Jason Tako discovered his artistic talent at an early age but took a decade-long detour through the world of music before finally finding his true calling. His journey took him from his native Minnesota to his current home in Pennsylvania and now to Charleston, where he is the featured artist for the 2020 Southeastern Wildlife Exposition.
Jason’s “The Road Less Traveled,” SEWE’s featured painting, will be on display Feb. 14 through Feb. 16, along with several other examples of his Western-themed work. There was a time in the 47-year-old’s life when headlining a three-day celebration of wildlife, nature and art was nowhere near the top of his bucket list.
A native of the town of Fairbault, Minnesota, Jason realized during his elementary school days that he was far more gifted artistically than his classmates. Nevertheless, he had other ideas about where his life would go. He started playing the bass guitar when he was in high school, graduated at the top of his class from Musictech College in St. Paul, and spent ten years or so honing his skills as a musician. Somewhere along his path to musical fame – maybe it was when he turned down the chance to join the Mary Sue Englund Band – he realized that his real passion was pulling him in another direction.
“When I was a kid, I would do crazy things like get up at five or six in the morning and go out in the woods and sketch. I enjoyed the solitude,” he explained. “I really missed those walks in the woods. And I was tired of playing in smoky bars.”
Determined to succeed in his newfound obsession but still needing to earn a living, Jason returned to school to study graphic design. He also made a commitment to himself to sketch something every day, either driving out into the countryside to find a suitable subject or simply sketching his co-workers while they were eating lunch.
“I did pencil sketches, then watercolors, and they were just atrocious. But the results didn’t matter. What mattered was the discipline of doing it,” he said. “I had no intention of selling my art. I just wanted to learn how to draw and get it down really well.”
Before long, his obsession became his profession. After moving to Pennsylvania – he got married, and his wife, a native of the Keystone State, “won the coin toss” – he was teaching a doctor’s son how to play the bass guitar. The doctor asked Jason to paint a picture of his dogs. That project worked out well, and he used the profits to purchase oil paints.
Jason’s art career soon soared to new heights. He showed his work at the Waterfowl Festival in Easton, Maryland, then started exhibiting at the Expo in 2007. His Western-themed subject matter has allowed him to combine his interests in landscapes, wildlife, Native Americans, and history.
Jason said he had mixed emotions about being SEWE’s featured artist.
“It’s awesome. I’m not sure how to put it in words. I was blown away,” he said. “But there’s a little bit of pressure. You have to paint really well because the expectations are high, and you’re in the spotlight.”
And what does he like best about painting?
“My favorite thing is coming up with an idea that I really get excited about and then bringing it to fulfillment and having it work out,” he said.