Cindy Couling. Courtesy of Cindy Couling.
Cindy Couling. Courtesy of Cindy Couling.

With her first pop-up art show in 18 months happening soon, artist Cindy Couling is excited to be selling to the public again but unsure of what to expect. 

“Shows like this and group shows are starting to come back in full force,” said Couling. “I am optimistic, but I think people are still a little concerned about going out. I have to think a lot about the setup and how the pieces will be handled. This is me putting my foot in the water to see how it goes. I am going to try my best to be careful and use best practices to keep myself and my customers safe and comfortable.”

The show will be at Vertigo Coffee Roasters in San Juan Bautista on Aug. 28, one of a series of rotating weekend shows scheduled at the coffee shop 

Couling, 51, has been active in the local art scene since she moved to San Juan Bautista in 2015. She has been an artist all her life.

“I always did crafts and art from when I was a kid,” Couling said. “When I was 10, I used to make stuffed nylon dolls and tried to sell them to my friends.”

Her mother started to encourage her drawing at an early age, and from the first work she did, she brought to it her own distinctive style.

“My mom always would tell me that eyes did not look like that and I should try to draw more realistically,” she said. “But I just couldn’t. My drawings have always been what comes out of me. I struggled with that because I wanted to draw perfectly.”

When she began attending Georgian College in Canada to study graphic design and illustration, her teachers encouraged her, saying “It’s OK to draw like that. You have a very distinct style and a lot of people don’t. You need to embrace that.”

Couling developed into a prolific artist, with a line of hand-painted ceramics, wine stoppers, and Christmas ornaments as well as greeting cards. In a normal year, Couling participates in about a dozen major art shows, including group shows in Hollister, Aromas and San Juan Bautista.  

However, COVID restrictions ended any chance of public events until recently. She kept her art sales alive through postings to CafePress where her designs can be custom printed on items such as clothing, tote bags, and coffee cups, as well as Zazzle, where she sells cards and posters. Beyond that, she just tried to keep creating.

“There were no shows, so I took the time for myself,” Couling said. “Rather than feeling like I had to keep producing pieces for group shows and open studios, I worked on projects I had started that were half-done. It gave me time to explore other directions in my artwork.”

One piece Couling recently finished came out of the frustration of being limited by COVID, both as an artist and in her personal life.

“I worked on an inspirational banner with affirmations I had created for myself,” she said. “It came out of a need to cheer myself up and keep focused on positive things.” 

Ten months ago, Couling placed her work in a retail store for the first time when Visions at 108 Third Street in San Juan Bautista began stocking her ceramics and cards. Owner Barbara Gonzalez said the response from customers has been very positive and that large pieces started selling the first day.  

“Her work is so unique; people love her ideas and the quality of her craftsmanship,” said Gonzalez. “You don’t see many local artists doing designs that are this colorful, awesome, and inspiring.”

For Couling, it has been a great experience having someone else promote her work.

“I love being represented in a local store,” Couling said. “Barbara has taken the time to understand how the pieces are made and painted. It means a lot to be accepted into the community as an artist in San Juan.”

Couling was also one of three finalists in the “Water=Life” Art in Transit poster campaign commissioned by the San Benito Arts Council to encourage water awareness during the drought. The posters can be seen in shop windows and transit stops in the county. Couling is a frequent collaborator with the Arts Council and appreciates its efforts as well as the friendliness of the local arts community.

“The San Benito Arts Council offers people so many wonderful opportunities to show their creativity,” she said. “They have really helped a lot of people in this area and it is always a pleasure to work with them. This is an oasis from the craziness of the Bay Area. There is a great artist community here that has been really supportive and significant in my growth.”

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