THE ARTISTS: Natalie Cooke |

THE ARTISTS: Natalie Cooke

What is your career and your current job title? I retired three years ago from a career in kitchen and bathroom design. I’m really a frustrated architect, but I enjoyed helping people with interior spaces. Now, I’m an artist, and I love it!

Describe in a sentence or two your art. I’m a plein air painter. I paint exclusively in oils and my primary tool is a palette knife. My painting has been described as radiant – full of bright color and reflecting a wide spectrum of light. Although I do some landscapes, I’m happiest when I’m painting portraits of homes, or architectural details of houses.

How long have you been working in this discipline? The past six years have been intensely productive, and I celebrate my birth as an artist from the time I began to study with Susan Sarback at the School of Light & Color in Fair Oaks. I earned a degree in art some 25 years earlier, but was completely uninterested in modern painting. I learned so much from her approach to radiant painting, and made a real emotional and technical breakthrough while painting with Susan and other friends in southern France in 1997. That was such an exciting trip.

Why do you do it? It’s a passion, but at the same time it’s a form of meditation for me. I can stand for hours painting a subject, and completely lose track of time.

What do you hope to accomplish? Radiant painting involves techniques of seeing and capturing the radiance of light, and I love to share that radiance with viewers who perhaps have never before been aware of it, or at least have never seen it captured in art. My goal is to continue to develop my eye while at the same time perfecting the technique of capturing the light.

Do you create your art with an exact message you want the viewer to receive? Again, I want them to see the light, to see the colors that exist that most people don’t train themselves to see. I’m talking about the blues in shadows, the multitudes of green in the world, and the magenta that highlights the grasses on distant hills. Beyond that, I like to find the architectural details, the angles, that best reflect the personality of a home.

Where do you want to be with your art, in terms of part-time versus full-time status, art positions, and where your works are seen? I’m proud to be a founding member of The Chroma Gallery in Fair Oaks, a very successful cooperative gallery started by nearly 30 artists about five years ago. We change our shows every month, so it keeps me hopping to produce new work, and to reflect our changing themes. I’d probably classify myself as part time. Would I like to be seen more? Absolutely. My husband calculated last year that we have one painting hanging at home for every 22 square feet of wall space, so I’ve got plenty of stuff to show!

What kind of special training did you take? As noted, I have a bachelor’s degree in art from California State University at Chico, but the five years of advanced study I did at the School of Light & Color are really what shaped my painting. Beyond that, it’s standing there for hours and doing it.

What’s your favorite part of your endeavors? The process is what I love most. Finding a subject that excites me, bringing it to life, scanning it for light and color, building the radiance with layers of paint. And of course I love it when someone really reacts to my work.

What’s your least favorite part of your endeavors? Framing! It’s such a lot of work to mat and frame everything, but you have to do it yourself or it would cost a fortune. Marketing myself is also difficult. I’d rather leave that to someone else, and fortunately my husband is a public relations professional.

How many hours a day or, if more appropriate, a week do you spend on your work? At least four hours, three or four days a week, plus endless hours doing the matting and framing.

Do you consider it hard work and could anyone do it? The process is simple, but not easy. It takes discipline to train yourself to see, and more to learn techniques with paints and the knife. But I think with persistence anyone can learn the process. Some people just do it better than others.

Any other comments you’d like to include? This month, some of my local work can be seen at the former Discovery Gardens store near JC Penney in the Pine Creek Shopping Center in Grass Valley. Child Advocates of Nevada County is selling See’s candy and toys to raise funds for the important work they do here, and they’ve been kind enough to let me mount an exhibit I’m calling “Homes for the Holidays.” A portion of the proceeds of every sale will be donated to Child Advocates.

“The Artists” appears each Friday. To suggest a person to be profiled, call The Union newsroom at 273-9561.

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