This post is by Dave Geada, a strategic adviser to FASO and a marketing expert with over 20 years of experience in brand management, product marketing and product management. Through his consulting company, DBS Marketing, Dave helps technology companies develop valuable insights into their customers and what matters most to them. Then he helps turn these insights into marketing and product strategies that drive sales. As a regular contributor to this newsletter, Dave helps explain latest trends in online marketing and how artists can tap into these trends to help boost their art sales.
The sole measure of greatness in life is the positive impact that we have on the lives of others, in our willingness and ability to make a difference and turn darkness into light. Some artists primarily achieve greatness through the impact that their art has on others. For a select few, greatness is measured both in terms of the impact of their art and how they treat others during their lifetime. The thousand little kindnesses that they share with a world hungry for inspiration, guidance and hope. Kevin Macpherson is one of these select few. He is arguably the most renowned and masterful plein air artist of his generation, with a rare gift for fusing color and light into evocative tableaux rife with emotional intensity. He is also one of the kindest and most giving people you will ever meet, always going out of his way to encourage and inspire others to pursue their passion and seek out their authentic form of artistic expression through a positivity that is infectious. The story of Kevin Macpherson is more than just a story about art. It is the story of how to live a life well, with few regrets and the peace of knowing that you’ll leave the world a better place than you found it.
When did you first realize that you wanted to become an artist?
Art was pretty much always a part of my life since I was young. I remember at 7 years old making the decision to be an artist. I didn’t know what that really meant, but it was a major focus of my life as a young boy. During playtime my brothers, sisters and I would draw. One fun thing we’d do as kids was draw in the dark. Someone would draw a picture and then we would have to go into a closet to redraw it in the dark. That’s all I liked to do as a young boy, was draw. In the 1st grade I won an art contest against K through 8th grade kids. This was in catholic school and I felt guilty because my father helped me out a bit and the nun asked me if I got any help and I said no. I was a fraud right from the start. I even thought of a pseudo name for my paintings, “Art F. Raud”. My father worked for a newspaper as a pressman and always brought us home leftover rolls of newsprint paper and big lead drippings. They’d melt lead to make the printing plates and the drippings were like giant, hard pencil pancakes and we would draw with these toxic drips. My parents were artistic themselves and encouraged us to do arts and crafts mainly because they had no other aspirations for us. They let us decide what we wanted to do. In hindsight it was a gift.
I was also fortunate in that I had other people along the way who encouraged me. For example, when I was in 3rd grade I had a teacher who suggested I illustrate my oral book reports. It was because of my shyness, and my teacher was trying to find ways of helping me. In the 6th grade I won an award for a poster that I drew for Unicef. I tagged along on the 8th graders’ graduation trip to New York City to accept my award and visit the UN. I was the smallest kid in the school. One 8th grader even took care of me on the trip. I learned from that early age that art is a powerful way for someone small and shy like me to get some acknowledgement from other people. In contrast, I remember one time in the 5th grade when I was on the town’s basketball team. I was the smallest and I got the ball once the whole season. Nobody bothered to chase after me and I had the court to myself when I got the ball. I had the freedom to make a layup but I missed it. I remember my voice in my head saying, “I’m going to miss”. I loved sports but I wasn’t built for it. Art was a blessing. It was my gift.
Throughout the years other teachers saw my potential, but I didn’t find a mentor until I went to Northern Arizona University. I went there to be an illustrator. I didn’t put a lot of effort into finding a college, but I found Northern Arizona University, which had a good art reputation for advertising and I got in. In the first year they had adequate instructors, but in year 2 another instructor came along and things took off. His name was Chris Magadini. They had a good advertising department there, but they had instructors with average enthusiasm. Chris was in his twenties, just finished his studies at the Art Center in Pasadena and he came to be an instructor at my college. He actually was fresh from his instructions and was passionate and disciplined. He pushed me to work on my skills. He pushed me to a higher degree of excellence and discipline. He was one of my first mentors and he’s a great mentor. This guy had the passion that the other instructors didn’t have. I just talked to Chris recently. He has an exhibit coming up and asked me to present some art as part of his show to demonstrate his influences and people he’s influenced. We both still have that curiosity and need to explore the new. We are both in a constant state of reinventing ourselves. Over the years I returned the gift and mentored him in plein air painting, and since then he gave up his illustration career to also be a painter.
When did you first pursue your art career full time?
My first job as an artist was during my junior year in college. There was a magazine called the American Indian Magazine where I apprenticed during the summer and winter breaks. I did design and my first real illustration with them. I was hired to do graphic design and production, but they gave me opportunities to do some of the Illustrations. When I graduated I got employment at an advertising art studio. My goal was to be the best illustrator possible. I worked for 14 hours a day under deadlines, which meant you had to be fast and at the same time produce art with a certain level of excellence. Many fine artists my age and older usually have some type of advertising background. It helped me further hone my craft. It was a great training ground for mastering the foundational skills that still inform my art today. I always wanted to be a great illustrator like the artists that worked on Time Magazine. When I got my job in the Art Studio I continued trying to improve my skills. A new school opened, called the Scottsdale Artists’ School. The school was started by a couple of artists that wanted to replicate the New York Art Students’ League. It was during the Cowboy Painters Movement, when many of the illustrators living in the Northeast who were making top dollar at illustration were giving up their jobs to move out West to paint for themselves. Some of those great illustrators were teaching there at the school, folks like James Reynolds, Bob Shufelt and Roy Anderson. The first year alone I took fifteen classes with artists John Asaro, Wilson Hurley, Clyde Aspevig, Richard Goetz and the list goes on. This was in addition to doing my freelance illustration. Many fine artists I’d never heard of and many illustrators I had admired and followed in my advertising career. This opened my eyes to a world of painting from life and painting for myself, and was a key life-changing moment for me. I didn’t envision changing my career when I took these classes. It worked on me over time, though.
My illustration improved leaps and bounds by painting from life and outdoor painting. I was paid more money and received more jobs in illustration. I got one job where I was paid a decent amount of money. At about that time one of my instructors, Ray Vinella, invited me to take a workshop with him in his home town of Taos, New Mexico. My wife Wanda and I found this little house that was for sale, and we decided to buy it with the money I had made and live there so I could pursue fine art full time. It was a ratty little house but it worked for us. Many of the important decisions in our lives were kind of like that. I would come up with a crazy idea, and Wanda would support me. I can’t emphasize enough how big a factor she’s been in my life. I know many talented artists where their wives and family responsibilities held them back from doing what they could have done with their art talent. I was fortunate that Wanda usually supported my ideas. I’m very fortunate to be on this path together with her. It’s been like that with us almost from day one. Like I remember one time after I graduated from college and before I started studying at the Scottsdale Artists’ School, Wanda and I went to Ireland for six months on a painting trip. I asked Wanda, “Hey, do you want to go to Ireland?” She said, “Okay, might as well get married first”. I love being on the road and meeting new people. It is something important for me to do, because it inspires me and makes me feel alive. I need to be in a constant state of discovery. My paintings in a way are my attempts to capture this gloriously exciting state. So I often come up with a travel itinerary and most times Wanda goes along with it. And the fact that I have this wonderful woman by my side supporting me in this way is an amazing gift.
To what do you attribute your success?
I think my vision, my nearsightedness, the way I see color, that’s the key. I imagine my vision is similar to how Monet would see. Monet was nearsighted too, and because my vision is soft focused it helps me see color a little differently. I naturally saw color fields and color relationships first instead of detail. I didn’t know I was so nearsighted until I was nine years old. One of my strengths is relating color on the canvas. If you look at Monet for example, when he was going blind his paintings got really expressive. I love that time period of his painting, before he had his cataract surgery. In my workshops I may be blind but I teach people how to see. The prerequisite to painting is the artistic language of seeing. Once they learn how to see, then you can teach them how to paint. Once someone looks at the world with the eyes of an artist, it changes their life. Another important factor is my sense of humor and I think trusting relationships in business. I think I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had long lasting, respectful relationships and friendships. That’s a big part of it. Having a personality that gets along with people. People want to see you succeed.
If you had it all to do over again, what would you do differently?
I wished I studied more seriously at a young age, especially foreign languages. I have studied Spanish since 3rd grade and self-studied French and now Mandarin. I would have focused on being fluent in many languages. It would have opened even more doors for me. Also drawing more and being more disciplined about honing my craft. Maybe if I decided to be an artist at four years old who knows where I’d be today?
What advice would you give artists looking to make art a full time career?
I would first say find some good mentors to study with and then follow your own path. Find a passion whatever the subject and make it your own. Follow your own path or you’ll never be happy. Wrong or right, I’ve made my own decisions. You must have the foundational skills, the grammar so to speak. Finding your vision and voice is the hardest part. So many people influence us; there are so many great artists out there. It is easy to question your own voice and direction. The really good artists feel comfortable that they are doing their own thing.
Which artists influenced you the most?
Early on Chris Magadini, my University instructor and Ray Vinella is another artist who as I mentioned precipitated our move to Taos. Many who taught at the Scottsdale Artists’ School, like John Asaro. The French Impressionists, Nicolai Fechin and the Californian Impressionists also influenced me. I continue to connect with artists all over the world and in recent years Chinese art and calligraphy has been finding its way into my work.
When did you first start using FASO?
Well, you could say that I was FASO’s first customer. It was around 1999, and there was a gallery down in San Antonio called the Greenhouse Gallery that represented me. The man who ran the gallery was Clint Watson. I found out that along with having passion and great taste in art, Clint was also a programmer. I wasn’t happy with my web designer at the time, so I approached Clint about building a website for me. I explained what was going on with my web designer, how I wasn’t happy with the designs and the time it took to update my website with my art (I had to call the web designer any time I wanted to change something). Clint said that instead of building a site for me, he wanted to build a tool that would let me create and update my website on my own. I was dubious at first, as I’m not the greatest when it comes to computers. But I agreed and he built the tool for me. It turned out to be really easy to use and update, and soon other artists found out about it and wanted to use it too. That’s how FASO got it’s start, from that conversation with Clint 15 years ago. It was hard to imagine then just how well FASO would do, but it all began with Clint listening to my problems and coming up with a clever solution.
What type of an impact did FASO have on your art career?
I think FASO has an impact on a lot of people’s careers. It gives us visibility and ease of marketing ourselves on the internet. I still struggle with my computer, and Clint has given thousands of artists an easy tool to get their art out there. New artists a lot of times say they want a website and barely know how to paint. A website isn’t going to help them, but if they go out in the world and paint and meet people, a website is another tool to connect with people. I think people who grew up more at ease with computers have found the internet and social media very effective to enhance their careers.
What do you like the most about FASO?
The ease of the templates. I tell people don’t go to anybody else to have a website done. On a couple of separate projects I had web designers do something. They charged an awful lot of money and it always had issues. It’s hard to use and you need them to switch images. It’s just a waste of time and money. FASO, for one, is very inexpensive. And instantly you have this platform that is so easy to use. And also the FASO family, that’s important too. That whole network of other people using it and its proven track record is really important.