Filtering by Category: Inside Artist's Studio

Inside the Artist's Studio: Donna L.'s Warehouse Workspace

CoCo Artist Donna L.’s studio is located in Long Island City (LIC), a stone’s throw away from Manhattan. The city’s skyline gleams from across the water, but feels a world away from LIC’s hushed industrial landscape now populated with warehouse-cum-artist studios.



Donna’s studio is located on the third floor of one of these warehouses. She meets me at the top of the elevator and leads me to her studio, past a community library where a mix of art books, cookbooks, and philosophical manifestos perch precariously on a bookshelf. Donna’s studio is strewn with art supplies. Brushes, stacks of papers, and boxes absorb the available surfaces. In the middle of the room is a folding table covered with newsprint. The beginnings and in-betweens of projects rest on the surface. Against one wall are stacks of pastel drawings of sky-scapes, seascapes and mountain-scapes. They are breathtaking in person, and seem to glow with a lit-from-within quality. I mention this to Donna and she smiles. “Yes, my real subject is light.” She’s not kidding. Despite the studio’s lack of windows, Donna’s radiant work gives the impression of a sunlit room. There’s a stack of metal drawers against another wall and she opens them one at a time to reveal a marvelous collection of works on paper. They are much smaller than the ones lounging against the walls, here lie entire horizons collapsed into the space of a business card.


CoCo: Why do you work in such dramatically different scales?

Donna: These little worlds are so much faster to finish than some of the larger ones, I like the immediacy. It helps to get an idea out quickly, and provides some relief from the larger pieces. Of course, the large ones provide something to focus on for a long time. I have really large ones too, works that are 40 x 60. I’ve noticed that the larger works have a softness to them that isn’t present in the smaller works, it’s interesting how scale can affect something like that.




CoCo: How do the images take shape. Do you use reference photos?

Donna: Yes, but not usually just one, I combine multiple photos and sample the elements that I like. Sometimes I make it up. I’ve done enough of these now to understand how the sky could look.



CoCo: Can you tell me more about your choice of materials? Why pastels and not oil paint or graphite?

Donna: I enjoy the way the pastels allow me to work in thin layers without a heavy build-up. When I work I’m able to wipe away the layers, thin them out, blend them with my fingers and shift things around easily. I usually do high-contrast black and white pieces, but I’ve recently started working with grayer tones. It doesn’t have the same wow factor, but there’s some subtlety there. It’s delicate. I worked on a whole series of black and white seascapes that I wiped down with tissues so you can see the black pigment give way to a warm, yellow-tinged undertone. That’s something you can only get with pastels. It’s also interesting to use a material that isn’t traditionally associated with this type of work. Pastels are usually associated with flowers or still-lifes. I also enjoy working with watercolor and collage. I’m hoping to explore more of that soon. I’m inspired by some of the early 20th century collages, Kurt Schwitters and the like.”



CoCo: How do the  white edges of your works stay so pristine?

Donna: I tape around the edge of where I want to image to go. This creates a clean line when I remove it and stops any powder from smudging on the white border. It’s funny in comparison to the rest of my studio, which isn’t exactly organized.

CoCo: What’s been one of your favorite commissions?

Donna: A man once commissioned a black and white seascape with a  pop of red. It was my second commission with this client. I know lots of artists who wouldn’t be open to working this way, but I don’t feel like that. To me, there’s always something to learn. Of course, I had my doubts about how it would turn out. Red, as a color, is not very see-through. It’s not particularly luminous. Red has a density to it, and so much of my work is about light. It was a struggle to find a shade of red that lit up. That’s the thing with commissions, they always push you.This one was very difficult, but I ended up loving the result and it influenced the works that I made after. There’s an ad on the subway for Westworld now that looks remarkably similar, I feel like a trendsetter.


CoCo: What drew you to this topic to light and atmosphere?

Donna: This is such a lame reason, but when I was younger we had this convertable and I was always obsessed with having the top down and lying the seat all the way back and staring up as the sky. Of course this was terribly unsafe, and I probably never had my seatbelt on correctly. But I’ve always loved the sky, there’s something very spiritual about it for me.



CoCo: What commission are you working on now?

Donna: I’m about to start working on one with rainbows. I can see this sparking a whole series. As much as my works is about light, I also want them to provide a refuge for the viewer to feel at peace.

Inside the Artist’s Studio: Our Visit to CoCo Artist Michael M.’s Workshop

CoCo Artist Michael M’s studio is almost a visual rush of personal experiences.  Everywhere you look is an example of collaborative commissions – with his team, Michael takes anything and everything and transforms it into fine art through a wax overlay.  Whether it be old clothes, ticket stubs, programs – literally anything – it becomes part and parcel of a mixed media artwork, such as a portrait of a child, a depiction of a pet, or a meaningful landscape.   Read on to learn more about the backdrop of this very personal and unique style of art.


Brooklyn, by Michael M.


CoCo: How would you describe your work?

Michael: I would classify my work as contemporary, at times bordering on pop-art.  More than anything the work is 100% process based.  As an artist I am extremely calculated and have every step of the process mapped out prior to production.  With great attention to detail I feel you provide the collector with a very finished product as well as a beautiful piece of fine art. 


Michael, as an artist, focuses solely on commissions now.

CoCo: You used to be in finance. Tell us how your life is different now.

Michael: Finance was always something that served as a means to an end but was never emotionally rewarding.  As so many people know, it is so easy to get caught up in the "Rat Race" and sometimes place what is truly important in life on the backburner.  By refocusing life on my two passions, art and family, I can honestly say that I feel an emotional success that I don't feel was possible in my past life.  

CoCo: Tell us about your space.  What about it works well with what you do?  

Michael: When my daughter Charlie was three years old, I asked her what I should name my studio and she very innocently said, "My Life."  This is a space that was created to do art...YES, but to do art and have the ability to be with my children.  It's through interactions with my children that my personal style and approach have evolved into something much deeper.  My Life studio does commissions now, focusing on creating a depth of emotion and memory to a fine art piece. It is extremely important that everyone that walks into this space, feels the connectivity as well as the innocence that this studio was so thoughtfully named.


Michael M.'s daughter, Charlie, aptly named his studio "My Life" and he has modeled the space as an area to both create art and interact with his children.

After a career in finance, Michael M. refocused his life on his two passions: art and family. 


CoCo: Do you have any personal “rituals” that help you with your work?

Michael: I wouldn't say that I have a particular ritual but I do try to draw inspiration from the materials at hand.  I will always have a few pieces going at any one time ranging from personal pieces for an exhibit or commissions.  After dinner and getting our girls to bed, I return to the studio at night in order to complete any unfinished tasks from that day.  It is often at that hour that I will take a step back and see what works-in-progress are screaming my name.  It's not the best thing for a good night sleep but I find myself focusing on that unfinished piece and come up with some really great solutions to be excited about first thing in the morning.

CoCo: What is the best part of what you do or the best part of your day?

Michael: I constantly find myself comparing my life now to what I was doing in the world of finance.  Before, my focus was on my clients and building a business.  I felt my priorities were completely upside down.  I now get to wake up to my amazing little girls, (sometimes) take our time getting to school and focus on our own little world.  After saying goodbye to my family, I get to head down to my art studio.  I could tell you that it's the ability to create what I love most about the studio, but its not.  My favorite part of the day, is when I open the door and turn on the lights.  My Life, is a great Life!


Feeling inspired? See more work by Michael M. below.