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Sioux City artist Kochen shares coloring pages with self-quarantining kids amid COVID-19
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A creative outlet during an outbreak

Sioux City artist Kochen shares coloring pages with self-quarantining kids amid COVID-19

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SIOUX CITY -- Mark Kochen's world is filled with tiny birds sitting on humongous seats as well as city-dwelling sheep living nonchalantly next to industrial complexes.

Oh, did we mention the bunnies? The Sioux City-based artist loves to create bunnies in his incredibly detailed pieces.

"When I started making bunnies, they were fatter," Kochen explained. "Now, they're more angular, refined and better-looking."

Many of Kochen's favored subject matters -- '80s-era boomboxes, floor TV sets and elaborate landscapes -- are front-and-center in a coloring book available for purchase at Markkochen.com as well as at Sioux City Gifts, 1922 Pierce St.

Mark Kochen

In this April 2018 file photo, artist Mark Kochen is shown in Sioux City with some of his work.

The 36 original, hand-drawn images, compiled over a span of a decade, are also being shared by Kochen on his Facebook page.

Kochen is doing this to give kids, home from school due to coronavirus concerns, something creative to work on as they self-quarantine.

Indeed, he remembered what it was like to be a kid with an overactive imagination.

"I was totally into 'Where's Waldo,' Bill Watterson's 'Calvin and Hobbes' and the work of Richard Scarry as a child," the 39-year-old Kochen said.

Well, Kochen apparently is still a kid at heart. His home studio is decorated with "Calvin and Hobbes" collectibles and, yes, 3-foot-tall bunnies do greet visitors as they enter the home he shares with his wife, Sara. 

"The secret of any artist's successful marriage is to marry someone who understands our quirks," he explained. "Sara, who is an art teacher for the Hinton Community School District, understands my quirks."

That means Kochen's inability to throw anything away.

"Hey, my coloring book comes entirely from art I've stashed away for one reason or another," he said.

And what is it like to look at illustrations that have been, literally, on the drawing board for the past decade?

tweets & seats

Even birds need to chill for a moment. This "Tweets & Seats" image appears in Mark Kochen's coloring book.

"When I was younger, I was extremely critical of my work," Kochen said. "As I've gained experience, I see the work was better than I remember it being. Could a line be drawn straighter? Yes. Still, the idea was always there." 

In a career that combined high art -- large-scale murals and gallery-ready pieces -- and low art -- pieces turned into jigsaw puzzles and coloring books -- Kochen finds value in both.

"Puzzles and coloring books are perfect examples of popular things that are getting a resurgence," he said. "Just like vinyl records, coloring books and puzzles are back, baby!"

Which is good for kids, who are suddenly home from school.

"For the coloring book, I literally remove the color from my art," Kochen explained. "This give the audience the creative license to color it however they want to."

This is both stimulating and a bit unnerving for Kochen.

boombox henge coloring page

Gigantic "Say Anything" style boomboxes share space with easygoing sheep in "Boombox Henge," a colorable image by Mark Kochen.

"People share their drawings with me and the results are always surprising," he said. "If they color one of my elephants a certain shade, I'd think, wow, I'd never do it that way."

Perhaps, someday, today's youth will look at Kochen in the same way he looked at artistic idols like Richard Scarry and Bill Watterson.

Well, there is a timelessness to bunnies and sheep and Reagan-era electronics.  

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