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...



Fashion Week Fun Times: Spring 2018

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Fashion illustration of New York Fashion Week spring 2018 by Dena Cooper
Going to fashion week is always invigorating at the beginning and exhausting by the end, but it’s a small price to pay for a week packed full of inspiration, networking and (most important) FA-SHUN! I had my first live-sketching event at a show, sketched backstage and met a few of my favorite designers, so the week was a definite success. I share an illustration from each show with the designer and their PR team as a thank you for their invitation. Below are a few of my favorite looks illustrated and combined with some stand-out trends that I saw on the runway.

Fashion illustration for Vivienne Tam at fashion week by Dena Cooper

The central motif of Vivienne Tam’s Spring 2018 show was the Chinese animated film, Monster Hunt. Tiny whimsical characters from the movie were printed, repeated, draped and embroidered into the fabric of the line (literally). Soft pink and baby blue prints were paired with structured khaki and denim outerwear to create conventional layers. Slogan tees, fanny packs and layered patches gave the show a playful vibe. Tam emerged at the end of the show with a giant dancing Wuba, the main character of Monster Hunt, and a huge smile as they made their way up and down the runway.

Fashion illustration for Leanne Marshall at fashion week by Dena Cooper

I always look forward to Leanne Marshall’s shows - she never fails to drop jaws with her gorgeous fluid gowns. Her Spring 2018 show was a veritable wealth of color and silhouette. Short structured pieces accompanied her signature flowing dresses in a color palette that was reminiscent of a Hawaiian sunset. Diamond cutouts and artistic prints with a striped edging detail were some fresh and unexpected details in this season’s show. I ended up sitting front-row next to Miss USA and Miss Universe, who were absolutely stunning in person and so much fun to chat with before the show.

Fashion illustration for Tadashi Shoji at fashion week by Dena Cooper
Tadashi Shoji’s Spring 2018 show had a definite bohemian California edge. Pieces ranged from easy day time frocks embroidered with beautiful pink roses and greenery to elegant gowns that glistened with astrological motifs for night. Cropped tops and off the shoulder dresses gave an easy feel to sophisticated ensembles. Embroidery, stripes and tassels combined in bright hues to grace a multitude of silhouettes, while delicate lace was pleated and layered to create a softer side of the collection.

Fashion illustration for Lela Rose at fashion week by Dena Cooper

This season I had my first-ever live-drawing event with Lela Rose which was a brilliant cocktail of anxiety and triumph. My illustration style is a long drawn out process of pencil drawings and watercolor that takes hours, so when I was invited to illustrate LIVE as part of Lela Rose’s Spring 2018 Presentation, I was over the moon and maybe a little terrified. In true Lela Rose form, the presentation was full of feminine touches: soft florals, lace, and figure flattering separates. Silhouettes were simple yet stunning and the combination of neons and pastels was brilliantly executed. I met and sketched the lovely Julia Engel of Gal Meets Glam and watched the presentation unfold from behind an easel (dream come true).

NYFW Spring 2018 was one for the books - had my first live illustration event, met some exciting new connections (more to come on that soon) and completely immersed myself in inspiration, which is a welcome break from back-to-back commissions. I will definitely be sharing my favorite looks from fashion month soon and talking about some amazing new projects that came from networking at the shows. As always, any questions you have are welcome in the comments section or via email. Stay golden, people!


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.


My Draw A Dot. Submission: Miu Miu

Thursday, July 13, 2017


Every month no matter how many commissions are on my plate I make sure to make time for Draw A Dot.’s illustration open call.  It’s always important to make time for your own artwork.  I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard art directors and agents say that they look for artists who are passionate enough about their work that they create in their free time.  Many times it’s during a personal project that artists tend to grow and evolve their style.   

Marcus Kan, the brains behind Draw A Dot., happens to be the art director and creator of several popular art blogs and sites online, including Fusion of Effects.  Through Draw A Dot. he features artists with a surreal illustration style that tell a story through their artwork.  When I first started entering his open calls, my work was admittedly less interesting with much less interaction with composition and story line.  I’m so happy to be part of an illustration community that pushes my style as an illustrator and challenges the way I see fashion as subject matter.


This month the open call was based on the Miu Miu Spring 2017 line, full of vintage pin-up beachy vibes.  The psychedelic reference to the 60’s and 70’s in the form of fit-and-flare coats paired with floral swim caps created such as interesting basis for fashion illustration.  I could not have had more fun creating my own punchy print made of synchronized swimmers donning my favorite swimsuit mixed with components from the actual prints from the line.  Today Marcus will start posting his nine favorite illustrations from the open call on Draw A Dot.’s Instagram and I encourage you all to follow along and hopefully find a few new exciting artists to follow.




Interview with Elle Sees

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


A few months ago Leila Cole of Elle Sees, a creative content agency, contacted me for an interview.  I love talking about my journey to illustration and was more than excited to collaborate with Elle Sees to open up a bit about my daily schedule as a freelancer and some of the things I do to get (and stay) inspired.  I take every chance I get to share my experience as a creative freelancer and welcome questions that may help others find their footing in the industry.  I plan to compile a list of frequently asked questions for all of my friends, fans and followers but for now, here’s my interview with Elle Sees:

Where did you grow up/hometown?
My parents separated when I was very young so I spent my summers in Fredericksburg, Virginia and the school year in St. Johns, Michigan. I’m definitely a Virginia girl at heart and I moved there to go to college shortly after graduating high school.

Although we realize that no two days are alike, what is a typical day like for you?
I’m not at all a morning person, so holding a steady schedule is definitely a challenge for me. I start the day with the best coffee I can get my hands on and the obligatory emails that come with running your own business. Most of my days are spent painting in my studio in Brooklyn but about once a week, I try to schedule all of my meetings with clients to get out of the house and socialize.

What projects are you currently working on?
I’m getting ready to launch my blog, "Brushstroke a la Mode". It’s centered around my life as an illustrator and I will be sharing some intimate details about my past, present and future as a creative, hoping to inspire others to take a leap of faith into their most creative lives. I’ve always loved writing and I’m so excited to share some of my thoughts and experiences with my audience.

What are your must haves for productivity? What gets your juices flowing?
The official answer is Stumptown coffee - I promise I’m not an affiliate! I would have to say the key to my productivity is knowing when to step away from a project and come back with a fresh perspective. As an artist I also find it absolutely essential to have the very best materials (that I can afford) on hand at all times in addition to a well curated Spotify playlist.

What’s the most challenging part of your career? Receive any ‘vote of confidence’ lately that you’re so glad you did?
The biggest challenge I face daily is the question: What’s next? I’m constantly thinking ahead to what my next move will be and setting small goals for myself. When I meet those goals, it’s beyond satisfying and there’s usually some sort of embarassing victory dance. My latest victory would have to be winning the DrawADot. open call for Maison Margiela which had me smiling ear-to-ear for 48 hours minimum.

How do you stay inspired?
I feel so lucky to live in New York City where some of the world’s best art museums are at my fingertips. At least once or twice a month, I try to do something new and culturally significant in the city, but sometimes just walking down the street is enough to renew my creativity and point me in some new direction that I hadn’t thought of before.

How would you describe your creative process?
My creative process is constantly evolving. I started my career as a womenswear designer which is why I am constantly looking to fashion for inspiration. I love painting runway looks and model portraits, so I’m perpetually on Vogue.com or flipping through magazines looking for an image that strikes me to interpret in watercolor.

Where do you go to hideaway?
My apartment is a visual oasis for me. I love staying home with my husband on the weekend or cuddling up with my cat and reading. It’s so important to have a comfortable space that you can retreat to and I feel so lucky to have accomplished that in my Brooklyn apartment.

What are you most proud of/your most satisfying accolade thus far?
My hometown in Michigan wrote a newspaper article about me and I was so touched by their pride. A few family members and friends in the area clipped the article and sent it to me.

Any SPRING 2017 “must-have”?
Mules on top of mules! Embroidered mules, Gucci mules, heeled mules...they’re all so good! My favorite are the Alberta Ferretti 'Mia' mules that I illustrated.

Words to live by?
Anything is possible in this life. If you want something go get it - you get one chance to make the most of your circumstances.

If there are any questions you have about freelancing or even illustration techniques, my door is always open and I would be happy to help!  Leave me a comment below or shoot me an email.



Vetements x Manolo Blahnik Collaboration

Monday, June 12, 2017


Watercolor fashion illustration of Vetements x Manolo Blahnik Collaboration boots by Dena Cooper.
This week I finally got around to illustrating one of my favorite pieces from the Spring 17 runway.  Vetements has been controversial in the fashion world for the last few years.  Founder, Demna Gvasalia, has been praised for his fresh vision and original take on street style but criticized for recutting branded clothing and styling it for the runway.  Whichever camp you’re in, you can’t deny the power of starting a dialogue, something which Vetements has done with ease time and time again in the short time they've been showing in Paris.  

I was reminded of this fresh new brand when reading last week that they are pulling out of fashion week for the foreseeable future, bringing up the big question that the fashion industry has been pondering lately:  Are runway shows still relevant?  Gvasalia claims, “I got bored.  I think it needs to enter a new chapter. Fashion shows are not the best tool.  It’s become repetitive and exhausting.  We will do something when there’s the time and the need for it. It will be more like a surprise.”  I couldn’t be more excited to see where Gvasalia takes his presentation of Vetements for the next few seasons. 

For now, I will definitely still be revisiting their past collections for gorgeous jewel toned inspiration.  I couldn’t resist the waist-high satin boots from their Manolo Blahnik collaboration or their dramatic long sleeves and oversized hoodies that elevate the way we see street style and challenge the way we dress for every-day life.  Tomorrow I’ll be heading over to Dover Street Market in Manhattan to see the current collection up-close and personal.

by mlekoshi