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.


  1. Many thanks, Mark, for this MOST timely post! The item about setting a timeline for goals hit me the hardest. I will keep this, and refer to it often ... and set up a time frame for my goals! Thank you, again.

  2. As you know, I take inspiration from this story and hope I am on a similar path. I agree with goal-setting part.