Drawing Virtual Hugs with Dena Cooper


Former FIDA award winner speaks to Patrick Morgan 

PM How have you been since the awards as lock down happened and you have done so much? Sharing your winnings? Drawing Virtual Hugs to BLM? Fill us in.

DC So much has happened since January, it feels like a completely different world. In February, I was able to use my Fida winnings to support a fundraiser that I created to celebrate Black History Month, where I showcased black art and culture alongside a Harriet Tubman stamp I designed for the US $20 bill. Like so many other artists I know, I’ve felt a bit stifled by current events, but can find no better way to heal than art and activism. I’ve been focusing attention on learning new skills, and creating work that inspires people to think, learn, and grow.

"I’m going through a personal and artistic evolution of sorts, so my movements are somewhat fluid at the moment, but it feels like the right time to strengthen foundation."

PM What's been the best thing since February that you have done, in and out of the drawing world.

DC I’m going through a personal and artistic evolution of sorts, so my movements are somewhat fluid at the moment, but it feels like the right time to strengthen foundation. I’ve been meditating, writing, and drawing daily and have been building my confidence to share more of my social opinions as a part of my work. It’s no longer enough for me to paint something beautiful, there needs to be an added dimension of responsibility and truth. 

PM  How do you think Fashion Illustration can change lives and where do you think it can have the most impact, since its rise on Instagram.

DC The fashion industry contributes to a great deal of social injustice in the world, so it’s only natural that fashion illustration should reflect and reveal these inconvenient truths. Like artists in any other industry, we have a great responsibility to be the change we envision for the world. I think fashion illustration has a role to play in sustainability, and holding brands accountable by educating the public about unethical practices. 

"I’m ultimately happy to have a place to connect with like-minded artists and activists."

PM How has technology and social media been part of your drawing journey?

DC How do you operate and little secrets? I love the combination of technology and art. As a kid, I would draw people and scenes in powerpoint in the early 90’s, before there were programs for digital drawing. Now, I like to draw and add details digitally to my watercolour paintings on my iPad. I have a complex relationship with social media in particular, but I’m ultimately happy to have a place to connect with like-minded artists and activists.

PM Anything new coming, anything BIG or personal?

DC I have lots of ideas that have been coming together to shape my next steps. I like to ruminate, collect inspiration, discuss concepts with friends, and really understand a subject before I comment or create work to make a statement. I have a few projects planned for the next few months that I’m really excited to share. A few are really personal and I’m excited about sharing my thoughts in a new vulnerable way that I haven’t explored before.

PM When you work, describe your environment, space and materials you use?

DC Environment is such a huge part of what makes me feel calm and comfortable when I create. I’m a former musician, so I like to surround myself with music to create a vibe. Lately, I’ve been listening to lots of R&B and chill hip hop. Add a snoozing cat, mood lighting, and pencils in a variety of thicknesses, and that’s how I draw.

"It’s nice to leave a little mystery to keep people coming back to see more, and I like to encourage other artists to create their own way of expressing themselves."

PM How are you documenting your work and how do you remain so passionate?

DC Documenting my work and process is not one of my strengths, but I’m secretly proud that I get so caught up in the present moment, that I don’t beat myself up over it. I like to take short photos and videos of my process without explaining every single step of my progression. It’s nice to leave a little mystery to keep people coming back to see more, and I like to encourage other artists to create their own way of expressing themselves. I try to take social media and Instagram with a grain of salt and attract people that resonate with my personality. My passion is a result of my angst with the world. I’ve come to realise one of my greatest strengths is seeing things from a bigger perspective and calling light to issues that many people might miss. I can’t wait to bring this concept into my work more in the near future.