Inspiration from a feather from the sky

Chance discovery ignited Mark Krambeer’s artistry

Using an old tobacco can holder and simple desk light, Mark Krambeer goes to work creating art. He said many believe he uses magnifying glasses and fancy equipment when he creates.

NEW ULM — For New Ulm painter Mark Krambeer, inspiration fell out of the sky.

“I was walking down the back sidewalk and I picked these two feathers up,” he said. “Sometimes you get an intuition. Something tells you to do something, and that was the deal. I picked them up, brought them in, and painted the first one. From then on I started painting them all the time.”

This was 10 years ago. Krambeer had never picked up a brush or done anything beyond light doodling before then. He has never taken a class or attended any workshops in his life. Everything he has learned and accomplished has come from trial and error.

“They don’t all turn out,” Krambeer said. “There was a lot of garbage because if you don’t paint fast enough it gets sticky because you’ve got light right on it. Once it gets sticky, as soon as the tip of the brush hits that paint, it can pull the feather apart. Then it’s in the garbage.”

Krambeer said many people assume he has a fancy set-up, expensive equipment, and bright lighting to make art on bird feathers. In reality, Krambeer uses standard acrylic paints and thin brushes to create his works.

Mark Krambeer smiles as dozens of his pieces are lined up on a bookcase. Krambeer mainly draws birds, but he has also done motorcycles, pets, and odder selections like possums and vultures.

Where one would imagine a magnifying glass and bright lights, Krambeer uses his natural eyesight and a desk lamp in his dimly lit workspace. His easel comes from one of his former hobbies.

“I used to collect pop stuff and beer stuff,” he said. “I decided to get out of that because I was into painting better. I used to use this wood rack that I paint on as a tobacco can display.”

Krambeer has adorned his home with hundreds of feathers, each with unique hand-crafted paintings on them. With bird feathers being the canvas, birds are often the muse. Krambeer said the work must be done fast, and each piece takes roughly an hour.

“I’ll get my thoughts on what I’m going to do,” he said. Then I’ll grab a feather and pop it on the board. From then on, it comes out of your memory. You know how that bird looks. I used to pheasant hunt so I know what a pheasant looks like when it takes off and sitting on a post in the winter. I can think back in my mind and get that out.”

While sometimes he uses photos, memory is his main form of inspiration. Krambeer said the main drawback of this is being interrupted while in his artistic flow.

These two feathers were the first Mark Krambeer ever created, after he found them on the sidewalk. Since then, he has created hundreds of art pieces and now sells them at Antiques Plus.

“Keeping the thought,” he said, “All of a sudden the phone rings, somebody knocks on the door or comes over. It’s like, ‘I gotta quit and I’m right in the middle of it.’ Sometimes you’ll come back a half hour later and it’s like, ‘Wow, what was I doing here?’ You’ve lost the idea.”

The feathers he uses are always real. Krambeer said he has never tried or even considered using fake feathers. As for where he gets feathers, he has his connections.

“Friends of mine are turkey hunters,” Krambeer said. “Sometimes I get feathers from them. I’ve bought some turkey feathers off the internet. They gotta be not messed up feathers. It’s best if you’re somebody who raises turkeys or chickens or ducks. A friend of mine used to have Guinea hens and that’s where I used to get them until someone got their guinea hens.”

While birds are his main subject, he has also branched out into other subjects such as motorcycles and various animals. While Krambeer also takes requests, he said one type of request can be tricky.

“I don’t like doing pets,” he said. “I’ve done them for a couple of my friends. They’re hard to do because every owner looks at their pet differently. You can think you’re doing their their pet perfectly; they look at it like ‘Nah that doesn’t look like my dog.’ Or they say it does and you can tell it isn’t quite what you were thinking.”

On top of bird feathers, Krambeer also paints on small, circular mirrors. He said the most difficult part is managing the paint, as it smears easily on the shiny surface.

Given the difficulty of making art and the effort it takes, Krambeer said what he enjoys the most is what people say when they see his art.

“All the compliments stick with you really,” he said. “Each compliment means a lot and always does. No matter what for, no matter what you do, compliments are good.”

Krambeer said he has no plans of stopping anytime soon, though eventually he will run out of space in his home to keep everything he’s created. He said he hopes his story inspires others to try new things and persevere.

“One thing I never thought I would ever be doing was painting a feather every day,” Krambeer said. “Never give up. If you fail at doing one, go right back, sit down, throw that one away, and go for it again till you get it right. Once you get it right, then it comes easier.”

Krambeer currently sells a variety of his work at Antiques Plus. He is also available by telephone at 507-380-7687.


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