Retired Sawyer County Sheriff Mark Kelsey had been in law enforcement for over 38 years when he was diagnosed with a neurological disorder, later found to be Parkinson’s, after much testing and treatment that initially seemed resistant to controlling the symptoms.

“As it progressed I started to lose my voice and I started having noticeable problems with shaking and the inability to move my hands,” Kelsey told the Record.

His doctor and his family gave him the hard news: it was time to retire from law enforcement. Kelsey said he loved his work and the people he worked with but knew he could no longer do the job. He retired on July 25, 2017.

But he didn’t stay down.

“Over the years I have seen too many law enforcement officers retire and then go to an early grave because they had no interests outside of law enforcement. I was not going to join them,” Kelsey said.

As he considered what was next in his life, one day Kelsey saw a video of an artist in Mexico painting with spray cans. 

“For some reason this got my attention, so I grabbed a couple of cans of paint and a piece of cardboard and went to my garage,” he said. 

The first time he tried painting with spray can paint he said he focused on just learning different spraying techniques that would produce different effects. He said he gave his first painting to a deputy to hang in his office.

“Since then I have painted on everything from frozen pizza cardboard to glass to mailboxes. When people hear what I do with spray can art the first response that I usually get is, ‘You mean like on railroad cars?’ It’s also fun when I talk to other artists. One of the questions is what medium do I work with. You should see the look on their face when I tell them ‘Rust-Oleum.’”

Kelsey said painting helps him focus on his fine motor skills in his hands and fingers. He said it’s difficult at times but is good therapy. 

His favorite art is early hot rod or car art. “I call it garage art,” he said, adding it’s based on 1950s and ‘60s car culture. He and his wife, Marge, own a 1934 Ford coupe, which he has used as an image in several of his paintings. 

“Marge has been a great help with ideas for paintings. She has a keen eye and is a great photographer,” he said.

He also paints in black and white, oftentimes silhouettes, which he said is very challenging because “you only have two colors to convey the story or emotion. When you get it right, it can be an incredible effort,” said Kelsey.

He has also started painting on glass, which he said brings up a whole new set of challenges because he paints on the back side of the glass, so he has to paint everything in reverse. 

“On a traditional painting you start with the background and move forward; however, on glass you have to reverse that. Also, if there is any lettering on the painting, you have to letter from right to left,” he explained.

Kelsey said all his framed paintings are in recycled frames with recycled matting. 

“I never imagined that I would have so many requests to do paintings for people. Recently one of the items that I have gotten the most requests for are custom painted mailboxes,” he said, adding that the price of his art work depends on how complicated the subject matter is, the size of the painting, and what type of surface the painting is on.

“My studio, if you wish to call it that, is my garage, although my wife might argue that it is really in her dining room,” Kelsey said.   

Currently Kelsey’s artwork is available at Casey’s Catch and Release Antiques and Rosalie’s, both located on Highway B in Hayward. Visit his Facebook page at Leave Your Mark Studio or email him at to request samples.     

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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