FEATURE ARTIST JUNE 2018
Barbara Blackburn Cooledge has a B.F.A. in painting and printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute and an M.F.A. in painting from Boston University.
She has exhibited her work in museums in the United States and lives with her husband in Houston.
PSST: Everyone loves a great studio. What is your painting setup?
Barbara Cooledge: I would love to have a studio, but I make fairly large paintings in our breakfast nook section of the great room. We have art all over our house.
My husband complained once about a giant blow-up pet portrait on my easel staring him in the eye during breakfast. (That painting is much better over the fireplace.)
One advantage of the great room is I can get very far away from the painting on my easel to get a better feel for what it looks like from a distance. This is important for something that’s enlarged.
PSST: Describe your genre.
Barbara Cooledge: I have two bodies of work. There are some well-known artists who do this. In my mind, there are conceptual considerations in my large realistic work.
The purpose of my work (abstract and realistic) is explained on my website. When people see my realistic paintings reproduced online, the pieces may look like little paintings. It is hard to get a sense of scale with technology.
PSST: What do you offer beyond exhibiting?
Barbara Cooledge: I teach academic drawing from life in Houston and can be contacted through my website.
I enjoy writing about art as well. I enjoy lecturing and giving talks at small colleges and arts organizations in communities in Texas.
PSST: We read so much about composition and value studies. What is your artistic process? Can you discuss the way in which you create artwork?
Barbara Cooledge: Right now I use photographs to work from. I can enlarge small subjects. I don’t have north light. My shadows would always be changing on my subject from life in our nook. Using a photograph for reference I can work all day. I only work from my own photographs.
I just use an easel and a few sets of pastels, and Uart board on gator board or museum foam core. I use both medium and handmade soft pastels, though Teacup II was done mostly with handmade soft pastel. (This is permanent. No binder.)
Sometimes I do a mineral spirit wash with a brush for my backgrounds after applying handmade soft pastel. I use the odor-free kind. Never try to cut corners on that. I would like to have one of the machines for removing fine dust particles and VOCs from the air.
One thing I like about the mineral spirits wash is it doesn’t spread. So, I can get a clean line even though it’s on Uart board. I use the board because I prefer to not have a mat. It’s sturdy and goes right into a frame. I have my large work custom framed.
Lately, I ask for TruVue Optium acrylic. My framing is all done at once about four times a year at Michael’s during their %70 percent off sales. Pastel painting can be quite expensive especially when preservation is assured. All my work is made with acid free archival materials.
PSST: What do you like about pastel paintings?
Barbara Cooledge: I like the striking color. I was so pleased when I saw my work in a show recently. The intensity really stands out. I also have always been big on drawing. They call it painting, but it’s mark-making. The only frustration is that only so many changes can be made with this medium.
Also, people think it’s easier than other mediums, but you are limited by the colors you have. Blending isn’t as easily achieved. Plus, some of the luminosity of the pure pigment can be lost. In its pure state, the pigment is like crystals. If cared for properly, because of the lack of binder pastel paintings are longer lasting than oil paintings.
PSST: What is the purpose of art?
Barbara Cooledge: Initially, I studied other artists’ work extensively, as well as why they made it. It is important, as in any field, to be a curious person. I really like looking at images and exploring the visual.
My art is about ideas like humor, the visual, or enjoyment and doing something in a new way, or in my own way. I always wanted to be my own artist.
Over the years, I have taken two workshops in pastel. They were a bit contradictory. It’s helpful, but I find my own directions. I’m not a master pastellist, and I’m not in a contest with others. I do like my work shown though. Exhibitions provide that opportunity.
PSST: Any tips on marketing, exhibiting, or social media?
Barbara Cooledge: I do my own documentation with an SLR camera (with lights) or outside with natural light in the shade. I just found that the images of my paintings became overexposed in the direct sun.
I bring the image back up to its true range in terms of brightness postproduction with Photoshop Elements. It’s an inexpensive version of Photoshop just for viewing images on a computer or having photographic prints made.
I have been using Wal-Mart online to print my photographs to work from. I purchased Photoshop elements at Costco for $50.00. I’ve seen the video online demonstrating using a smart phone for photographing and sending images in to be juried. I purchased my SLR for about half the price of one of the new iPhones with a tiny lens.
I do like it when I get positive response to my work. That does shape my direction somewhat. That is what I like about Instagram. (Getting followed or liked by people all over the world who enjoy art.) Because of the small format, I mainly just have my abstract work on it.
If I had the time, I would use my SLR photographs of my work on Instagram, but, I find that smartphone photos are adequate for this. (Barbara's Instagram handle is @cooledgeart)
I find myself entering shows for my abstract work at callforentry.org or shows where people who like the representational frequent, separately.
I have a website which is for interested gallery, museum, and college professionals to view as well as people who like art.