Vanessa Couto Artists Stories

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Vanessa Couto

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“We are all midwives to each others dreams”
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Vanessa Couto is an artist and counseling astrologer. She works with people work who want a better understanding of who they are and what they came here to do. Her artwork, astrology readings and words are full of meaning and extra layers. Take your time to read this Artist Story. It’s filled to the brim with Vanessa’s wisdom.

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There are 10 Q’s & A’s. Find your Golden Tip for Exploring Creativity at the end of the interview.

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Q 1. Can you take us through your process. From the first idea to the final drawing. 

My process varies from time to time, but in most cases this is how it goes:

If it’s a commissioned piece, then I have a conversation with my client to see what they would like to have drawn. We discuss favorite colors, overall feel of the piece they want and the symbology behind it. Then I just sort of sit with that for a bit. It could be just a few hours or a few days.

I leave the idea cooking in my mind. I like to think that I have this big stove and oven in the back of my mind, where I just leave some ideas there cooking – in the back burner. Then it’s as if the water starts to boil and my image is ready. When it starts boiling, I have this feeling that I must tend to the image soon, at least sketch it to get the general idea down.

If I don’t tend to it quickly, it really starts nagging me, and I have a hard time being present in whatever else I’m doing in life. I get this sense of rush that I must go to my studio and get working. Then I can work for hours (if I have the time).

After the general sketch, I do some research for added images in the internet. Mainly for photo referencing or to help me develop new details. This research portion can take a little longer, as it is also informing how my final piece will turn out, because new inspiration may come from that. Sometimes this research will not come in via images at first, but by historical documentaries that I might be watching – I love BBC’s historical documentaries.

Once I feel that my sketch is solid, I go right to work. Light pencil drawing first, then the black marker outline, coloring, and the final part and the longest to accomplish – the detailing with little lines, dots and shading. While I’m coloring away, I usually have some BBC period drama playing in the background or some documentary. I get into this meditative state, but also learn about history!

This process can take either weeks or just a few hours, depending on the size of the piece or how quickly the Muses answer my prayers for inspiration. Other times, I’m just on a roll, so I sketch a few drawings, and then it’s almost like production line – pencil drawing, coloring and detailing.

Sometimes images do come to me in a flash or in a dream. It’s like I’ve been hit beside the head. They demand to be sketched soon. Often these are some of my favorite pieces to work on and I’m normally on a roll when I work on them.

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Q 2. What do you do if doubt, procrastination (or any other obstacle) appear?

Almost every piece I have done I come across this moment of where I think to myself: “This isn’t working. This is rubbish. You’ve messed it up!” At moments like this, I step back and go do something else. At times I leave it for days, weeks even.

I find that when this happens, it’s best to work on another project that isn’t drawing (i.e. knitting or writing) and then I can come back feeling refreshed. Other times, specially if it’s a commissioned piece and I have a delivery deadline, I muscle through. The delivery date becomes a great motivator. It’s like having Saturn’s exacting boney fingers telling me: “Chop, Chop!”

Other times, my doubt will lead me to more image research or to try new sketches. I also ask my partner for his input if I’m in a bind. He’s a graphic designer and helps me have a different perspective.

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Q 3. You chose to work with markers, ample symbolism and a clear design. That means that ’there is no way back’ once something happens (like a so-called mistake). How do you deal with that? 

My love of markers has been with me since I was a little kid. I love this medium, but it isn’t forgiving at all, that’s why my early sketch has to be as detailed as I can make it. Still every time I start on a piece a ‘mistake’ happens.

Most of the time, I work creatively around it and it ends up morphing my original design. At first I hated this. I wanted the image in my mind to be the image on the paper. However, time has taught me to let go of this notion, especially because of my medium.

I had to learn to live with the ‘mistakes’ and be creative with them. When they are really bad, then I start again, which in itself can be a real bummer, especially if I’m close to the end.

Working with markers has also taught me to be confident and to be more precise. It took time, but it’s a labor of patience and artistic meditation. Working like this has taught me that nothing will be like you’ve imagined. It actually maybe much better than you envisioned.

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Q 4. You started drawing when you were 2 years old. Can you take us there? Are you born in a familie of artists?

My family definitely has an artistic vein, but many didn’t get to express it. Those who did, unfortunately didn’t take it very far beyond a hobby.

Although I started drawing very young, I quit drawing after High School. I didn’t make much for about 16 years. Growing up, and especially during High School, when I had Fine Art Classes as my electives, I didn’t have any encouragement from my parents.

They wished I had been more sensible and invested my time in science and math classes. Only my art teachers encouraged me. Still, I thought art wouldn’t lead any where, and so at college I made the decision to do something more pragmatic.

Thankfully that all changed in my mid-30s during the writing of my Master’s thesis. My school allowed us to do an artistic portion for our thesis. So while I wrote about the Heroine’s Journey in her search for love, I had this inspiration that came to me in a flash for 6 mandalas that I could use to illustrate my thesis. That was the seed inspiration that reawakened my artistic side.

After I finished my Masters, my mind was so exhausted that for 2 years, all I could do was read fiction novels and draw. Slowly the doodles that used to fill my class notebooks became full-sized drawings. My collection of markers grew and I found myself spending a lot of my money in art supplies.

I took workshops and hung out with friends that were also into arts and crafts. Then people started commissioning pieces. I was just beside myself in happiness. It was unbelievable to me that people would pay me to draw something for them.

Ironically, now my parents have changed their tune and think I should invest more in art as well. They don’t remember how much they used to reprimand me about spending so much time doing art.

I feel that devoting myself to my art is not just something that is mine, but also something that I hope is breaking some sort of family curse as well. I thank the Muses for fueling my inspiration.

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Q 5. In what way does your knowledge of astrology influence your art and vice versa?

At first astrology and my art had nothing in common. When one of my friends had a baby boy, I was inspired to draw up his birth chart. When she and her husband saw the gift, they both said I should make more of those to sell. Soon, other friends and clients wanted their own astro-mandala (as I call them) as well.

In truth art brought me back to astrology. I studied astrology for many years, but for about 5 years, I didn’t touch it. I had struggled with depression for a couple of years, in my early 30s and I just wasn’t interested in astrology. The astrology that I practice is deeply psychological and during those times it felt like a trigger, so I left it for a while.

But in doing that drawing for my friend, something in me got stirred, and I slowly came back to astrology. My mid-30s was a reawakening of both art and astrology.

Now the way I see astrology’s influence in my art is via the understanding of the cyclical nature of patterns. I love patterns. I love when I understand them. When I recognize them, and when I can understand their meaning. So I try to infuse my art with that same feel of the cyclical nature of patterns.

When I draw a client’s astro-mandala, that’s when my knowledge of astrology really works. I try to infuse the piece with as much symbolism about that person’s chart as I can. So if the person is a strong Aries, then I try to bring elements of warrior and fire into the drawing. It’s really a dialogue I have between the client’s chart and my art piece.

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Q 6. What (and who) are the influences in your work?

Some of the influences in my art are the Medieval illumination books and stained glass, as well as Anglo Saxon and Celtic art. I also love the art of another Brazilian artist Romero Britto.

Another influence is Carl Jung, both from his own images, as well as his work, which informs much of my life. Symbolically, mythology and fairy tales are also influential to my creative process.

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Q 7. do you encounter artist block? How do you work with with obstacles?

Last year was a tough place for me artistically. I didn’t produce much, mainly because I developed tendinitis on my right shoulder, and it was very painful. That really zapped my creative juices and I just didn’t want to do any art. So I delved deeper into astrology. When I started treatment and the pain subsided, it was as if the dam had cracked open, and a flow of ideas came forth.

I believe that when we are either blocked physically or mentally, it’s important to go focus on another project or subject that you like. Get involved with other things, try to get out of your routine, even if just mentally.

For me I see my artistic block (or any block for that matter) as if my inner twin has left the building, and is gone on another adventure. I can’t force it to come back, so I must engage with something else. I believe too that some physical activity does help, even if it’s just a calm stroll around the neighborhood.

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Liminal spaces fascinate me, but they also scare me a little. Still it is in this transition place that I feel is so pregnant with possibilities and symbolism.

Having immigrated to America so young, and growing up bilingual/bicultural has forced me to make friends with this threshold space.

I have learned that it gives me a different perspective on life, and a way of reading people, places and situations with an added eye for the hidden pattern and symbol that is being manifested.

From this experience, I have fallen in love with patterns – not just in nature, in society, but in life and most importantly within myself and others.

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Q 9. what would you say to someone who says: “I’m not very creative”

I always get a little annoyed when someone says they aren’t creative. But I don’t say I’m angry. What I do say, is that we are all creative, as we are constantly creating something – our lives.

Creativity isn’t just about art. Creativity is how we find solutions to problems, and bring forth new ways of doing things. I also ask the person who says they aren’t creative to tell me about something they love to do.

Within their answer I can point out to them what is creative about it. In many ways, I have a compulsion to prove them wrong, and have them walk away knowing that they are creative.

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Q 10. Did you ever give up on an idea or a work ?

A few times I have given up on some project midway. I don’t like to do that, but sometimes it just has to be that way. I do try to find a creative solution to a project that just isn’t developing as I’d like, but if I see that I’m spending too much energy that could be used elsewhere, I concede to such loss.

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Q 11. What is your Golden Tip for people who want to explore their creativity?

“Look to the world around you. Get really interested in what motivates you. It doesn’t have to be artistic, but it has to be something that makes you feel excited.

That is the thread that lead you towards your creative heart. That’s what I did, and I found my way back.”

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Do you want to get in touch with Vanessa Couto and find out more about her work and art?

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