"I believe I create my best art when inspiration comes from my heart and when I paint what I know," writes Raleigh artist Autumn Cobeland on her website.
For Cobeland, a Raleigh native and mom of two, what she knows is Raleigh. And what she loves about the city are the twists and turns of the city's extensive greenway system. It was a romance kindled as she worked off her "baby weight" by training for sprint triathlons with her husband and watched her two daughters grow confident on their own bikes during family rides.
Those experiences inspired what many know Cobeland for: Her series of paintings featuring the greenway - from a pedestrian bridge over the Beltline to a leafy section off Lassiter Mill Road.
Recently, Cobeland turned her artistic eye to another popular Raleigh spot - Pullen Park. Cobeland helped put together a community art project to celebrate the park's 130th anniversary. The piece was installed at Pullen last week.
I checked in with Cobeland to learn more about her work and the Pullen Park project. Here's a Q&A:
Go Ask Mom: When did you first get involved in art and realize that you wanted to do it professionally?
Autumn Cobeland: I have been painting my whole life. When I was 3, my mother used a drawing I had made of a happy flower as her logo in her business. From that point on, I found much joy in exploring color and light as it relates to painting. I went to college at Earlham College in Indiana and studied in Florence, Italy my junior year. I have been selling my work since 1992.
I am so happy to have a studio at Artspace downtown. The building was re-imagined into artist studios when I was at Ligon for middle school. I had dreamed of having a space there for a very long time.
GAM: You're best known for your greenway series. How did that get started? What about the greenway intrigues you?
AC: Speaking as a mom, when it came time to try to shed some of that "baby weight," my husband and I both got convinced to try sprint triathlons. We were training with friends and together. And when we set out for bike rides, we became amazed at how far we could go without crossing streets.
Our greenway trail system is so remarkable! The scenery and the distances really spoke to me. We had been out in Glacier National Park in Montana with relatives not too long before the training time, and so I had been seeing many of the Works Progress Administration's National Parks posters as well as prints by Roy E. Hughes, who was an artist-in-residence with the parks out west at the time. These touched on the style of painting that I had been experimenting with for pet portraits.
After seeing a show of Toulouse-Lautrec at the N.C. Museum of Art, I was playing with paints to figure out what paint would produce the look of a lithograph. Gouache, an opaque watercolor, was the answer. I enjoy mixing a backdrop of watercolor and gouache, plus sometimes some conte crayon, in my paintings.
GAM: The Pullen Park piece marks its 130th anniversary and is being created with the help of park goers, who attended an event in March. What does the piece involve and how will people be able to see it?
AC: This was a great idea that I certainly wish I could take credit for. I had been a part of a show at the Municipal building a few years ago. The activities director from Pullen saw my work there. She, and perhaps also Eliza Kiser from Pullen Arts Center, came up with an idea for an interactive mural for kids of all ages to engage in the artistic process.
It took a lot of preparation, but it was an absolute blast to watch so many dozens of young and old artists paint a tile with the selected few colors. Each square tile was part of the whole image. I changed the wording a bit to celebrate the park, in particular, and we added the lettering up the side to say "celebrating 130 years." I can't wait to see it once it is hung. It will be a back drop on the stage for a while this spring at Pullen Park, and perhaps into the summer.
GAM: You have kids, and I imagine you've spent plenty of time at Pullen Park. Now that you're working on an art project there, how are you seeing the park in a different way or new light?
AC: I really am a huge fan of the "new" spaces at Pullen. The cafe is a wonderful stopping point if you are doing the 34-mile greenway loop around Raleigh. I'm happy that the carousel is protected. It's a park we can all be thankful for. My wish for the future of Dix Park next door is that Western Boulevard would disappear underground through a tunnel like so many roads in New York under Central Park, so that the park surface could extend un-interupted between the two awesome parks.
Editor's note: That would be amazing!
GAM: What are you working on next? How can people find you?
AC: I am always working on the next greenway image for the series. The painting I have most recently begun is a view of the bridge in Durham near The Streets at Southpoint. I am very hopeful to work with the Mountains to Sea Trail this year, as well as a collaboration with the East Coast Greenway. My studio is at Artspace in downtown Raleigh. Please come out to a First Friday. That is a particularly fun time to visit.
Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.