Today’s guest is Crystal Cook from crystalcookart.com where she blogs and sells her paintings and sculptures. Crystal’s initial love of art began as a child when she lived on a farm. She was captivated by a horse, which she felt compelled to draw. She felt the same when she became a mother and felt the need to pick up a paintbrush to express her emotions. Crystal has been a professional artist for 16 years, painting in watercolour and water-based oils. She also has a range of cute miniature horse sculptures called Tumble Creatures.
What you will learn in this episode:
• How Crystal became a professional artist
• About her artistic style and creative process
• The process of from watercolour to oil to sculpture
• How she finds inspiration and keeps track of ideas
• Crystal’s favourite creative tools and resources
How Crystal became a professional artist
Crystal has been an artist her whole life. She loved drawing as a child and had a very encouraging art teacher at high school. Although she doesn’t have formal college-level training in art, she’s taken some basic art classes and because of her insatiable desire to learn, she would study art books and art magazines. However, the most helpful learning strategy she found was trying to replicate the work of artists she really admired. Crystal began her professional art career 16 years ago, and she’s been trying to make a living out of art ever since.
Crystal began painting portraits when she became a mother, and she really wanted to convey the emotions of motherhood in her art. That turned into a fascination with faces and expression. Having grown up on a farm, she also finds a huge emotional connection with horses, which is why they often feature in her work. Drawn to lighting, expression and dynamic movement, Crystal always prefers to paint something that will express an emotion. If she does paint figures, it will be the graceful movement of dancers or gestures of lovers.
About Crystal’s artistic style and creative process
Crystal’s home base medium is watercolours, but she also paints oils, draws in coloured pencil and does a little bit of sculpting too. Her watercolour style has a lot of depth and darkness of colour, as she’s always been drawn to that dramatic contrast between light and dark. She paints mainly portraits and animals, especially horses. Working almost exclusively from photographs, Crystal will either use the photo supplied for a commission, or work from photos she’s taken herself or those she finds on copyright free websites. Next she’ll do some quick sketches followed by a detailed drawing, before beginning to paint. Her painting style is very realistic, but the sculptures she creates—called Tumble Creatures—are cute, whimsical and caricature-versions of animals.
Having done a lot of commissions, Crystal does enjoy them as they almost always present a challenge or new idea. Commissions are great for business growth as well as artistic growth, but she still prefers the creativity of doing her own thing. Although she did larger paintings earlier in her career, these days she prefers to work small, in 8 x 10 or 11 x 14 scale. Smaller paintings sell better online, and they give a quicker sense of accomplishment.
The process of moving from watercolours to oils to sculpture
Crystal primarily studied and painted watercolour, so when she changed to oils she found it difficult technique-wise. It was completely foreign and she didn’t quite get the idea of mixing colours with white. She also had a collector base only interested in watercolours, so she worried about how the change would affect her sales. Although she didn’t get any criticism—most people were very encouraging about trying something new—the oils didn’t sell as well as the watercolours. Eventually, however, Crystal gained new buyers that are only interested in the oil works.
A few years ago, having spent the previous decade working hard to make a business out of her art, Crystal needed a break from painting. For many years she’d been taking commissions and doing paintings that weren’t all that creatively fulfilling but that would sell, and pushing herself to make art every single day. She’d just taken on a big corporate painting commission that was hugely challenging as a project, so she started sculpting little creatures out of clay on the side.
Sculpting was so different from what she’d been doing previously; it was safe and fun and a creative outlet that she loved. Crystal ended up with these little animals that she called Tumble Creatures. A fellow horse person suggested she sell them, so she put them up online. Pretty soon they all sold and she began getting requests. It took off like a whirlwind, taking up all Crystal’s time and supplying her with an income. Being burnt out on painting she decided to follow the sculpting exclusively for about a year. These days Crystal does both painting and sculpting, but neither at 100%, so as to avoid burnout.
Finding inspiration and keeping track of ideas
Although she’s crazy about notebooks—especially cute ones with quotes on the front—Crystal finds the best way to keep track of her ideas is the note feature on her phone. Working from photographs, she often finds herself connecting to and being captivated by the expression in a person’s or animal’s eye, which is where the inspiration for the paintings usually comes from. As for the Tumble Creatures, the inspiration comes from a lifetime of being around horses, and specifically from Crystal’s love of miniature horses, which began when she was 11 years old and she saw some in a Western Horseman magazine. The basic concept of Tumble Creatures is to look at a real horse and then ask the question, ‘How can I make this even cuter?’
Crystal’s Favourite Creative Tools and Resources
Crystal’s favourite sketching tools are Prismacolor coloured pencils and toned sketching paper in tan or grey. For painting she likes Daniel Smith watercolour paints, especially the quinacridone pigments, and white nylon bright brushes.
As for books, Crystal recommends Watercolor Techniques and Jan Kunz’s other books, Mary Whyte’s art books and Alla Prima by Richard Schmid. She says that Eternal Truths for Every Artist by Harley Brown is the best art book she’s ever read!
Apart from those mentioned above, Crystal is inspired by the artists Ali Cavanaugh, Carol Marine, Daniel Keys and Karin Jurick. She also suggests finding an artist friend who can be encouraging and who genuinely cares about you, because she’s found that to be the greatest inspiration in her friendship with fellow creator Bryn Courey from Gumi Poni
Crystal recommends the Daily Paint Works tutorials including her own free one, [How to Paint A Watercolour portrait](https://www.dailypaintworks.com/ArtTutorials/ArtByteStore/#/artist=Cook, Crystal&mode=search), and the resources on Schoolism.com
Connect with Crystal