In the attic turned studio of her Arlington home, Ann Marie Coolick spends her days creating abstract paintings, all varying in color from pale pink to sunshine yellow. But she doesn’t use a paintbrush, and she hasn’t for the past 20 years. Instead, she paints impressionist images with knives, a technique she has mastered since graduating from Virginia Tech art school in 2002.
While the Manassas native knew she was going to be an artist since her days at Osbourn Park High School, her parents—who are both scientists—required a backup plan be put in place. So, with a little pressure, Coolick decided to stay an extra year at Virginia Tech and get a business degree.
“When you graduate with a degree in fine arts, it’s very difficult to immediately become a professional artist, it’s almost impossible,” Coolick explains.
To “pay the bills,” Coolick worked in government until 2015, painting and showing her work on the side. For the past five years though, she’s been able to turn her passion into a full-time profession, creating about 20 one-of-a-kind pieces each month that have generated a following of nearly 80,000 followers on Instagram.
When she’s not behind the easel (she’s had the same once since her days in college), Coolick is running around with her three elementary school-age boys, shopping for locally made accessories and scanning Instagram for new creatives to follow. Here, she shares what an artist wears to work, why social media matters and how 2020 is going to be big.
On finding a passion: “In the last week of high school, my teacher was like, “OK let’s grab the oil paints,” which is something we had never done. I just remember being absolutely amazed by the texture. Since that point I’ve just been painting super thick. It was kind of like love at first sight.”
On personal style: “I’m kind of a mess honestly. My kids saw this sweater, which is my favorite by the way, and they’re like, ‘Mommy, you can’t wear that; it looks messy.’ Most of my clothes that I wear on a day-to-day basis have paint splatters on them. I like to be comfortable but colorful, classic but with a pop. My Polka Daubs really reflect it, they are messy and fun.”
On what she wears to paint: “I wear jeans or Adidas pants, they are so comfy. And socks, I don’t wear shoes. Every single pair of socks I own are covered in paint.”
On a go-to brand: “Oh … Can I say an artist? I’m going to say an artist. I love Brian Giniewsky, he does these drippy pots. I started collecting them a year ago and it’s so fascinating to support another artist, and to add color to my house. I plan on having a shelf of them in the future, not to use but for decoration. I also just started collecting Shiny Apple Studio and it’s super cool pieces of ceramics.”
On the power of Instagram: “It’s been incredible. I probably sell 95% of my work on Instagram to people all over the world, and I really I don’t think I could do this job without social media. I share my process and people really like to see that, it connects them to what I do. My top-three selling cities are New York, Washington, DC and then London.
For me it’s really fun, there’s no pressure. I love getting the feedback, like in college when we would have critiques once every two weeks. Now I can get feedback every single day, especially from the other artists. Probably half of my followers are other artists and it lets me kind of be like a mentor them. I also like to post work and see if people are interested, and if it doesn’t get attention I work on it further.”
On artistic evolution: “I definitely put less pressure on myself to look perfect, both in clothing and with my work. I used to paint more detailed work, landscapes, monuments and I got away from that when I had kids. I only had a set amount of time to focus and it became so much more relaxing to do abstract type of work. Having three boys who are crazy … it’s my own escape. Also, now when people come to me for a commission, they really trust me to make something creative without specific requests. They let me do my thing, which is awesome. When people come with something super specific I feel too restrained.”
On the last three items added to her closet: “I got this long sweater from Nordstrom that is now one of my favorite things. Then I got this soft hat from Ann Taylor and these earrings are amazing, I bought them for an ’80s night out. Aren’t they so cool? I found them from this artist on Instagram Kirsten Hatfield, she does ‘80s-inspired jewelry.”
On goals for 2020: “I usually have the same goal every year. So I like to sell about 100 paintings a year, which I’ve done the past two years. I just want to keep being able to paint, and keep attracting people to my work, it’s a huge feeling. Then I also have a big goal of being able to make the same amount I made in government with my artwork, and I’m almost there. I never thought I’d be able to make a living being an artist, it’s all so amazing and I can hardly believe it.”
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