Brushstrokes: Interview with CoCo Artist Chamisa K.

As part of our ongoing Brushstrokes series, we interviewed CoCo Artist Chamisa K. Primarily an illustrator, Chamisa's magical drawings and imaginative scenes have especially peaked the interest of our clients with young children. We love the idea of a series of Chamisa's custom illustrations in a nursery or kids room.

  The Light in the Tree 1 ; 8"x10", ink and watercolor

The Light in the Tree 1; 8"x10", ink and watercolor

CoCo: How would you describe your artwork?
Chamisa: My work is magical realism. It belongs in a world that looks like ours, but where the rules are tipped on their head. I draw everyday scenes overlaid with imagination.

CoCo: Tell us about your training as an artist.
Chamisa: I began drawing very young, around age three. Both of my parents are artistic, and work as architects and urban designers. There was never a shortage of drawing and painting supplies in our house. Ball-point pens were my go-to tool. The way the ink flowed out around the tiny ball at the point, the satisfaction of seeing it sink into the paper; I spent hours drawing with them. I consider this foundation of drawing as a kid to be extremely important to my training as an artist. If it really does take 10,000 hours to master a skill, then I’m lucky I got a lot of my drawing time in at a young age.

From first grade through high school I attended Waldorf school, a private school system that puts a lot of emphasis on art and working with your hands. This, of course, was an absolutely perfect environment for me. It felt so natural to have drawing and painting so seamlessly integrated into my every day school life. In first grade I was introduced to watercolor, and since then have been combining watercolor and pen and ink in my work.

After high school, I applied to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Nothing could have really prepared me for the work load at RISD, but all the drawing and painting at a young age certainly helped! I studied Illustration, and while I can’t say I loved every minute of it, I certainly made a lot of personal creative discoveries. I met so many incredible artists, got my ego knocked down a peg or two (or ten), and after trying a ton of other materials, reaffirmed my love for ink and watercolor. They are the tools I use most in my current work.

  Childhood Drawing 2

Childhood Drawing 2

  The Light in the Tree 2

The Light in the Tree 2

CoCo: Who is your art for? What type of person are you speaking to?
Chamisa: Anyone who loves it and connects with it! I aspire to illustrate and write children’s books, so I always find it fascinating when children look at my work. There is a childlike place in each of us, something authentic and honest. This is the place I hope to speak to with my work.

CoCo: Can you lead us through an important aspect of a special technique you use?
Chamisa: Lately I’ve been creating three-dimensional works which I call “Light and Shadow Boxes”. I use cut outs of ink and watercolor illustrations and layer them to create depth. The light portion comes from small colorful LEDs, which I set behind the layers of paper so they shine through and create shadow and glow. Working with light has been a great learning process for me. Since the LEDs are battery powered, it requires some calculation and mathematical precision. Thinking about color, in the context of a piece that has it’s own light built in, is also a challenge. A piece can change drastically depending on how it’s displayed and whether or not the lights are turned on. As an artist it’s important to have something that drives you to create a lot of work, something that pushes you through the layers of learning. For me, working with added light is that thing that has ensnared my curiosity. I can’t get enough of it!

  In the Belly of the Wolf

In the Belly of the Wolf

CoCo: Do you have any rituals or routines you must perform before you start or continue on a piece?
Chamisa: When I have a day where I get to focus solely on making art, I make sure to schedule in breaks. I dabble in string instruments, and a short session of strumming the guitar or picking at the banjo really clears my head, while keeping me in a creative mental space. It’s not a total departure since I still get to use my hands to make something, but it lets my mind shift so that when I come back to the drawing board I see it with fresh eyes.

CoCo: What is your favorite piece and why?
Chamisa: My favorite piece is one I did while still in school. I call it The Wanderer. It isn’t my best technical work or even my best idea, but it is significant to me because it represents a breakthrough in my work and my mindset towards being an illustrator. The Wanderer was made for an assignment in a children’s book class. I had been trying and failing to mimic work that I liked, illustrators who had succeeded in a certain style. Naturally, I was failing left and right, because I wasn’t following my own intuition; I was forcing it. But this was one of the last projects for the semester, and I think I was so tired that I just couldn’t force it anymore. I returned to that feeling I had as a child, of drawing for the pure joy of it, and not for the purpose of copying something or someone else. Teachers always said, you can’t force style, and I never “got it” until that point. I stayed up all night working on The Wanderer, which wasn’t unusual. The unusual part was that I wasn’t brain dead the next day. I was liberated from this self-imposed weight, and making that piece only made me want to create more.

  The Wanderer

The Wanderer

CoCo: Tell us about your favorite commission.
Chamisa: Recently a friend commissioned me to design and woodburn an image on a hand-made wooden surfboard. I don’t have woodburning examples in my portfolio, but he wanted an image in my drawing style (he knows my love of line), so he approached me about learning this new skill. The limited times I’ve worked with a wood burner have been great experiences, so I readily agreed. 

There are three reasons why this has been a great commission project: one, it allows me to learn a new skill, without taking me away from the style I like to work in. Two, the idea and design have been a pleasantly collaborative effort, and the client has allowed me full reign on the technique and fabrication. Lastly, it has opened up the possibilities for future projects like this one, and bolstered my confidence in expanding my repertoire of materials.

(All photos by Phil McElroy)

If you are interested in learning more about Chamisa's work, contact info@cocogallery.net