Chris Cozen was our “Artist Profile” in the May/June 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Chris is all about color, and enjoys sharing her creative ideas and techniques with others—teaching, and in books and videos. Her vibrant canvases and positive attitude are uplifting and inspirational. We were thrilled to share her story and her art. Here is more from our Q & A with Chris.
Cloth Paper Scissors: You seem to have an incredibly positive and optimistic outlook on trying new things, pushing yourself, and embracing challenges. Where does this come from?
Chris: It’s true that I love exploring and trying new things and am always up for a good challenge. But, in truth, I don’t know why. Growing up in a semi-rural environment at a time when kids were outside most of the day and left to their imaginations contributes a lot to being adventurous. I was a pretty shy kid growing up and am in many ways an introvert, except when I am teaching. My first teaching job was with children who were blind, and I learned from them that life was what you made of it. I figured out how to make things work for those children, how to give them what they needed, and they embraced every lesson with such enthusiasm. I still think of them and what they taught me about embracing life and working toward the unknown. In general, I would say that I like solving problems and figuring things out. Patience and perseverance help. I live with rheumatoid arthritis and it does impact my work. It’s made me recognize that nothing is promised, and that each day is a gift that we should always make the best of.
Cloth Paper Scissors: How has having two studios in two such different locations, California and Ohio, affected your artwork? Do you find you work differently or more/less in either location?
Chris: That was indeed a challenge. First, I had to split up my supplies and didn’t bring everything I needed to Ohio. Secondly, the light was totally different: In California I have skylights; in Ohio I live in a 14-story building and the light comes in from one end of the room. One studio allows me to work larger, one doesn’t. In Ohio I worked on paper more than canvas. In Ohio I have my grandchildren who are always ready to join in art play and allow me to take their “starts” and do with them what I will. I work regularly in both places, but I find I work more intensely in my California studio, which is separate from my home, and larger than the Ohio studio. Both climates offer different colors and environments to take in. That is exciting to me.
Cloth Paper Scissors: How often do you use photos in your work, and how much “tweaking” do you do? Do you just play until you like what you see, or do you set off looking to create a certain look?
Chris: I rarely use photos directly in my work. I do take tons of photos and look at them a lot. I want to lock the shapes and the negative spaces around things in my mind so I understand how things go together: How something looks when it intersects, connects, or passes by another thing, as in overlapping leaves, or stems connecting to blossoms, or how a vine wraps itself around a branch. I’m always composing with my camera, looking for interesting sets of positive and negative spaces. I use this concept in my work a lot, as I paint with negative techniques more than with drawing. I don’t set up little scenes in my studio to take inspiration from. I solely use my imagination, paired with the visual knowledge I hold in my mind, to come up with the composition. I sometimes think there are art fairies that live in those initial layers of paint that have already decided what the painting is going to be, and all I need to is follow the clues.
Cloth Paper Scissors: How have the many photo apps that are available, and that you have mentioned liking, affected your art, and your style of working?
Chris: Photo apps are my secret vice. When I have a few minutes, I’m always playing with one of them. PIXLR is my favorite, and I can’t get enough of layered photos. I see differently within the app. When I combine photos, I can capture space and color differently from real life. This leads me to experiment with color combos and spaces I might not have actually seen when I am painting. I may want to create a body of work from these manipulated photos. They are so interesting to me. Who knows what will happen? New technology is so exciting. I love the discovery it allows.