Interview: Cassia Cogger On Living Creatively, Story Circles & Art as Yoga
Cassia Cogger and I met through a like-minded circle of makers at Camp GLP and I’m so glad we did.
This woman is a powerhouse. She creates courses, writes books, constructs mandalas, and paints. Oh, and she’s a mom, manages various projects & businesses, and lives an innately creative life. As someone who self-identified as an artist early on and was guided by caring mentors, Cassia is another beautiful example of how catalytic & transformative well-timed encouragement can be.
IPaintMyMind is happy to feature her because she’s the perfect combination of artist & entrepreneur. Cassia Cogger is versatile, savvy, artistic, and practical, taking the common stereotype about starving, misguided artists and smashing it into a million pieces.
As she moves from project to project, she exudes the calm of someone who has lived through some shit, which has offered her a choice. She chose making. As a result, she’s birthed an incredible way to process, create, and serve, and that’s evident in her work.
I was stoked when she agreed to an interview, and the result was a poignant glimpse into the world of someone who creates nonstop, executes strategically, and makes her art her life: no compromise needed.
Ahead we unpack the creative evolution of Cassia Cogger.
Evan: So glad to be doing this, thanks again! Do you remember what was the first piece of music or art that blew your mind? If so, why do you think it made such an impact on you?
Cassia Cogger: My father was a talented artist and my mom has a great passion for listening to music. My earliest memory of being wowed by a piece of work is when I was very young, probably 5. My dad did a sketch of me with a purple marker on what was probably a piece of notebook paper and I recognized that in a few minutes time he had rendered something I recognized as myself.
What role did art play in your childhood?
Art was an integral part of my childhood. I had a grandmother who saw me very early on as an artist and supported me with art supplies and encouragement. She constantly exposed me and my siblings and cousins to the area art museum and different kinds of making. She and my grandfather collected art and would travel to Santa Fe at least once a year to select new pieces. My mother and Step-father were also always very supportive. I remember at 13 they got me my own drafting table and allowed me to set it up in a great spot in our new house. That same year they purchased a number of big paintings from a local painter and I met another professional artist who lived down the road from us and I began to understand that being an artist was a possible career option.
That’s awesome. It’s always cool to hear how artists were sparked in their creative pursuits. Your about page says that you ‘know art happens everywhere’, what do you mean by that?
I mean that so often people resist the urge to create. They make it precious and insist upon the perfect space or the right materials, the ideal circumstances or some form of education. They want to have everything in place and seemingly everything figured out before they even begin and that’s not how I see the making of art working. I see the process as an opportunity to explore and experiment, to connect with oneself and the world that surrounds us. I believe the environment is always right, the materials on hand will always work, the circumstances always ideal and that we all already know what to do. The older I get and the more time I spend making I believe that the art is in the process far more than the end product.
When we hung out in NYC recently, you made the distinction between art being for everyone as we tend to say at IPMM, and you said it was for ‘anyone’… can you tease that out for me a bit? I liked that you thought of it from a slightly different angle.
Yes, I believe art is for anyone. I used to say art was for everyone too and then I felt the need for further clarification. I prefer to view art, the process of making or interacting with, as an invitation. To say that art is for everyone started to make me feel like I might be pushing it upon people who genuinely, for one reason or another at any specific point in time, just might not be interested. I prefer the notion that art is for anyone interested in engaging with it.
I also view any interaction with art as highly personal and “anyone” speaks to the individual whereas “everyone” speaks to the masses.
I like it. Our mission comes from the notion that art is at the center of the things we all love, even if we don’t think of it as such. That said, we love it that you have a different vantage point.
When did you know you were an artist? How’d you figure that out?
I have always known but have long been scared of it. As I mentioned, my father was a talented artist but also suffered from alcoholism and mental illness, and some part of my younger self always feared that perhaps the two might go hand in hand. Even when I started out at University I began in the School of Environmental Design as a student of architecture hoping to have a career path that was slightly more “guaranteed” but allowed room for my creative expression. This didn’t exactly work out and after my first year away my step father had a serious talk with me about not feeling the need to try and prostitute my art in to something it wasn’t and encouraged me to switch majors.
That’s amazing. How cool to get that kind of loving direction. You’ve also written an awesome book called Creating Personal Mandalas, which has gotten a lot of attention. How’d that come to be?
Magic!!! Lots of hard work, weekly blog posts and newsletters. Also teaching online classes and following creative inquiries in my making that I really didn’t understand but was enjoying. After about 3 years of this I received an inquiry from an amazing acquisitions editor at North Light Publishing asking if I wanted to write a book. I had never considered it before but the answer was an absolute and clear YES! It comes out this April and I still find it hard to believe.
Congratulations! That’s certainly something to celebrate. You also have a course called Story Circles, that’s connected to the mandala project, right?
Yes, Story Circles began as a body of work I inadvertently began after creating a show of pieces focusing on the sacred geometry of the heart. As I worked I realized I was creating mandalas as a form of visual storytelling. This is when I felt the biggest shift from art making as a means to an end (beautiful paintings) to art making as an end unto itself. The process being the “why” for creating.
I have to say, your ‘Moonlight Landscape’ art print is one of my favorite pieces, any plans to make more work in that style?
I sure hope so. I painted that one night after driving home through a scary storm. As I drove I felt my entire body tense as my white knuckles gripped the steering wheel. I forced myself to start some breathing to calm down and noticed the beauty of the environment outside of the car. The softness of the fog, the expansiveness of the wilderness. As I tuned in to it I began to feel the beauty outside the car inside of me as well. It was a special moment that actually translated well on to the page.
It definitely did. We can’t wait to see what else you make in that vein. As if you didn’t have enough going on, you also recently created a new project called A Place For Artists. What inspired it?
I guess the inspiration began as self serving. As a solo-preneur I have a tendency and need to do a lot of things for myself. I spend several hours at minimum each month figuring out how to do things that improve my life and career as an artist and could help others as well. I’m always looking for “a place” to go to find what I need. As a human being I have always felt slightly on the fringe and longed for community and meaningful connection. Now that I live in Central Connecticut and spend most days alone in my studio I crave interaction with other artists. This connection might be for creative inspiration, a moment of empathy, perhaps to ask a real practical question of how to do something from someone who may have done it already. In my mind A Place for Artists will be exactly this; a vibrant online community that allows artists a place to go for whatever they need.
Keep us posted on how that rolls out, we’d love to be involved. You’ve also regularly worked on a 100 Day Painting Project. What does that type of regular practice do for the way you create? Is it more about discipline or technique for you?
It started out as a way to hone my technique but has evolved in to something entirely about discipline and expansion. To show up to anything everyday for a consistent period of time really requires you to question why you are doing it, as in, what is the purpose? I have tried to keep my projects fairly focused so I am really forced to get creative and consider as many approaches as possible.
You seem to connect your art with a certain mindfulness practice, which I totally relate to. What do you think that’s about?
I have personally experienced the way art brings me back to myself again and again. It allows me to tune in to my body through the tactile experiences of the materials I use, to my emotions as I spill them out on to the page, to my soul as I sit and pay attention to what it has to say as a muse to my creations. I have weathered some tough times both as a child and an adult and art has always been there for me, to calm, to soothe, to ground. Art making and viewing allows me to operate in a state of integration between human self and spirit self that isn’t always easy to achieve otherwise. It is a form of yoga for me in that it yokes me, connects me, to the world in which I live.
Name a few artists that inspire you these days.
There are so many. I am honestly inspired by anyone out there really doing the work and pushing themselves in the process. There is a 90+ year old man named Harry at my Grandfather’s community who started painting ceramics when he moved in and he loves it, that inspires me beyond belief. To see someone who spent the first 80+ years of his life never having explored creative expression now finally diving in to it full force really lights me up.
Professional artists who inspire me? Will Barnet was an instrumental mentor to me for years in New York City and his words and works continue to inspire and guide me to this day. Timothy J. Clark is another mentor who is an inspiration in his utter devotion to conveying light and beauty through watercolor creating beautiful paintings while continuing to serve as an amazing instructor. Lisa Congdon in her breadth of work and authenticity in sharing.
Favorite Painting: Tahitian Women Bathing by Paul Gaugin