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:
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.  

A Fashion Month Collab with Scott W Mason

Thursday, October 4, 2018

A collaboration between Scott W Mason and Dena Cooper for fashion month.
Milly Spring 19

I love working with other creatives for one simple reason:  I always end up learning so much.  As a freelance artist, it can be easy to alienate yourself and close yourself off from interactions with other artists (or people in general).  Many freelancers work from home and spend long hours in the studio creating, so it makes sense that there would be little interaction or community among freelancers as a whole.  If nothing else, a collaborative project can shake things up and get you thinking in new ways, and in my experience these are the kinds of activities that spur creative growth as an artist.  

As fashion month was approaching this year, I was fawning over Scott W. Mason’s Instagram page and thinking how amazing our work would be side by side.  I mentioned a fashion week collaboration and of course it became a month long affair.  Scott’s work is so chic and effortless - he can make the most mundane look into a crazy cool pose with structural forms and dramatic brushstrokes.  I think of my work as the exact opposite: very overthought and tight lipped, and I’m on a mission to loosen up a bit.  My month painting with Scott has helped me do just that and I couldn’t be more thankful. 

A collaboration between Scott W Mason and Dena Cooper for fashion month.
Richard Quinn Spring 19

Q: How would you describe your style?

S: I would say minimal, abstract but playful... It’s hard to describe your own style as I find everyone looking at it takes away something a bit different. I like to suggest things rather than depict the entire scene so people viewing will fill in the blanks, combining that with a strong linear line to highlight key parts of the garment I’m illustrating and then a whole lot of paint strokes to add some fun.

D: My style is a semi-realistic, colorful and fun celebration of fashion and beauty.  Having said that, I am pushing myself to become more expressive with my brushstrokes to create more personality in each piece.  For this project I tried experimenting with layering different mediums over my original pencil sketch.  Each one is different and was a learning experience for me, with I love.  

A collaboration between Scott W Mason and Dena Cooper for fashion month.
Ujoh Spring 19

Q: What (if anything) did you take away from this collaboration?

S: It was interesting to see, given full scope of an entire fashion week what looks we as illustrators are drawn to individually. I’ve also learnt that two styles, though on the surface completely polar opposites work really well together, so that’s an interesting thing to keep in mind whilst working in future, just because they’re different doesn’t mean they don’t compliment one another! 

D: I remain fascinated with how Scott chooses his subjects and I learned right off the bat that we’re attracted to very different things in an inspiration look.  I tend to think of pieces in terms of how well I would be able to illustrate a print or embellishment and working with Scott I was really able to let go of that and try something new.  I enjoyed the weeks that he chose the image most and I hope I can replicate that for myself in the future wth more daring and interesting choices. 

A collaboration between Scott W Mason and Dena Cooper for fashion month.
Elie Saab Spring 19

Q: What was your absolute favorite collection this fashion month?

S: Hmmm there were a few that stood out, I only ever look at a collection from an illustrating point of view so this is based purely on whether I want to illustrate more of their looks or not but I would say Richard Quinn, I used to shy away from print so much, mainly me being lazy but the theatrics and prints used in his show are incredible and there’s not one look he put on that runway that I wouldn’t enjoy illustrating.

D: Richard Quinn was amazing and I will definitely be going back for more!  My absolute favorite collection overall would have to be Valentino but I’m very excited to illustrate looks from Marc Jacobs and Dries Van Noten.  

A HUGE thank you to Scott W. Mason for doing this collaboration with me! 

Fashion Week Confessions and a Giveaway

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Every September and February the streets of New York are buzzing with street style photographers, blogosphere A-listers and fashionable wannabes; The occasion is New York Fashion Week and everyone wants a piece of the runway.  If you’re feeling major FOMO for fashion month, here’s a story to ease your pain and hopefully make you laugh (not frown with utter disgust).  

Earlier this summer I herniated a disc in my lower back and I was not quite able to sit in a chair for more than a few minutes before needing to lay down, so I was a little hesitant to put myself through the rigorous activities of fashion week, but I decided I had to at least try.  I was a limping mess but I saw some of my favorite designers and even though I would say the week turned out to be a definite series of awful events, I’m happy I pushed myself to attend - it was definitely an experience I will never forget.

Chapter 1:  Heat Stroke

My first show of the season fell on the hottest day of the year and it was absolutely miserable.  Between shows I met a friend for lunch and we sat in a cute little café hoping to catch the breeze from a fan and I became so sick to my stomach that I couldn’t eat anything I ordered (including my rosé - the horror).  It was so hot that I thought maybe I was dehydrated or having some kind of reaction to the heat.  Once I found an Uber with AC, I started to feel a bit better and things were looking up.  I was grateful to be on the mend and didn’t think another thing about it…until…

Chapter 2:  Front Row Incident

The next day was another amazing show and since I only had moderate pain the first day, I decided to suck it up through another.  I stood in line for about an hour and something just wasn’t right.  My face was clammy and I was feeling weak in the knees.  Finally I finessed my way into the gallery where I could sit down and hopefully gather myself before the show started.  I sat down in my front row seat directly in front of the media pit of about 30 photographers all pointed in my direction and suddenly it happened.  I threw up.  Front row.  Into my new Dior bag.  In front of a wall of cameras.  3 TIMES.

Chapter 3:  Missed Connections

Since the music was blaring, the lights were dimmed and I was in a crowd of incredibly self absorbed people, no one saw it happen.  I looked around stunned to see that no one had witnessed the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to me (#blessed).  I hadn’t eaten anything yet that day but had drank tons of water, so in the end my bag wasn’t completely destroyed and I decided I might as well stay to see the damn show.  After talking to my doctor, it seems that one of my medications had caused my nausea.  Needless to say, I was a little weary of going to any more shows that week and made the executive decision to skip the last one, which I’m still a little salty about.

Any other person with an ounce of self respect might keep this incident to themselves, but I’m out here making Fashion Week less intimidating one embarrassing admission at a time.  And it doesn’t stop there!  I gathered some NYFW freebies and swag to send to one lucky reader of Brushstroke a la Modé.  The giveaway includes a Christian Cowan bum bag as seen on the runway.  To enter, share an embarrassing story, fact, or experience in the comments below and I will pick a winner on Monday, September 24.  Please include your Instagram handle so I can reach out with the prize.

Giveaway rules: Giveaway includes a Christian Cowan bum bag, one vintage Vogue print, an art print from me, three sheet masks, a Glam Glow mud mask,  Marc Jacobs eyeliner, two eye shadows from Laurence and Chico, Bumble and Bubble thickening spray, a Comme des Garcons patch, and fashion week pins.  To enter, share an embarrassing story, fact, or experience in the comments below and I will pick a winner on Monday, September 24.  Please include your Instagram handle so I can reach out with the prize.


The 10 Things I Can’t Live Without in My Studio

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Messy watercolor palette with many colors

Like many other artists I know, I have an unhealthy obsession with art materials.  I’ve tried just about everything over the years, but not all paints and pencils and paper are created equal.  Here’s a rundown of my top 10 favorite items that I make sure to keep on hand in my studio space.  Many of these items have been recommended by other artists I know, so I hope my suggestions will inspire you to try something new. 

Arches watercolor paper block from Amazon
I can’t function without a pad of Arches 140 pound hot press paper in my desk.  I prefer hot press paper as it scans much smoother than a more textured cold press and details are much easier to get just right on a smoother surface.  I scan all my work to edit and then add elements digitally, so a paper that scans well is an absolute must. 
porcelain paint palette with 7 wells
One of the best tools in my arsenal is a small porcelain palette with seven wells.  I’m the kind of gal that doesn’t like my food to touch and that goes double for my watercolors.  I love that you can add as much water as you need for a wash and there are plenty of wells for a full range of colors.  

daylight combo desk lamp by amazon
For the last two years I’ve been on the hunt for a great desk lamp for my studio.  I’ve tried so many different options and have read hundreds of reviews online trying to find the perfect solution.  It wasn’t until Katie Rodgers posted about her Daylight Combo lamp purchase that I ended my search.  It’s BRIGHT, lights a large work area and offers two light sources so you can customize your light source for the situation.
watercolor scrubber brushes
Watercolor is notoriously unforgiving but it doesn’t have to be.  I have a few tricks that I use to make small corrections to my paintings when small mistakes occur.  Scrubber brushes are one of them!  A delicate scrub with one of these brushes and you can pick color up right off the paper.  

winsor and newton india ink
I love how dark and opaque you can get your blacks with this india ink.  I have a few black watercolor tubes but none come close to the true black of India ink.

daniel smith extra fine watercolors
Daniel Smith is hands down my favorite brand of watercolor.  I love the way each color they produce is so individual.  They have a number of colors that have a separating effect as they dry which is so stunning in a finished painting.  This pack of primaries are the perfect introduction to tube paints and can yield every color when mixed.  

travel watercolor palette
This last year I had my first live travel event and had to lug around all my supplies which was such a struggle.  My paints live in a huge metal palette that is less than convenient for throwing in a tote and keeping everything in place.  I purchased this travel palette that completely folds up and seals for travel.  Highly recommended for any traveling artist. 

Epson Perfection V370 Scanner for watercolor
Those who scan their watercolors know the struggle of getting the scan to look the same as the original.  During my very first watercolor commission, I realized the scanner I was using had been washing out the lightest values, making the end product look unprofessional.  I bought an Epson Perfection and have never had an issue since.  THE scanner for scanning artwork. 

Prismacolor ebony graphite pencil from amazon
My paintings always start with a detailed drawing and I have been using these Ebony graphite pencils from Prismacolor since I was in high school.  You can get such a great range of values from this one pencil, including perfect black.

Tombow Mono Zero eraser for erasing details
This eraser changed my life, however dramatic that sounds.  Erasing with precision is so easy with this guy!

I have compiled a full list of all my favorite supplies that you can find on my Amazon Influencer page as well as the new Toolbox section on my website.  Happy shopping!

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.

e.l.f. x Christian Siriano Runway Capsule Collection Event

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Christian Siriano and elf collaboration with Dena Cooper

The first time I heard of Christian Siriano was on Project Runway in 2008.  I had just started a rigorous college curriculum for fashion design and to say that Project Runway was a beacon of light and inspiration for many of the students in my class would be a serious understatement.  It’s hard to know what your life will be like after school, especially as a design student.  There was always a nagging fear in the back on my head that my goals were a little high-reaching and that too much luck was involved for me to make progress in the fashion industry.  Reality shows like Project Runway really helped fuel a fantasy that it could happen for anyone that was hardworking and talented enough.  
christian siriano and elf cosmetics collaboration with Dena Cooper

I was obviously over the moon when I was contacted to collaborate with Christian for his e.l.f. x Christian Siriano capsule collection event.  Christian illustrated a custom face palette for e.l.f. which were printed on large canvases and I was assigned to create beauty looks with pastels based on the capsule collection eyeshadow palette using his drawing as the template.

The event served as a preview for beauty editors and industry professionals.  Makeup artists took time to introduce guests to the new products while tropical smoothies were served at the bar.  The space was decked with gorgeous florals in bright pops of pink and green mimicking the Christian Siriano SS18 collection and pieces from the collection were scattered for guests to admire.

Christian Siriano and elf cosmetics collaboration with Dena Cooper

The main course for the event was a fun creative activity lead by yours truly.  We used pan pastels to explore looks that could be created from the eyeshadow palette and to inspire creativity while exploring different color combinations and techniques with the idea that the face is the ultimate canvas.  The event was a blast and an amazing learning experience for me as I had never used pan pastels before.  

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the collaboration is the shared value of inclusivity and luxury for all that both e.l.f. and Christian Siriano represent.  Last September was a huge turning point in American fashion when several high profile designers casted models of all sizes, age and color, something completely unheard of in the past.  I am overjoyed to see fashion moving in a more body positive light and Christian was definitely at the helm of this movement with his amazing show of inclusivity for his SS18 runway show.   

Christian Siriano and elf cosmetics collaboration with Dena Cooper

Meeting Christian was a powerful reminder for me of how far I’ve come since watching him on Project Runway from my dorm room.  I can’t describe the feeling of meeting someone that serves as such an inspiration during your most uncertain times of self-doubt.  Christian was so much fun to talk to and laugh with and I will forever cherish the experience. 

The product assortment includes an eyeshadow palette, liquid matte lipstick, and tinted lip oil.  The collection will debut at Christian Siriano’s FW18 show and be available for purchase at e.l.f. Cosmetics stores and online on February 10th, at on February 25th and in select Target stores on March 11th.

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!

by mlekoshi