Friday, December 31, 2010

What The Hell Is Wrong With Us? (Or, "My Christmas Rant")

    Before I explain the title of my blog, and let you in on my innermost ruminations, I want to wish each of you a Happy New Year; a good year; a better year in every respect.  And since I took the week between Christmas and New Years off, I’ve had some time to reflect on the state of my world, and I was surprised at what I discovered.
     First of all, I think we all have high expectations for Christmas.  Maybe it comes from the anticipation we experienced as children.  But this year I was so disillusioned with Christmas.  And here are my reasons:  The country is bankrupt from debt and yet I saw hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people flocking to malls in San Antonio and Austin to charge more debt on their credit cards.  They purchased inferior products made in China, which only improves that country’s import side of the ledger and drives the U.S. further into debt.  When did we stop caring about quality and meaning?
     Right now I’m leaning towards starting new Christmas traditions.  Beyond a wonderful Christmas Eve service at my church and watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “The Homecoming”, my view of Christmas was somewhat jaded this year.  It seemed all about money, quantity of things, more inferior products from China, texting, cell phones and football.  None of this said a damn thing about Christmas! It says more about how we’ve taken something as beautiful as Christmas and twisted it into a tortured mess.
      My personality is geared towards languishing in a situation until I’ve had enough, then I make big changes.  For instance, right now I’m pondering just how to simplify my life further, and I find myself wanted to sell all the “pointless stuff” I’ve acquired, just to de-clutter my existence.
     Make no mistake, I’m as guilty as anyone and this rant can be directed right at the “man in the mirror”.  I had a privileged middle class upbringing, and was not deprived, or wanting for much.  But I also feel that there used to be more significance given to the meaning of Christmas and the traditions.  It was about “feeling” Christmas, not about “buying” Christmas.  And somehow, things just feel different in today’s world.

     Do we really need this year’s Coach purse? (It’s overpriced—and still made in China!)  Or the newest, latest and greatest snow boot with a faux fur top?  Does a gift card from Anthropology really say something about our Christmas beliefs or how much I love you?
     Next year will be different for me.  I don’t know what that means exactly, or what form “different” will take, but my Christmases to come won’t involve “A Christmas Story” with a BB gun, football, or China. 
     I chose to be an artist so I could play life’s game on a somewhat self-directed field.  I didn’t like being crammed into that safe little corporate box, and now I see myself being boxed in again through the clever machinations of advertising executives.  Something is missing from the simple Christmases we enjoyed as kids, when all it took to satisfy us was a trip to sit on Santa’s lap and whisper our fondest dreams in his ear.  Where did it go? 
     We’ve lost our innocence (from Christmas to country) and have no idea where to look for it.  Is it like King Arthur’s Holy Grail?  Right there in front of us the whole time, but unable to be grasped? 
     Through the chaos of the holidays, my recurring theme was “I wonder what my cowboy friends are doing?  I bet they’ve got a handle on what’s really important.  They get out there and grab life and live it.  And they don’t get boxed in by technology, or shopping, or all the worthless crap.  I think I’ll take a lesson.”
     To prove my point, tomorrow I want to post a Christmas letter from my friend, Lowell Goemmer.  If you have my coffee table book, he’s on page 107, in a painting titled Crash.  His letter will provide some hope that, as a culture, we still know what’s important.  Tune in for a laugh and a unique outlook on life.

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Backing Off The Throttle

     For both Pam and I, Christmas almost becomes a blur.  In the past, my career took us to Vegas and an exhibit at the National Finals Rodeo.  A 10-day show between Thanksgiving and Christmas, really took its toll on us. 
     Then we decided it would be easier to stay home and produce a Christmas catalog, which came with its own set of circumstances and obligations.  Producing the paintings was time-consuming, and then there was the work of getting the sold paintings shipped and delivered by Christmas; it was a stressful time.
     This year we took on the Cookbook Project, which was incredibly successful, and once again scrambled to fulfill orders to meet the Christmas deadline.  Keep in mind that during each of these periods, there was still Christmas shopping to do!
     And for the past few years we’ve been fortunate to be invited to the Coors Western Art Show in Denver, which is held just a couple of days after New Year’s.  It seems as if we leap from one fire to then next.  This “paddling your own canoe gig” is extremely satisfying, but it can wear you out!
     Mind you, I am NOT complaining---I know how blessed I am, and I wouldn’t trade this life for any other.  But that being said, I am officially backing off the work throttle today.  After 3 pm today, I’m slipping my brain into neutral until the New Year.  I will be taking a mental break; visiting family and friends and enjoying the holiday.
     I just want to take the time to thank you for stopping by every day for my random rants.  And most importantly, let’s not forget the Reason for the Season.

 “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” --- Luke 2:10-11  

So from Mark Kohler Studio:  We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

P.S.  I’m thinking about starting the New Year with a painting demo.  What do you think?  Are you burned out on blog demos?  Let me know.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Getting Lax?

     Today I was working on what has been a difficult painting for me.  The subject is a dimly lit interior of a tack room.  I had invested over two full days in just the drawing, and two more days just blocking in my underpainting.  Once I proceeded to the finish work and trying to bring the painting together, I suddenly found myself in the artistic wasteland.
     The wasteland and me are old friends, so I became uptight when I felt the control starting to slip away.  This becomes a vicious cycle because what I should do is slow down, evaluate, and make well thought out painting decisions.  This seemingly simple solution somehow evades me, especially when I’ve invested so much preliminary work in the drawing.
Triangle K Tack Room
     My collector, who is a very good friend, was so excited about this painting that I wanted it to be a special painting.  Which brings me back to my original, terror-stricken, lost-in-the-damn-art-desert scenario.  I was about halfway through the painting when I started to entertain “I may have a problem” thoughts.  I felt that old familiar tension start to build, but I forced myself to stop, and with a critical eye, evaluate what could be the source of my hesitation.  You see, painting obstacles usually center around three areas:
1.  Do I have the right color?
2.  Is my color in the right place? (This alludes to the drawing).
3.  Is the tone correct? (In the painting versus my subject).
     I felt my drawing was dead on and I thought my preliminary color washes were coming along nicely.  With watercolor, one has to be careful about allowing weak washes to creep in to the finished work.  I realized I was on to something here.
     I busted out my old friend, “the gray scale”, and started taking some readings.  My timidity had gotten the best of me.  Some areas were two value steps off my subject.  In an effort to maintain uniformity in the whole painting, I had lost some critical areas that were negatively affecting my total painting.
     I beefed up my paint mixes and checked my darkest darks, and suddenly, I’m back on track.  I had gotten lax!  Moral of this story:  don’t neglect your value scale.  Keep it close and use it.  It got me back in the game, and it will work it’s magic for you, also.
     My painting turned out to be a very striking piece and I can't wait to get the frame built and show you the finished product.  Keep an eye peeled for "Triangle K Tack Room, Battle Mountain, Nevada".

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stepping Stones and Holes

     Continuing from yesterday’s post….. When I started down this path, I was highly motivated.  I was burned out on free-lance Illustration and design work.  I refused to swim with the backstabbing sharks that infest Ad agencies and Design firms.
     And my 5-year stint as a Liability Adjuster for Farmer’s Insurance was about as stimulating and challenging as government work.  (Episodes of The Office are perfect mirrors of that job).  I had “The House” in upper-middle-class suburbia, the company car, and the profit sharing.  But needless to say, I was in a hole mentally.
     One day after returning from a claim, I stopped at a Barnes & Noble in Sugar Land, Texas with the intention of purchasing some Western Art magazines and seeing what might be possible.  After a very short time period to weigh the decision, I told Pam I wanted to take the art road.  She was cautious, but supportive, and I started my journey.
     I distinctly remember writing down a plan to “attack and succeed”, but only God knows where that long-ago plan is today.  I’ve done my best to recreate what I feel was my step-by-step progression:
     #1.  I gave myself one year to continue at Farmer’s while I compressed learning to paint in watercolor at a high enough level to sell.  I felt that with my drawing skills and my illustration background, this was a reasonable time frame.
     #2.  I needed an art show event to launch my career.  I applied to the National Finals Rodeo to exhibit and was accepted.  I figured Vegas was a big enough venue to be seen, right?  Having been accepted, it was time to get to work, and I had a strong motive to produce quality paintings.
     #3.  I realized that I would need a booth and a trailer to carry the art and “stuff” necessary to do a show.  I bought a used U-Haul for $1500 and had a friend manufacture a booth from cattle panels and square tubing.  Spray-painted black, I thought it looked quite professional.  In retrospect, I should have done a better job of research on the booth and bought Pro Panels from MD Enterprises.  This decision cost me in wasted effort and a “less professional” appearance --- but I had nevertheless started.
     #4.  I needed some sales under my belt to generate working capital and build my confidence.  When your work reaches a satisfactory level, friends and family will generally start to buy.  Work from there.  Look for buyers.  I was selling work to people at Farmer’s before I left.  They knew I was a short-timer, if nothing else, by the quality of work I was starting to produce.
     #5.  Make a list of goals.  I can’t stress this enough.  These can be short term, one-year, 5-year and beyond.  I am a big believer in setting goals.  When you set and write a goal, your body and your mind instantly start to problem solve and push you toward your goal.  Do it! 
      #6.  Start working slowly to build up your profession.  For me, this meant picking away at frame shop equipment, computers, drawing tables, and all the things you need in an operational studio.  This will be a real business --- treat it like one!
     #7.  Number 7 is the final and most important goal.  Never rest on your laurels!  From here on, you must work everyday to get better.  Study your craft.  Study technique, take a workshop.  Find everyone who is better than you and study what they do.  I have too many artist friends who are one-trick ponies.  They stopped learning and pushing years ago.  They make good livings, but they are creatively dead and in the hole.  I figure they should go back to the insurance company, and at least get the profit sharing.  Don’t stop learning!

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pulling On The Same Rope

Today is my 24th wedding anniversary, and the New Year is coming on fast, so I thought this would be a good day to thank Pam for all she’s put into this year, and for all she does to make my work easy. 
     I can tell you I would be sunk without all she does to keep us moving forward and allowing me to paint.  These are just some of the tasks she does:  builds and maintains the website; does all the accounting and bill paying, and computer troubleshooting; produces and handles the prints; mails out my book and the cookbook, and coordinates all the UPS shipments; types my blog; helps me stay up with Facebook and Twitter; makes all the hotel and car rental reservations; cooks for the workshops plus dinner every night…… and still finds time to work on her novel (she’s on Chapter 22).  There’s about 50 more things I can’t remember or don’t even know she does, but I will tell you she’s way underpaid for her commitment!
     So this brings us to the crux of the matter.  If your spouse is pulling on the same rope with you, your art career is going to be a whole lot easier.  We all know art by itself is enough of a challenge, but without the support of your spouse, it’s going to be a tough road. 
     I know this because I’ve seen it first hand.  Artists like me have it the best.  Pam is always in the wings, trying to keep some deadline from slipping by us.  Artists like my friend, Melanie Fain, produce about the same amount of inventory as I do, but without the extra help from Pam.  To Melanie’s credit, she does an incredible job keeping up with all these responsibilities, but the constant grind does take its toll.  I know it does on us.
     Those artists whose spouses don’t appreciate your career path, or who are hung up on the safety of a secure job, present (in my opinion) the most difficult circumstances in which to create. 
     I’m sure children play into this scenario more often than not.  But except for the artist whose spouse embraces this path and makes it a lifestyle choice, you’re going to have a tough, hard road.  This piece of the artistic puzzle is the most difficult for two reasons:
     #1.  The pull to follow our artistic gift is strong.  It’s a part of us, and this affects artists more than most.  We innately know that we’ve got a talent that is special and not using it creates a certain amount of angst in our world.
     #2.  Real life doesn’t care if we are artists or not.  Bills must be paid, kids must be raised, and life demands a certain level of success to meet our own expectations.
      Sometimes these two just don’t jive.  It’s then time to sit down and work out a plan for making this art thing work.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you how I did it and maybe give you some food for thought on how to start this journey.

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.

(This is Pam, and I was completely surprised and, of course, pleased by Mark's post today.  You should know that he is not a man that "gushes", so this means more than you know.  And our 24 years together have been a "wild ride"; full of surprises, challenges and SO many blessings.  I can't wait for the next 24!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times

     Today I want to introduce you to 22 pounds of trouble, named Bodie.  Bodie was a German Hunting Terrier, also called a Jagd terrier.  I originally bought him as a blood-trailing dog, and his primary job was to follow up wounded deer.  In a way, he excelled at this task.  I say “in a way”, because technically speaking, a blood trailing dog should never break trail to follow something else.
     Bodie followed blood religiously until he crossed a hog’s trail, and then all bets were off!  And you, my friend, suddenly found yourself on a wild boar hunt.  I was never able to break his natural instinct to follow a wild hog, as Jagd terriers were bred to be wild boar hunters.  Subsequently, most of my blood trailing was done on lead, with me bringing up the rear.  But he was an excellent trailer.
     The stories about Bodie are too numerous to cover here, but we’ll touch some notable ones, so you can get the flavor of my dog.  The first big adventure occurred in Austin, prior to Pam and I moving to Sabinal, TX.  One Sunday summer morning Bodie started chasing a three-legged tom cat, I’ll call Tri-pod.  Well, Tri-pod wandered into my yard, and then when he encountered the mighty Bodie, he jumped my yard fence and took off for home---with Bodie right on his tail.
     I took off in boxers and a tank top with bare feet, knowing if he caught the cat, I would only have a few seconds to handle the situation.  This was no time for changing into more appropriate clothes.  I caught up with them about two blocks away and Bodie and Tri-pod were in a full-blown war. 
     Bodie finally got the cat down and I swooped in and put the squeeze on his manhood, causing him to release the cat.  When I returned home, I told Pam that the police would probably be arriving shortly.  But nothing came of the event.
     Two weeks later, after doctoring Tri-pod’s handiwork on Bodie’s muzzle and belly, I couldn’t keep the infection under control, so I went to my vet’s office.  Doc says, “What has this dog been into?”  I explain the whole event and he walks me to the back room.
     There in the corner is Tri-pod on some sort of cat life-support.  (Don’t worry, Tri-pod hung on and actually recovered quite well).  I later found out his name was Captain Jack.  Feeling a sense of responsibility, I returned to the crime scene to discuss specials and damages (sorry, I sometimes revert to my liability insurance lingo) with Captain Jack’s owner. 
     The short version was Captain Jack’s little old lady owner had cut his leg off in the fan belt of her car several years prior.  I knew we were going to be OK when she says, “Ol’ Captain Jack gave that little sonofabitch a run for his money, didn’t he?”  She was country and old school, so everything turned out all right. 
     When we moved to Sabinal, Bodie was finally in his element.  We lived on 129 acres, and he was in heaven, hunting rats and coons in my quail house, trailing deer, and generally wreaking havoc on anything that moved. 
     I took him on a Nevada road trip and except for chewing my gearshift knob off, and an opportunistic badger hunt on Highway 50, (known as the Loneliest Highway), somewhere between Reno and Salt Lake City, it was uneventful. 
     Another time, Bodie jumped a nutrea (an aquatic rodent) on a jogging run in Barton Springs Park and received four big gashes in his face for the effort.  We horrified women and children on our bloody run back to the truck.  People were offering to whisk me off to the vet.  I calmly explained that this was routine business for us.
     Then there was our escapade in Willard, New Mexico.  I was there to photograph for paintings, and he slipped his collar on a cattle gathering, and it took me nearly 3 hours to find him.  He was in a hole baying the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen.  They had obviously fought to some kind of draw.
      There was also the time I stopped at 2 AM at the only dumpy motel I could find on a lonely Arizona road.  I tied Bodie to the TV stand so I could shower.  When I came out of the bathroom, he’s marking the bed, meaning some sort of animal is residing there.  I turned him loose and he chased a foot long, blue Pack Rat around the room for ten minutes or so, until he ended the rodent’s run.  I slept a little better that night knowing he was with me.  (We slept in a cowboy bedroll on top of the bed, for obvious reasons). 
     As the title of this post indicates, it was the best of times with this little dog.  But if you live by the sword…..His undoing was a 6-foot Western Diamondback that crawled into our yard in Sabinal.  He killed the snake, with the help of my pit bull, Bunkie; but not before they were both bitten multiple times.  He was already fading fast and I ended his suffering with the cold steel of my pistol.
     It was my Old Yeller moment that I knew would come some day.  It was the worst of times that day.  I buried him and the bulldog at one of our favorite hunting spots on the little ranch. 
     But the story doesn’t end there.  A few months later, in Kentucky, I was able to track down a full brother to Bodie that was a stud dog.  I now have his niece and she has every bit the grit and drive of her uncle.  We call her Echo, and I’m sure you can figure out why. 
     The memories of my early career are bittersweet.  I loved going to different ranches and meeting new subjects, and having Bodie along made the traveling easier.   He was a great companion and not a day goes by that I don't miss him.

All images and content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

When The Man Comes Around

     This post is a preamble to Monday's blog.  If any of you know me well, you know that I am an animal lover.  If you really understand me, then you know that I think most animals are better than most people.  At least they're honest in their motives and steadfast and loyal.  The story tells it all:

   When The Man Comes Around

This is my third and probably final painting of this Arizona Bay horse.  I’ve painted most of the exceptional photos of this horse that I had.  I made an immediate connection with him on our first and only chance encounter.  Everything was perfect about this gelding -- his demeanor, the tack, the light.  But when God decides He wants a horse in His remuda, things can change in the blink of an eye… literally. One lightning bolt took this fine animal and two more like him.  It seems I take the passing of the Innocents (like dogs and horses) harder than most.  I try to build a tougher wall inside me and become more calloused, but when The Man comes around, it’s usually swift justice on His terms.

     I really have an affection for horses -- not the award-winners, but the hard-workers.  I'm always drawn to the remuda whenever I'm out West.  You'll find hundreds of horse shots in my photographic files...horses at work, horses at rest, saddled, hobbled and everything in-between.  It was my honor to portray this fine animal.  
     On Monday, I'll tell you about one of my best friends.  Have a good weekend, and enjoy the Christmas season!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Stumbling Into Success

     I thought I would continue the discussion we started yesterday, by showing a couple of prints that turned out to be home runs for me.  I decided early in my career, that Limited Edition prints were an option for me.  They are what are referred to as gicleés (archivally sound prints – I print mine on Velvet Fine Art Paper, which resembles watercolor paper).  I print them in editions of 25, and each is signed and numbered.  The Limited Edition prints appeal to art lovers who can’t afford my originals, and are often a first step before buying a small original.
      What would be helpful, for the sake of this discussion, would be if I could explain to you why they struck a chord, but to tell you the truth, I would be on thin ice with nothing more than a W.A.G.  (wild-ass guess).
Coyote Dun
     The first print to be a winner was The Coyote Dun.  I think the emotion and posture of this image are what people respond to.  I think I mentioned this image in a previous post, but it has been an unusually popular print, especially with the ranching and cowboy crowd.  Believe me, they don’t toss their money around unless it’s authentic, so in that regard, I was pleased.  Incidentally, I have three left in the edition.
     My next big seller was a print, called Big Air.
Big Air
     My final artistic coup is a toss up between two prints:  a longhorn print called Coastal Cruiser and a cowboy painting called Won’t Suffer Fools.  I think Coastal Cruiser can hang part of its success to living near the University of Texas.  If you can’t sell longhorns to Texans, it’s probably time to start looking for a new exit to take. 
Coastal Cruiser
     I believe Won’t Suffer Fools owes its success to an iconic cowboy image and a good story.  International Artist magazine liked the image enough to publish it in their Painting People and Figures book. (Every little bit helps).  Both prints have less than 5 available in their editions.
Won't Suffer Fools
     So there you have it.  I can’t pick a winner any better than you.  How do I decide which paintings to make prints of?  Well, I don’t make many prints….less and less over time….so it has to be a special painting that warrants it.  And when you think you know the whimsy of the art market, get ready, because you’re about to get your proverbial ass handed to you.  So much of art marketing is taking an image and stepping out on the limb, or the cliff, or over the yellow line, and trying to make it work.  It may fly---or you may get smashed.  But you’ll know more than you did and you might just hit a home run.  The real trick here is persistence. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Should I Make Prints?

     I get this question all the time.  This is once again a question that only you, the artist, can answer.  I will say this ---- the print buyer and the original buyer are tigers of a different stripe.  I find dealing with the print crowd to be exhausting.  They generally want to fiddle with matting styles, colors, frames, the color of their living room, the color of the couch, signatures, remarques, etc.    It all becomes too much.
     The original buyer will occasionally want to change the frame, but if they do, they usually have their own framer, and it becomes a non-issue.  I guess we could put the customer who wants a commission into a sub-category of the original buyer, but I’ve told you how I deal with commissions, so it’s rarely a problem.
     Some artists do nothing but prints, and they have a process that works for them.  At the beginning of their careers, most new artists want to climb on the print wagon as soon as possible.  I was no different.  But I quickly learned that the two worlds are very different and are chalk and cheese when it comes time to market your wares.
     I wouldn’t reproduce any of the earlier works you complete.  Let some time get under the art bridge before you decide to undertake the print road.
     Over the years, I concentrated on producing and selling original works.  Several of the larger shows I’ve attended had customers who wanted a low-price-point piece of art, so I produced very inexpensive, unframed, signed but not numbered mini prints. 
     These are generally in the 8 x 10 size format, and are inexpensive to produce.  When I attend trade shows or outdoor type events, they become a good piece for those on a budget.  I basically offer a $30 miniprint, a coffee table book of my work for $60, or original work in the range from $750 to $5000.  This has worked great for my specific marketing efforts.  The minis allow people who can’t afford an original, to take a piece of my art home (and the kids love them!), while the real collectors move toward the originals, which are priced for  those purchasing art for the first time, as well as seasoned collectors.  The book serves as a good entry for a new collector, or as a closing gift for a bigger purchase. 
     Think about what you want to do with your work, who your customer is, and then direct your efforts towards that goal.  Make it work for you!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who Are They Fooling?

original image
     I was cruising through an old watercolor magazine, and came across another one.  Who do they think they’re fooling?  I won’t name names, because as a group, artists can pick them off a mile away.  It’s the customer base that must be getting shtupped.
     My beef is specifically with these Photoshop watercolor cheaters.  They take an image, blast it with the Photoshop Watercolor Filter, and then re-create the computer generated shadows in their paintings.  What the hell?!?!  It looks like a very detailed watercolor puzzle; a squiggly mosaic of colors that we’ve all seen on our computer screen.
Watercolor Filter
     I’m not opposed to breaking the image down into interesting elements, or even pushing the image into the contemporary corner with a complete rearrangement or interpretation…. But we all know what the watercolor filter looks like.  You might want to kick that can just a bit farther down the artistic road.
     I applaud what can be accomplished with photo editing, and I’ll be the first to admit to manipulating my photos, so I can see more detail in a particular area of the photo---but then I draw what my eye sees, NOT what the computer generates.
Rolled By A Remington
© Mark Kohler
     I’m sure there are those purists who would hang me by my thumbs and beat me with a well rope for using the computer at all.  I guess we must all find the line we are comfortable with, and be able to articulate our position.  I’ll be glad to defend mine; there are just some lines I won’t cross!

All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Cat's Tongue

     Today’s post isn’t long, but for the watercolor painters who don’t know about this brush, it will be a major score.  The Cat’s Tongue refers to a style of brush.  Its shape resembles a cat’s tongue (obviously!) and the name stuck.  This brush can be seen in most watercolor and oil painters’ war chest.
      I know the famous portrait artist; John Howard Sanden (he has painted the official portrait of President George W. Bush, and Reverend Billy Graham, among others) uses it in his oil paintings, and even puts it on his brush selection list for new artists.
     My old stand-by brush company, Silver, makes a ¾” cat’s tongue that never leaves my painting table.  Why is this brush so important?  Several reasons.  First, it carries a lot of water; when fully charged, you can cover some ground (actually, paper) and never have to reload.
Reverend Billy Graham
by John Howard Sanden
     Secondly, the shape of the brush allows you to move from a broad wash stroke to a detail-pointed stroke without stopping.  This comes in handy for backgrounds or broad areas in which you must paint around objects.     The Silver Brush Company’s website, interestingly enough, doesn’t call this brush a cat’s tongue.  They specify the 3009S as an “Oval”, so if you decide to pursue the purchase of this brush, keep that in mind. 
     Also, check out John Sanden’s website,  He offers smaller cat’s tongue sables that could be a nice addition to your brush arsenal.  It’s featured in the Starter Sable Selection under the Brushes tab.  You can’t go wrong with this valuable little brush!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Art and the New Technology

     I've spoken about artist David Kassan and his fantastic drawing and painting ability.  I saw this video several months ago, and was astounded at how quickly he was able to adapt to a completely new medium that is technology-based.
     This may not be the traditional method of creating art, but art it is, and I found it fascinating.  This is  where traditional drawing skill and high tech come together.  This will be the new sketchbook of the future.  Watch and marvel!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Tribute To Patrick

     Although I primarily paint cowboys and life in the American West, the truth is, that I love painting people...people of all cultures and lifestyles.
     I did this painting for Sgt. Major Patrick Dougherty, USMC.  I met him a year ago, and while he was impressed with my paintings, I was impressed with his dedication to the military and to our country, and offered to paint him a portrait of Afghanistan, where he had been stationed.  It was the least I could do for what he and his family have given for our freedoms.
     He provided me with a photograph he had taken, and I was proud to do this painting for him.  And not to be outdone, he presented me with a gift:  I am now the proud owner of a pair of military issue combat boots.  I would say it was a deal well made!
     Thank you, Patrick, for your service.  Because of you and your fellow servicemen, I have the luxury to pursue the career I desire.

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

   All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.    

Friday, December 10, 2010

How To Flunk Math (Or A Frustrated Artist in Ninth Grade)

    I’m not really sure how I got out of high school.  I’m pretty sure my F’s in math, rate right up there with my speeding tickets --- 13 or so, by my count.  Except for a very caring Biology teacher named Helen Martin, and a double secret bribe with an unnamed coach who traded me a C+ for a pencil knockoff of a Norman Rockwell painting for his mother, I might still be at Anderson High School in Austin, Texas.
© Norman Rockwell
     I’ve told you of whiling away the school day in Amada Peña’s art class.  What you don’t know is that I skipped several math classes and used my time a bit more wisely in Peña’s room.  Here’s how it’s done.
     The semester was two 6-week blocks with progress notes sent at the halfway point of each block, or the third week of each semester.  I quite abruptly realized on the second or third day of Algebra One…..I’m outmatched!
     Solution!  Head down to Peña’s class and get some real work done.  I tell Peña that I don’t have a class that period and he gives me the OK to work on my drawings.  Phase One is complete.
     Phase Two involves checking the mailbox around 2 weeks and 3 days for incoming trouble, in the form of a progress report.  My recollection is that Wednesday was the day they usually arrived.  My goal was to snag the note, forge my father’s signature (which to this day is still passable for his) and return the note to the teacher’s box unseen.  My hope is she will think I’ve dropped the course.
     The problem is that this isn’t college and you can’t run this scam to any kind of completion.  Not a satisfactory one anyway.  But when you’re a freshman, your future is bleak anyway.  I realize that I’m art material and that I won’t be in the short line for NASA, because I’m sure that NASA requires Algebra 1 and 2 for the brainy stuff.  Even a freshman knows his limitations.  Algebra = Limitation.  Art, on the other hand, = “Sky’s the Limit”!
     As you may well surmise, my plan did catch up with me and my parents made a heroic try at solving my inabilities.  I remember family friend tutors, and paid tutors, and afterschool tutors, and guess what?  I can’t do friggin’ math!
     In the short term (two 6-week semesters) my plan worked like a charm.  In the larger perspective, well, I got hammered.  I was grounded from bird hunting, yelled at by Peña, and received two F’s for my trouble.  The upside, however, was that I ended up with one badass pencil drawing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Thinking Artist

     I wanted to tell you about a conversation I had with my friend and noted sculptor John Coleman.  He was kind enough to attend my exhibition of paintings from Cow Country Cooking.  We exchanged pleasantries and moved right to the meat of the discussion.  I asked John, “What’s new?” And in his quiet, direct manner he let fly with his usual to-the-point, and concise, opinion. 
     John explained he was carefully trying to ride that line between doing what’s working, and still trying to move forward to create something new, brilliant and original.  We all know this familiar and well-traveled road.  One group says, “dance with the girl you brung”, and yet the very nature of being an artist is to push the envelope and create something that hasn’t been done.
     In effect this means ditching that girl you brung.  So here we stand staring that old conundrum directly in the face again.  Do you “play it safe” with what’s working for you?  Or do you get out of your comfort zone and push the creative process?
     I like talking to John because he is a careful thinker.  I always feel comfortable talking shop with an artist of his caliber, because John is securely rooted in the foundation of his craft.  Though I don’t sculpt, I secretly wish I could attend a workshop with John.  I know I wouldn’t make a splash as a sculptor, but I would learn fundamental concepts that I could carry over to my drawing and painting. 
     How can I be so sure?  Because I have seen John’s handiwork with drawing and it’s to be highly regarded.  The fact is you don’t sculpt at his level and not have some basics to fall back on in other media.
     If you talked with John for 5 minutes, you would no doubt come to the abrupt realization that whatever John Coleman sets his sights on artistically, it will become a success.
     Not only is John a professional success, but he is also a nice guy.  He always takes the time to talk with artists, is always approachable, and can focus his efforts to provide you with positive input.  In short, he genuinely cares about helping his fellow artists.  I get the feeling he focuses on those who take their craft seriously, and are constantly seeking to raise the bar on their own efforts.
      I enjoyed our visit, John, and thanks for the wise words. 

All images © John Coleman.  Content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's All About Me!

There’s no rhyme, no reason, and obviously no ideas for a blog post today, so I thought this might provide a good laugh, if nothing else.  The title says it all:  It’s All About Me!
     So here goes:  I’m sloppy and messy, until I’ve had enough, then I turn into a cleaning Nazi.  The length of time between cleanups is usually about not breaking a good painting streak.
     I can’t stand for my fingers to be sticky.  I die if syrup gets on my fork handle, because I think I’m borderline OCD.  That would explain my sometimes 3 showers a day habit. 
     I drive fast.  By my count, I’ve received 13 speeding tickets since Pam and I married.  I beat 11 of them through the judicial system, paid one, and got arrested for an outstanding seat belt ticket (you’ll have to ask Pam about her part in that fun little episode!)  To get the full story, offer to take me to dinner….it takes awhile.
     I only like two drinks:  Cat Daddy Moonshine, and in honor of Jeff Lebowski, a good White Russian.  That makes a nice segue into my all-time favorite movies:  The Big Lebowski”, “Snatch” with Brad Pitt, “Braveheart”, “Legends of the Fall”, and “Last of the Mohicans”.
     I used to want to go hunt in Africa.  Now I would just like to visit. 
     My favorite steak is the bone-in ribeye at the Palms in San Antonio; a close second would be the ribeye at Austin Land and Cattle (not to be mistaken with the chain restaurant, Texas Land and Cattle) .  I prefer medium rare, but I’m slowly drifting toward rare.  Gail Steiger wins the “rare award” hands down.  As fast as he flips one, the center never gets warm.  He’s corrupted Amy, too; or maybe she corrupted him.
     I’m a jacket freak, especially if it has a Filson label, and I would rather have syrup on my hand than be cold.  And that is saying something.  Apparently 13 really is my number, because that’s how many jackets I’m currently hoarding.  Pam wants me to acknowledge I have a problem.  I refuse to see it or get help.  When they form Jackets Anonymous, I’ll stand up and give my name.
     I love to fly fish and my favorite river is the Gallatin, which runs from West Yellowstone towards Bozeman, MT.  My second choice is the Boulder near Big Timber, MT.  And if you must know, I prefer the old school flys like Royal Coachmans and Hornbergs.
     I like croc shoes when I’m working in the studio.  My collectors always seem disappointed when they see me in shorts and croc shoes.  Apparently, people think I should paint in a hat and boots.  I’m not a cowboy and could never claim to be.  I am an artist.  My good friend Tio Kleberg is a good cowboy. I’ve seen pictures of him dallied on big cattle, and interestingly enough, he has been known to wear shorts and croc shoes.  If Tio can wear crocs with confidence and bravado, I feel I’m on safe ground.  There’s safety in numbers.
     My five favorite stranded-on-a-desert-island songs are “El Cerito Place” by Charlie Robison; “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show; Ben Harper’s “In the Lord’s Arms”; “Wrecking Ball” by Gillian Welch; and Ian Tyson’s “Roll On Owyhee”.  My new favorite singer is Kieran Kane.  It’s bluegrass music at it’s finest and it’s all good.
     I like Cinch jeans with the green label, and 501 Levis for working in.  Someone should tell Levis that a large percentage of people prefer to cross the 40” length line that they’ve drawn in the sand.
     The most interesting and nice person I’ve met recently was the writer and wingshooter, Thomas McGuane.  He wrote “Rancho Deluxe”, starring Jeff Bridges; “92 In The Shade” with Peter Fonda; and “Tom Horn”, which starred Steve McQueen.  During the short time I spent with him, we covered our love of hunting dogs and one of my favorite writers, Brian Plummer.  We found common ground in our love of a book called Tales of a Rat-Catching Man.  If you don’t have terriers, don’t even ask.  McGuane is the most humble, sincere and nicest person you would ever want to meet.
     My remaining best reads would be Jim Kane by JPS Brown; and Nathan by Brian Plummer.  (You can only order this one across the Pond.  Ask me if you are interested).  Other favorite books are:  Matthew Bracken’s trilogy, Enemies, Foreign and Domestic; Death in the Long Grass by Peter Capstick; and Teddy Blue Abbott’s We Pointed Them North. 
     I think I will wrap up this mixed bag of personal trivia with a section on my dogs.  Since Pam and I have been married, we’ve owned Pearl (a black lab), Gonzo (a golden retriever), Blue (a blue heeler), Bodie (a German hunt terrier), Bunkie DeLoache (a pit bull terrier), Punkin (an elhew pointer), Quattro (a black mouth cur/redbone hound), Echo (another German hunt terrier and niece to Bodie), Emmy (a yellow lab), Sookie (a pit bull terrier) and the queen of them all, Jewel (a yellow lab).  While it was hard to lose them when their time was up, I wouldn’t trade one minute of the joy they have brought us.
     This may be more than you ever wanted to know about me, and I can assure you it is an incomplete picture.  But it will give you an idea of who I am, warts and all.

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Horse Trader: "A Hard and Shrewd Bargainer"

     I just recently completed a cookbook project with my friend Kathy McCraine.  I can attest to Kathy’s talents—Writer, Photographer, Rancher and Gourmet Cook—so falling in with her to contribute to “Cow Country Cooking”, was a no-brainer.
     Today’s post, however, is about Kathy’s husband, Swayze McCraine.  Swayze also has a long list of attributes on his life’s resume:  Rancher, Developer, and all around Horse Trader.  For myself, I would like to add Friend, Mentor….and did I say, all around Horse Trader?
     To put it simply, Swayze McCraine is a good man.  He’s kept me on track when the numbers wouldn’t work in my head, and he’s showed me how to keep my eye on the ball.
     When I stop talking long enough to listen, I generally start to glean pearls of wisdom from this man.  And if I push the issue, Swayze will tell me how to work the deal/problem and resolve the matter in question.  (Most likely with terms and interest rates included---he’s shaking his head right now!)
     He can do numbers in his head as fast as I can mix red and blue.  That’s why he’s such a good businessman.  And I learn something from him every time I’m in his presence.
     As far as being a Rancher, that term doesn't quite cover his talents.  Swayze can jerk his rope down, build a loop, and catch and doctor cattle with the best of them; as well as execute a management program for the entire ranch—from solar power to dealing with the BLM.
Photo by Kathy McCraine
     Several years ago a virus attacked Swayze’s heart and killed a large percentage of the muscle in and around this vital organ.  After a long fight, Swayze was the recipient of a complete heart transplant.  He lives every day with the real knowledge that this life is short and can change in an instant.  Much of his generosity and love of life is born of this life-changing event.  It has become a great impetus for him to take life by the horns and live it on his terms.
      Swayze carried the note on “Cow Country Cooking” for Kathy and me, so we worked feverishly to move out of the red and into the black as quickly as possible.  Our motivation was fueled not so much by fear, but more by the desire for success.  Swayze is the type of man who makes you want to succeed.  And I can tell you from experience that when he says “You done good”, you tend to walk a little taller, knowing you made him proud of your effort.
     He’s not the art lover that Kathy is, but when the time comes to sell a piece of art, get out of his way.  He plays three moves ahead, and isn’t afraid to close.
     My favorite time is riding in his truck and bouncing ideas about life off my friend.  Mentors are those who take the time to help those who need it, and Swayze is as good as they come.  Some (Pam included) would say his dog Loupe (short for Loupe Garou) might be one of his greatest assets, and I would certainly agree.  Loupe is a member of the family, and the truth is, Kathy and Swayze treat us like family.  When we are in Northern Arizona, we know where home is.
      Later tonight, I’ll be oiling my newest possession: a beater pellet gun that Swayze gifted me.  It looks like a typical rancher’s “truck gun”; beat up and scarred all to hell, with worn bluing.  But no amount of money will pry it from my hands.  It was given to me by a friend; a mentor…..and, oh, did I say….a horse-trader?  

All content © Mark Kohler Studio. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Artist's Curse

     Did you know that most artists have a curse?  It’s rarely talked about, but I’ve seen this affliction among craftspeople and artists, alike.  It lives among those who create.  I know it’s true for myself and many of my art friends.  And here’s the burden we bear:  Most artists don’t like their own work! 
     At first glance, it seems implausible.  Why would anyone produce something they don’t like?  I’ve been kicking this one around for a few days, trying to nail down why we artists feel this way.  I’m not sure I have the answer, but I think it has something to do with the bar that we are (hopefully and constantly) raising.
     We’ve heard the stories of artists like Remington, who burned his rejects.  Personally, I just rip my paintings in half, and press on.  We all understand that we produce paintings that just don’t “have the stuff”.   Honest self-critique results in a necessary purging that every artist must employ if they wish to create good works.  For me, it is a matter of leaving a legacy that meets my standards.   One hundred years from now, I don’t want one of my “dogs” to survive, and represent my body of work.
     But what of the works we accept, and still have no love for?  I think back on my body of work and feel I have done maybe 10 spectacular watercolors.  Not a great track record for nearly 17 years of painting.  This feeling of inadequacy is what drives us. 
     The act of painting must therefore be stronger and more pleasing than the results.  I myself hope to do one masterwork before I exit this planet, but I fear it may not be possible.  And this is the reason:  No artist ever sees his own work as a masterpiece.  If you do, I think you are done.  The eyes of history must judge your work.  Hence, it’s the carrot you will never grasp.
     So back to my original question – Why should we continue to produce work if we may never be satisfied?  Maybe it’s something like “let’s revel in the process of attempting to produce great artwork, while acknowledging that we will always want our work to be better.”   I think it comes down to this….the longer you stay on the train, the better you get.  My advice:  Stay on the longest, and be the best.  

Content © Mark Kohler Studio.