If you tell Steven Kozar his paintings look like photographs, he'll be quick to tell you that this isn't his intention. He isn't trying to trick his viewers. In fact, Kozar's watercolors are so realistic looking that many have questioned if his work really is watercolor or have gone so far as to say that it shouldn't be characterized as such in the first place because it breaks the traditional mold.
"Being a photorealistic painting really helps if you can find those people who appreciate it," Kozar said in a phone interview with TheBlaze.
"Bob's Rod & Reel" (Image: Steven Kozar)
"For over 10 years, I've had that website up," Kozar said. "Within a few hours [of being featured on Reddit] the site crashed with more than 10,000 visitors."
When he spoke with TheBlaze on Tuesday he had up to 30,000 new visitors.
"Jack and Eleanore" (Image: Steven Kozar)
TheBlaze reached out to Kozar because we've featured photorealistic works of art in pencil and oil paint before but not in watercolor. You might remember the time your mom bought you a kiddie watercolor set or have been to an art gallery and seen famous watercolor works and they look, well, like what you would expect of watercolors.
We wanted to know Kozar's secret, which he told us isn't really a secret (he teaches classes in Wisconsin showing how he does it) but that he uses several techniques to enhance the vibrancy of the colors, including layering colors while the paint is still wet and at times using a dry brush.
Unnamed (Image: Steven Kozar)
For more than 25 years, Kozar has been painting in a photorealistic style, but he received little formal training. In fact, he dropped out of art school.
Kozar told TheBlaze he initially attended a state university in Illinois, but left after a year when he felt he wasn't being taught the fundamentals in class as he ought to as an art major.
The "Bean" in Chicago's Millennium Park. (Image: Steven Kozar)
"Students were watching me draw. The professor came over and said 'his drawing isn't that good,'" Kozar said, noting that the professor went on to tell the class that the best works are ones where you can see the flaws.
From there, Kozar went to the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Here, it never sat well with him that he was told "watercolors should look a certain way" -- and that way wasn't necessarily his.
"No one is used to watercolor being handled this way," he said.
Lion outside of the Art Institute of Chicago. (Image: Steven Kozar)
Tuition was also high and the student in the 1980s was newly married. After he applied for a scholarship, which he said many thought he was a shoe-in for and didn't receive it on a technicality, he said he felt God might be telling him that art school wasn't for him.
Kozar decided he would have an art sale at his parents' house in the Chicago suburbs to try and raise the money to buy a car and move to the country where he would be more apt to find the things he wanted to paint. He said at a Sunday church an announcement was made about the sale and a man approached him afterward offering to let him purchase his car for $1. The sale itself brought in a few thousand dollars.
"And that was the beginning of my art career," Kozar said. "I felt like God was saying 'go for it.'"
"Autumn at Union Terrace" (Image: Steven Kozar)
"October Lawn Ornaments" (Image: Steven Kozar)
But it turned out to be harder than he thought it would be to make a living out of it. He started selling his work art galleries but later found that art fairs were the way to go to support his wife and three children. Art fairs, the now 48-year-old noted, were something he frowned upon when he was younger.
"You can only be 'pure' to so much of an extent," Kozar said, even though as his children have grown up he said that he is going to stop going to fairs and start selling through galleries again.
"Sledding at Brigham Farm" (Image: Steven Kozar)
In addition to being somewhat of a non-traditionalist in the art world when it comes to his watercolor techniques, he also finds himself on the other end of the stereotypical political spectrum for artists (he divulged to TheBlaze when we first reached out to him that he's a Glenn Beck fan).
Ultimately though, Kozar said he keeps his political views out of his art.
"As an artist, I don't try to inject politics into my work," he said. "The best part about art is when we find things that are universal. I try to relate to as many people as possible."