Fresh Faces Of Tampa: Contemporary Artist, Beth Kokol

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Beth Kokol is a busy Tampa artist and owner of Kokol Art Studio and Gallery. Kokol not only creates her own works in a variety of mediums, but also teaches and nurtures budding artists at her gallery. She took some time out of her busy schedule to chat about her own work and the Tampa art scene in general.

What piqued your interest in art, and how did you get started?

When I was in grade school, I struggled in academics. I really didn’t like school. I remember vividly that in second grade, I won an award for a crayon drawing I did of a palm tree. It felt great to be success at something school related. From then on, I was always doing some form of art. My parents were very supportive of my love of art. I went to college at Florida State and received a Bachelor in Fine Arts (BFA) in Studio art. It was the perfect foundation for me as an artist and today, as the owner of my own art school.

How has your artwork evolved over time?

For some artists, they fall in love with one medium and stick with it. I, on the other hand, love to do just about any medium I can get my hands on. I had an instructor who called me a swirling mind because I work in so many different mediums. She said it was both a blessing and a curse. For me, it’s perfectly natural. My BFA graduation show included photo silkscreen, drawings, watercolors that were about 8-feet long and photography.

Since then, I have studied and sold oil paintings, mixed media, wood and metal sculpture and acrylics. My last five summers, I’ve gone to Penland School of Crafts in Penland, NC along with other places to learn new mediums and techniques. This summer, I studied with Keiji Shinohara learning traditional wood block printing using watercolor. I am in process of getting ready to have him show here in Tampa at my studio as well as do a visiting artist workshop this spring. Keiji will be at the helm teaching wood block, sumi ink and hand coloring prints, classes which will be open to the public.

You enjoy both painting and teaching others. How did your interest in teaching arise?

I am fortunate to have two wonderful children. As they began to grow up, I wanted see them take art classes. Finding an art studio that worked for what I had hoped for was difficult, so I began teaching classes so my children could attend. First I was part of setting up a volunteer art enrichment program at Mitchell Elementary. I then taught at the YMCA and the JCC. Once my kids hit 10th and 6th grades, I decided to start teaching classes on my own. Since then I have had four studios, each one bigger than the last.

Lucky for me, my present studio is almost 2000 sq ft and, I own it along with my husband. I love teaching kids and adults of all ages and varying skill levels. I believe that the kids should be exposed to as many different mediums as possible. The adult classes are more focused on the medium of each person’s choice.

What do you like best about teaching others?

What do I like best…that’s easy. Watching folks grow and learn and then there is that moment when the light bulb finally clicks on. The joy on the artist’s face, whether child or adult, just makes my day. Each spring, we have a student show where all adults are welcome to show and sell their work if they like. It’s a very popular event called Art on the Bay. In years passed, the students have shown as many as 85 pieces. It can be scary showing you work because you never know how it will be received. I am always so proud of how they pull together and present a beautiful show. There is a great sense of community amongst the adult students, for sure.

Do you think teaching helps your own artwork?

I absolutely think it is good for my own work. In my studio I encourage each person to paint, draw and create mixed media in the style that they develop and are comfortable with. I am there to help them push the edge, figure that out the best path for what they want to say in the piece and to help them develop the technical tools they need to get them where they want to go. This applies to my own work as well. I really think it keeps my mind fresh and open to trying new things.

What do you think is most notable about the Tampa art scene? Is it a good environment for artists?

I think the Tampa art scene is very definitely on the rise. I have noticed that Tampa and St.Petersburg are beginning to bridge the gap. That is very exciting to me since I just moved my home to St. Petersburg. I lived for a short time in Channelside this summer and boy, there is some really fun stuff going on there with all the young up and coming artists. I would say that overall, Tampa can be a tough market to break into.

One of my biggest reasons I opened my present location on Bay to Bay was to create a space that was multifunctional so that I could not just teach but hopefully help open doors for emerging artists when functioning as a gallery. Not too long ago, a wonderful friend and great artist Stephanie Ong was in my emerging artist show. She is off and running doing what she loves and is doing very well. It is exciting to be just a small part of experiences like that. Last year we were fortune to have Roy Lerner who is an internationally known artist show in the gallery and his work was very well received. Keiji Shinohara who is not only a Japanese master but has a United States postage stamp coming out very soon. He is scheduled to show here in the Spring along with Beth Garcia. Beth is an emerging artist who paints in water soluble oils. Her Florida landscapes are beautiful and not to be missed.

What is your favorite part about working in the Tampa area?

I would have to say that I find the people in Tampa to be very friendly overall and I also find local services to be wonderful. There are tons of restaurants and downtown is really action packed with the events and Riverwalk. I lived in South Tampa for 22 years in three different neighborhoods and each one is full of charm. Some had brick streets and of course I love all the porches on the old houses. It’s a really good way to get to know your neighbors. Nothing like being a porch monkey in Tampa.

Where do you see yourself going with your art over the next few years?

That is a great question and one I ask myself constantly. My photography professor, Robert Ficther, once told me that living life is an art. As I get older I understand and totally agree with that. I feel the things I do, the places I travel to and the things that happen in my life send my work down different paths. I am beginning to be sure to make more time to do my own personal work now that my business is pretty solid. Just last week a new group of artists was formed to help bridge the gap between all the two sides of the bay. I love the idea of doing collaborations with other artists in different mediums. If only there were more hours in the day.

Barbara Nefer is a freelance writer covering all things Orlando Her work can be found on Examiner.com.

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