Bronwyn Coffeen is a freelance Graphic Artist and Illustrator based in Mobile, AL. I first became aware of her work after seeing an illustration she did for the Press-Register. It was quite different than anything art that I had seen before in that paper—a whimsical illustration for an article about the local Renaissance Faire. I looked her up online, and that’s where the art!stalking began.
I met her by chance at Arts Alive in 2009, where she was sharing a booth with a friend (who made adorable crochet animals). I bought one of her prints (the koi pictured below). We traded cards and kept in touch over the years. In addition to be a talented artist, Bronwyn is super cool, gracious, and has amazing hair. Her recent projects include the gallery “Ten by Ten: The Decameron” at the Mobile Arts Council, as well as Senior Creative Director for ACCESS Magazine.
Bronwyn was kind enough to take time from her projects and planning of her impending nuptials to answer a few questions about her craft, art school, and her beverage of choice.
Why art? Is it something you’ve always wanted to pursue? When did you know that this was what you wanted to do for a living? I owe it to my parents who always had a writing utensil and appropriate drawing surface on hand for me while I was growing up! I just knew I always enjoyed it, and found it entrancing to take a cartoon drawing, or photo that caught my eye, and recreate it by freehand. I guess those are the early stages of being self-taught! When my folks and I went to Disney World in the late 80’s, I remember visiting the Animation Studio and being amazed that the characters are drawn so many times in a second, in the manner to have them come to life on screen! Right there I said that this is what I want to do – create art.
Describe your artistic process from inception to completion. I’m sure like most artists, sometimes it’s a color or an object that sparks the itch to create. I’ll use Adobe Photoshop to use a reference photo I took and and see what composition will work best, then I’ll either sketch on the printout of the composition or digitally draw on the photo using my Wacom tablet. This is all to get a rough before I proceed with the final. On either paper or canvas, I’ll lightly draw out the general shapes of the objects I will paint, just to use as a guide. Then I’ll freehand draw or paint the rest of the process.
What are your go-to tools of the trade? Digitally, I love my Adobe Creative Suite and 14-year-old Wacom tablet. Traditional medium-wise, I get into phases. Oil and acrylic on canvas and masonite – applied with either brush or palette knife – and pastels are my favorite mediums. Recently, I picked up the palette knife my grandfather long ago used, and found that technique fun. This produced two paintings, which are in tribute to that grandfather I never knew. This past year, I tried mixed media collage for the crafty aspect of it. This included acrylic painted on top of magazine cutouts, all adhered to a wooden gallery-wrapped style board. Magazine layouts appeals to my love of graphics and typography, so I gather up inspiring layouts, either by buying magazines or finding some on Pinterest! There are a few piles of magazines in my studio now.
I know that you work in both digital and traditional media. Do you prefer one over the other? For me, it matters on what kind of commission I’m working on. If a commission ultimately needs to be digitized, such as for a book or magazine, I’ll work exclusively with Adobe Creative Suite. What’s great with Adobe Illustrator is recreating the look of traditional media, so the option is there if the client wants a traditional look, not a vector style. But, I will admit, there is NOTHING like holding a tube of paint and the brush, a Turquoise pencil if there needs to be a drawing down on sketchbook and paint pushed against canvas. I have to take a break from digital and go traditional – it’s a cycle!
Who are your artistic influences? I had a few before attending college, but once exposed to so many other inspired artists at college, I have a HUGE list of influencers. This includes Peter de Sève (character designer for Ice Age, others animations), Norman Rockwell (for his expressive depiction of humanism through sorrow or happiness), and John Singer Sergent (excellent painting execution, understanding of texture and light, especially his Madame X).
What themes do you pursue? Fantastical, mysterious, but sometimes light and free like a simple plein-air painting or still life. Most of my pieces involve some sort of nature in it, whether it’s an animal or foliage. Or food, to serve the foodie in me!
Why owls? ;) Birds represent freedom – they can fly anywhere they want to go! Flying at the drop of a hat would be my choice of super power. They’re great expressionists with their colors, feather and flight movements. But owls speak to me more than any other avian. They prefer to work behind the scenes in the dark, are active at night like me when I’m more awake and amped to create artwork, and they like to survey and watch before they act. I’m rarely a compulsive person. Remember the bookmark in the 80’s with a bespectacled owl sitting with a pile of books? I love reading, too
If your art were a movie, what would it be? What Dreams May Come
Having attended a prestigious art school, what do you feel are the pros and cons to formal art education versus being self-taught?
Pros: Connections! You would be able to talk to the visiting industry leaders from various companies. They, as well as the teachers, inform you what creative and professional skills you would need to succeed in whatever creative industry you’re interested in. They are there to help. You can get a good kind of rush and drive by attending class with other like-minded creatives and the support group that can be born there – unless you thrive by working alone in a studio, Sure, there’s competition, but that can be a GOOD thing!
Cons: Most likely, it’ll cost you $$$ to attend an “art” school, versus going at it alone. But art supplies are generally expensive, based on the kind of medium, but sometimes it is worth getting the more expensive brand. Another con is that employment is not guaranteed when you graduate. Based on my experience with college life and looking back after graduating, I believe it is worth going to art school because I was given a lot of information, and was able to get on my feet and make a LIFE with creating art.
What’s the best lesson you learned in school? Even though some of my teachers said that I would develop a signature “style” after studying at Ringling, that didn’t work with me, and I became OK with it. I tried forcing myself into trying to create one style, and that’s never how it should be – tt should flourish naturally. Instead, I found that I was happy creating different styles, and I use that to cater to even more clients’ needs. I keep a few general themes throughout my work, but the style varies.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming artists? Not everyone is going to give you even a glance if you approach them with your artwork. Don’t take this to heart. You wouldn’t want to work with them anyway with their attitude, right? Don’t be afraid to try something new, just like Picasso! Or worry that it won’t sell or nobody would want your artwork. There are even more outlets to sell your work, especially online, than what was available when I graduated college in 2005. People want and NEED artwork.
What is your dream project? Even though I LOVE freelancing, that was a dream project in itself, another dream is to work on a major animation film with other creatives, like Dreamwork’s How To Train Your Dragon. That would make me die happily. The job title? Lead Character Designer. It’s on my to-do list!
What keeps you motivated? The “Aha!” moment when a piece totally comes together. Sometimes the “happy accident” appears on the canvas. Something one-of-a-kind was just born because I took the time to nurture it. Colors and emotions. When people are also drawn to my work. (Thank you, Sharon!).
What’s currently on your playlist? Spotify! Three Dog Night, UNKLE, Arcade Fire, Metallica, The Horrors, Deadmau5, Muse, and David Bowie :)
Coffee or tea? Tazo Wild Sweet Orange tea, with local honey!
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Images (c) Bronwyn Coffeen and Sharon Samples.
This gallery contains 7 photos