because of this painting, I decided to follow the path laid out before me; the path that I could no longer ignore.  And I've never looked back.
     As we all get ready to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving, I am filled with gratitude for what my talent has given me:  a lifestyle that is rich in friends, history of our country, and the freedom and ability to express myself.  I am truly blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving!  I will see you back here on Monday.  Enjoy the holiday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The First Door

     Let me be direct, just as she was.  Sue Raine shoved me through the “art road” door.  It wasn’t sweet and tender like your mother on that first day of school.  But neither was she the drill sergeant barking me over the wall.  She was a smart, discerning lady who recognized the scared reluctance of a “gifted” artist who was trying to decide which road to take.
     Here’s our story:  It was 1995, and I had gathered my new art tools, built an art booth (Big mistake!  See previous post), and jumped into the first show that would have me.  It was a travelling, class B western mess whose first stop was Arlington, Texas.  “Best of the West” has a nice ring to it, but nothing about it could claim the title of “Best”.
     I had painted 17 new originals and priced them based on my perception of how they’d turned out.  The second day of the show started like the first day ended…. Dismal.  No traffic and no interest in my work.  But all that was about to change!
     Late in the afternoon, a larger than life redhead and her sidekick, Charline Haynes, strolled into my booth and screamed at the top of their lungs, “Oh, my God, it’s ‘Cowboy Prayer’!”   You should know that my marketing plan for this show consisted of a 1/16th page ad in Southwest Art magazine of a painting titled “Cowboy Prayer”.  Do you think it was coincidence that this small ad, buried in the back of Southwest Art, was the impetus for our meeting?  I don't!  God sent her to me that day, and she was just what I needed.
Late Day, Long Shadows
      In the meantime, all my synapses were firing.  These two must be looking for a different artist.  Then the strangest thing happened.  The Redhead moves to the center of my booth and strikes a pose.   She leans back on her heels, folds her arms across her chest and proceeds to evaluate each painting.  She narrows it down to two.  It’s between “Cowboy Prayer” and “Late Day, Long Shadows”. 
     You ask how I remember?  I remember because this is the day that I was launched by my first customer, who would become my good friend.   She bought “Late Day, Long Shadows”, but those words … “Oh my God, it’s Cowboy Prayer!” …  are still as fresh in my mind today.  We would laugh about it over a hundred dinners in the coming years.
     My next artistic endeavor soon followed; a private showing at her home, with additional support from Charline.  The two of them came together as a set, much like dueling pistols.  When they decided on a course of action, you better get out of their way!  The result was a night I’ll never forget.  We had a most successful show and I sold nine original paintings that night.   I’m not sure even they thought it was possible.
     Looking back, I see that Sue Raine did for me what no one else had. She gave me the art baton and said, “GO!” I could never repay her for such an unselfish, generous gift.  She became much more than my First Collector.  She became a friend.  We spent nights on her deck, or huddled around the fire pit at her daughter’s home, laughing until we cried about her antics and excesses. 
My friend, Sue Raine
     There was the time she and Charline battled the wilderness with a 2-foot long Summer Sausage and a snub-nosed .38.  There was also the time she fell off a ladder setting up the world’s largest collection of Christmas villages, and broke her nose and received two black eyes.  The best story is about the time she thought she was putting eye drops in her eyes, but ended up gluing them shut with nail glue. Pam and I got talked into making hundreds of sandwiches at the Round Rock Blue Grass Festival … (“C’mon!  It will be fun!”).  We joined her in celebrating her 2-year-old grandson Jake doing championship swan dives off her queen-sized headboard in her HUGE bedroom.  Life was a party!
     Unfortunately, we only had a small window to meet and spend time with Miss “Larger Than Life”.  She said she wanted to cross life’s finish line sliding across at full speed, laughing and out of money, because she would have lived the life she wanted.  You know what?  She did just that.  She had survived an earlier bout with breast cancer, but this time it would attack her brain.  She left this world on May 1, 2002 and it hasn’t been the same since.
     One of the blessings she left us is the friendship we have forged with Sue’s daughter and son-in-law.  Our relationship with Deanne and Shawn is the legacy of that first loud connection in Arlington, Texas, seven years prior.
     I often think about what she would think of my career, and what advice she would give me.  But there isn’t a time that I don’t sit at a fire pit and think of the good times we had, and that I don’t secretly thank her for kicking me through that door.  And something tells me she hears me.

Tomorrow I will post the story of "Cowboy Prayer" and you can meet the instrument of our fateful meeting and ensuing friendship.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How To Show

     I know you hear me harp on being a pro nearly every single day, and today will be no different.  One of the arrows in your art quiver is a no-brainer.  It allows you to look professional, set up efficiently, and gives you latitude to deal with most any situation in regards to the exhibition of your work.
     Today I want to introduce you to a company that manufactures art panels.  The company is M.D. Enterprises and the product is called Pro Panels.  This company was started by two artists who saw a need and filled it.  David Curry and Mike Dixon built a better mousetrap for all of us.
     I have exhibited on a set of Pro Panels for nearly 17 years.  When I started I made the mistake of manufacturing my own booth, instead of checking out an industry standard.  I only used the home-made version for one year, and I lost money on my investment.  However, this wasn’t the greatest artistic sin I committed.  The worst thing that resulted from my inexperience was that I didn’t appear professional.
     I attended a huge trade show in Vegas and showed near Buck Taylor, a fantastic artist, good guy and an owner of Pro Panels.  I knew that day that I was already at a disadvantage.  Buck’s booth was a work of art in itself.  Everything was neat and professional.  I decided right then I would never be out-shown again because of inferior equipment.  

     This is what my booth looked like once I made the switch to Pro Panels.  And I want to share the two distinct advantages to owning these panels:  1) Because they configure to any existing environment, you have the latitude to set up your visual display most anywhere.  I have shown in trade shows, outdoor art shows, private in-home showings, outdoor gazebos, indoor arenas, a field in Kansas, an outdoor deck and a 5-star hotel suite (that took some bribery and $50 to get the booth up the work elevator).   2)  It’s light and efficient.  Each panel only weighs 14 pounds.  That means Pam and I can set up a 10 x 10 booth (with lights) in less than one hour.  We are not worn out, and routinely find we are set up and gone before our neighbor can get the first screw in his “homemade-I-saved-$500-booth”. 
     Visit ProPanels.com and check out some of the booth configurations.  Pro Panels can suit your specific needs.  If you’re a sculptor, they build taborets and pedestals.  If you sell prints, they have many options for print bins.  Talk to Mark at the company, and let him know what you wish to accomplish.  He won’t steer you wrong.  And if you pick your booth up in Dallas, you can save the shipping.
     For you part-timers who may not be ready to make the jump to purchasing your own booth, M.D. Enterprises will rent you the booth, poles, hangers, etc. for a rather nominal $125 fee.  It’s something to consider.
     If you doubt that Pro Panels isn’t the industry standard, visit an outdoor art show in your community.  You’ll be pleasantly shocked how many artists depend on M.D. Enterprises quality.
     Here’s the information you need:  M.D. Enterprises, 214-350-7372; www.propanels.com.  Tell them I sent you.
     Due to the Thanksgiving holiday this week, I have decided to celebrate it to the fullest.  I will post through Wednesday, and take Thursday-Sunday off to spend time with Pam, and family and friends.  I hope each of you pause to give thanks for all the great things in your life.  Posts will resume on Monday.  

All content and image © Mark Kohler Studio.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hammer Fist

     This Saturday, I want to introduce you to my friend, Kacy Wachob.  I first met him in Arizona, when he was passing through on his way to Buckaroo country.  This painting, Hammer Fist, was painted soon after I met him, and the story indicates his history at that point.   He now lives in the Sand Hills of Nebraska with his wife Lisa, ranching 55,000 acres with his parents.
     He's one of the best bronc riders and colt starters I've ever seen.  I visited him and his brother BJ several years ago, and the tales they told of the Nebraska winters made this Texas boy cringe.  One of the downsides of constantly working to make a living as an artist, is that I don't often get to see these guys who have made such an impact on my career.
     BJ moved to Elko, Nevada and I had the opportunity to see him this last trip.  It had been over 5 years.  So maybe God will smile on me and make a trip to the Sand Hills become a possibility.  Kacy is one of my favorite subjects to paint, and it's been too long.

Hammer Fist
The wandering half of the brothers Wachob, Kacy doesn't stay long anywhere.  My image of him is pure buckaroo.  He'll take horses over cattle any day ... he's a top hand.  With time spent on the Spanish Ranch, YP and IL, he's earned himself a good reputation.  I heard a lot of stories about his hellraising and bloody knuckles, but all I saw was even-keeled and polite.  

All content and image © Mark Kohler Studio.

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Being An Artist Is A Lifestyle Choice

     I’ve touched on this in previous posts, and I’ve been considering and pondering the bigger picture.  What is my motivation to being an artist?  It’s a question you should ask yourself.  And I don’t mean for two minutes at the end of this post.  Really think about this question. Say it out loud and look at yourself in the mirror.
     My answer always comes back to two distinct, but affirmative statements:  1) “Because I see myself as an artist”, and 2) “Because I choose to live away from the city.”
     Let’s break these two down into the whys and wherefores, shall we?  #1:  I see myself as an artist and artisan.  In many ways the influence of my grandfather set me upon this path.  I like walking in the footsteps of a master craftsman that I’m connected to.  I feel as though I’m seeking my own destiny; the path that God created me for.
     #2:   Living away from the city --- this is a concept that people immediately understand, or they stare at me in bewilderment, with a cartoon question mark over their heads.  It’s rather difficult to explain, but let me try.
     I believe art allows me a lifestyle that I enjoy.  I’ve had the house with two cars in the driveway, and the job with a great income, benefits and profit sharing…. And I was miserable.  It sounds good on paper, but I was missing “life”. 
     Art allows me to live my life on my terms.  It can be a struggle, but so can Austin traffic.  I can’t see myself working a crappy job for big money to be able to afford the place in the country sometime in the future.  Why not make a little less and skip the benefits, but live a real lifestyle now?
     In the argument I have within my own head, I run all the rabbits, and it always results in the same conclusion:  “Art in the country.”  I have the hardest time understanding why I would want to spend a lifetime working for the opportunity to retire to a lifestyle.  Why not grab it now?  Art will let you.
     I realize this may not be your cup of tea.  You may have grown up in the country and waited your whole life to make the jump to a loft studio in the city.  You may have worked the corporate grind for the last thirty years and need a slower pace.  We’re all different, with different expectations and dreams, but I beg you to nail this one down.
     Once you identify your motivation to create your art, you will be unstoppable.  

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Ugly Underbelly Called Framing

      I’ve spent the better part of two days cutting moulding and gluing joints to make frames for 26 new works---all due by Thanksgiving!
     This is where the glamour ends and the grueling, knuckle-grinding work begins.  So this situation begs the question that artists must ask themselves…. How will I handle the framing of my work?
     The avenues are many, but when you break it all out there’s a big fat fork in the road that requires a decision.  Will I frame my own work?  Or, will I pay a professional framer?  One decision requires an investment in equipment and supplies, while the other requires more cash outlay to a professional.  Self-framers can execute their vision and meet their quality standards without the middleman.  However, sending out your framing gives you more time to produce.
     I like being in charge of my framing, but I don’t enjoy the process.  Framing is hard work and I don’t slight the professional for his time and profit.
     The reality of your circumstances will be the true barometer of your decision.  If you’re working out of an apartment with two bedrooms, a frame shop isn’t a reality, so start looking for a pro.  In my case, I live two hours from a major city and the remoteness dictates that I am better off building my own frames.  UPS delivers everything to my frame shop, and I figure the framing time into my final deadlines. 
     I have a separate space that is dedicated to framing, and I have a system for framing that has been developed over many years.  This process has been a consistent plus for our business. 
     I think next week I will frame one painting as a demonstration, from beginning to end.  This way you can see the underbelly of the framing beast and make an informed decision.  

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lost Edges and Thumbnails

     Last week Maria said she was a bit confused about my comment on “lost edges”, so I will attempt to explain further.  Perhaps the subject of lost edges falls into the “composition” category.  We talk about it but we never really pin down how to do it.
     The problem is, both composition and edges can be subjective and exaggerated by the artist.  This makes them a mystery to some.
     The first thing we must address is that every time you draw or paint, whether you know it or not, you are dealing with, and creating edges.   You may not be planning or embellishing your edges, but they are there.  Edges can be created by line, color (purple meets red), or shadow (in this case, light meets dark).
     For the sake of this discussion let’s simplify even more.  Today, we use our thumbnail we discussed last week and make some basic composition and edge decisions.  Here’s the photo we will start with.  Remember, my friend Walter?  Here he is helping us again.

     Today we will hold our edge discussion to “light lost edges” and “dark lost edges”.  If you get this part down, you will be on your way to becoming an edge expert.
     A light lost edge occurs when a light valued part of our subject fades into a light part of our painting.   It can be background, or something else, but when this happens our edge becomes lost….simple.
     Consequently, the reverse is also true.  A dark lost edge occurs when something dark in our subject merges into something dark in our painting, like a dark area of the background.

     I’ve decided to theoretically paint our cowboy photo.  Let’s start with our working thumbnail.  Compositionally, I make some big changes.  I scrap the cowboy to the far left completely.  Since I want to focus on Walter and the other young cowboy (named Chance).   I also decide to 86 the cowherd in the background.
     I’ve also drawn a square around the area that, for me, is the center of interest.  I will make this area the focal point of my painting.  Now it’s time to make some decisions on edges.

     To make my two subjects more interesting, I start playing with some nondescript shading in the background.  I realize right away that Walter’s back should be a lost edge (white into white).  Chance’s hat also has some lost edges on the highlight, or right side.  Also the rear leg of the cow can fade into the background.
     Walter’s hat fades into Chance’s belt line from the cast shadows.  This is a lost dark edge.  I decide to use the background tone to enhance my focal area.
     I also decide my background wash must define Chance’s right leg.  This time the lost edge is working against me.  But by adding a background tone, his leg reads correctly.
     In the final painting, this would be atmospheric washes, made to make my subject pop out from the page, or recede, depending on my artistic decision.
     Edges are a mystery until you start looking for them in your drawings and paintings.  We will continue to touch on them in our discussions.  If you would like to see this painting done as a demo, let me know.
     Maria, I hope this has cleared up some of your confusion.  And thanks for asking!  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mastering The Trail

Everything about my friend Trina Campbell is colorful.  She’s a refreshing breath of intense, bright, right-in-your-face fresh air.
     Trina is the wife of noted horse trainer, clinician and all-around good guy Peter Campbell.  They run a 1400-acre horse operation near Wheatland, Wyoming.
Trina Campbell

     Trina has been in my neck of the woods these past few days, giving her own instruction and insight to a good bunch of folks near Cuero, Texas.  She has been a favorite subject of mine since we met many years ago.  But I must admit that it’s damn near impossible to adequately illustrate through paint, all that is Trina.
     A larger than life character, Trina is drawn to people who have focus and drive.  Her intensity for horsemanship is evident in flashes of brilliance, and she is able to lighten the mood and keep those around her moving forward.
     After spending the better part of two evenings with Trina and friends, I’ve come to see a genuine, honest and caring person.  But make no mistake---Trina has little time for suffering fools, and those who refuse to dedicate themselves to the basics and foundations of their craft, will be summarily dismissed.
Peter Campbell
     This philosophy is common ground between us.  Trina, like myself, is drawn to individuals who pride themselves on fine craftsmanship.  Our mutual friend John Weinkauf is the perfect example.  Considered by many to be the finest handmade boot maker in the country, John represents Trina’s philosophy to the highest degree.  The level of skill and craftsmanship exhibited by masters such as Peter, Trina and John will generally be lost on the masses (even those who consider themselves self-appointed connoisseurs of finer things).
     Please don’t take my words wrong here.  There are many fine craftsmen of gear and art to be had.  But the level of work and expertise that skilled artisans like John Weinkauf or Silversmith Mark Drain exhibit are at a remarkable level.  They are true master craftsmen rooted in the knowledge of basics and foundation.
     So hats off to Trina Campbell for once again showing me that “Mastery of Craft”, be it Peter Campbell with his horse and light hand, or John Weinkauf with last and thread is a trail of choice; a trail the artist or artisan must choose to walk.  It’s a trail where mastery and quality is dictated by only one ….. that’s you! 

All content © Mark Kohler Studio. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dream Killers

     It’s my opinion that there are two types of Dream Killers: those that exist in the world around us, and those that live inside our head.  Of the two, I have no doubt that the type we allow to dictate our action from inside our own thinking is the most dangerous.  More on that in a second. 
     The Dream Killers that exist around us are everywhere.  They can be our parents, telling us in no uncertain terms, “You can’t make a living as an artist”, or “I wanted you to be a lawyer.”  It can be the talking head on CNBC telling us “the economy is in an irreversible tailspin.”  Maybe it’s our best friend who is working a subtle sabotage because you might be succeeding in a life-long goal that makes Best Friend feel a bit inadequate.  If could be a spouse who has two feet anchored on the security side of the fence, and can’t chance allowing you to pursue your real passion. 
     I could list 20 more people with seemingly good reasons you shouldn’t take one step down that artistic path.  They exist everywhere and are well-versed in arguments on why you can’t.
     But they can do little harm until we allow their opinions to cross over from an outside influence to one that gets in our heads.  This is where dreams die fast.  You are the gatekeeper and whatever outside force you let influence your thinking, now becomes your responsibility. 
     Generally speaking, 99% of the people you know (friends and family) don’t care if you want to be an artist.  They haven’t even pondered this thought one time.  You see, Dream Killers only make their opinions known once you commit to something as grand as pursuing your passion.   Recognize their opinions for what they really are….a worry, a loss of some sense of real security, fear for you, fear for themselves.  Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter!  It’s your passion.  Grab it while you can!  And keep the Dream Killers out of your own head.
     Did you know that less than 1/10th of 1% of the population could do what you can already do?  You’ve been given a gift.  Now you must decide.
     Press forward and work on your skills, technique, and craft; get better, try harder.  Or listen to the Dream Killers and park your butt on the easy and safe road.
     Do you remember William Wallace of “Braveheart” telling his men before the battle of Sterling, “What will you do without freedom?”  A warrior answers him, “We will run, and we will live.”  Wallace challenges their response:  “Aye, you will live.  And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that, for just one chance?”  Will you?

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

We Get Along

     This weekend's post features one of the images from a new book that I have published with Kathy McCraine, called Cow Country Cooking:  Recipes and Tales from Historic Ranches of Northern Arizona.
Not only does the cookbook give you delicious recipes, but you get wonderful insight into the iconic lifestlye of the cowboy.   You'll see why their passion fits so nicely with mine.
     I hope you enjoy the post, have a good weekend, and I'll see you back here on Monday.

We Get Along
I constantly find myself trying to reconcile the cowboy lifestyle in my own head.  It’s sometimes difficult to weigh the upside of freedom to the downside of bad weather, strong-willed horses, hard country and the whims of cattle---not to mention the short pay.  But free men are generally contented men, and cowboys seem to find satisfaction in the mundane little victories of life.  These include good horses, quality gear and country that’s pleasing to the eye.  When you break it all down, the freedom to pursue our passion is all we really need.  The only difference between most of us and the cowboy, is that he has found his.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Where's My Style?

The more you paint, the better your technical ability becomes.  More time painting, means better familiarity with your palette, a more succinct and confident drawing hand, and the closer you move to developing a style….a style that’s you.
     As artists, (myself included) we are guilty of envisioning a style and then working from back to front to develop it.  It’s a natural tendency to see something that moves us and then move in that direction.  My personal opinion is that we have a lot of cart, and no horse in sight.  The apprentice/traditional method is just the opposite of this method and the direction I would have you travel.
     This way of thinking targets the bigger picture.  What if we spent our time developing a super skill set, starting with good drawing, then moving into a limited painting palette, and finally embracing a full spectrum of painting skills?  With this war chest of knowledge and technical ability, we could then focus on style. 
     I freely admit that I backed down this same road at breakneck speed.  And I’ve had to take a circuitous route to find exactly what I want to say with my work, and how to say it.
     I’m not sure if this is a by-product of American teaching methods, our drive to be free to create unimpeded, or if we have just lost the knowledge of basics and foundations altogether.
     Please consider my, for lack of a better word, “theory”, and let this sit on the back burner for a while and percolate.  The discipline and hard work will be difficult and demanding.  Just remember this:  the road to find your style and artistic voice are tough.  And you alone are responsible for the artistic path you choose.  Choose one that gives you skills, and the road to developing your own personal style will be rewarding and a process that defines who you are as an artist.

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'm A Terrible Photographer

     That statement may come as a shock to you…. But it’s true.  You also might think that 16 years of photographing working cowboys would enhance, or at least mildly improve, my working knowledge and ability with the lens.  But it just ain’t so.
     All of the self-analyzation that I demand from artists in regards to their painting becomes relevant to me when I evaluate my skill behind the camera.  I haven’t lied to myself or tried to delude the little voice in my head that says I pretty much do a face plant when it comes to gathering good photos.
     As a matter of fact, I try and proclaim it as a weakness right up front.  You know --- reduce expectations and such, that sort of thing!  I liken it to this scenario: If you can’t dance, it’s better to announce it early and move on, than play it smug and end up as humiliation fodder at the end of the night.
     So we’ve established the weakness---now what?  Three words; three simple words will make you an artistic force to be reckoned with.  Three words will allow you to completely fool everyone…they will think you are a photographic genius!  The three words?  Shoot A Lot!  This is the secret weapon of yours truly, the inept photographer, Mark Kohler.
     There are those who know bracketing, F-Stops, apertures, and this and that.  But what saves me time and again is my personal motto:  Shoot A Lot!
     When I’m at a branding or gathering, I have several hard and fast rules that help to continually save face.  They just might work for you:
     #1:   Ask the cow boss, or whoever is in charge, where you can or can’t be.  This is nothing but courtesy and respect, and it just might get you invited back.
      #2:   Find a corner and try to disappear.  The photographer/artist who isn’t in the way…you guessed it….just might get invited back.
     #3:  Shoot a lot!  I sometimes shoot several thousand pictures at one event or branding.  This means I stumble, quite by accident, into some very nice photographs.  Back in the film days, it cost me a pretty penny, but with the digital camera, I throw the dogs out and keep the happy accidents.
     So there you have it; full disclosure.  I am a terrible photographer, but what I lack in talent, I make up for in persistence and volume.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Moving Beyond Traditional

     I generally consider myself a traditional watercolorist.  Most of the time I paint light to dark and work through a specific spectrum of colors to arrive at a finished painting.
     The operative word in the preceding sentence is most. Moving beyond a “traditional watercolorist” is sometimes necessary to achieve the image that is in my head.
     Here are a few items that I would like to introduce you to.  You might find that they add very little to your method or approach, but give them a try and see if they don’t enhance some aspect of your work.

     Gum Arabic – I prefer the Winsor and Newton brand.  The label says it increases brilliancy, gloss and transparency; it controls the spread of wet-on-wet washes.  For the most part that is true.  Gum Arabic is a binder.  I add it to watery paint to give it more consistency.  It works great to add bits of dry brushing to the final (and upper) paint layers.  Go easy with Gum Arabic and do lots of testing.  But it can become a real asset in some paint applications.

     Ox Gall – Ox Gall comes from the bile duct of domestic cows and sounds like nothing I want near my watercolor paper after spending 4 to 6 hours getting my drawing down.  However, Ox Gall increases the flow and fluidity of your paint.  Big broad washes on rough paper are almost a necessity for an even wash.  Again, don’t get carried away.  Those early, big, broad washes that establish a tone or that serve as a block-in, can benefit from an Ox Gall application to your paint.  I try to avoid the more sedimentary colors and French Ultramarine Blue and Ox Gall don’t get along well.  So I try to use Cobalt Blue instead.  Consider its’ use and again, do some testing so you’re familiar with its’ properties.

     Gouache – The “chalk and cheese”, traditional British watercolorists frown on mixing traditional transparent watercolor and Gouache.  I leave the traditional crowd behind and do my own thing when it comes to mixing and matching these two.
     About 1/3 of my paintings are a mixture of these two mediums.  I’ve had good luck by establishing a broad traditional wash, and then as I layer up through my painting, I switch to Gouache to bump the intensity of the paint application.  Gouache is standard watercolor paint with white paint added.  I find an all Gouache painting to be chalky and powdery, and I just don’t like the final product.  However, underpaintings of watercolor and minimal Gouache applications can make your painting sing.

Desert Tarpon
     “Desert Tarpon” is a small painting that demonstrates what is possible with this technique.  It’s not loose and splashy like traditional watercolor.  In fact, it can become tedious and technical (I have to watch myself to keep from becoming too tight and detailed), but done right, it lends itself to some incredibly beautiful paint effects, which translate beyond watercolor’s perceived limits.
     If you’re just starting to paint, get a good grasp of your palette and paper choices.  When you’ve become comfortable and competent, give these three additives a try.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Want To Paint Better? Become A Draftsman

     Webster defines it this way:  Draftsman:  2b. An artist skilled in drawing.  Sums it up rather nicely, don’t you think?  But we all know there is a lot of wiggle room there.
     This becomes very apparent when I teach workshops.  Everyone searches for the magic bullet that will allow him or her to paint better, and then somehow be able to leapfrog to good drawing skills.  In my opinion, they are one and the same.  There is no difference between the two.
     Calderon states it succinctly and abruptly …. “What is meant by Drawing?”  Many people are under the impression that it only refers to the elementary part of an artist’s education.  They do not realize that it is the very essence of all pictorial art, and that without it painting would be meaningless.
     It may seem like a rather strong statement, but everyone from Calderon to Watrous, and from Fechin to Watteau, can’t emphasize this enough.
     If you wish to make good paintings, sink your time, energy and hard work into achieving good drawings.  This post is about the big picture, literally.
     To be a competent artist, we must embrace this larger idea.  Many approaches exist in becoming a skilled draftsman.  David Leffel and Sherrie McGraw start from a gesture to establish a framework and build to a finished drawing.  The ateliers measure with straight lines and establish a block in measuring and slowly building their image along the way.
      Still others like Michael Workman employ a grid to establish a foundation for the early drawing.  Harley Brown measures with units (usually the size of the head) to start his initial work.
     The point is this:  there is more than one way to skin the proverbial feline.  But there is only one way to be a great painter.  I implore you today.  Declare yourself a draftsman, find the drawing style that works best for you and get busy.

Drawing Resources
The Language of Drawing – Sherrie McGraw
The Craft of Old Master Drawings – James Watrous
Bridgman’s Life Drawing – George Bridgman
Figure Drawing – Anthony Ryder

Content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Curious and Shy

     So, on Friday we established a plan for my painting titled  “Curious and Shy”.  Today, we execute the painting, and with any luck, we will have a nice monochromatic watercolor that meets our composition and design, as well as doing justice to our chosen subject.
      I began my painting by first establishing some darks.  My first paint application was a dark grey in the eyes, nostrils and ears.  These darks establish enough early drawing for me to feel comfortable with proceeding.  As I’ve stated before, if I can’t peg the eyes then the painting has no soul and I usually don’t proceed any further.  I also start adding a basic wash to establish the burro’s form.  This wash consists of mixtures and layers of Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and any blue (Cobalt or Ultramarine).  I used both.  This is the painting after these two paint applications.

     Next, I establish more darks (Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber) in the burro’s tails and the cross markings on their backs.  Also note that I put an atmospheric wash around their feet.  This helps to anchor my subject and incorporate them into the picture.  I’m sticking with my original idea and game plan.

     My next washes are a weak background wash of Ultramarine Blue on the right side.  This wash is the beginning of the execution of my original sketch.  I will layer several warm and cool glazes in this area to build up a nice textural and atmospheric effect.  I also establish the cast shadow on the ground.  This shadow really anchors my subject and moves my burros beyond being a vignette.  The background, like my limited palette, will be minimal, but effective.
      Here is the painting after the third paint application.

     My final paint application is the cast shadows on the burros, and more glazes on the background.
     For the cast shadows I use my purple shadow mix (Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson) and establish the darkest shadows.  The photo of my burros pushes this shadow to nearly black.  I stay at a value of about 8 and make a single pass with this color.  I don’t want this wash to be broken up or variegated.  Several weaker washes of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue in the background and I call the small painting finished and a success.
     Here is the final painting with its story that I presented to my collectors for my Painting Of The Week series.

Curious and Shy
The title of this painting turned out to be
the impetus to complete the painting.  These
two siblings are at opposite ends of the spectrum
when it comes to confronting the unknown.
The burro in the foreground is the inquisitive,
nosy type, while his brother, peering through the
safety of ears and mane, plays it on the safer side.
They continue to run wild in the high desert country
near Paulden, AZ.  I admit to a soft spot for their kind
and always look forward to any opportunity to
 portray their distinctive personalities. 

     If you would like to receive my weekly paintings for purchase, please email me at jmkohler@markkohlerstudio.com. 

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I Can Change My Own Damn Tire!

     Hopefully, you have all had the opportunity to view my latest YouTube video of my trip to Nevada.  In the video there is a captivating sequence where two cowgirls are fighting a rowdy calf, which just about gets the best of them.  I decided to do a painting of one of these cowgirls and tell you a bit of her story.  I hope you enjoy it!

I Can Change My Own Damn Tire!
     Georgia Black and her husband, Jay, ranch near Battle Mountain, Nevada.  For the smaller outfits, branding and gathering without the help of dayworkers requires the help of neighboring ranches.  This friendly reciprocity keeps the smaller outfits efficient and able to make ends meet.
     If you saw my video, you will recognize Georgia as a darn handy neighbor.  She very quietly went about the work of the day, pulling more than her share of the weight.
     I coaxed her from behind her sunglasses and captured many good shots of her working before the irons were pulled to cool, and the cattle were pushed out into the desert.
     As we loaded horses to call it a day, Georgia noticed a tire on her trailer was flat.  After a short call to her husband, Georgia set her jaw, and with a few curt words, she proceeded to locate the block lift and a star iron and go to the task at hand.
  Ranch women are a different breed, and in today's world, it sure is nice to see a woman get the job done.  I hope you find Georgia a breath of fresh air.

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

Image and content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Friday, November 5, 2010

How To Use A Thumbnail

      I found myself sketching out thumbnails for a small little burro painting.  I have relied on working thumbnails since I was an illustrator.  A thumbnail is nothing more than thinking out loud in sketch form.
     A thumbnail lets you see a specific artistic decision prior to applying it to your actual painting.   And a thumbnail can help you make a design or composition decision, a tonal decision or a color choice.
     My little burro painting will be a very monochromatic painting with a rather limited palette.  I picked the photo because of an interesting title for the painting that popped into my head.  The ears on the burro in the foreground indicate a natural curiosity, while the burro in the background remains cautious, peering from behind his sibling.
     My title is “Curious and Shy”.  My focal point is the interplay of the burros’ heads.  The overlap makes for an interesting composition on its’ own, so I’m going with it.
     My next choice is how to handle the lost edges where the burros’ rumps are defined by my background wash.  I try several versions of background possibilities and settle on version #3.

     I want the wash on the right to define the outline of my foreground burro, while my other burro will be more an actual lost edge.  So here’s my game plan.  I will start the painting today and show you the final result next week.  Stay tuned.  

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pull Together

     I thought you might find it interesting to get another perspective on what it’s like to be on the inside of an artist’s life and career.  So I’ve asked my wife, Pam, to write a guest post from her vantage point.  I think it will give you food for thought.

     Thanks for tuning in today to hear what I have to say.  When Mark asked me to write this blog post, my first thought was “What could I offer the readers that would contribute to their art career?”
     So forgive me if I can’t address the intricacies of painting a shadow, or give you advice on improving your drawing skills.  But if you are the spouse or partner of an artist, I do believe I can offer some counsel on supporting the creative process.
     First of all, everything I have to say is merely my opinion, and may not apply to you.  But since Mark and I did not originally envision that our life together would include an art career, I’ve learned a few things during this journey that qualify as experience and they’ve worked for us.
     When Mark came to me 16 years ago and said he was unhappy in his work and wanted to pursue art as a profession full-time, I have to admit that it scared me to death.  But I didn’t hesitate to give my approval.  I knew his talent was a gift, and I had watched him struggle to fit his right-brained creativity into a left-brained and structured business world.  I didn’t want him to be 70 years old and say, “I wish I would have tried….”, so we agreed to give it a shot.
     The fear of going from two guaranteed paychecks to one was ever-present, but I knew if Mark was ever to succeed in the art business, we had to pull together as a team.
     And I believe this is one of the most important factors in the success of any artist.  For us, I think it helped that pulling together was something we valued in our marriage from the start.  And I have witnessed other artists’ careers suffer because their spouse isn’t involved in helping them to realize their dream and to follow their passion.
     I’ve had friends who thought I was subjugating my desires and needs in order to let Mark fulfill his.  But I guess I don’t view Mark Kohler Studio as “his” business, but “our” business.  We each have a role in its success.  And Mark is quick to give me credit for my contribution and to encourage my own creative writing skills.  So the best advice I can give an artist’s spouse is to check your ego at the door.
     The successful “artist marriages” work because the spouse is usually detail-oriented, and can “take care of business”, which allows the artist to concentrate on his craft and frees him up to produce.
      Within just a few years of starting his career, it became clear that Mark couldn’t concentrate on painting and producing AND handling all the details of a growing business.  So it was time for me to “go all in” and give up my full-time job, take over the day-to-day management, which would allow him to advance to the next level of his career.
     If I’m being honest here, the man can portray a horse’s soul in the reflection of its eye, but he can’t balance a checkbook!  And responding to all the emails, inquiries and applications would take forever with his one-finger typing method.
     So our roles are pretty well defined.  He paints and frames and I do everything else:  website design and maintenance, advertising and marketing, order framing supplies, make travel arrangements, book-keeping, prepare tax returns, and handle the mountains of paperwork that are involved in keeping up with show schedules, applications, UPS shipments of paintings, and consignments to galleries.
     It is a full-time job; six days a week, 10+ hour days.  But it is so rewarding!  We love our independent lifestyle and being our own boss (and if I’m going to continue being honest, neither of us were very good at working for other people).
     So if you are someone who likes to be part of a team, are detail-oriented, and likes the challenge of working together to achieve a goal, then take that leap of faith and go for it!
     Not only will you sharpen what skills you possess, but also you will discover new ones, along with a profound appreciation of what you can accomplish together.

P. S.  I was writing this piece the same time that Mark wrote his post yesterday, and it surprised me that we expressed some of the same thoughts.  Being on the same wavelength is what makes our team work!  

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's Never Too Late!

     Pam will tell you that a recurring theme for me is “I should have started earlier”.  I look at all the wonderful artists who knew they were artists, and got in the game early, and I wish I had made that decision.
     My thinking is that I would be that much further down the road in skill, knowledge and technique, if only I had made a move much earlier.  This also might be the case for a few of you.
     There will always be the protégé who has mastered some art aspect (he does one thing well, rather than being well-rounded in his skills), and has started his artistic journey.  For the rest of us, “it just ain’t so”.  Some of us stumbled into the party late, with no clue how to proceed, and are just trying to make art the thing work.  Still others have yearned to take the art exit, but are hesitant for many reasons:  spouses, family, security, something our dad told us --- they all come into play.
     For me, it was a profound decision.  I did not want to face God and tell Him I never used my talent.  Pam didn’t want me to reach the age of 70 and regret not taking the art off-ramp.
     The point is “It’s never too late”.  Pam is writing a novel with no thoughts of making an income from her efforts.  She writes because, she too has a gift, and she loves to write for the sheer enjoyment of it.  So she won’t be facing her Maker with a full pen and a blank piece of paper.
     So, what’s holding you back?  No one says you must make a living off your art, except you.  But there is nothing to stop you from enjoying your craft.  Do it for fun, or stress relief, or just because you like to give them away --- but do it!
     If your skill level climbs, sell a few to friends and family.  Moving to full-time is a natural progression.  Let it happen.
     When I was making folding knives I noticed something about the craft that got my attention:  the part-time knife makers were producing a better product.  Why?
     1) They didn’t have a time constraint. They could stick with a design until it was perfect.
     2) They had a relaxed atmosphere to work in; no pressure from a customer.
     3) They didn’t have to sell their product in order to eat.
     4) And most importantly, they had the freedom to try something new; a new design, a new mechanism, a new process.
     5) And finally, they just enjoyed the process.
     Being a part-timer, can work in your favor; so don’t get caught up in pressing the “full-timer” court.
     The real death knell comes for those who never start.  Once you start, it’s the beginning of the natural progression and you can determine how far you take this art thing.  Just remember that it’s never too late to start.  So what are you 
waiting for?

Content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Let It Shine

     I received a great question from one my blog readers yesterday, about studio lighting and some specific problems he has encountered.
     Every lighting situation will be different because of the many factors that come into play.  This is a tough one because, as artists, we all create our art so differently.  An artist lighting a still life will want the same light on the arrangement as he does on the canvas. 
    As a watercolor artist, I prefer a mix of warm and cool lights.  I have 15 windows in a 550 square foot studio, and on a sunny day, it’s too much.  The sliding scale of factors will make the solution different for each one of us.
     First, I’ll start by showing you want works well for me.  Keep in mind the majority of my work is done from photo references (about 90%), and the other 10% of my paintings are from a still life set-up in the studio.  (If I can, I prefer to work from photos on still life arrangements as well).

     When designing my studio, I decided to install seven 48-inch fluorescent tubes (5500 Kelvin) on the ceiling.  I also installed some ceiling cans with warm light. 

Over my painting table, I have two swing-arm lights; a cheap one that lights my palette and another that lights my painting.  The light over my painting is my favorite studio light of all.  It contains a circular fluorescent bulb and a standard incandescent bulb as well.  This creates a mix of warm and cool light on my painting, which I feel creates an optimal view of the photo I’m working from and the painting.

     I also keep two freestanding tripod studio lights on hand.  These can be put into service when additional needs arise, such as lighting still-lifes, models or working on exceptionally large paintings.  I also dabble with oil paints on a traditional easel, so they work great for portability when I switch mediums.  (You watercolor traditionalists, calm down.  I said, “I dabble”.)
     With these different configurations, I can apply the best lighting solution based on the factors that arise.  On a very dark, overcast day I need the overheads.  However, on a bright, sunny day, my table lights are all that’s needed.
     Look at your individual situation.  For the blog reader, I suggested two shop lights with 5500-Kelvin bulbs and a swing-arm with an incandescent bulb.  But it’s just a starting point.  He may decide he needs more warm light for his table after using this setup for a while.
     Good lighting will make for more accurate painting, and lighting doesn’t need to be expensive.
     A lot of artists think a North Light studio is a dream situation, but the reality is that most of us (myself included) can’t have the perfectly lit work environment.  Buy the best you can afford in order to get the most desirable outcome, and then get busy.  Vermeer could only work when the sun was up and I think he turned out all right.  We’re miles ahead of the Renaissance in regards to convenience and technology.  So now we have no more excuses…. Our lighting is suitable and our work awaits us.