Howard Cohen started painting in the early 1990s by taking an extension class at the local high school in a Chicago area suburb. “It was a small class and the instructor would walk around as he was coaching students. When a student needed help, the instructor would stop and either talk them through it or demonstrate how to accomplish the particular technique,” Cohen explained. “When he stopped at any student, I stopped what I was doing and went over to watch and listen. He was a great teacher and I learned a lot from him. In fact, when we’re there, normally in the summers, I still take that once-a-week class.”
After a while, the fumes from oil paints got to his wife and so he switched media to acrylic paint. “I took some classes in watercolor but decided that wasn’t for me,” Cohen added. You can’t make any changes once you start. You are committed. Watercolor is too unforgiving.”
Cohen said he generally only paints from photos, selecting images from the several thousand cell phone photos in his collection. “I have a library of images that I could paint. Sometimes I see one that’s interesting. I begin studying it. It often takes a week to decide what to paint. Often, I go back to my photo files—the ones that aren’t in the painting possibilities file—and pick something from there,” he laughed. “The more you paint, the more you pay attention to what’s around you.”
From there, he decides what’s going to be on the canvas and might pencil in an outline. “I particularly sketch in portraits and structures. With flowers, I just start with the paint,” Cohen explained. “I’m also not regimented as to whether to paint the subject first or the background. If the subject is intricate and detailed, I might do the background first and then paint the subject over it. I make a decision on how to start the painting and then frequently change my mind. The work evolves,” he added.
Cohen noted that he doesn’t paint every day, having numerous other interests and activities including music and reading. “I’m still busy even during these stay-at-home times with Zoom meetings of my book club and various other activities. But when I’m working on a painting, then I do work on it most every day. I’m thinking about that painting, even when I’m not working on it,” he added. “I keep at it until I get tired of looking at it,” he smiled.
Cohen also regularly takes part in the guild’s monthly non-critique sessions. “We get to see what each other is doing and get feedback on our work. I like that interaction,” he explained.
Cohen believes most painters are never 100 percent satisfied with their work. “You can always make changes to it … make it better. But you do get to a point where you just need to stop,” he said. “It could be after a week of work or a month, depending on the particular painting,” adding that he paints for the joy and satisfaction of doing the work. “It makes me feel good. I never worry about selling a work,” he noted. “But I have sold work both in guild art shows and SaddleBrooke galleries and through showing friends photos on my phone,” he summed up.