AMA - Anything You've Ever Wanted To Know About Art - ASK ME ANYTHING!

Mike Kraus
Jan 12, 2018

Michael Kraus was born on the industrial shoreline of Muskegon, Michigan. After earning his Fine Arts Degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he attended Grand Valley State University for his graduate degree. From there, he gained varied experiences from the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Art Institute of Chicago, Hauenstein Center For Presidential Studies, Lollypop Farm Humane Society, and the Children's Memorial Foundation. And every place he worked, he had his sketchbook with him and found ways to be actively creative. In 2014, Kraus became a full-time artist by establishing Mike Kraus Art. Since then, he has sold hundreds of paintings that are displayed in nearly every state and dozens of countries. Currently, Kraus lives in Rochester, New York with his beautiful wife and goofy dog.

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Conversation (59)

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What advice do you give to your viewers how to appreciate your art, especially to those who are not really into art?

Jan 17, 6:07AM EST1

Art is like music for the ears and food for your mouth.  There will be things you like and things you don't like.  Humans are very visual beings.  

I do have clients that want artwork for their homes, but "don't understand art."  So, I'll ask them about things they like, what they have on their walls now, favorite colors, and try to figure out their personality.  Some people like pieces that are realistic and other that are more abstracted.  Maybe they prefer bright colors or the illusion of depth. 

What I try to do is figure out who someone is and find ways to create something that would appeal to them.  Just like if I were a chef and wanted them to appreciate my food.  If I knew their favorite food was spaghetti, maybe I'd try to introduce them to other posta based meals like lasagna.  Or try different noodles or sauces.  Maybe try pairing it with different sides.  The visual arts are the same.

Jan 17, 8:00AM EST0

How does an artist put a price on their creation? What factors are considered?

Jan 16, 5:27AM EST1

There's a lot of ways to come up with the final number.  

1) Compare your prices to other artists with similar material, style, and size.  Try to price pieces that have sold instead of for pieces that have not been sold.

2) You can take the cost of labor and materials and multiple it by 2

3) An artist may charge for materials and an hourly wage.  

4) Random.  Just pick a number and see if it sells.

Personally, I started by comparing my prices with other similar artists.  And I sold a lot of pieces.  Too many pieces really because I was selling artwork faster than I could make it.  So, I've been gradually increasing prices as demand for my artwork has grown.  Since I can only produce a limited amount of original work per year, the value increases as more and more people want those pieces.

Jan 16, 8:06AM EST0

Do you collect arts from other artists? Whose works are on your wall right now?

Jan 15, 3:35PM EST1

I do.  These pieces tend to be special.  For example, we have a seascape with penguins painted by my wife's great-grandmother.  It's a scene from a journey she took by boat to Australia.  I have some photography from my friend Frances in our kitchen.  There's several pieces in our family room from our honeymoon to Portugal.  We also have some work by my wife's grandmother.  Recently, I've acquired an interesting landscape by local artist (Rochester, NY) Bev Rafferty.   And I have various pieces from friends and family that I've collected that haven't found a space yet.  Those remain in my studio.  

Jan 16, 7:55AM EST0

Can you tell us what was the most expensive painting you have created and sold? Can you describe the piece?

Jan 15, 3:01PM EST1

Blue Birch Forest is a 36 H x 48 W (91.4 cm x 121.9 cm) painting that sold to a collector in Switzerland for $1,418.00

Jan 16, 7:49AM EST0

In viewing an art, what is the first thing that you see? What do you look for in an artwork?

Jan 15, 12:27PM EST1

When viewing artwork, I try not to "look" for something.  Rather, I try to allow the piece to show me something.  Sometimes, it's the colors that are interesting.  Other times, it's the technique.  It could be the subject.  When I look at a piece, I'm always trying to see what makes it special.

Jan 16, 7:43AM EST0

You have achieved a lot already. What to you was your proudest moment?

Jan 12, 8:55AM EST1

You are so kind.  Honestly, I'm not very good at reflecting on past projects.  I'm too busy on the current projects.  I just finished up a show at a local gallery.  Another show just went up a few days ago.  And I have to prepare for a show going up in a couple months.  So, I'm amazed and proud that I'm able to do that.  

Jan 12, 10:41AM EST0

What do you normally do when you don’t make art, like when you want to relax?

Jan 12, 8:04AM EST1

I spend a lot of time with my wife and dog.  We don't have children, so that affords us a lot of flexibilty.  Most of time, we just go for hikes around our area after work.  We make dinners or go to events around town.  We binge watch shows and watch movies.  That's our usual weekday schedule.

On weekends, that changes a bit.  There's usually a friend that has a gallery opening.  So, I'll stop in to see their work.  My wife usually has something scheduled, like a family dinner, visiting friends, babysitting nieces and nephews, etc.  Sometimes, we go to a Buffalo Bills or minor league game.  Possibly a concert.  Local festivals are pretty fun in the summer months.

But, we also like to travel.  Some trips are large like Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Portugal.  Others are smaller like Florida, Wisconsin, northern Michigan, Indiana, New York City, Connecticut, Pittsburgh.  Then we do micro trips to local parks and campgrounds.  

Jan 12, 10:34AM EST0

Who inspired you to be an artist? Does it run in the family?

Jan 12, 7:53AM EST1

There are some artists in my family.  My mom made art secretly before I was born.  Found some of her work in a box once and she was embarassed and hid it somewhere else.  One of my uncles went to art school and worked as a graphic designer.  Had tons of crazy side projects going all the time, which was always fun.  Another uncle is a more traditional painter that focuses on his experiences in Vietnam.   An aunt is a potter and sculpter.  My great-grandfather mostly painted portraits.  So, there's some family history.  And more if I really dug into my memories a bit.

What inspired me to be an artist was fate.  I've always drawn, but growing up in Michigan I wanted to be an engineer/designer/architect.  With the auto industry and all, I wanted to make things like buildings, trains, jets, etc.  I took every drafting and mechanical design class offered at school.  But, math became a problem.  I went to a subpar charter school that was allowed to teach lower level math to higher level students.  So, I did great in math there.  But, I transferred to a public school and I went from being in advanced math to being a year behind my grade level.  That pretty much ruined my chances for getting an engineering/architecture degree.

In my senior year of high school, my amazing art teacher went on maternity leave.  Her substitute was a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Since half of my classes were advanced art classes and she was the only teacher, we got to know each other pretty well.  One day, when I came into class, she sat me down and gave me an application to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and helped me create a portfolio.  If it wasn't for that, I'd probably be in a deadend job today.

Jan 12, 10:24AM EST0

Where is your favorite place to be when you draw?

Jan 12, 5:19AM EST1

My studio.  I'm a creature of habit.  I have my desk and easel set up the way I like.  I can listen to the music I want.  I can grab something from the fridge without hassle.  My dog keeps me company. 

But, I have my camera and sketchbook with me at all times.  So, if there's something I find interesting, I can capture it quickly and use it as inspiration later.

Jan 12, 10:06AM EST0

Name at least three artists you would like to be compared to.

Jan 12, 5:04AM EST1

This could be an extensive list:

  • David Hockney - great subjects, color, and scale
  • Georgia O'Keefe - bold landscapes
  • Kerry James Marshall - bold colors, great landscapes, Medieval layout
  • Albrecht Dürer - details, bold, travel, and great business sense
  • Frida Kahlo - Colors
  • Vincent Van Gogh - colors and movement
  • Kara Walker - extreme detail and social critique 
  • Andy Warhol - fun and business sense
  • Paul Gauguin - colors
  • Camille Pissarro - landscapes
  • Claude Monet - love of nature
  • Henri Matisse - eclectic skill and whimsical expression
  • Jean-Honoré Fragonard - background landscapes
  • Medieval Art - great patterns, strange subjects, stiff portraits

Really, this is a short list.  I could go on for days...

Jan 12, 10:04AM EST0

What project are you currently working on? Can you tell us about it?

Jan 12, 4:34AM EST1

Of course!  I always have a lot of irons in the fire.  

After a busy holiday season, my focus is on making new pieces.  So, I have a range of work.  These include:

  • Artist Trading Cards - I have 20 gouache paint pieces in various stages of completion.  I'm focusing on my Twilight Woods series since they've been very popular.  So, the new pieces will be including some different color schemes and variations on the landscape that are either more abstracted or more realistic.  
  • Small sunflower painting 
  • Large Lavender painting
  • Large Chicago painting
  • Very large sunset over Great Lakes painting
  • Commissioned animal portrait piece

Generally, I have these pieces spread out in my studio and as the paint is drying on one, I'll work on another.  

Jan 12, 9:45AM EST0
Show all 3 replies

Who is your all-time favorite artist and why?

Jan 12, 4:06AM EST1

Albrecht Dürer.  I think there's a lot I like about him.  First, his work is varied and amazing.  He made woodcuts, etchings, paintings and so many other pieces.  And looking at many of his pieces, especially portraits, there's something Medieval and Modern about them.  The paintings are so bold and the etchings are so detailed.  Every time I look at these pieces, there's something else I can find and appreciate.

Also, his biography is interesting to me.  His family was in the goldsmithing business and printing business.  After school, he learned the family trade.  His talent for drawing lead him to an apprenticeship under another artist.  For several years, he traveled and learned from other artists.  When he went back home, he opened his own studio.  From then on, he made lots of wonderful pieces and traveled.  

So, I guess I see him as a model for what I'd like to do.  

Jan 12, 9:37AM EST0

What color describes your mood or emotion right now?

Jan 12, 1:34AM EST1

Hmmm...  I'd have to say a light yellow.  

Jan 12, 9:24AM EST0

What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

Jan 11, 7:00PM EST1

Here's a list of jobs I've had"

  • Delivering weekly newspaper
  • Delivering daily newspaper
  • Pizza Cook
  • small magazine publisher
  • construction laborer
  • factory dock loader
  • museum registrar intern
  • Presidential researcher
  • summer school teacher
  • museum customer service representative
  • tour/volunteer associate
  • retail salesperson
  • nonprofit finance manager
  • fundraising manager
  • cashier
  • copy shop manager
  • bouncer

There are probably a few others I've forgotten...

Jan 12, 9:23AM EST0

What brings out your creativity?

Jan 11, 4:11PM EST1

For me, creativity is a "process."  I don't wait for "inspiration," I go out and grab it.  So, what is my process?

I have my studio and I start my day at 7:30am every weekday.  While my wife gets ready for work, I check on my sales overnight, answer emails, and conduct various administrative tasks until about 9am.  I have a little breakfast and review my tasks for the day.  Until about noon, I paint.  Have some lunch and check on my emails and all.  Then I paint again until 4: 30pm.  At that time, I do some more administrative tasks and review the work of the day.  When my wife returns from her job, we bring our dog for a walk, make dinner, watch TV or whatever else normal boring people do on a daily basis.  Sometimes, I'll have a painting placed next to the TV so I can casually look at it while watching all of season 3 of 30 Rock or something.  The routine starts over again the next day.  

Doesn't that sound like the least creative answer?  Yes.  But, setting that routine establishes time for me to be creative.  I know I have about 7 hours every day to come up with ideas, experiment with techniques, play with different palettes, and fill my canvases with whatever subjects and colors I want.  That's over 1,800 hours a year I allow myself to be creative.  And that's valuable.

What do I do with those 1,800 hours a year?  About 1/3rd of the time, I work with my patrons to create commissions.  And that can be almost anything.  It's very inspiring working with my clients because they have visions of projects that I have to make real.  So, when someone has an idea of a piece they want, I really have to be creative in coming up with solutions.  

The rest of the time, I'm developing my own creations.  And I get ideas from lots of different places.  Many times, it comes from places I've traveled.  Maybe it's the way the light hits a tree in my backyard.  Or I'll read an artist's biography and try something they mention in the book.  Or I'll see a piece in a museum or gallery and reinterpret it as my own.  If a piece doesn't "look right," I'll research pieces on the internet that I like and try to figure out why mine isn't "working."  

For me, inspiration comes from everywhere.  And creativity is the act of turning that inspiration into something real.

Jan 11, 6:27PM EST0

What do you hope will be your biggest lifetime contribution to art?

Jan 11, 2:54PM EST1

The scale of this question is epic.  And I've thought about it for most of the day and come to realize that it really takes a lifetime to answer.  But, what I will try to answer is: "Why do I create my art" which is a bit easier to accomplish.

The vast majority of the pieces I create are landscapes.  Yes, I do have some portraits, still lifes, animals, etc.  But, mostly pieces of a location.  Why?  Almost all of the places I paint are natural or at least rural.  These place are important.  They are special.  They are unique.  Too many people see a forest and think it's "empty" because there isn't a strip mall there.  Too many believe open spaces are "wasted" because it isn't full of ugly plastic homes or a desert of asphalt parking lots.  Natural spaces are necessary for plants, trees, animals, and humans.  Sometimes, I paint a scene and remove some form of human intervention because I want to show a better possibility rather than the current degradation.  

Jan 11, 6:03PM EST0

Beautifully said! Love it!

Jan 12, 9:41AM EST0

When did you start making art and what was your first drawing? Can you tell us your story?

Jan 11, 10:52AM EST1

Honestly, I don't know what my first drawing was.  If it still exists, it's in some cabinet at my mom's house.  But, the drawing above is one of the oldest I have in my possession.  It's a bear wearing glasses with a fake large nose and moustache.  Obviously, it combines my love of animals and gag gifts.  I think 55 refers to a page number.  Anyway, this piece was created by myself at four years old.

So, when did I start creating art?  Well, I've been drawing for as long as I can remember.  And the piece above is evidence that I've been drawing even longer than my memory.  I drew for fun at home and during class when I was bored in class.  Then I took all the art classes that were required.  Later, I took all the art classes that were offered in high school.  In fact, I ran out of art classes and the school invented some new ones for me.  A substitute art teacher convinced me to apply to art school, which I was accepted into.  This continued into graduate school, which I completed in 2005.

After college, I made artwork on the side which I worked several jobs.  Many were part time or temporary and allowed me to create.  But, eventually, I found more permanent work that gave me the ability to pay the rent and purchase groceries, but didn't leave much time for art.  So, as my career progressed, my art production was reduced to doodling in boring, never-ending meetings at the office.  

In 2014, I was unhappy with my work situation.  So, I decided to focus on my artwork full-time and it was the best decision I've ever made.

Jan 11, 4:20PM EST0

What do you say are the top three qualities of a successful artist?

Jan 11, 6:48AM EST1

1) Creativity/Experimentation - Most people understand this immediately.  Creativity and experimentation are almost the art itself.

2) Patience - You have to be able to tolerate mistakes, delays, errors, and other issues.  The creative process is messy.  So, you have to allow the process to occur.  

3) Persistence - You can't give up.  The mistakes, delays, errors, and other issues can become frustrating.  And there are many ways to deal with those situations.  But, you have to keep trying.

Jan 11, 8:14AM EST0

What painting media and techniques do you use? What is your most and least preferred medium and technique? Why?

Jan 11, 6:48AM EST1

I mostly use acrylic paint and gouache.  But, I do use a lot of other mediums because something looks fun and interesting whenever I visit the art store.  So, I have all kinds of pencils, pens, markers, spray paint, oils, crayons, charcoals, etc.  

As for techniques, I use all I know and learn about.  Over the years, I've read tons of books about artist techniques.  But, the place I learn the most about techniques is at museums and galleries.  Every-so-often, I'll see a piece that has some effect I don't understand.  If I know the artist, I'll ask them about it.  If not, I'll do research.  Many of my pieces come from experimenting with new techniques.

As for "most and least preferred medium and technique," I don't have an answer.  The project will determine what medium and technique will make the piece successful.  

Jan 11, 8:06AM EST0
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What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t work without?

Jan 11, 4:57AM EST1

John Lennon said, "I’m an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I’ll bring you something out of it."  What this illustrates is that tools aren't the most important part of being an artist.  It's being able to be creative with the tools available to you. 

An artist has to know how to "look" at something.  And being able to "look" at something is deeper and more complicated than just "seeing" something.  One must understand the shape, size, mass, and possibilitities of an object.  Once you understand that, anything can be turned into art. 

Jan 11, 7:56AM EST0
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