Art Is Louder Than Words
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Manu Carrasco is an artist, master falconer and naturalist living in Utah. Manu began drawing before he got to kindergarten and hasn’t stopped since. His wildlife portraits capture animals with incredible detail and accuracy. His motivation to create work is to educate and to raise awareness for wild animals and the endangered places they roam. He’s been the lead artist at KÜHL® for the past eight years, weaving his expertise in anatomy, design and love for the outdoors into every each and every project.
Beyond the Maker
This series from KÜHL goes beyond getting to know an artist's work and inspiration. We dive deeper into their origin stories and struggles to learn how they cope with failure, critics, and success, yet still find time to do the things they love. Born in the mountains, raised in the studio—these are their stories.
ART IS LOUDER THAN WORDS
Speaking Quietly and Creating Loudly with Manu Carrasco
Manu spoke with art before he could with words. Born in Mexico, his family moved to Texas when he was one year old. Since initially he didn’t speak English, he drew pictures to communicate with his teachers. Today, his artwork still does most of the talking. As lead artist and illustrator at KÜHL, Manu brings his diverse skillsets in design, drawing and imagination to help us create products that stand out.
It’s no question how or when Manu first became fascinated with art. His grandmother scribbled the date on the back of his first drawing before he turned two. When his parents gave him a coloring book, instead of coloring, he’d grab a blank sheet of paper and draw the figures in the coloring book.
It was as if Manu couldn’t do anything else but draw; it consumed him. When he discovered the outdoors at a young age, Manu found the inspiration he needed to never stop drawing.
MANU DISCOVERS KÜHL
KÜHL was on Manu’s radar about 16 years ago, well before he began working for us. He needed rugged pants that could keep up with him while he wandered outside hunting, hiking, tracking mountain lions and practicing falconry.
He came across a pair of KÜHL Rydr™ in a store. As an artist with a deep knowledge of human anatomy and design, he admired the pant's industrial design. They looked engineered, not just fashioned together. He could tell they were built with purpose and intention. He bought the pants and told his mom who was shopping with him, “I’d like to work with this company one day.”
MANU’S EARLY YEARS
Manu developed his interest in art at an early age, but it was the outdoors, he says, that really helped his passion grow. When he was in fourth grade he read, “My Side of the Mountain.” The protagonist, Sam, learns how to survive on his own in the Catskill Mountains and becomes a falconer in the process. Ever since then, Manu’s life has revolved around using art to express his love, devotion and infatuation with the wild.
As he grew up in Texas, Manu consumed wildlife magazines and admired the artists that captured the animals he loved with such authenticity and detail. Although he loved drawing cartoons and could draw every character of Popeye before he got to kindergarten – it was the wild animals that would guide his career and rescue his sanity from the demands of a high-paced career in cinema.
MANU’S ART BACKGROUND
Manu pursued traditional animation after high school and climbed the ranks through the cinema and video game industry. He spent 30 years in the industry as a concept artist. His sketches and creative concepts helped take popular movies like Space Jam, Anastasia and the Prince of Egypt to the big screen. Manu blended the reality he loved—nature—with his creative imagination to bring creatures, dragons, heroes and villains to life.
He loved his job. He formed a concept art studio with his best friends and got to do what he’d been doing from such a young age: draw, create, and conceptualize. He never forgot the origins of his inspirations and always made an effort to get outside. Falconry brought him to the mountains and valleys that gave his mind and spirit the space to heal, relax and be restored.
Yet as the years passed, his tolerance for the high-stress world of his occupation waned. Deadlines may bring the best out of some people, but his seemed to be getting shorter and more demanding.
Manu realized burning out was inevitable so to prevent killing his passion, he decided to switch gears into education.
Manu taught drawing at the Gemini School of Visual Arts for five years. When asked about the biggest challenges of making art, he says it’s simplification. While Manu’s animal portraits are incredibly detailed, his simple line drawings are the most provocative. It takes years, decades even, to develop the skill to draw an animal with a few simple lines.
For that reason, he went back to the basics with his students, teaching the foundational skills that helped him succeed in the industry. Meanwhile, he continued to sketch wildlife, hunt with his falcon and pursue a life bound by the spirit and mystery of the great outdoors.
As if the universe were listening when Manu was shopping for a pair of pants so long ago, Kevin Boyle, the owner of KÜHL, reached out to him to see if he’d be interested in an artist position at the growing company.
Manu smiled at this gift from the universe and graciously accepted the position. Almost eight years later, he remains, proudly bringing his craft, vision and expertise to KÜHL’s mission to make clothing that helps our customers thrive outdoors.
THE RENAISSANCE MAN WITH A FALCON
Throughout his entire career Manu has never forgotten the origin of his passion. Nature has been and always will be his medicine, he admits. He uses it for inspiration, to recharge and to reconnect. The 27 years Manu has spent working with falcons to become a master falconer has taught him so much more than how to hunt with a falcon.
While you can take a falconry class, this is just a starting point. They don’t provide the depth of knowledge required to begin doing it yourself. One of the biggest challenges for anyone who wants to pursue this lifestyle is finding a master class falconer who wants to take on an apprentice.
Once you’ve convinced someone to take you under their wing the training begins, that is, if you have what it takes. Lesson plans and studies revolve around how to trap a raptor, housing requirements, disease prevention, flying your hawk and more.
None of this happens quickly. It can take 7 to 8 years to become a master class falconer. During this time, there are no days off. Falconry demands daily care, investment, and interaction with your animal to develop a trustworthy bond.
There are more then 560 species of raptors world-wide. Falconers focus on four main groups of birds within these species: hawks, accipiters, eagles, and falcons. These are all part of the Accipitridae family and share common traits that make them deadly hunters like keen eyesight and strong feet with sharp talons.
Manu has the most experience with red-tailed hawks but is currently flying a female passage Harris Hawk named Rosi. Harris’ Hawks are a popular bird for falconry since they have an even temperament.
Training a wild animal and honing your craft as an artist revolve around the common theme of persistence. Each pursuit—seemingly different from afar—have a lot in common. They take time, commitment, failure and mental, physical and financial investment.
The best advice Manu ever received as a young falconer was, “Learn to listen and trust your hawk.” At the beginning, this didn’t make sense. Years later, it finally clicked. Similarly, artists are taught to, “Learn to listen and trust your gut.” This simple, but profound, piece of advice takes years to learn.
THE GOAL IS EDUCATION
Manu’s dedication to hone his craft goes far beyond his sketchbooks or day job. His goal with his artwork is education. He cares deeply about animals and the wild places they call home. Since most people don’t seem to like being told what to do or how to think, he uses his artwork to create awareness and spark conversations.
To marry his passion for art and conservation, Manu founded Expedition Art, a non-profit organization for artists to help raise money for wildlife and conservation through art. This journey has taken his career full circle, from drawing and concepting plains animals in the art studio, to actually going to Africa to work with them, raise awareness and spearhead conservation efforts to protect them.
The core of his being is still wild. His art studio is filled with artifacts, roots, rocks, bones, animal hides, artwork and gifts from other artists. Just outside his door is a traditional Native American teepee, which he actually lived in one winter. There is a synergistic energy between these two places; the teepee nodding to Manu’s Apache and Pueblo Indian heritage, and the studio, a magical space where one can’t help but feed off the energy in this intentionally untamed and creative space.
When he isn’t drawing birds of prey or large cats, you can sense this wildness in his clothing sketches, t-shirts and the various artwork he does for KÜHL; the anatomical accuracy, the raw-ness and the rugged beauty remain, no matter the subject.
ALL THAT REMAINS IS PASSION
Manu never thought he would end up working in the clothing industry. Yet what drew him in and keeps him here is KÜHL's relentless goal to be better. Even before he started working here, Manu sensed Kevin Boyle’s passion and pursuit of excellence by simply admiring the construction of a pair of pants.
Manu uses his background in observation, wilderness skills, and passion for the outdoors to help us create long-lasting products designed to help our customers develop deeper relationships with the places they love.
Manu is, and always will be, a student of the wild, committed to telling an authentic story with every stroke of his pen, whether that’s for a new clothing launch or a mountain lion conservation campaign.
Watch the master sketch on his Instagram page and keep up with his latest creative endeavors: @manucarracso_art