Where Have I Been? (Apology & Art Update!)

Taken by Oliver J Cooper (Instagram @coastaloliver), September 2017, Eastbourne, UK.

I am completely aware of my lack of new art work recently, and I apologise!

As I discussed in my December vlog, I recently took the leap into freelance work (you can read more about it here). This was one of the best decisions I have made and I am loving it. My big fear was not being able to find enough work to make a living, but recently I have been receiving so much it has been difficult to juggle.

Alongside my art work I create design pieces. I am working with some really fascinating small businesses, ranging from designers to therapists to photographers. While it’s mostly graphic work, I sometimes get to use watercolours in my designs, which creates a lovely combo between my two passions. I also write and work with different crafts, and and I’ve been learning how to balance and make time for a bit of everything.

I love the variety of my work and am grateful for the opportunity to work on so many great projects, but unfortunately I have found that while I have been finding and building a repertoire with my design clients, my artwork has been pushed to the side.

Learning how to manage my work is becoming easier with time. I am planning to spend a large part of the Spring sitting down outside with my paints, getting all the ideas that have been buzzing around my head onto paper.

What’s coming next?

Recently I have been really keen on minimalist line work, and I am looking forward to combining this style with my own.

I have also started to get my children’s book ideas onto paper, which is really exciting and should be the start of a fascinating project.

Another goal is to create a series of textile designs, as I think it’s interesting to cross the line between art and something that is functional – I’m looking forward to sharing more with you, thank you so much for your continued support.


Photo credit: Oliver J Cooper (Instagram: @coastaloliver). 

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Just do it Already

I noticed a while ago that a particular colour in my watercolour palette was running low. It was very vibrant pink hue, and it happened to be the colour that I used for just about everything. It featured somewhere in almost every piece I painted, which is why it ended up running out before all the others. Instead of going out and buying a new one, I decided that I could buy it later, that the colour would last for the foreseeable future.

Of course, not too long later, it ran out. This was pretty troublesome, considering that I really needed this colour. By the time I got around to visiting the shops and looking for a new one, the colour had ran dry and as a result of not keeping any of the packaging, there was no way for me to find the same colour again.

After a couple of weeks of searching I brought a new palette, and it had a lot of similar pink shades. Not the same shade, but several that were close enough to be passable.

Although my example is a weird little analogy, it did leave me thinking how much easier I would have made things for myself if I had just gone to the shop when I knew I needed to, instead of putting off the trip in the hope of saving money, or not wasting time, or doing something unnecessary.

Stress. Fear. Paralysis. We spend a lot of time worrying and putting things off. I think this applies to the everyday things – putting off that dental appointment, not writing that essay – but also to the big things. Putting off searching for that new job because of a lack of security, putting off that travel adventure because of concerns over money. These are all valid concerns, and of course you should probably weigh up those decisions, but sometimes simply acting is a lot less scary and stressful than we think it will be. Sometimes, we realise that it’s what we should have done all along, and only wish we had done it sooner.

While you might not be able to relate to my situation, maybe you have something that you’ve been putting off. Maybe it’s taking some overdue time for yourself. Maybe it’s finally showing the world that project you’ve had stashed away in a drawer. If you have been putting off something that you should have done a long time ago, take the time out to do it. You never know how it might change things down the line. Come on, just do it already.

Photo Credit: Hannah Rose Shaw by Oliver J. Cooper.

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Art, Theatre and Tarot: The Extraordinary Life of Pamela Colman Smith

“She has always been strange. There is not a page of her life, not an incident, that is not overflowing with romance.” – “Winsome Witchery in London Drawing Rooms”, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York, Tuesday, November 1, 1904.

I recently worked on an incredible exhibition with the National Trust that I was so happy to be a part of. It tells the story of an incredible woman who lived an extraordinary life. Pamela Colman Smith, or ‘Pixie,’ was an artist, writer and occultist. I was given the task of creating the exhibition and sharing her story through interactive illustrations and animations.


Pamela was the artist behind one of the most famous tarot decks, the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, more often known as the Rider-Waite Tarot (1909). The cards are completely captivating, incredibly vivid and full of imagination. Without creating the cards she would have fallen into obscurity, and despite them she died as a fairly unknown artist and with little money to her name. Despite this, she was a fascinating and truly unique woman.

She was born in England in 1878 and spent much of her life traveling between London, New York and Jamaica. Her mother was Jamaican, and she was highly influenced by Jamaican culture, eventually going on to write a short book of Jamaican folk stories. Her art was inspired by Art Nouveau and 19th-century symbolists. She was also inspired by synesthesia, and in several of her works she shows how her senses could blend. Pamela was able to ‘see’ music, and created captivating pieces where she translated music into paintings. She was particularly inspired by Bach, Schumann and Beethoven. At example of her synesthetic work is her painting Overture. “Egmont” Beethoven, where the figure of a woman seems to blend into the mountainside as three figures peer into the distance.

She dabbled in many areas, which is maybe why she was never distinguished in any field. She worked as an illustrator, a set designer, and a writer of novels and children’s books. She was also a member of the 20th-century occult movement, and a strong supporter of women’s suffrage. She created many political cartoons as part of a group of political artists known as the Suffrage Atelier. She was described in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1904, in the paragraph: ‘In London drawing rooms the enthusiasm and the fashion of the hour is Pamela Colman Smith, who, in a brilliant frock of orange with a red turban, sits on a board with two lighted candles in front of her and tells before crowds of delighted people weird and strange folklore tales of Jamaica.’ It also noted that she was ‘highly unconventional and full of mystery in her art, as well as in her life, a wonderful colorist […] a most ungirlish individuality, yet full of curious attraction.’


The part of her story that my worked focused on was a journal that she created while crossing the Atlantic on the S. S. Marquette with famous figures like the Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry and the Dracula writer Bram Stoker. Accompanying them was Bram Stoker’s theatre group, and they set out to on a theatrical tour of America. The journal, titled The Book of Merry Joys, contains lots of beautiful, and sometimes mischievous, caricatures of famous figures that accompanied her on the journey. My role was to take these illustrations and animation them with the same playfulness that fills Pamela’s pages. I love the vitality and fluidity of animation, and I had so much fun bringing the illustrations to life. I collated the animations, together with the story of Pamela and the creation of The Book of Merry Joys, on an iPad.

Smallhythe Place (National Trust)

I wanted the exhibition to be on display on an iPad in a National Trust property, instead of online, for two reasons. Firstly, I like my work to have an interactive element. I like that visitors can interact with the iPad, touch the screen, linger on an animation or drive the narrative forward at their own pace. I also wanted the iPad to be on display in a place that gave it context, a place that Pamela connected with. Pamela lived in National Trust property Smallhythe Place in 1909, when she was creating the Tarot Cards. She had a strong connection to the property and developed many friendships there. The iPad is now in the property on permanent display.

I am so proud to have been able to share Pamela’s story, to give her a ‘voice,’ 67 years after her passing. It means a lot to me that more people will be able to see her work, and that she will not simply be another female artist whose work was forgotten and regarded as unimportant.

You can see the project at Smallhythe Place, which is open Wednesday to Thursday from 11am to 5pm.

Pamela Colman Smith and the Book of Merry Joys project was created, designed and animated by Hannah Rose Shaw in collaboration with the National Trust. 

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