Studying illustration led Melissa Cooper to discover her real love: painting and drawing in the realist tradition. “I can be a little bit of a perfectionist,” she says, “so the academic and traditional style of painting really resonates with me.”
BY MELISSA COOPER
I’m not sure if this is true with every artist, but on my own artistic journey, I have found that the more progress I make as a painter, the more I realize how much I have yet to learn. Sometimes I find this frustrating, but more often I find this exciting and extremely motivating. In order to create something as awe-inspiring as the Old Master paintings I see in museums, I have to challenge myself to learn new lessons with each painting I create.
Before I start a painting, I try to visualize how I want the end result to look. I carefully consider both the larger composition as well as key granular details, such as paint thickness and texture, or how crisp the edges of certain forms should be. I consider whether I should approach the colors as they appear in nature, or whether I should push the palette one way or another. I also try to bear in mind an old piece of advice that has always stuck with me: to consider what first interested me about beginning that painting, and how I might celebrate that element by the end.
My latest oil painting is of a magnolia and a butterfly. When I was first playing around with this arrangement, I was struck by the subtle variations of white against the warm wooden wall. Magnolia petals are so sculptural and have a thickness most flowers lack. So, while working on this painting, I really wanted it to be about the three-dimensionality of those petals.
I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of accurately representing elements of the natural world, and find the process of painting something like the petals of a flower very meditative. Not to mention that there is an unexplainable feeling of joy and pride when I feel I have done justice to my subject matter, as was thankfully the case with this painting.
My Artistic Path
Like most artists, I’ve been drawing since I was a young child. Early on, I used to re-draw my favorite characters from story books or cartoons. In school growing up, I always loved my art classes and any school project where I could include a hand drawn title page or a colored diagram. I liked pretty much anything design related. That being said, later in life when I first started college, I still wasn’t quite sure what my niche was.
In 2009, I enrolled at the New Hampshire Institute of Art where I started in the illustration department. A couple years in, I realized that all my favorite classes leaned toward fine art, rather than illustration. Specifically, I loved learning a more technical and realist approach to painting and drawing what I could see. Thus, I switched to the painting department. During these years, I really fell in love with oil painting, particularly painting the human figure.
After graduating with highest honors and receiving my BFA, I moved to Massachusetts. Though I’m not quite a full-time artist, I dedicate most of my week to painting and drawing. I’ve also had the amazing opportunity to take workshops with a few of my favorite contemporary artists, including Jordan Sokol, Jacob Collins, and Edward Minoff. These experiences helped provide me with a glimpse into the atelier approach to painting the figure and portrait.
I can be a little bit of a perfectionist, so the academic and traditional style of painting really resonates with me. I am also a huge admirer of paintings and sculptures from the late 19th century. These classical paintings provide me with a lot of inspiration and drive to paint.
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