Today we’d like to introduce you to LaShonda Cooks.
LaShonda, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m the daughter of an art teacher. I’ve always loved to doodle and sketch. But I never dreamed I would actually become an artist. To me, the idea of making money as an artist or writer was not realistic. I wanted to make it, to get the house, car and financial security. So, I pursued business instead. The world is full of buyers and sellers and dear God, I wanted to be a seller. I studied business in high school. Received a full tuition scholarship to Boston’s Babson College, the top school for entrepreneurship in the country. That’s where it all changed. In the world of rocket pitches and networking, I longed for the arts. The ceramics studio became my sanctuary. It was there that I learned the painting style that I use today.
When I graduated in 2010, I knew I didn’t want to work in a cubicle or office. I struggled when I returned to Dallas. I worked retail, worked as a journalist, worked as an event coordinator. All the while, I kept painting to protect my peace and sanity. I finally took on a job as an insurance adjuster in 2012. The job’s autonomy is what won me over. But I was always one of few female adjusters in my management team and have learned to hold my own in a male-dominated auto repair industry. I have to exude confidence, conviction, leave little room for gray area or their gender biases would eat me alive. Painting became even more important then. It was the only space where I could relax and fully be me.
I first began showing my work in 2014, after the gentle nudging of my family and boyfriend. I started hosting free quarterly arts and crafts workshops in 2016. It’s been an amazing journey.
Has it been a smooth road?
My biggest challenge is staying true to my voice while evolving my vision. I’ve been critiqued three times since I began showing my work in 2014.
The first was pretty rough. It was by a cultural art giant in Dallas and she basically told me I was all over the place and needed to get some foundational art classes under my belt. I swallowed my pride and hurt feelings and took two drawing classes at Richland College. I loved it.
My second critique was by a local gallery owner. As soon as I stepped into the gallery, I realized it was a bad fit. He liked my style but he hated portraiture. He said it was lazy unless that artist truly transformed the reference photo. I thanked him and promised to come back but never did. I did take his advice though and try to make sure any portraits I create for my portfolio challenge me and its reference.
My third critique was by a couple who manages artists. The wife liked my work but the husband thought it was boring. “Throw a monster or something in here,” he suggested. As an artist, you have to know when to change and when to stay the same, what to hold onto and what to let go of. I’m still learning that.
My advice is to just do what feels right in your gut. Everyone may not be in your corner but that’s ok. Do it anyway. And continuously invest in yourself and your craft.
Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
My artwork is known for short, light pointillist strokes and layers of color. I picked up the style while studying business in school and fell in love with it; It’s so freeing and forgiving. I love exploring and dissecting cultural norms in my work through painting iconic or everyday figures. My goal is to continue to grow, innovate and push myself and my painting to get better and better.
I’m very proud of the community component to my art business. I’ve hosted free quarterly arts and crafts workshops in Oak Cliff since 2016. I recently received a grant with the Office of Cultural Affairs in Dallas to do a series of community workshops and community exhibit this March. I want to create a space and opportunity for people to just come and create, in hopes of them finding the same escape and peace that I found while painting. It’s my way of paying forward the opportunities and success I’m getting as I climb.
Do you have any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general? What has worked well for you?
Mentors choose you. When I was writing for The Dallas Examiner, I wrote a story of Dallas-based artist and sculptor J.D. Evans. I was awestruck by his studio and incredibly inspired to see someone actually making a living from art. I showed him some of my work and he told me I had a style and encouraged me to show my work. That was huge!
My friend Chris studied art in college and since we met, he has pushed me to grow my craft. He showed me where to go purchase canvases and supplies and is who I often use as a critical eye for a piece.
Networking as an artist is important. You want people to respect you and your work and refer you to others when they are searching for artists for a commission or show. The best way to network and find mentors is to be visible and participate. Go to shows even if you’re not featured and ask questions, congratulate the artists. When you’re featured, make an effort to connect with every guest, even fellow artists showing love. That’s how you build your network and brand.
- Website: www.shondasart.com
- Phone: 2147093998
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @shondasart
- Facebook: ShondasArt
- Twitter: @djshonda
Jessica Loren, Steve Nelson, LIzaveta Litvinava, Jamaal Eversley, LaShonda Cooks
Erin Douglas of ErinSha Photography (@photochick)