Truths, Trials, and Tribulations in Spotsylvania County

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

A story of abuse spanning generations

My parents had a messy, turbulent marriage and an incredibly destructive divorce when I was very young.  I have only one memory of them in the same room, and it was a very tense and strange experience, like my double life was overlapping in a weird way.  I had two separate families, two separate homes, two separate personas.  The separation was a strain on me, and at times could be frustrating for me to navigate.  I don’t mean to dwell on my past, but context will be key in understanding the far reaches of the abuse that has taken place here.


Life is so strange.  In a moment, the past can shift from a figment of memory, to something much stronger and unavoidable.  I have always been drawn to loose ends as a kid, and I generally concerned myself with very adult matters, much to the irritation of the adults in my life.  Despite being an old soul, a child who never stopped prodding at the well meaning lies of the adults around me, I started to realize cracks in my grandmother’s explanations of why I couldn’t play outside by myself, why I wasn’t allowed to play with certain kids, but others in the neighborhood were totally fine.  Her answers were shallow, and I wanted to understand her reasoning, but as usual my questions went unanswered.


Despite being only a few houses down and having children my age, my Grandmother forbade me to play with members of the Galyen family during the summers I spent with her in Virginia.  My constant questioning of this rule eventually wore her down to give me a few more details each time.  It seems one of the Galyens, specifically, would sit at her kitchen window and try to watch her undress in the evenings while touching himself.  I was shocked, but still couldn’t understand why his kids would be off-limits to me, and I had a feeling there was much more to this story.  


Over the next few years, I was able to piece together small bits of conversations that I overheard, and mentions of this family’s past taboo behavior.  It was known in the community that members of the Galyen family had a penchant for incestuous relations, and were prone to display this behavior in front of others in the neighborhood as a weird perversion that they enjoyed together.  In the mid-nineties, their lewd behavior began to escalate and become public.  One of the Galyens was found masturbating outside a restaurant, and managed to have the charges reduced to indecent exposure.  His brother was convicted for the incestuous rape of his thirteen-year-old daughter.  There were many more incidents like these that would crop up in conversation, or the local newspaper, many of which were downplayed, and most of which went unpunished.


It’s been years since I thought about any of this, but this summer it came flooding back when I received a phone-call from my dad, who is currently fighting stage-4 cancer, and dealing with a lot of grief, and life reflection.  He told me a story about abuse by several members of the Galyen family that started when he was just five years old.  The stories he was able to tell me were horrific; I couldn’t imagine these things happening to him.  The acts that he described were unspeakable, and I was filled with anger and rage, sorrow, regret, and more anger…But mostly, I experienced a deep understanding of who my dad really is, why he turns to alcohol and violence to silence these demons that prod him every day of his life; He has been running away from his perpetrators and their wide-spread abuse for 50 years.  He told me of other victims that we both know, and my heart was shattered at this harsh reality lying just beneath the surface of my understanding.  I had spent time with both the victims and perpetrators.  I had been manipulated by these people too, and I was furious. 


My reaction toward my dad was nothing but acceptance, and support, but underneath my blood was turning.  I wanted action and I needed to do something.  I was going to take these fuckers down by exposing them to everyone they knew, but my anger was poisoning me.  I couldn’t get out of bed.  I stopped creating new work.  I became seriously depressed.  I wasn’t taking care of myself.  I turned to substance to cover my emotions and my vivid understanding of what had gone unspoken.  I was completely detached from reality and living in the past, experiencing the crimes carried out on my father’s adolescent body again and again.


My first plan of action is one I’m not particularly proud of:  I created hundreds of fliers with information about these serial-rapists, many of whom still have access to children on a regular basis.  I included their criminal records to show that these were not empty allegations, but that several victims lie in their wake.  I collected addresses for family, friends, community members, pastors, and church congregations, and I was ready to burn them all to the ground and uncover the secrets they had been keeping for decades.  But something happened, and I woke up from this nightmare with the realization that being aggressive and angry wasn’t going to solve my pain.  I understood that wanting to shame them and get revenge was a path that only led to my own demise.  After much thought and serious discussions with family and friends, I made a plan to advocate for the victims of these heinous crimes, and to leave the perpetrators to live with the knowledge that their secret was no longer safe.  





My main concern was for the two young girls living with members of the Galyen family, Granddaughters to my dad’s main abuser, who were adopted into his household.  During a few of my childhood summers, my mom picked me up for a week long vacation spent with members of the Galyen family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  She was completely unaware of their secret sexual indiscretions, despite my dad’s vehement protests against my attendance.  Because of their combative relationship, the disagreement seemed to be founded in jealousy, or anger.  My mom had no way of knowing the deeply seated reasons for my dad to be so against spending time with the Galyen family.  Before each vacation, both my dad and grandma would repeat warnings to stay away from the senior Galyen, and to never find myself in a room alone with him.  Unfortunately, it was his son that tried to touch me under the water while we were swimming in the ocean.  I fought off his advances, leaving welts on his back, as he ran to his mother crying that I had attacked him.  He manipulated the situation to make me the attacker, landing me grounded, confined to a chair next to the adults, where I could be better supervised.  On several later occasions, I was propositioned for sex by the same boy who was a few years older than me.  His advances started when I was ten years old, and I was lucky to have been confident in my voice as a young girl which kept me safe and unharmed.  I can only imagine what these girls have experienced living in a household with these predatory men.  I’m under no illusion that they have been able to evade the sexual aggression that I’ve been so lucky to avoid during vacations spent with the Galyens.  


As soon as I found an opportunity, I booked a trip home to Virginia to meet with community leaders to share the information my dad had passed on to me.  After much discussion with family, this was deemed the most responsible thing to do as I had information that could serve to protect others in the community from this family.  My dad was not fit to endure a lengthy court battle given his terminal cancer, and most other victims of these crimes had been threatened and manipulated into silence.  This was the best path to resolution given the circumstance.  As almost every member of the extended Galyen family is active in the church, I took it upon myself to notify each of their pastors.  I grew up under a youth pastor who was later convicted for distributing child pornography, so I have a complicated relationship with organized religion because of the experiences I had with my church as a child. For this reason, it was a difficult endeavor to go speak with pastors of different churches.  It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but it was something I had to do. 


After emailing pastors at several churches, I met with each of them and received so much understanding and empathy; I felt so heard and understood.  I was looking to share meaningful information that could prevent more abuse and save someone’s life.  The first church I visited was the most difficult, and also the most rewarding.  The pastor there met me with an open mind and spoke with me as a victim.  He prayed for me, and offered me kind words of encouragement.  I left the church with tears in my eyes, knowing that I was meant to come back home and share this experience with him, an emotional experience that will be with me for many years to come.  That was the push I needed to power through and create the meaningful impact I hoped to see.  I called Child Protective Services and shared with them all the information I had regarding the family, if only to have my account recorded if something ever happened to the girls.  Everything I was doing was lifting me up and making me feel lighter.  I had one more church to attend before I burned the fliers ceremoniously in an attempt to cleanse away my negative feelings and move on.    





As I pulled up to the quaint church in rural Virginia, I noticed only one car in the parking lot.  I was a little early, but I figured this was either the pastor, or the deacon he had asked to have present for our meeting.  Getting out of the car, a huge man awaited me and let me know he was there for the meeting and that we could sit inside until the pastor came to join us.  Upon sitting down, he began to ask me questions about who I was and where I was from.  He asked me which Coopers in the area I was related to, and finally let me know that he lived just a few doors down from my grandmother.  He was the only Galyen I had never met, and I had not recognized his face with a mask on.  I sat in the realization that this man was one of my father’s abusers and rapists - I could reach my hand out and touch him.  He was clearly there to stop me from speaking out about his past crimes.  I calmly let him know I left something in my car, and I left abruptly.  I was not about to be intimidated, but my imagination was running wild with all the ways this situation could easily become violent.  I frantically emailed the church secretary and Pastor, letting them know that they had just put me alone in a room with my father’s rapist.  This was their only reply:


“The accusations you are making should be delivered to the police department for formal action.  After that the church will respond based upon the investigation by the police department.”


No questions about whether I had proof.  No questions about my safety.  No apology for their clear misconduct in showing members of the church an email that was meant specifically for the pastor.  No care at all.  I was honestly stunned, and informed them that I meant not to disparage anyone in their congregation, but to pass along information that could be used to protect the members of their parish.  No reply.  This man is a deacon at their church.  A man who is supposed to exhibit strong moral character, chosen for devout attributes who assists the pastor, preaches to the congregation and reaches out to the community.  I could see that it was no coincidence that he was waiting there for me and that he knew I was coming.  


The idea that the law is the final say in these kinds of matters is laughable to me.  If history is any indication, we know that court rooms can be biased and aggressive toward victims who speak out about sexual assault.  Many members of the Galyen family have been caught for crimes for which they were not prosecuted.  Others have been prosecuted, and yet they still attend church and have access to children in their family and in their communities.  In this way, it’s important for members of a community to have knowledge of sexual abuse so they can protect themselves and their children from further abuse.  How many cases of sexual abuse and violence could be avoided if people were informed and armed with the truth?  I went to Zoar Baptist Church with proof of these crimes, but I was not heard or even listened to, compelling me to share this story in full.


These events are not at all unique.  Abusers are hiding in plain sight throughout our communities, and it’s unfortunately very common for them to take positions of power in order to have easy access to victims.  We all need to open our eyes and advocate for the victims of these acts of control and manipulation.  That night, I burned the fliers I had made earlier in the summer with my sister and cousin in a big fire, along with my parent’s divorce deposition that I had been carrying around since I was thirteen years old. I was looking for a sense of freedom from the knowledge I had of my father’s abuse, something neatly wrapped with a bow, but instead I had this nagging feeling that I hadn’t done anything to stop this chain of assault.  Instead, I was subjected to sit face-to-face with my father’s abuser.  Sometimes there isn’t a satisfactory ending to a story of abuse.  Sometimes the story just continues.  Whatever happens, I am here to support all victims and survivors of sexual abuse in any way I can.  I want them to know they have an advocate in me.  We are all capable of speaking up and advocating for the victims of abuse in our lives.  Several adults and other children were silent in the face of the atrocities committed against my father.  I sincerely hope this story can serve as a single link in a chain of ongoing communal awareness and vigilance.  By speaking up and standing strong together, we can end this cycle of sexual assault once and for all.  

The Black Women I Look to For Guidance on Race

Monday, July 6, 2020

As the conversation about race continues, I want to call attention to the black women who have had a significant impact on my perspective about race and the systemic oppression that people of color face in America.  Ignorance is no longer an option for this world.  We are all aware of the injustice, and if we refuse to accept and refuse to act, this moment will have been for nothing.  As I am not a black woman, my experiences with race are secondary, and I acknowledge that by sharing these resources and asking you to go explore and be educated by these incredibly strong, integral women that I look up to.


Portrait of Rachel Cargle by Dena Cooper

WHO SHE IS:  

Rachel Cargle is an activist, lecturer, writer, thinker, and intellectual.  Her commitment to educating the world about racial injustice is endlessly courageous, and empowering.  


"The point of anti racism work isn’t a practice in white self improvement; The point of anti racism work is to upend the systems of grave injustice that have been braided into the 'normalcy' of this country’s fabric, into it’s morals, into it’s institutions, into the air we are all breathing."

- Rachel Cargle


WHAT SHE'S DOING: 

Rachel has a column about race in Harper’s Bazaar, lectures called, Dear White Women, and Unpacking White Feminism, and a platform for unlearning American history as white imperialists have taught it to us, called, The Great Unlearn.  She also runs a therapy fund for Black women and girls through the Loveland Foundation.


WHERE YOU CAN FIND HER:

Instagram @rachel.cargle

Twitter @RachelCargle

website www.rachelcargle.com


Portrait of Ijeoma Oluo by Dena Cooper

WHO SHE IS:  

Ijeoma Oluo is a critical thinker, writer, speaker, and activist centered around feminism and social justice.  Her bestselling book, So You Want to Talk About Race, is essential reading for understanding white privilege and how to dismantle it through tough conversations.


“The problem isn’t just that a white personality might think black people are lazy and that hurts people’s feelings; It’s that the belief that black people are lazy reinforces and is reinforced by general dialogue that believes the same, and uses that belief to justify not hiring black people for jobs, denying black people housing, and discriminating against black people in schools.”

- Ijeoma Oluo


WHAT SHE'S DOING: 

Ijeoma has written for The GuardianJezebelThe StrangerMedium and The Establishment.  So You Want to Talk About Race, is her contribution to the collective conversation about race relations worldwide.  Her message to us is that conversations surrounding race are difficult, but necessary because white comfort is not more important than black safety.


WHERE YOU CAN FIND HER:

Instagram @ijeomaoluo

Twitter @IjeomaOluo

website www.ijeomaoluo.com


Portrait of Tarana Burke by Dena Cooper

WHO SHE IS: 

Tarana Burke is a women’s rights activist and the founder of the Me Too movement.  She has worked as an activist and social justice advocate for over 25 years.  


"There has to be a shift in culture. We have to have conversations about systems that are in place that allow sexual violence and racism to flourish."

- Tarana Burke 


WHAT SHE'S DOING:

Tarana started Just Be in 2006 as a youth organization focused on the health and well being of young women of color.  Just Be gave rise to the Me Too movement which continues to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls from low income communities, find pathways to healing.  Her latest organization, Girls for Gender Equality, is dedicated to providing resources for females to help close the gender-equality gap.  While most of Tarana’s work has been centered in gender equality, she consistently holds a special space for black and brown girls who exist at the intersectionality of many issues that plague our society in regards to race.  She has used her platform to share stories about race and how women of color are effected by sexual violence disproportionately, making the issue about sexual abuse a race issue.  


WHERE YOU CAN FIND HER:

Instagram @taranajaneen

Twitter @TaranaBurke


Please feel free to add any resources you've found particularly helpful or any suggestions you have that you'd like to share.  And thank you for having the courage to educate yourself.  




My Abortion Story and How I'm Using my Art to Support Women's Civil Liberties

Wednesday, June 5, 2019




I don’t feel bad that I’ve had an abortion;  I feel bad that women are being shamed for basic healthcare, and that their right to make choices based on their own individual set of circumstances is being dictated by old white men with little to no understanding of the female reproductive system.  I’ve quietly kept my abortion a secret from most of my acquaintances for years, under the notion that many people in my circle may have the wrong idea about why I chose to have an abortion.  I didn’t want people to see me as a murderer, a woman with no control over her own body, or one that would take a human life to better her own.  In the end, anyone who would judge someone’s circumstance without empathy should kindly keep their opinions to themselves.  No one can know what they ‘would’ do in a situation they have never had to face.

I was on birth control when I became pregnant; I had no idea why I was feeling so nauseous and sickly.  I was on a medication for my developing adrenal issues at the time and was made to sign paperwork stating that I would abort any unplanned pregnancy while on this medication due to the serious birth defects that would effect both mother and child.  Once I realized I was pregnant, I was of course scared but nevertheless knew that I would absolutely abort, given my physician’s clear warning.  The baby had no chance of a normal birth, and complications (possibly fatal) were expected if I forged ahead with this pregnancy.  I could see no other option; I would terminate the pregnancy and choose to live. 




My experience with abortion does not match the guilt and regret I see in society’s portrayal of how a woman feels about terminating a pregnancy.  I felt no such thing - I never once cried about it.  I didn’t even tell my parents until it was over.  The procedure took place three days before my wedding and that was extremely difficult.  It should have been a happy time of planning and excitement (which it still was) but something very heavy had just transpired, and even though I was not regretful, I was emotionally wrecked and struggling to let go of what had just happened.  

My husband was nothing but complete support and a very logical backbone who would mimic my own thoughts that this was the right thing to do.  There was no other option as far as we were both concerned and I am forever grateful for his love and unconditional support.  How much harder would it have been without him by my side?  I had a tiny glimpse into what it looks like with no husband, no support system, no options:  Upon entering the clinic, the collective room full of women waiting to begin their procedure stared at me - I was the only woman with a man in-tow.  Every last woman was on her own, sitting by herself, scared.  Many were crying, some already mourning, others with complete void in their eyes.  I felt for every single one of them, and this scene says so much about our societal attitude toward abortion:  That It’s a woman’s problem.  However, it takes two to start a pregnancy and it should take two to see it through in whatever capacity that may be.  




In the exam room, I was made to look at an ultrasound of my unborn baby, as if possibly I had misunderstood what it meant that I was 8 weeks pregnant.  I can still see the little form of my baby on that screen.  I’m happy that I didn’t cause this tiny being to suffer in pain for however long their short life would take to break our hearts.  I’m happy that I’m strong enough to withstand that obvious grab for emotion and I’m sorry for every single woman that it devastates.  I completed my procedure and picked myself up off the floor to celebrate my wedding.  I’m not sorry that I took my life into my own hands.  I’m not sorry because I know I did the right thing.  I would do it again today, given the same situation and I hope my story helps another woman in knowing she is not alone.  Your health is just as important as any unborn child.

In support of all women who face the same challenges that I have personally experienced, I have created illustrated tote bags to benefit The Yellowhammer Fund and Planned Parenthood to aid in protecting our civil liberties as women. Each bag is $35 (which includes shipping) and $17 of that will be split between the two organizations. My goal is to donate $1000 and with your help, I know we can reach this goal. It is no longer an option to ban women from taking care of their bodies and their futures. Please help me make a difference for women in states that do not have proper healthcare facilities for women by purchasing a tote bag or donating to our group fund.

Please email me with any bag inquiries:  denacooper.design@gmail.com
or DM me on Instagram: @denacooperillustration

Progress:  We've raised $1000.81 in profits so far!  We reached our goal in 4 days!  Thank you to everyone who contributed and everyone who helped spread this story and fundraiser.  




Black Orchid: When Women Empower Women

Friday, March 16, 2018


Rihanna illustration for women's day collaboration by Kei Meguro, Alex Saba and Dena Cooper


Over the last few years I’ve had so many amazing opportunities come my way through Instagram.  By far the best has been the community of artists and illustrators I’ve connected with, many of which I’m lucky enough to call my friends.  Alex Saba of Lusid Art is one of those artists who has provided me with endless support, advice, laughs and all around positive vibes over the last year.  This last month she put me in contact with one of my all time biggest girl crushes and creative favorites, Kei Meguro.  Kei turned out to be absolutely lovely and incredibly humble about her amazing talent and gigantic following.  I was shocked and head over heels when Kei asked Alex and I to join her in a collaboration for International Women’s Day.  I couldn’t believe that I’d be working with one of my heroes to create artwork for a cause so close to my heart.

Rihanna illustration for women's day collaboration by Kei Meguro, Alex Saba and Dena Cooper


I had never collaborated with other artists on one piece and was definitely interested in how the process would unfold.  For three artists throwing around ideas, it was an incredibly smooth process.  There was a lot of trust in our collaborative strength that helped each of us shine where we needed to.  To say the experience was seamless would be a serious understatement.  We decided that the best way to move forward with a final piece would be to each illustrate our inspiration image in our different styles and combine them together as one.  

We were all inspired by strong women and quickly settled on Rihanna for her feminine ingenuity and philanthropic spirit.  In our final work her hat is a nod to the pink pussy hat from the 2017 Women’s March and the black orchids imitate the delicate forms of female anatomy.  The light pink background gives the piece a soft feminine touch and ties into the mauve-y purples in the flowers and makeup details.  We wanted Black Orchid to be a reminder of what is possible when women come together to support each other instead of tearing each other down with constant comparison and competition.

Rihanna illustration for women's day collaboration by Kei Meguro, Alex Saba and Dena Cooper


The three of us had such a fantastic experience sharing ideas and coming together as one that we didn’t want the positivity to end there.  We decided to release the artwork as a limited edition print with 100% of the proceeds donated to Womankind, a women’s charity based in New York City.  At the end of April we also hope to donate a print of Black Orchid to a special Denim Day auction supporting women who have been raped or sexually assaulted.  

For the rest of the month of March, 11x14 archival quality prints of Black Orchid will be sold in my shop.  Please join us in supporting women to overcome gender-based violence by purchasing one of our prints and donating to the cause.

A huge thank you to Alex and Kei who are both such talented and driven women that I am proud to call friends.



Behind the Scenes of my Illustrated Silk Scarf

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

floral silk scarf illustrated by Dena Cooper

I love a good scarf.  After my recent fight with Hashimoto’s Disease, I came out the loser weighing several more pounds and tragically had to (temporarily) bid adieu to many of my closet favorites.  HOWEVER, a girl can still accessorize and this might be what’s saved my sanity for the past few years while I’m working through my health issues.  Bags, scarves and shoes are very much still in the mix and it’s through key accessories that I’ve been able to keep my fashion-dignity intact. 

It was one night scrolling for the perfect scarf that I came across the idea to make one of my own using my illustrations as the print.  I thought about what the perfect scarf might look like and the colors I wanted to include and the Noir Scarf was born.  I started with a skull and floral concept inspired by my Grandmother’s flower bushes in her back yard.  She had so many flowers in just the right shades including a rose bush that she was particularly proud of.  I wanted to capture the femininity of her floral palette as well as something to give it a little edge which reminded me of my all time favorite Alexander McQueen scarf that I wear again and again.  

Dena Cooper's grandma and her favorite rose bush

So, I painted every species of flower known to man (almost) and a respectable skull and got to work arranging them in what I thought to be the scarf of a generation.  As soon as my artwork was ready, I set out to find a factory that printed scarves on 100% silk.  I have a lot of experience communicating with factories overseas from my humble beginnings as a womenswear designer, so choosing a factory out of the country was an option I was open to.  I finally landed a contact at a great silk factory in China and started the long laborious project of back-and-forth emails and missed connections with my factory rep.

50 emails and a month later, I received a package with my first prototype and I was pumped to say the least.  After ripping the package into shreds and holding up my prize, I was less than impressed.  The silk was beautiful, the hems expertly sewn but my artwork looked drab and I knew I had to re-design.  There weren’t nearly enough flowers and the artwork was so big that when wearing the scarf, the skull looked like a weird gross mushroom in the middle.  Needless to say that would not do.  

Design before and after for illustrated scarf by Dena Cooper

50 more emails and another month later and I finally had the second package.  I was almost afraid to open it for fear of this project never coming to an end, but this time my vision had finally come to fruition and I was very happy with the finished product.  I placed my order for a big batch and called my photographer, Michi Rezin to do a mini photoshoot of the scarf in action.

Michi might be a genius.  I absolutely love working with her and have never seen a photographer so able to capture a client’s exact thoughts with a camera.  We rented an adorable vintage loft in Manhattan for two hours for our shoot and my friend, Chel, (from Chel Loves Wine) came to model for me.  I wanted the scarf to look like it was floating through the air, which turns out is nearly impossible to do.  With my husband, Zac, and Michi’s assistant both teetering on ladders, and dropping it on the count of three (on three, not after) Michi captured exactly what I was looking for.  

Behind the scenes of scarf photoshoot for Dena Cooper's silk scarf

I had so much fun working on my scarf and seeing one of my dreams come to life through a lot of work and little razzle dazzle.  Today the scarf goes live on my new site!  AND as a gift to all of you who stuck around till the end of this post, below is a free phone wallpaper download with my skull and floral artwork.  All you have to do is click the link, which will take you to Dropbox, click the three dots at the top right, and then download.  I hope you enjoy!




Why I Closed My Etsy Shop

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The reason why I closed my Etsy shop for fashion illustration

Since I was just a kid I’ve always had a very strong entrepreneurial spirit.  I can’t even count on both hands my various schemes to make money before I was of legal age to work: like a true young capitalist I was hungry for my next dollar.  I once made a deal with my parents that I would be paid 5 cents for every cigarette butt I picked up from their construction site (no shame in this game). 

This ambitious character followed me through college and beyond.  I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing in 2011 when I heard about Etsy for the first time - within months my first shop was open for business and I was ready to cash in!  As a fashion design student, my first shop was a way for me to sell the things I was sewing in my free time and make a little cash on the side: win/win.  

Etsy was a different creature in those days - wide eyed and innocent.  Being featured on the front page could send your shop into a viral frenzy: a veritable wealth of Etsy fame and fortune.  There was a sense of community between customer and creator.  Treasuries were a creative way to group your favorite complimentary products for others to explore and it all served as a great way to promote hand-made products within the Etsy community.

As time has passed, Etsy has implemented many changes: new layouts, new algorithms, custom website options, and the latest: “Etsy Payments”.  Many of these changes have served to upset sellers in the Etsy community as with any forced changes on a social platform but in the end, people adapt and become accustomed to a new way of doing things.  That is, until Etsy crossed a line last spring, force closing shops that did not comply with their new “Etsy Payments” interface.

“Etsy Payments” is a way for Etsy to run payments into a stand-alone account controlled by Etsy themselves.  Many sellers prefer Paypal, as money from sales are directly deposited into the seller’s account, avoiding any third party handling their money and any wait time to transfer funds from one account to another.  Many sellers rely on this automatic payment to pay for materials used for any commissioned products.  

Etsy describes “Etsy Payments” as “a simplified way to receive payments" and states that "you can get paid daily, weekly, biweekly, or monthly. Request additional deposits anytime.”  However, my experience with the platform was much different.  My account was automatically suspended when I did not opt into “Etsy Payments” in May.  Once I connected a bank account to my shop, sales began depositing into my "Etsy Payments" account and I was not able to transfer those funds automatically.  Last month, a rather large sale was tied up in that third-party account for two weeks - I was told I needed to add a credit card to my account in order to access those funds.  My question is: WHY?  Call me old fashioned but why does Etsy need every shred of my financial information to deposit money that is already mine?

Etsy’s new payment program will serve to increase their revenue by capitalizing on payment processing fees that Paypal would have charged on those sales. They have stated that they will be phasing out Paypal completely within the next few months.  Apparently I’m not the only one who finds this upsetting.  Etsy reportedly lost tens of thousands of sellers within a few days following this transition, not counting accounts that were suspended from non-compliance.

The most upsetting problem about Etsy taking full control over payments through their site is their lack of customer care - they don’t offer even a fraction of Paypal’s reliability and over-the-phone customer service.   Currently the only way to reach out to Etsy’s customer service is through email which is notorious for going unanswered; a worrisome matter when finances are involved.  

All of these issues (and more) have weighed on my soul for the last few weeks and I have decided to take matters into my own hands.  My work is far too valuable to sit on a site where I have such little influence on how sales are made.  It feels refreshing to have opened a shop on my own site that I have full financial and creative control over.  I am now focusing my attention on my own marketplace where listings are free and no fees are collected based on my sales and earnings.  Free at last...free at last...



4 Tips to Make Your Portraits More Realistic

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

fashion portrait of iris apfel by Dena Cooper

Drawing and painting realistic subject matter can feel like a daunting task but no one starts out with perfect technique.  Everyone has a style and process that works best for them but there are some tricks that have helped me considerably in creating work that looks and feels realistic.  Some of these tips may seem obvious but can be harder to actually put into practice.  Whenever I start to struggle with a piece or feel that burning urge to rip my painting in half and start over, I think about these four helpful tips I’ve learned in art school and beyond as a freelancer in the eleventh hour.

1. Draw what you see, not what you know

This one seems like a no brainer but turns out to be the mantra that I have churning in my head ALL. DAY. LONG.  It’s easy to jump into a routine of painting an eye the way you think it should look based on the countless other eyes you’ve painted in the past but it can be quite rewarding to separate yourself from your subject matter and replicate exactly what you’re seeing instead of the shapes you think are there.  A classic trick of the trade when struggling to get something exactly right is turning your whole painting and reference photo upside down so you are less likely to rely on your own imagination and more likely to stick to what’s actually there.  

2. Contrast is key

Contrast is the difference between the darkest darks and the lightest lights in a composition.  It’s no surprise that the correct amount of shading can make or break a portrait.  Many beginner artists that I’ve worked with are afraid of dark shading and often don’t leave white highlights in their portraits which I see as a huge missed opportunity to create drama and add that pop of realism in their work.  A great trick for correctly establishing your lights and darks in a reference photo is squinting.  You can see all of the highest contrasts by squinting at your reference photo and it can also be a great way to compare your work to your reference side by side.

3. Think of your subject in terms of shapes instead of lines

No one pulls a Michelangelo in the first grade.  We learn to draw using lines and are encouraged to draw even humans in a basic “stick-figure” form as children.  So, when taking higher level art classes, the first habit you have to break is thinking of the world as a series of lines.  Thinking about any object in terms of shape and form can help you see where shading needs to go and how the object is interacting with its light source.  Many artists will start a large composition with a light sketch of the shapes that make up larger objects.  Studying the placement of these shapes within the larger picture can really help lay the foundations for a proportionally correct composition.

4. Complementary tones breed neutrals

Probably the most offensive thing I see other artists do (unknowingly) is use color “straight from the tube”.  Mixing the perfect skin tone is something people ask me about a lot and I have to say it’s easier than you may think.  As a general rule, I mix all of my own colors with the exception of black (even using black from the tube is a huge “don’t” according to many artists - oh well).  For skin tone in watercolor, it’s simple:  Use a base tone of red or a terra-cotta and add water to dilute the hue.  Add the complement of your base tone (green) which will neutralize the red and give you a much more dull peachy tone.  I like to add purple or blue to that mixture to create shadows and I always add color with a very soft hand.  You can always add color but it’s harder to take color away.


Creating realistic artwork takes practice, patience and dedication.  Sometimes it’s necessary to paint one piece three times before getting it exactly right.  Persistence and a critical eye will advance the skill of any artist - I’m a firm believer that art can be a learned skill for those who invest their time and effort into bettering their technique.  I would love to answer any questions you may have about creating realistic portraits - shoot me an email or leave me a comment down below.


by mlekoshi