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Seven Questions for the Horse - Lisa Cotton


I have had the privilege of knowing Lisa Cotton for many years. Known in some artistic communities under the name HollyAnn, Lisa was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. She met her American husband on the internet and they were married in 2000. Moving to Vermont, she fell in love with her new home.

In 2006, on the 5th anniversary of 9-11, Lisa became an American citizen.

Presently, Lisa and her husband live a quiet life out in rural Vermont on the Lake Champlain Islands. They have a dog named Bella and hope to someday start a family.

1) When did you first start drawing?

I've always been drawing. For as long as I can remember, and even before I could read and write, I would pick up a pencil and doodle. Some of my earliest memories were at two-and-a-half years old, where my grandmother would teach me how to draw Snoopy. Even at a young age, I remember around 7 years old, I used to like making "picture books" for my mom, where I would take some paper from her pad of paper, tape or staple them together, and make picture stories featuring my favourite toys. I was always drawing and coming up with ideas of my own.

2) What is your favorite genre or topic to draw or illustrate?

I love fantasy art, and I love medieval illuminations. I love fantasy art: dragons, unicorns, gryphons, creatures of myth and legend, landscapes from the imagination...bringing them all out onto a paper or canvas, I love it when my imagination runs away. As for illuminations, medieval manuscripts fascinate me. Especially ones from western Europe between the years 1100-1400 A.D. Books like The Luttrell Psalter, The Macclesfield Psalter, and so on. Seeing those manuscripts digitally enhanced on your computer monitor in order to see all of those fine details, but when you find out just how big (or small) the actual manuscript is, it not only blows you away, but gives you a deeper respect for the making of those illuminations.

I mostly work with professional-grade artist markers (Prismacolour and Copics), along with coloured pencils (Prismacolours). Sometimes I'll even use a combination of the two - I'll colour the base colour with marker. Then, I'll find a coloured pencil that comes close to that shade of marker and colour completely over the marker. Then I'll shade the item using darker tones of that colour, using black as the very darkest colour. Lastly, I'll use a colourless blender pencil to bring it all together and take away the "graininess" away. If you're familiar with Bob Ross' technique of "wet on wet" canvas when he paints with oils, it's kind of similar. Before he paints, he covers his canvas with "liquid white", to help make the paint more slick and blend. By applying colouring the item with the marker first, it covers that item in that colour, so I won't get any white "grains" showing through the Bristol board or illustration board. By colouring on top of that marker with a like-shade pencil, it helps to blend my colours better when I apply the shading. It's not often that I use something else other than markers and pencils. Rarely, I'll paint with oils, and I usually reserve gouache for my illuminations.

3) Who are your inspirations?

It's hard to say, really. I'd have to say that there's a "who" AND "what" to my inspirations. Some of the drawings and illustrations I've done were inspired by what people say or do, or have done, or by real events. A number of years ago, I made a comic featuring one of my characters, who has a day out at the mall and is confronted by many comments about her weight problem: some were on the side, while other comments were out-right loud and rude. Many of those comments really were directed at me in the past, due to my own experiences. Other times, I'll see something in the store that plants an idea in my head and I'll just go with it. For the most part, if I become inspired to do something, I need to get it out onto paper, or it'll gnaw at me until I do, and I often find it hard to be able to do anything else until I get that thing out on paper.

I love Monet. I almost feel a sense of peace when I see his masterpieces. And of course, I love medieval manuscripts, many of whom have artist monks whose names have been lost in time, but I could spend days, sometimes even weeks at a time, just studying and admiring their work. They're tiny masterpieces all of their own. My favourite part of the art gallery, no matter which gallery I visit, is the medieval section. I could get lost in the medieval art, and be quite content at being lost there too!

4) Future plans?

As a freelance artist, I'm always trying to come up with various ideas in which I could market myself. I've made two activity books for kids (one is self-published, the other was hand made and bound), and I do have plans for making more kids books, both activity books and possibly children story books. Aside from that, I'll probably keep trying to come up with various illustrations, possibly making bookmarks and merchandise from them, and taking on custom commissions, which seems to be the most popular for me right now. As it stands, I also attend a few conventions a year, where I set up a table, people can approach me and get to know me, commission me, buy merchandise from me, and so on. I hope to continue to attend the conventions, not only are they fun, but it's often the only time I get to see many of my online friends in person, even if I'm at my table for most of the convention.

5) How did you first come to the decision that you wanted to become a professional artist, and when was the first time you sold your art?

Well, that's the thing. Growing up, I didn't want to be an artist. I doodled to myself on the side, my school mates knew I could draw, but I never in my life thought I would be doing this for a living. Although, as funny as this will sound, I remember when I was kid, a friend and I had an "art stand". Instead of making lemonade or Kool-Aid, we had an art stand. And we drew cute little kittens and puppies, and sold them to strangers and passers-by for twenty-five cents. Looking back at that, it almost seems like fore-shadowing of what I do now! In high school, I used to work at a pharmacy, and during Christmas, I would paint the store-front window with a Christmas scene. It got to the point where the movie rental store and the dentist office next door wanted one for their store too, and hired me to paint Christmas scenes on their store-front windows too. As for actually selling my art these days, I first started selling and promoting my art around 2001, shortly after I was married, and I started out by offering commissions, where people would pay me to draw their characters. I am a dedicated clean artist, or at least, that's what I call myself. I take pride in making art that anyone of any age can look at and enjoy, so that it's great for the whole family.

6) You've mentioned you have made children's books. Have you wanted to become a children's book illustrator? And can you also explain how you made your hand-made activity book?

I've thought about becoming a children's book illustrator for a little while, and I've made the illustrations for a children's book out there too, but found it too stressful. I'm not exactly knowledgeable as to how it actually works, so I might have to look into it a little more. The style of illustrations in children's books that I love, and what I grew up to, was to have extremely rich-detailed illustrations, where I could literally spend hours staring and studying one illustration just to see all the details in it, or any hidden images that the artist might have incorporated into the piece. I love that style of illustrations, I guess because I'm an artist. It almost pains me to see some children's books with minimal illustrations, or just something so plain and simple. It makes me feel that, if I were a child, I would look at it and say "that's nice" and turn the page, without really giving it much thought.

Making children's books on my own is a little less stressful for me, because I can work at my own pace, yet still set decent deadlines for myself. It reminds me so much of when I was a kid and I made those picture books for my parents.

As for my hand-made activity book, it's a "paint-with-water" book, which was something I grew up with when I was a kid - the only difference is that the books I had when I was a kid, had predetermined colour marks on the sheets, so you didn't really have much of a choice then to colour Barbie's hair yellow, because it was marked with yellow watercolour ink, or to colour a car red, because it was marked with red watercolour ink.

With mine, which features baby animals, each page has a paint palette on each sheet, and the palette is made with non-toxic watercolours. This way, kids can decide what colours they would like to colour their horse, or their tiger, or whatever. They can let their imagination go! How I made the book, which is actually a pad, was that I drew the illustrations on cardstock, fixed them up in the computer and added little boxes on the bottom of the page for where the paint would be. I had them professionally printed, but besides from that, I did everything on my own: collated the pages, perforated the palette, added the watercolours to each page, bound them into a pad and added a chuckboard backing for stability, packaged them and even added a little paintbrush for the kids. I made the palettes perforated so that once kids were done with their painting, they could tear off the palette and then their parents can display their art on the fridge. Or they could mix-and-match the palettes to whatever picture they want, so they're not limited to using just that palette for that particular drawing. I love encouraging kids to using their imagination and creativeness.

7) Any advice for beginning artists?

In this day and age, it may seem like computers and technology and IT stuff is the thing to get into, and many things that art-inspired are being pushed to the side, demolished, or even taken advantage of. Don't let this get you down. No matter how much the world may seem more business and technology-oriented, it will always need art, and most likely can not live without it. Art is everywhere, even if you're not aware of it. The cartoon character on your cereal box, the latest model of car, the design of the latest Beanie Baby, how your mother's curio cabinet looks like, your cousin's wedding cake, the billboard off of the interstate, the contractor who's remodeling your kitchen, the person who's making the custom frame for your family portrait, the designers and programmers making the latest Facebook game, the design on your bedspread... And that's just scratching the surface right there. The tools may have changed throughout time, but art is and always will be present. We can't live without it. If you're absolutely sure that you want to do something in art, then keep many options open - that way, if it doesn't work out one way, then maybe it'll work out another way.

And also, practice. No one can become a DiVinci when they pick up a pencil for the first time, it takes lots of practice, all the time. It's taken me years to where I am now, and while I like where my level of art is right now, I know I'll need to work harder and practice more if I want to become better. And lastly, take constructive critiques to heart, and use them to better your work. Ignore the kind of critiques like "Well, this is awful, you should quit while you're ahead!" or "Why are you even doing this?" Instead, listen to critiques such as "I really like how this looks, but his arm looks a little off - if you move it down just a little bit, and maybe even look at yourself in the mirror, or get someone to pose for you as a reference, I think you can really pull it off! Keep it up!", those are the kinds of critiques you should learn from, because people are not only encouraging you to do better, but also pointing out what needs fixing, and how to fix it, so that you can become even better.

Lastly, don't let people take advantage of your artistic skills. There seems to be too much of that going around these days. Artists/craftspeople make their stuff just like everyone else has a job. Some people may think that by painting a picture, or drawing an illustration, that it's kid's work and should be so easy, that they either want to pay the artist peanuts for what they do, or offer a contest in hopes of getting art done cheaper than what they could actually pay an artist for. Be smart about your craft, learn how much your materials cost, your time, labour and efforts, and charge your work accordingly. When first starting out, you could probably get away with charging less then what other artists are offering. But as you get better and more confident in your work, don't be afraid to charge accordingly, and don't let your guard down if potential customers start to complain about your prices, never cave in and practically give something away because you feel sorry for them. As a professional artist, you not only need to take your job and craft seriously, but also let others know that you take this seriously and wish to be treated with respect like any other job out there. Always handle things in a professional manner, do your homework about how to handle yourself as a professional artist, ask other artists how they do things, and so on.

Links!

Feathers & Fur: An Activity Colouring Book Featuring Gryphons
Paint With Water
Her Personal Website
Lisa Cotton's dA Art Site
And her Elfwood Art site

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
akktri
Sep. 4th, 2013 03:55 pm (UTC)
I agree to that comment about children's books, with one exception. Sweet Pickles are by far the simplest artistically I've seen in a children's book, but the images stay with you a long time. Even now I fondly recall the soapbox race illustrations, and the lazy goose with the ice cream dripping all over her kitchen. I put Bloom County in that same category. Even though the political satire was completely lost on me, I always found myself captivated by the simple beauty of the landscapes, the way the panels were arranged and designed. Sloppy, but intentionally so, in a way that makes you think it wasn't a mistake for him to draw it that way.
I agree about not having it paint by number, too. Just look at how Van Gogh depicts "skin color". I'm pretty sure that's not the right color, but it's creative.
I don't agree about the art pricing, because I see a lot of overcharging out there. Some people literally do stick figures and charge $50 for them. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why they aren't getting bids. $40 for something that looks like Sonic the Hedgehog.
You have to have a honest appraisal of your own work. You have to understand what will get you money and what will not. I tried auctioning my art for $10, and nobody wanted to buy it. Just imagine if I raised it to the amount I thought it was worth! I stopped doing auctions for this reason. Subject matter is crucial, so is where the hell you're selling it. The stuff that pleases me generally doesn't sell. I managed to sell a few commissions in auctions starting with $1. I got bids because everyone else was overcharging and giving buyers ridiculous rules like "choose from a list of poses and colors" and "I can only draw wolves". Artists nowdays have too many "cants".
Through my life experiences, I have come to the conclusion that you should only raise your prices when demand has increased to the point in which you need to narrow the floodgates. If you're getting swamped with requests, squeeze off the lower paying people so you have more free time and earn the same amount of money.
I haven't bothered with auctions lately, but that's how I'd run them if I did that.
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