Creative Series : Mike Kraus

Creative Moxie: Tell us a little about yourself. 
Mike Kraus: My name is Mike Kraus and I’m an artist based out of Rochester, New York. I have a beautiful wife and a goofy dog. Originally, I’m from the small industrial town of Muskegon, Michigan. Growing up in a working class city has influenced my designs whether it’s the topic, the use of humor, or style. In between Rochester and Muskegon, I went to school and had various jobs in Chicago. I met a lot of amazing people there, including my wife, and have had great experiences. It’s a world-class city with an abundance of creativity in everything from food to architecture and bars and festivals.

CM: How did you get into art? 
MK: I’ve always been into art. My parents always kept me well stocked with crayons, paper, and tons of other supplies. It’s just a part of me. In elementary school, my friend Brian and I would draw our own strange worlds instead of paying attention to the teachers. That continued into junior high when I started selling a few pieces here and there and getting commissions to deface textbooks. When I transferred to a new high school, a few of us published a monthly ‘zine that eventually got me into The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Trying to be “realistic,” I attended grad school and studied nonprofit management. Once I finally finished my education, I gave tours of Chicago skyscrapers, managed finances at a children’s hospital, and fundraised for an animal shelter. While I liked the work I did, I realized it wasn’t what I was meant to do. So, I re-focused my career and now I am a full-time artist.

CM: What is your creative process? 
MK: Sketch, sketch, sketch. I’ll draw something in my notebook and think about it. It may take me years to get beyond this step. Then I think about it some more. You know, trying to figure out what I’m trying to say, how do I want it to feel, size, color, shape, etc. Once I have a vision of the piece I turn on some music or something and just work. I try to focus on one project at a time. I’ll answer some emails or get something to eat to rest my eyes. When I’m finished, I have my wife, Megan, look it over. She’s got a great eye for design. I’ll make adjustments and set it down somewhere I’ll have to look at it a lot, like next to the TV or a prominent wall space. Force myself to look at it to make sure it feels “right.” When it feels “right,” I put it up for sale and move on to the next project.

CM: What is your favorite material to work with?
MK: In art school, I had a lot of inspiring professors. One of them was Richard Deutsch who taught a materials course. He had us using all sorts of traditional and exotic inks, charcoals, gouaches, paints, metals, and so on. We used modern techniques and those dating back to the Renaissance and beyond. It really changed the way I approached my work.
      So, when I have an idea about a piece, I start with the idea of what I’m trying to express. Then I ask “what is important to communicate that expression: color, texture, shape, etc.” Once I figure that out, then I determine what material would work the best.

CM: What are your biggest challenges to selling art and how do you overcome it? 
MK: Well, I’m still very new to art as a career. But, I think the biggest challenge I’ve faced is having the confidence to create something and put a price on it. To tell the world that something I’ve made has value. Then, waiting for a response to see if others agree with me about the value of my beloved work.
     It’s a real leap of faith to sell your work. But, at some point, I just said “dammit, I’m gonna do it.” There’s been some set backs and tons of doubt. But, there’s also some success. And I try to build on that success with the hope of finding my niche.

CM: How do you promote your work? 
MK: Lots of “word of mouth.” Lots of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, on, and on. I have a blog that I put up info about my work and life. Most importantly, I keep in touch with those who have my work. I’m really grateful that they hang my art in their homes and offices and I want them to know that. With any luck, someone will ask them “where did you get that wonderful painting,” and they’ll say, “Oh, it’s by this great guy. You should talk with him about making something for your house.”

CM: What advice do you have for new artists? 
MK: Experiment and have fun. You have to experiment because you never know what works. You’ll fail a hundred times and look like an idiot sometimes. But, that one success can make you appear to be a genius. And, it has to be fun to get you through the hard times between successes.

CM: What can we expect from you in the future? 
MK: If you asked me five years ago what I’d be doing today, I wouldn’t have been close to correct. So, I try to focus on what I’m doing now. It’s really difficult sometimes, but I try to let the future take care of itself.
     Today, I have to put on some finishing touches on a painting and marketing a finished piece. And, I’ll take some of my own advice and “experiment and have fun.” I’ll make a few pieces with topics and materials I’ve never used before. Maybe I’ll test out a few sales methods or license out a couple designs. It’s all about the journey; not the destination, right?

CM: Anything you’d like to add? 
MK: Yes. I think everyone needs a creative outlet. That can be painting, music, quilting, or whatever. There’s something about the evolution of the human brain that makes the imagination important. The act of making encourages patience, quality, and flexibility. And, that teaches us a lot about life in general. About what’s really important.

Also, I’d love meeting new people. So, please contact me:
- Etsy 
- Email
- Blog
- Facebook
- Google+
- Pinterest
- Twitter