Code Artist by Day, Fine Artist by Night


People often think I’m a full-time visual artist, although I’m actually a full-time web developer who makes artwork part-time. I still consider myself a full-time artist in a sense, since my day job involves the art of developing and building applications and websites. Instead of using scissors and paper for my tools, I’m using different pieces of code, and thus creating what you could almost call a digital collage. Regardless of what tools I’m using, I’m still able to satisfy that inherent drive I have to make things. I am able to live the creative life full-time – whether it’s code I’m writing or collages I’m constructing.

I like to tell people that I’m a code artist by day, and a fine artist by night. And I like how these two worlds of mine inspire each other. I first got started with working on websites because of my artwork. Back in college when I was studying painting, I took a class where one of our projects was to create an online portfolio. The first version of my site was pretty terrible, but I was so proud that I made a functional website all on my own. I managed to teach myself enough about coding to create and deploy a website – and that’s what got me hooked with web development.

Hermit Crab by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Hermit Crab” Collage on paper. 5″x7″
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Over the years, I’ve continued to grow as a developer. The direction of my art career often inspires changes on my portfolio site, such as updating the overall layout or adding an online store. And sometimes the coding I do for my art website inspires the coding I do for my day job. Other times I’ll make something at work that inspires the direction of my portfolio site.

As a web developer, I’m able to tackle problems with my web presence as a fine artist and come up with creative solutions. When my site was fairly new, I noticed that I kept hearing from students and teachers who wanted to learn more about my work. So I came up with the idea to make things easier for them by developing an education section for my website. The section includes information about my process, as well as online lesson plans to help teachers teach my technique in class. As a result of launching this section, I started hearing from more and more classes around the world.

Student Collages inspired by Megan Coyle

When people hear that I’m a full-time web developer, they often ask if I want to some day become a full-time visual artist. I always answer “no,” because I enjoy the variety in my work. I like how I’m able to live the creative life with two fields that inspire my work in both areas. I’m happy that I’m able to challenge myself creatively in a number of ways, and because of that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

The Ongoing Discouragement Factor

Colorful Collages by Megan Coyle

I’ve been told that as a kid, I used to draw an abnormal amount. I’d spend hours with coloring books or craft projects, like making my own paper dolls. When art stopped being a hobby for me and became a part of my daily routine, I noticed a pattern – some people shot down my dreams of becoming a professional artist almost immediately.

When I was graduating from high school, and was getting asked the whole “what’s your plan” question, I remember talking about my creative interests. And I remember hearing a few people tell me sarcastically, “good luck trying to make a living at that.”

And this pattern continued. Later on I decided to pick up art as a second major in college, and started exhibiting my work in galleries after I graduated. Even then I remember hearing the phrase, “it’s difficult making a living as an artist.” Or sometimes, “not many artists can make it big.” And although I had a wonderful support network of friends and family who encouraged my artistic endeavors, I kept having run-ins with people who were trying to dissuade me from the creative life.

Coffee Time by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Coffee Time” Collage on paper. 5″x7″
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So why do so many people feel the need to discourage the artistic lifestyle? Is being an artist really as tough as some people say it is?

Well, being an artist is difficult and so are a lot of other careers. As an artist, you’re essentially running your own business, and being an entrepreneur is a lot of work. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible and that there aren’t people out there who live and work as full-time artists.

For whatever reason, our society likes to feed the idea that art isn’t important, that it’s valued less than math or science. Society tells us this in a variety of ways – let it be the starving artist stereotype or how funding for the arts is usually one of the first things gutted whenever money gets tight. Cultivating this type of thinking gives birth to art naysayers. Or should I call them art un-enthusiasts?

Moo-ve-Out-of-the-Way
“Moo-ve Out of the Way” Collage on paper. 5″x7″
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So the next time someone tries to discourage you from your artistic dreams and goals, just remember, you can do anything as long as you set your mind to it. If it’s your dream and passion, then you’ll make it happen. When faced with setbacks and failure, you should never give up – you should pivot or rethink your approach, but never give up. Success happens when you persist. As for all the naysayers you run into along the way? I say you use them for motivation to work even harder, so that you can one day prove them all wrong.

Why I am an Artist

Colorful Collages by Megan Coyle

“Why are you an artist?”

I get asked this question a lot, and every time I hear it, I’m always surprised it was ever asked in the first place.

“I’m an artist because I don’t have a choice.”

I guess it’s hard for non-artists to understand what I mean, and to understand what fuels me to live the creative life. I’m an artist because I need to be one – I have this inherent drive to make things. It pulses through my veins, and makes me fiercely resistant to the thought of ever giving up the artist title.

When you’ve been making art every week of your life for years, the process of art making gets ingrained in your mind. What may have started as a hobby, or something that was “just for fun,” blossoms into something you can’t live without. It becomes a habit through repetition, and when you finally go without it for a few days, you feel like something is missing from your life – the pangs of art withdrawal. It’s moments like those when I realize I can’t live without being an artist in one form or another. Being an artist is what gives me purpose in life.

Art has also been one of the few constants in my life. Even when times have been tough, like grieving the loss of a loved one or coping with the pain of a broken heart, art has been around for me. During those times, art has not only been a creative outlet, but also a form of therapy that helps me through the days when it’s difficult to stay afloat. I guess you could say that when life gets messy, making artwork is one of the few things that makes sense amid the chaos.

Squirrel by collage artist Megan Coyle
“Squirrel!” Collage on paper. 5″x7″
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When I was growing up, art had a major role in my life, which is why it makes complete sense that it still does. As a kid, I took art classes at local galleries and whenever it was possible at school. I remember back in high school, it didn’t matter how stressed out I was from my other classes, because I could always count on feeling a great sense of relief when I went to art class. I could momentarily forget all my other worries as I focused on drawing or painting.

Although I went to college for creative writing, I quickly realized that visual art needed to have an active role in my life every year, so I picked up a second major in painting. It was at that time that I realized something – that no matter what criticism I received for my visual art, I was always able to bounce back. Rejection is a pretty tough thing to overcome when it comes to an artist’s work, simply because we are putting ourselves out there when we share our art. And even during the worst critiques, when I felt incredibly sad and didn’t know if I should continue making artwork at all, I’d find myself painting in my room late at night and realize it was meant to be.

National-Museum-of-the-American-Indian
“National Museum of the American Indian.” Collage on paper. 12″x16″
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As an artist, you would think rejection is something I get used to since it happens often enough in an artist’s career. Although for whatever reason, whenever a gallery has rejected my work, I still find myself wondering if there is any point in continuing to make art. I’m glad that I’ve never given up entirely because of the opinion of a handful of people. No matter what, I’m still drawn to creating something, let it be a collage, drawing, or painting.

So whenever I’m asked why I’m an artist, all I can think is it’s not something I choose to do – it’s something I have to do. I’m an artist because making artwork is what drives me through each day.

Interviewed on Creative Mojo

Creative Mojo Logo

Mark Lipinski

On July 6th I got to experience my first live radio interview. I was definitely a bit nervous about going on a show where I had no idea what questions I would get asked. I suppose I have a tendency of liking the process of being overly prepared and have something already rehearsed and ready to go. And I have to admit, I didn’t tell anyone when I was going on the air since I wasn’t sure how it would pan out. Nevertheless, it was a great experience and I’m glad I did it.

I was on Toginet.com’s live broadcast of Creative Mojo with Mark Lipinski, a show dedicated to the modern crafter and crafting lifestyle. Mark was a pretty hilarious interviewer – can’t you just tell from this fabulous photo of him?

Here are some related links:

Mark’s blog about the episode
The Creative Mojo website
Download the episode for free from iTunes

Megan Coyle collage artist

Listen to the interview below:

Q & A: Outside of Collage

Blue Collages by collage artist Megan Coyle

What’s your favorite color?

Blue. You can probably tell when you take a look at my artwork. Blue shows up again and again. Often times, if I’m working on a portrait and I’m not sure what color to use for a person’s shirt, I’ll just default to blue. I’ve also created a series of animal collages where I used an arbitrary color scheme – making the animals blue.

What other media do you like to use besides collage?

Collage is by far my favorite, although I’m interested in dabbling in film and animation. In the future, I may take some classes so I can get a better idea of the technical skills I’ll need in both areas.

Paintings by Megan Coyle

I used to enjoy painting, but over time I drifted away from it. Below are a few of the paintings I did while in high school and college.

Do you do anything else for a living besides being an artist?

Yes – I work on the websites for a couple of nonprofits. After graduating from college in 2008, and in the midst of the recession, I realized I needed to teach myself a few skills that I didn’t gain from studying creative writing and painting in school. So I read several tutorials, watched how-to videos online, and taught myself the necessary software and coding for putting together websites.

The design and problem-solving aspects of working on websites is why I like it so much. And the skills I’ve taught myself for non-studio-art-related-work have really helped me when it comes to promoting my art. Thanks to my studies, I was able to design the logo and layout for my website, and also be my own webmaster.

What are your hobbies?

Daydreaming and storytelling. Reading and learning about technology. Exploring new cities. Learning new things. Being an avid watcher of Netflix Instant Watch Movies. Living the creative life.

What do you think is the most inspiring place to visit?

Anywhere, really. If I’m in the mood or if I’m visiting someplace new for the first time, it’s amazing how inspired you can get just by looking at the scenery with a fresh pair of eyes.

Q & A: What Motivates You?

The City by Day by Megan Coyle

People who know me often comment on my work ethic. How do I manage to work on my artwork just about every day of the week, have a web-related day job, and have time for hobbies and, well, everything else? First and foremost I’d have to say that my love for the arts is what drives me. I also have a strong interest in learning new things and I’m constantly working on different ways of improving my work and myself. This passion for the arts is why I work so hard and why not getting very much sleep every night doesn’t really bother me. I’ve figured why not work really hard and do as much as I can while I’m young. I also have this mentality that I can’t wait for opportunities to magically appear for me – I need to put in the work to make them happen.

Toucan by collage artist Megan Coyle

Lastly, I must admit that the negativity that I’ve encountered in my life motivates me to prove those negative forces wrong. Rejection comes with the territory with being an artist, as well as hearing negative views from others about the arts. Instead of giving up when I hit a negative wall, I get momentarily irritated before getting over the irritation and moving on to work harder. And at the moment this has worked for me. I manage to turn these negative experiences into something positive for my art career.

Q & A: Collage Art

Brown Bear by collage artist Megan Coyle

Tell me about your collage technique.

Each collage starts out as a sketch. This helps me get an idea of the proportions of the subject and get the likeness down properly. I’ve noticed that if I don’t do a good job with the sketch; chances are I’ll have a hard time getting the collage to look right.

A Piece of the Ocean by collage artist Megan Coyle

Next I work on cutting and pasting paper onto the sketched composition. I’ll page through a number of magazines, tearing out pages that have solid colors or textures that I may want to use. Then I start cutting out strips of paper based on the shapes of shadows and highlights that make up different areas of the background or subject. I’m able to recreate the look and feel of a painting by working with fragments and shapes of magazine strips – these pieces of paper act like the distinct brushstrokes in a painting. As I work, I think of areas where I could weave in fragments of photographs in order to create moments of interest and texture.

Kitty in the City by collage artist Megan Coyle

How do you know when a collage is complete?

Often times I don’t feel a collage is entirely complete. You just reach a point where you feel it’s time to stop. Other times I know a collage is complete when I’ve set it aside for a couple of days, returned to it and think that there’s nothing more I can do to improve it – it’s resolved, finished.

What challenges have you found in your work?

Since I work with colors and textures that are found in magazines, there’s always the challenge of finding the right colors that will work well with a given collage. Sometimes it will take a while of hunting through magazines – just feverishly turning pages until I find the right color or pattern that I can use in a piece.

How has the Internet helped you promote your work?

It has helped me a lot. If it wasn’t for the Internet, it would be more difficult for potential clients to contact me. Although having solo exhibitions and giving lectures helps a great deal with getting exposure, if it wasn’t for the Internet, people who have seen my work in exhibits wouldn’t have a way to find out more about me. The Internet has also made it a lot easier to sell artwork and prints, and allows others to contact me directly.

Birdy by collage artist Megan Coyle

What’s your greatest ambition?

My greatest ambition is to take my technique to new heights. For instance, I’d really like to incorporate video and animation with my work – I just need to give myself enough time so I’ll have a chance to dive in and work on it.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on a dog portrait that I was commissioned to do – my client is going to give the portrait to his wife as a Christmas present. I recently completed another portrait that is also going to be given as a holiday gift.

Aside from commission work, I’ve been working on editing the plot of my children’s book and sketching out illustrations that I will collage in the future.

What are you trying to do with your art?

I’m trying to make my viewers question traditional ideas of what makes a painting a painting and a collage a collage by merging these two different mediums together. My collages are meant to be like an illusion – making viewers think they’re made from paint when they’re actually made from magazine strips. I like having my viewers question the materials of my work. I like it when they mistake them as paintings, because once I tell them they’re made from magazines, they look at the work in a new light. There’s also an urge to get closer to the collages to really study the handy work that went into creating them. I like this interaction of the viewer getting closer to take a better look.

What is your favorite subject to collage?

Portraits of people are by far my favorite subject to collage. I love all the details that make each person entirely unique and different than the next one. I also like how expressive the human face is as well as how people can tell us a story with their body movement and interaction with the environment around them. I’m really drawn to narrative scenes, and the human form works well with telling us a story.

Tabby Cat by collage artist Megan Coyle

I also like making portraits of animals. Animals can be such characters as well – I love how colorful different species are. Animals also work well with creating narrative scenes, which are my absolute favorite type of scene to construct.

How would you like to improve as an artist?

I would like to improve by finding more ways of presenting my work – by incorporating my technique and style with different mediums. I’m especially interested in getting better at working with animation. I have a feeling that animation would be a wonderful tool to use to create more dynamic artwork – artwork in motion.

Piece by Piece: Figurative Collage Artist Talk

The opening for my exhibition yesterday was a lot of fun. Below I’ve posted a bit of information about my art based on the artist talk I gave:

My work has evolved a lot before it became the body of work that it is today. I started making figurative collages when I was in high school, although back then the pieces were much simpler—I didn’t use as many pieces of paper layered on top of one another. I also used a lot of oil pastels with my work—although I later decided the oil pastels were covering up some of the interesting patterns and textures from the magazine strips.

In college, I studied Painting and Creative Writing, both of which have influenced the artwork for this show. With painting, I became familiar with great painters in art history and took a liking to impressionist and post-impressionist work. I liked working with distinct brushstrokes in my own work because I was more interested in shifts of color than blending colors. As a result, my technique translated well over to collage.

With a background in writing, I’ve always had an interest in stories and storytelling. I wanted to make these scenes look like snapshots from everyday life—like the viewer could eavesdrop on the lives of a few strangers. Also, by showing each scene as a snapshot, the viewers can have their own thoughts on what they think is going on in the collage—what the figures are doing, saying, or thinking.

The Bikers by collage artist Megan Coyle

To give you a brief idea of what my process is like, for each work of art I got started by making a quick sketch. For some pieces, like up-close portrait pieces, the sketch was more detailed since I was concerned with capturing a likeness of the sitter. With collages that show the figure from afar, I had a tendency of making a quick sketch so I’d have an idea of the overall layout.

I use photographs as references for my work—mainly because the collage process can take so long that I wouldn’t be able to catch the immediacy of these scenes if I worked from life. Next, I page through magazines and tear out pages that have the colors and textures that I want to use for a particular piece. Then I typically begin with the background as I cut out shapes of paper and glue them down. Thus the background of the collage is pushed back and really is the background.

By working strictly with magazines, I limit my palette to the colors, textures, and patterns I can find in magazines. I like how flexible the medium is – I wait to varnish my collages until they’re complete, that way I can move around the pieces of paper, pulling up pieces in areas that are overworked.

I really enjoy it when people tell me they think one of my pieces is a painting—that I’ve used acrylic or oil paint. One of the focuses of my work is to push the traditional ideas of what we think makes a painting a painting and a collage a collage by merging the idea of these two mediums together with a technique I call “painting with paper.”

My collage work has been inspired by Chuck Close, a photo realist painter. When you get up close to some of his work, you’ll noticed that he’s worked on a grid, using circles and squares of color that make the piece look like you’ve zoomed in to the pixels of a photograph. I like this concept of taking one medium and making it look like an entirely different medium.

With Gerhard Richter, a German painter, I was really taken by a series of paintings he did that look like photographs—he painted a series in such a way that they featured the imperfections of photographs, the glares and blurriness that the medium can capture. I like the idea of having viewers question the medium I use. I also, in general, like the notion of taking something ordinary, like a magazine, and taking it out of its context by turning it into a work of art.

The inspiration for this particular body of work came from looking back at my previous work and looking at the different directions I could go with it. Previously, I had worked on a series of portraits that had similar compositions—just up-close views of the sitter. With this new body of work, I was really interested in working on showing different angles and narrative scenes. Instead of focusing in on depicting a likeness of the sitters from up-close, I wanted to experiment more with the figures interacting with the environment around them.

In the future, I’d like to create a series that really captures my process. That would include having areas of the collage where the white of the paper shines through, sections of the under-drawing being revealed and overall the shapes of the magazine strips would be more isolated and noticeable. I’m also planning to work on a much larger scale and experiment with animating my collages.

Q & A: Why Art?

While growing up, if I wasn’t taking art classes at a local gallery, I took an art class at school. Art has existed in my life in one form or another, and I’ve grown to look at art as something that’s comfortable to me—it’s something familiar that’s been by my side for years.

I also always loved the arts and when I was younger, I wanted to master drawing, dancing, music, and acting. Thus I attempted all those areas before realizing that visual art was something I didn’t get too discouraged with – I could keep at it. The other areas of art were another story.

In preschool, I took ballet classes. I specifically remember having too much stage fright that I refused to dance at a recital the class held for all the parents. Eventually I danced for a couple of seconds when my mother bribed me with a Slurpee. The problem with dance was that it didn’t feel natural to me. I also didn’t like dancing in front of others, which automatically made me check off dance from my list of creative paths to pursue.

For several years I played the piano. I also picked up the cello briefly in elementary school, but got tired of practicing two instruments. I was also pretty scrawny back then, and my cello probably looked a lot bigger than me. For some reason my peers thought the cello was just a thick block of wood and that I was ridiculously strong for my size. Although I played the piano for seven years, I eventually quit – I didn’t have that passion that drives a musician to learn, practice, and keep trying until she gets it right.

What was next? How about acting? I took acting classes at a local theater when I was in high school. I enjoyed the whole experience – the bright stage lights, putting on stage makeup, the fun costumes, and memorizing my lines until I got them right. I had a blast with the whole production. The problem? I gave up too easily when I realized what I looked like on stage. One of the actors in my group invited us all over to his house after a play. His parents had taped every show he was in, and we watched previous plays we had been in together. I sat there horrified when I realized how terrible my acting was. I swore that I would never expose anyone to my acting again.

Then there was writing. I wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I carried around little notebooks that I wrote stories in. I was determined to write a complete novel by middle school. When that didn’t happen, I swore I’d finished my first novel in high school. I kept starting stories then getting tired of the direction they were headed in.

I thought I was determined to become a writer, but then I decided to major in English with a concentration in Creative Writing in college. And now, since college, I haven’t written anything since my final Creative Writing class senior year. The writing workshops had sucked the joy of writing from me. It had been a painful experience of students tearing down every piece of writing that was workshopped. By the end of a workshop, I had no idea if I was doing anything right and felt like my writing wasn’t any good. The passion that was once there had faded significantly.

Although I’ve experienced many areas of the arts and gave up on different creative paths, I didn’t give up on the visual arts. I fell into my passion with art in college when I decided to pick up Painting as a second major. Since then, I’ve become more determined and persistent with my art than ever before. Those other areas of the arts that I dabbled in were missing my drive to follow through with them. I was easily defeated and gave up when I deemed them “too difficult.”

Visual art hasn’t been easy either, but for some reason I never wrote it off as being impossible to do. Over the years, I’ve practiced my craft. When I’ve had difficulty drawing something, I’ve kept at it until I’m somewhat satisfied with the result. I can get incredibly discouraged with my art, but I’ve never given up on it completely. I think that’s because I can’t imagine what life would be like if I didn’t make art – that’s not an option for me, “not to make art.” I simply make it, have to make it. It’s something that’s been ingrained in my mind and daily routine.

I’ve chosen art because it’s something I need in my life. It’s hard to explain to non-artists out there, but I know you can understand if you’re passionate about something in particular. If you love to read, or write, or watch movies, and you simply can’t get rid of any of those things from your life, then that is precisely what art is like for me. I can’t imagine ever giving it up. I’ve done it for years, I’ve grown up with it, and I’m terribly curious to see what direction it will take me in next.

Q & A: What do you listen to while you work on artwork?

It’s usually nice to have something playing in the background when you’re in the studio. I like to I listen to radio shows and music. Podcasts are an amazing thing – they really do help the time pass. The following are my top podcasts to listen to while I work:

  1. This American Life – I really enjoy the way this show focuses on a theme and tells stories related to that theme. The old English major within me really gets a kick out of this.
  2. The Classic Tales Podcast – again, I like to read but lately all my artwork and marketing work has really made it difficult to pick up a book. With this podcast, I can enjoy familiar stories or hear classic tales that I’ve never heard before.
  3. Fresh Air – I’m a sucker for Terry Gross’s interviews with directors, musicians, and actors. It’s also a good way to hear interesting stories about current events.
  4. 60 Minutes – just good journalism.
  5. Escape from Illustration Island – when I first discovered this podcast, I downloaded all of the episodes and gradually worked my way through them. Needless to say, listening to Thomas James interview illustrators and talk about illustration is part of the reason I decided to look into going back to school for illustration. You can find some really helpful and inspiring tips here if you’re a fellow artist.
  6. Art Marketing Action Podcast – these are typically really short podcasts, only a couple of minutes, and from time to time I get a few good ideas of directions to move in with my art marketing.

Other times I listen to music. Recently I’ve had a tendency of falling back on the following albums/musicians:

  1. 500 Days of Summer Soundtrack – this is my latest obsession. For some reason I absolutely love this album and just about every song on it. “You Make my Dreams” by Hall & Oates is of course a favorite.
  2. M. Ward
  3. The Beatles
  4. Ray LaMontagne
  5. Bob Dylan

When I get tired of listening to interviews and music, I’ll usually change things up by watching a movie. I’ve started taking advantage of Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature. I’ll listen to/watch movies on my computer as I sprawl out on the floor with all of my magazines. Lately I’ve watched a lot of comedies and flicks from the 80’s.

What do you like listening to while you work?