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Frankfort member of Illinois National Guard beats stress through watercolors

Col. Mark Jackson finding his niche as a watercolorist

FRANKFORT – As he returns to the watercolor painting that fascinated him in his youth, Col. Mark Jackson of Frankfort is pondering ways to immortalize some of his military experiences.

Scenes, perhaps, like the one on Christmas Eve in 2000 when Jackson was stationed in Kuwait. He gazed up at the stars and tried to imagine the night Jesus was born and wondered if the wise men had witnessed a similar scene as they traversed the desert – minus the rockets going off in the sky and the gunfire, he said.

“I want to get that onto paper without looking like a photograph,” said Jackson, now 51. “I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’ll get there.”

According to a news release from the Illinois National Guard, Jackson currently serves on the National Guard's joint staff as the director of Operations and Training.

Jackson was selected May 12 as an inductee into the 2016 inaugural class of the U.S. Army Reserve Officers' Training Corp Hall of Fame, according to the news release. He was invited to the June 10 induction ceremony to be held at the U.S. Army Cadet Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

A permanent record of Jackson's service and accomplishments will be added to the Hall of Fame and Illinois State University's ROTC program, of which Jackson was a member and which nominated him for the Hall of Fame. The Illinois program will get a duplicate certificate to display, the news release stated.

Jackson was also recognized Feb. 27 with the Legion of Merit, the fourth-highest honor for members of the U.S. Armed Forces. He previously commanded the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Urbana and the 65th Troop Command Brigade in Springfield, the news release stated.

But in his free time, Jackson paints.

After learning how to draw from his father when he was a boy, Jackson enjoyed sketching World War II aircraft. But before veering toward military and music – Jackson is a self-taught guitarist who played in bands while in college – a junior high school teacher in Central Illinois introduced him to watercolor.

“I loved it right away,” Jackson said of the medium. “I wasn’t good at it but I loved the idea of making colors come to life with just water.”

After retiring from the Illinois State Police in June 2015, where he was a senior master trooper, Jackson rediscovered watercolors and began painting a variety of subjects in the hopes of finding his niche.

Jackson said he’s neither an impressionist nor a realist, but something in-between. Until now, he’s painted mostly landscapes and flowers, along with a few nudes, but he’s ready to try some portraits, too.

He’s also dabbled with acrylics and oils, but they don’t fascinate him like watercolors do, he said. Acrylics dry too fast; Jackson can’t “massage” them like he can with watercolors. Oils were better. He can return to them a week later and work on them, but they still lack the versatility of watercolors.

“You can go from a solid color to translucent to opaque with maybe a bright edge around the color,” Jackson said. “Purples can be solid around the edge and clear and opaque in the middle with just a hint of purple. It’s hard to describe.”

Any artwork Jackson lists on his website is for sale, but he won’t list prices. To Jackson, painting is a creative endeavor, not a commercial one, so if someone wants to own a piece, he or she only needs to suggest a price.

For now, Jackson is simply enjoying the art-making process, sharing his resulting pieces with others and encouraging other veterans to experiment with making art as a way to relieve stress.

“I had actually forgotten how much fun coloring was,” Jackson said. “When my son was a little boy, we used to spend time coloring. It was very relaxing. So this is just my adult version of coloring.”



To view Jackson's art, visit

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