Thursday, March 15, 2012

DPW Interviews: Crystal Cook

From Crystal Cook's DPW Gallery page:
Crystal Cook is an award-winning watercolor artist who specializes in portraits, both human and animal. As a mother of three small sons, her children are a major focus of her work. ...Her paintings are included in private and corporate collections, as well as exhibitions in galleries and competitions throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Tell us a bit about how you first started painting.

I've pretty much always been painting or drawing. I was the kid in school who always turned in my homework with horses, or princesses drawn around the margins.

But I really got serious about honing my skills after my first son was born, ten years ago. The powerful emotions of motherhood took me by surprise, I didn't even know I was capable of loving someone like that. My days were spent holding my son and studying his sweet baby face, and I had this all-consuming love for him that I had never felt for anyone else. Painting my son, and working to improve at capturing a real likeness of him, was a way I felt I could express those emotions.

(click here to see original image) 

Did you have any stops and starts in your painting career?

I have three sons, so after my two youngest were born I took a break, but it wasn't ever for very long. Painting came to be my way to deal with the stresses involved in raising a young family. So even if I was super sleep-deprived, I still spent some time painting or drawing because I felt like I needed to be at my best for my family and if I spent too much time away from painting I wasn't very happy and I was a really big grouch.

You manage to capture so much feeling in so many of your paintings. How do you create that intangible sense of emotion in your subjects when you're working? And when do you know you "have it?"

First of all, thank you very much. And second: Oh boy, that's the magic question isn't it? I wish I had a concrete answer for you, as well as me.

Something that I try to do is to constantly be aware of how I feel in response to something I see. For example, one day I took my kids to the park, and it was one of those last beautiful days of fall right before the weather starts to get cold. The leaves on the trees were all red, and the sun was just about ready to set. I was pushing my son on one of the swings and I looked behind me and saw this young couple sitting under a tree. They were sitting next to each other, bodies angled towards each other, but they weren't really touching.

(click here to see original image)

I kept watching them and saw the girl reach out for just a moment to touch the boy's hand and suddenly I was remembering what it felt like to fall in love for the first time. I could not forget that image, or the memories it brought up. I had to paint that scene.

I think the key to capturing emotion with your paintings is being emotionally invested yourself, as the artist, in whatever it is you're painting and trying your best to communicate that through the unique way that you paint.

As far as when do I know I "have it?" Sometimes I just know right from the beginning that I'm truly expressing what it is I'm feeling. Other times, I don't really know until I hear the response from others, and the different stories of their own that they're interpreting from my painting.

And then, of course, sometimes I just don't "have it" at all, and I can usually tell when that is when I ask my husband what he thinks of my latest painting, and instead of hearing his usual reply of "It's great," all I hear is crickets chirping while he thinks of a tactful response.

What mediums and genres have you experimented with? Which ones have "stuck" and which ones have fallen away? Which ones are you looking forward to exploring?

Mediums I've tried are watercolor, pastel, colored pencil, acrylic, and gouache. And for genres, I've painted portraits, landscape, floral, still life, animals, and figures. Watercolor, acrylic, and colored pencil seem to be the mediums that have 'stuck,' and portraits, animals and still life have been my favorite genres so far. But my first and real love will always be watercolor portraits.

(click here to see original image)

I'm excited to try oils one day, when I have more of a real studio, instead of the dining room table. And right now I'm really excited to explore some themes for figure paintings of couples I've had in my mind for quite a while. I'd also like to start a series of young mothers interacting with their children, and portraits with people wearing sunglasses or masks too.

What does procrastination look like for you? What techniques work to ensure that you make time for your art?

Procrastination looks like fear to me. And I try to banish fear from my artistic life as much as possible. Whenever I am procrastinating painting it's usually because I'm afraid I will fail, that my idea is too big for my current skills, or that my latest painting will not be as good as the last one I did.

Making time for my art is always a challenge, but a doable one. Painting is essential to my well-being and my family knows this (All too well! No painting = majorly grouchy mom), so they're very good about helping me find time for it. I might wake up a little earlier, or stay up later.

I keep my sketchbook with me most of the time so I always have a chance to draw if I don't get to paint, and I make sure to take advantage of any free time I have by getting started painting right away, instead of procrastinating by cleaning the house, or playing Angry Birds.

(click here to see original image)

How do you arrive at ideas for your paintings?

Usually just by being aware of what's going on around me. Or I might read a book, with an unforgettable character, or see some gorgeous light in a movie and I'll try and recreate that mood or person in some way. And browsing through the art magazines at the bookstore, and seeing some new and fantastic art, is a great way for me to be inspired. Of course, the bookstore is the best place to do this since they have a cafe and then I can have my hot chocolate fix and get ideas at the same time!

How do you keep art "fresh"? What techniques have helped you avoid burnout and keep your work vibrant and engaging?

Changing the way I usually work is a great way for me to beat burnout. Sometimes I'll change subject matter, medium, or the surface that I'm working on. Or I might just approach my painting in a new way, like instead of constantly painting close-ups of the face, I'll paint a smaller figure in a landscape. Trying new things is very helpful for me to stay excited about painting.

(click here to see original image)
What do you feel you are learning about right now as an artist?

That I don't have to paint like someone else, or follow all the rules to be a happy and successful artist. If I paint something I'm passionate about, in a way that feels right to me, in my own style, that's when I do my best work, and that's what resonates with other people as well.

What makes you happiest about your art?

Just painting. The act of painting, of tackling a challenging subject, mixing colors, and painting light makes me the happiest.

Thanks, Crystal!

© 2012 Jennifer Newcomb Marine

Jennifer Newcomb Marine is the Marketing and Community Manager of Daily Paintworks. She's an author and blogging and marketing coach.

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