I am an artist with deep Appalachian roots. I was born in eastern Kentucky, where my parents were students at Berea College. My paternal grandfather was a Kentucky coal miner who never learned to read and my maternal grandfather worked at a tannery mill in Virginia; my parents were the first in their respective families to attend college. For my family, education and a strong work ethic provided a path to economic opportunity.
I grew up in the broad Appalachian region that includes Eastern Kentucky, Southwest Virginia, and Central Pennsylvania. As a child, I always enjoyed drawing. The drama of visual images and drawings captured my imagination and drew me into the stories behind the art. I was inspired by a wide range of classical and contemporary artists, including Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Maxfield Parrish, Will Eisner, Norman Rockwell — to name only a few. As might be expected, I was also fan of comic books and science fiction. I won awards for illustrations I created for the annual high school art and literary magazine and won entry into the 1975 Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts.
As I developed as an artist, I soon learned that most working artists sold their paintings for thousands of dollars — far beyond the means of my extended family. Yet, despite their own financial constraints, my family always encouraged my artistic ambitions. For many years, I pondered the irony of creating artwork that no one in my family could afford.
Kevin Messer discusses a painting with John Sears, faculty member at the 1975 Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts.
After high school, a short stint on a scholarship to the now defunct Art Institute of Pittsburgh and work in a local printing company, I ventured out as an independent, freelance artist. I soon found out the meaning behind the phrase, “starving artist” — the practical reality of making a living from my artwork was a hard lesson in economics. I decided to once again make a change.
This change took me back to Berea, Kentucky and Berea College. I continued to produce artwork and learned photography. During college, I won first place in the Mitchell Tolle’s “Art in Berea” competition, had a large acrylic painting shown across the state in an exhibit of student work, and a photograph I took of my grandparents won an award in the first Parade Magazine American Family Photography contest.
After graduating from Berea College, I worked for more than 20 years at two global technology companies, NCR Corporation and Accenture. During those two decades, technology was transforming the way people worked — including the visual arts and photography, the performing arts, and fine art reproduction — and I was involved in designing and managing Personal Computer (PC) systems that enabled these changes. In the process, I also became an expert in the use of technology like Teradata for analyzing large amounts of information, a field called data warehousing or big data. I also worked as a Management Consultant, helping organizations improve their return on investment in technology; more about my professional work can be found on LinkedIn.
I started creating artwork that blended traditional art media with computer technology in 2003, with the aim of creating artwork that would be affordable. (More about “digital art” can be found in the Blog section.)
When people first see my artwork, I am usually asked, “How did you do that?”
For as long as I can remember, my work has eluded easy categorization. For example, when I exhibited “Making it Better” in 1983, people were overheard saying, “That can’t be a pencil drawing! Pencil isn’t that black! . . . and besides, it looks like a photograph!” Well, in fact, anyone can draw deep, rich black lines with the right drawing paper (cold-press illustration board), a Sanford Ebony pencil, and a lot of arm strength for the strokes — and dark blacks naturally cause an image to look more real.
When I set out to create what I see in my mind, I use whatever materials I find most effective. I often use materials in unconventional ways by mixing different media together. For example, I use paint, but I combine oils and acrylics. I also use ink, canvas, a variety of papers, and some technology. That last word, “technology,” is loaded in many fine art circles, where it becomes a code-word for removing or short-circuiting the human element from the artistic process. Unfortunately, the reality is that most artists paint on canvas that was manufactured by a machine and paint that was mixed in a factory by other machines. Technology is only a tool and I use many.
As a result of using so many different media and materials, my artwork usually falls into the broad visual arts category of two-dimensional “mixed-media” artwork, though a few works like Rose Petals are almost three-dimensional.
Despite my use of many different tools and techniques, all my work is created by hand — my hands. I do everything so that my customers know that they buy my work, not work created by assistants or other third parties. I use materials with archival quality so that the work will last many lifetimes. For my paintings, I assemble canvas stretcher frames by hand and use keys so that the tautness of the canvas can be preserved; once the painting is complete, I use multiple coats of UV-resistant varnish to protect the paint and ink from fading and abrasion. For my reproduction prints, I use all acid-free papers and mats. Even the tape and storage bags are archival quality. This extra attention to archival materials significantly increases my cost to create artwork, but the result is work that will exceed the life span of my customer . . . and I like to know that the emotional impact of my artwork will not fade due to cheap materials.
Using a variety of high-quality materials and media also allows me to experiment and create multiples of my artwork. In other words, when I create a painting like “Country Store, USA,” I produce the work in various sizes. For example, the photo on this web site is 40 inches wide and 60 inches tall; I have created other versions that were smaller and fit better on the wall space available in most homes. I apply paint differently on each version, trying different effects that vary color and texture. No two paintings are the same. Prices vary by size, rising with the size.
I also sell reproduction prints of my artwork. Unlike many other artists, I produce these prints myself — that is, I print each one and I inspect each one. I own the printers and I designed the prints and the process for producing them. I pick the paper and the mats.
I also produce inexpensive blank note cards of my artwork, that is, I design and print each one. The note cards are priced to be an affordable alternative to mass-produced cards sold by big retailers. Photos of the cards are found on the Support page.
I started artwork sales through galleries and outdoor arts festivals in 2004. As a result of the accounting and sales tax collection required by the Federal, State, and local governments, I formed a corporation in mid-2004. The corporation’s name is “The Artist’s Eye Productions, Inc.” I consider the business disciplines of being an artist part of the tools and techniques that enable me to create artwork, the craft or skills required in the creative process.
For me, artwork has always been the craft in service to the visual image — and trying to bring the internal vision to reality is always the struggle. Perhaps that struggle is because I am largely self-taught, learning through trial and error what works for me. My most recent artwork typifies that experimental approach: it leverages new tools and technologies that didn’t exist 20 years ago. My new work combines traditional media with these new technologies for striking images of light and color, all made by hand in my home studio. Nevertheless, the “eye of the artist” remains the same.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
(last updated: March 2019)
Is your artwork photography?
My artwork is not photography because the result of my creative process is not a photographic print. I use my own photographs similar to many other artists, including Norman Rockwell, who use photographs as part of their creative process.
Are you a professional photographer?
I consider myself an artist who uses photography as a tool, the same way I use a brush or pencil. I have used photography this way for more than 30 years, so I have a lot of experience. Nevertheless, the word “professional” has little to no real meaning without actually seeing the work and I would rather customers view my work and use their own words.
If your work is not photography, then what is it?
Two broad categories of visual art techniques apply to my work: Digital Art and Mixed Media Art.
For Digital Art, the artist uses a computer to simulate and extend traditional tools like brushes and paint, much as artists have always used technology to achieve their inner vision and creative intent. More about Digital Art can be found here.
Mixed Media artwork simply uses more than one medium, such as combining drawing with printmaking or ink with paint. Given the number of combinations, Mixed Media is a very broad category of artwork.
My artwork combines Photography, Digital Art tools and techniques with a variety of traditional media like canvas, wood, oils and acrylic paint — all created by hand.
How do you use a computer to create your artwork?
My work usually begins with one or more photographs that I have taken; the only exception is one painting based on a photo taken by my wife. The photos serve as references and I often combine visual elements from multiple photos.
I use high-resolution displays and software that respond interactively to special pens to mimic traditional tools like ink pens, paintbrushes, or X-acto knives. I use the pens to render the image by hand. The rendering takes the form of masking, manipulating pixels and colors, drawing, and painting — often zooming in and out to work at very fine details. The work is very laborious and each work usually takes 40 to 60 hours of time at the computer.
For the geeks, when I first started creating and printing my artwork, I originally used both Apple and Windows-based computers; the Apple Mac computer was more reliable for creation, Windows for printing. With continued improvements in macOS, I now use Apple Macs for the majority of my artwork. I use software from Adobe, Avery, Epson, Nikon, and many others — based on which best supports my creative intent. I use printers made by Epson; scanners made by Brother, Canon, and Nikon; Nikon and Apple iPhone cameras. I originally used graphics tablets made by Wacom, but now use an Apple iPad Pro and Apple Pencil.
Why do you use a computer to create your artwork?
The computer allows me to control all aspects of the creative process, including the process of making reproduction prints. The control allows me to create affordable artwork.
Most artists sell reproductions of their work. The traditional process takes several weeks and can cost the artist thousands of dollars. The artist may oversee the printing, but others do the actual printing, often in a factory-style environment. For the artist, the process is expensive way to create multiple reproductions of artwork. For the customer, the result is a less-expensive facsimile of the original artwork that will closely match the original, although minor color differences are common.
In contrast, I use the computer and my own high-quality printers to create my own reproductions, so I do not have to pay other people. I print only what I need to sell at a given point in time. I use the computer to ensure that colors match perfectly and consistently. The result: my costs are lower, making the work more affordable to people at all income levels.
What are “reproduction prints?” How do you produce them?
Reproduction prints are duplicates of an original artwork. When an artist creates artwork digitally, the only way to purchase it is by printing the image. Hence, the process of creating digital artwork includes printing reproductions.
Part of my creative process involves making multiple test prints on various papers and canvas. Depending on how the print appears, I may change the artwork considerably and then reprint it again; this cycle may continue for days or weeks until I am satisfied with the printed appearance. Throughout the process, I use specialized computer software to ensure that the printed colors of the images are consistent across both paper and canvas. Once I consider the digital image complete, it becomes the basis for a variety of reproduction prints
Unlike many other artists, I do not “outsource” reproduction printing of my work. Instead, I do all of my own printing in my home studio. I do my own printing for several reasons: first, to assure my customers that they are buying my work, not the work of others; second, to ensure the highest possible print quality; third, to keep costs low so that the work is affordable to my customers.
I produce all of these prints by hand in my home studio; they range from numbered prints on archival, fine-art paper to single and gift-boxed note cards with envelopes. The price of my reproduction prints increase with size.
I call them “reproduction prints” to differentiate them from the mixed-media paintings that I create from the digital image. My paintings are not reproduction prints, since each one is different.
Online privacy is extremely important to me. The only personally identifiable information that I collect through this web site is:
- The information voluntarily provided to join my mailing list, specifically name and email address.
Whle this information is collected by a third party, none of it is shared with any other company. I do not rent, sell, or give away such information.
If you provide me with your contact information in order to buy my artwork or to join my mailing list, you can be assured that your personal information will be used for no other purpose.
The images on this web site are copyrighted by the artist, Kevin M. Messer. Copyright is registered with the United States Copyright Office and use of the images is restricted.
Contact the Artist
other sites: www.theartisteye.net www.artisteyeproductions.com www.kevinmesser.us www.kevinmesser.net