Self-Evolving Portrait: Gareth

20170730_SEP_Gareth_Duotone_15x22Self-Evolving Portrait: “Gareth”
– Graphite and white charcoal on colored paper
– 5.9×8.3″/15×21 cm

He came from a long line of wanderers, each of whom had passed on this wanderlust to an only child. Gareth was the first to be born a male. His mother had been his greatest mentor. Half a century after her death, he still followed her example: he never stopped moving, and he told no one where he’d been. Unlike his forebears, however, he had brought no child of his own into this world. The little orphan girl he found huddled in the bole of a tree had rendered that unnecessary. Ten years on, she had grown strong, with her own ideas and a will of iron. Every day, she became more of a handful. Good, he thought. It will serve her well. He relished the certainty that she would one day go where he had not.


Sitting in the hospital while waiting for my wife’s appointment number to come up is as good a time as any to do a self-evolving portrait. I put a sheet of colored paper in my sketch clipboard and started with the usual squiggly shading. After I covered about half the page, something suggested itself. More accurately, “someone suggested himself.”

From that point on, it was just a matter of accentuating and clarifying the image as it emerged on the paper. I used the kneaded eraser to fade out the lines on the lower right and to clear some key highlight areas on the nose and forehead before adding the white charcoal.

Lysistrata Returns

LysistrataReturns_AC_50x65“Lysistrata Returns”
– Acrylic on canvas/linen, 19.7×25.6″/50x65cm

I’ve been doing graphite drawings and duotones that seem to take on a life of their own. My imagination has always been vivid, but these drawings seem to take on a life of their own as I work on them. As the drawing progresses, I reach deeper, responding to what suggests itself on the page. All kinds of unintended elements somehow include themselves in the image.

This image introduces that same process to a new medium. It started as a partial figure in an 11×14″ sketchbook. I extended the original drawing to map out the whole figure and then transferred it to canvas. The entire background and much of the figure was improvised directly on the canvas.

As I brainstormed on a title for this painting, a name–or at least part of it–popped into my head. It sounded familiar. I did an online search and realized a sort of connection. When my wife heard the name, she immediately seized upon it, not knowing the story behind it.

So here we have it: “Lysistrata Returns.” Whatever the tale once was, from the look on her face, the tone has clearly changed.

Was It Really There?


We got up to have coffee, like we do pretty much every morning. On this day, though, everything was different. We weren’t in our usual house in Beitou. We found ourselves looking out the large, east-facing glass windows of a double door. A heavy overcast hung low overhead, obscuring even the foothills.

But that is not what made us gasp in wonder.

The sun was breaking through a hole in the cloud cover, somewhere to the northeast on this early summer day. It cast a beam through the mist, lighting up the edges of the trees, tracing the rise of the far ridges that climbed up into the gloom overhead.

A vision emerged momentarily from the mist, then faded from view as the clouds began to roil. We stared. The shaft of light grew stronger, glancing off of this and that, though we could not easily tell what we saw. As the light shifted again, we seemed to be gazing at a castle whose walls and towers were only just visible in the hazy dawn. A castle? No, a whole city, perhaps!

The sun continued to rise, widening the hole in the clouds, illuminating the mists in the vales between the ridgelines. The entire fairy city came into focus for a few brief moments: great walls and towers, a cluster of houses, a massive gate, perhaps. It was all there. Still, at this distance, we questioned whether we were seeing clearly.

The overcast began to lift, too light now to obscure the view. When we looked again, the fairy city had vanished.

Was it ever there? We think so.

Later in the day, I did my best to paint it from memory.

Time for a New Hat


The old Scala hat had gone from one side of the world to the other and back again. I bought it in California, and it had shaded me from the sun at sea level in Taipei, Taiwan, on the battlements of India’s Amer Fort, up Platteklip Gorge to the top of South Africa’s Table Mountain, and all the way to 4,500 meters at the foot of Yangmaiyong in Yading, China. It had been to the icy summit of Germany’s Zugspitze and on the storied hills of Toledo, Spain.

In the middle of some Turkish ruins, I had this exchange with a Korean tourist.

Him (pointing at my hat): Where’s your horse?
Me (looking around frantically): I lost my horse??!

I was always glad the hat was crushable. Stuffed in a backpack countless times, it still kept its shape–for the most part, anyway. Over the years, it had lost its little split leather adornment. The metal rivet that used to hold that piece had rusted beyond recognition. The liner of the inner hat band had disintegrated.

About a year ago, I cleaned it rather badly, so the crown was now skewed, and the brim dipped too low over my eyes. It had lost some stiffness so it flopped around when the wind was strong. Maybe it was time to replace it. I checked online. Nothing. It wasn’t even mentioned on the company website.

Back in California, the San Francisco REI still had a few. I browsed the rack, hoping for the best. They were all the wrong size. I asked the staff to see if they had back stock. No such luck, but while they were looking I  spied the hat on a mannequin. It fit me! “Take it!” they said.

I did. It was the only one my size in the whole store. Apparently, the company stopped making this model. We went online and found another one in black. Only one. We ordered that one, too.

It was such a good hat,
And it’s still a good hat.
Well, I guess that’s that:
It’s time for a new hat.



“Dragon Head 2” – conceived and executed entirely in GIMP

My, how things change. I started working with Photoshop way back when it was version 2.0. Okay, that dates me, I know. I purchased 3.0 for a Windows 3.1 machine and upgraded a couple of times, eventually installing it on a Windows XP machine. Then, when I had to move to Windows 7 (yes, I held out a long time), my current native version was too old to upgrade, so I was going to have to buy Photoshop all over again. Whoa. Sticker shock.

I whined and grumbled loudly enough for my wife to hear me. In some ways, Ping is more of a geek than I am, and she’s certainly more resourceful. She suggested looking for shareware that might do all the color correction, cropping, resizing, sharpening, etc., that I was doing with Photoshop. I followed her suggestions and links (she finds stuff so fast!) and…oh, yeah, baby!

Behold: the Gnu Image Manipulation Program, aka GIMP!!!

It’s shareware. It’s open source. It’s stable. It’s free. It’s instantly downloadable. You get the full version and upgrades from now until eternity without forking over one red cent. Ever.

And it’s plenty powerful for what most of us do. You want layers, vectors, filters, text, fills…? Sure. What else do you want?

I’ve been using GIMP now since 2011, and I have every intention to continue. I just downloaded v. 2.8.22 a few weeks ago. Upgrading is seamless. I’ve not exceeded its capabilities, and I’m still learning what I can do with it.

Carry on.

It’s a Relaunch!


It’s a Relaunch!

This blog is now the go-to site for my creative work. This is for everything: art, music and writing–everything.

I’ve added galleries featuring a hand-picked selection of my artwork so it’s easy to browse through the good stuff. Everything you see there is available for purchase unless it already says “Private collection.” Email me with the title(s) you’re interested in, and I’ll let you know the price.

A selection of my work can always be purchased as prints via fineartamerica. I’ll rotate different pieces in and out of there periodically, and I’ll announce updates on this blog.

You’ll also find a new Music page with links to all of the music I have recorded and posted out there. Anything new that I post on YouTube or SoundCloud will be announced in the blog and will get a link on the Music page.

I’ll still post on the Mark Ivan Cole – Artist and Let’s Go Take a Look pages on Facebook, but whatever it is that I’m doing, you’ll always find it here first.

So, from now on, this is the place! Thanks for checking out my stuff. Comments are appreciated. I’m looking forward to the interaction!

Cheers! –Mark Ivan Cole

Spontaneous Commission

At different times of my life, I’ve lived in the Andes, between the Cascades and the Olympics, and within sight of the Sierra Nevada’s famed Half Dome. I’ve hiked in the Rockies, the Sawtooth mountains and the Wallowas. Despite those experiences, nothing compared me for the rawness of South Africa’s Table Mountain, Constantia Peak or the Hottentots-Holland reserve. Photos do not do them justice. Being there was an unforgettable experience.

While we were there, I was offered an opportunity, and as an artist who loves mountains, I could not have asked for better: would I be willing to do a series of plein air graphite sketches of the local landscape? The deadline was short, so I poured myself into the task, relishing every hour. They had to be framed and hung right away, so I didn’t have the chance to scan them in high resolution. Still, here they are, the results of a wonderful spontaneous commission, already hanging on the wall in their new home.