An Artist Describes Her Process And Experience As One Of 75 Artists Creating A Cow For The 100th Global CowParade
MOOOOOOOO! This summer I found myself in a large loft-style room in Industry City in Brooklyn, New York, full of a sizable herd of cows. I’d love to tell you that the room was filled with the sound of mooing, but these weren’t real live cows. They were fiberglass sculptures of cows. Busy activity took place at each cow, with artists painting or using other unexpected processes to turn each cow into a work of art.
It was “udderly” fantastic to be one of the 75 artists who had an opportunity to create a cow for the 2021 CowParade NYC, all to benefit God’s Love We Deliver. I think it’s wonderful for artists to become involved in public art that benefits the greater good, because artists have the power within to create something that can truly make a difference for others, whether from a potent and impactful message being conveyed, or from money raised for charity. It’s exciting to make artwork that anyone on the street might see, from children and families to someone who’s had a bad day at work, outside of what can sometimes be an exclusive and insular art world of slick galleries and museums. I love that the cows are art for everyone from every walk of life, and just might reach and touch someone who’s rarely had the occasion to look at artwork.
When I found out I had a chance to paint one of the cows, I had to move quickly to plan my design and gather art materials. Immediately, I began making sketches. I knew that I wanted to send a message of love to New York City, after there has been so much heartbreak, trauma, and loss here through the Covid-19 pandemic. I and most of the New York City artists I know have not been immune to the trauma, fear, and loss of the pandemic. I truly believe art and love can help heal broken hearts. Working on the cow has helped heal mine, and it’s my hope that my design might, in small and large ways, be part of the process of healing for others and the city itself.
As I sketched, I knew I wanted to convey a message that has bold clarity while conveying warmth and love. I wanted the cow design to speak to everyone from every background, and be accessible to everyone by avoiding pretense, affectation, or pomposity. I wanted to avoid anything that might seem off-putting, elite, trend-based, egotistical, or unclear. I considered the power of a universal symbol of love: the heart.
I’ve always been inspired by my mother Libby Phillips Meggs’ work as the art director on the original creative team of the iconic 1969 “Virginia is for Lovers” ad campaign to promote Virginia tourism. My mom is the one who put the heart onto graphics for the campaign — a heart that can now be found on Virginia car license plates. I also find inspiration in artist and designer Milton Glaser’s work, including his 1977 “I Love NY” design to promote tourism to New York. The success of both of these campaigns to communicate using a heart in a powerful and effective way made me not hesitate to tap into the power of the heart. The world can never have too many hearts or too much love, in my opinion.
I began sketching various heart-themed patterns on quick drawings of a cow. Color has great power to be expressive, so I tried hundreds of color variations in my sketches. Knowing that the cow would be out in public, I felt it was important for the color and design to be readable from a distance, so I decided to work with contrasting color and values, along with clearly defined, bold forms.
Once I felt I’d found my design, I selected an exuberant bright blue color of Benjamin Moore Select Exterior paint, aptly named Brilliant Blue (2065–30). Benjamin Moore is an official sponsor of, and color ambassador for, CowParade NYC. I spent several days painting multiple coats of blue onto the cow, using a small six-inch roller and paintbrushes. I did, in fact, feel a bit like a Smurf when I’d come home each night covered blue paint. I have to say, the Benjamin Moore exterior paint is excellent paint, with a high pigment load and outstanding surface properties. I’ll definitely be using it again.
Because I wanted the heart forms on the cow to have absolute precision in order to communicate the strongest and most clear visual message possible, I drew the hearts in Adobe Illustrator as vector-based forms. I spent a whole day drawing a heart. A good drawing of a heart is not simply two circles and two lines — there are many subtle curves to the form that need to be carefully drawn. Once the vector heart drawing was complete, I made many size variations and planned how these hearts would fit onto the actual cow, using Adobe Photoshop to make my mockup. Inspired by an art process called decoupage, in which cut outs of paper, plastic, linoleum, or other material is applied to a surface, over which varnish or lacquer is applied, I had my careful heart drawings digitally cut out of UV-resistant vinyl to form the underlying precise framework of hearts for the cow. I spent about a week decoupaging the hearts to the cow’s blue surface, and while they had the precision of form that I sought, they did not yet have the surface texture and color I wanted.
After the hearts were on the cow, I painted a visible brushstroke texture over them using a clear acrylic gel medium. Next, I mixed various colors with a glazing medium, and painted each heart with subtle transparent colors. I felt excited that the hearts were really starting to glow, at this point, but the edges needed to be sharpened up, so after I painted all of the hearts with color, I went back and very carefully painted the edges of each heart with the bright blue background paint. This process took many long hours in the cow studio, but once I was finished, I felt satisfied that I’d achieved the desired result of precise heart forms that felt painterly and having the touch of the human hand. The final step was to paint three coats of Corotech Clear Acrylic Sealer. This took a couple of days, and I felt a sense of joy and relief once the cow was successfully completed.
However, this feeling was bittersweet, because one of the great delights of working at the art studio was meeting and working alongside other artists. I’m so grateful to have met everyone there and see their amazing and unique cows!
I wanted to convey pure love for New York City with my cow design, so I named the cow “I LOVE MOO YORK.” This is also a playful nod to the iconic “I Love New York” tourism campaign. I fell quite in love with the cow, after spending so many days with her, and I’m excited she will be at the outdoor cow pasture at the New York Hall of Science in Queens at Flushing-Meadows-Corona Park, so she will have a chance to meet children and families who visit the science museum itself, as well as the throngs of people who will attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park from August 30 through September 12. The New York Hall of Science is one of the few remaining structures from the 1964 New York World’s Fair, so it’s “mooooving” to think of this group of cows being at pasture at this historic location.
The entire colorful herd of artist-designed and painted cows will graze in New York City from August 18 through September 30, 2021, in eight pastures located in Industry City in Brooklyn, Hudson Yards in Manhattan, the New York Hall of Science in Queens, and at Bronx Community College. New York City was last stampeded with such cows in the year 2000, and this is the 100th global edition of CowParade to be held on Planet Earth. CowParade is one of the world’s largest public art events, having been staged in 80+ cities worldwide, including 34 countries, with more than 6,000 life size fiberglass cows painted and designed by thousands of artists and celebrities.
God’s Love We Deliver is the exclusive charity partner of CowParade NYC, and the cows will be sold at an arts auction on September 30 to benefit this charity. The mission of God’s Love We Deliver, a non-sectarian organization, is to support those dealing with serious illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and cancer by providing high-quality nutrition in the form of free home-delivered meals. They also provide free nutrition education and counseling to clients, families, care providers, and other service organizations.
It meant a lot to me to be part of this community project that will help so many people through the work of God’s Love We Deliver, plus will lift the spirits of a city that’s been through a historically heartbreaking time. I have so much gratitude that I’m alive to make art and spread love and kindness through artwork. I extend my sincere thanks to everyone involved! I LOVE MOO, and I LOVE MOO YORK!
“The CowParade event is about connecting art and artists with people of all ages and backgrounds through the magical cow canvases. The participating artists pour their hearts and souls into their cow masterpieces to inspire, awe and, most importantly, bring smiles to the faces of those who encounter the cows,” said Ron Fox, Vice President, CowParade. “We are proud to partner with God’s Love to bring free public art and the message of unity and love of one’s neighbor throughout the five boroughs. The dedicated team of event professionals at God’s Love has brought together the most diverse group of artists in our 21-year history. In this respect, God’s Love has broken the CowParade mold and set a new standard for public art events in the future. In the fall, the cows will be auctioned for the benefit of God’s Love We Deliver. In the meantime, we hope New York City residents and visitors assist in the efforts of the God’s Love team and the participating artists in caring for the cows while they graze.”
The 2021 CowParade will include a diverse array of participating artists from contemporary art icons and well-known Wynwood graffiti artists to eclectic designers and celebrity supporters — the full list includes: Cey Adams; Baccarat; Jeffrey Banks; Diana Banos; Kelly Behun; BG183; Billy The Artist; The Artists of the Macy’s Parade Studio; BIO; Raynes E. Birkbeck; Maryellis Bunn; Anthony Castro; Chiaozza; Garrett Chingery; Danny Cole; Pat Conlon; Adama Coulibaly; Cherri Cousteau, CRASH; Paula Crown; Dapper Dan of Harlem; Sophia Dawson; Daze; Amy Denet Deal; Jamie Drake; Savior Elmundo; Cynthia Erivo; Fashion Institute of Technology Visual Presentation & Exhibition Design Program (Heejeong Kim, Fean Manthachitra, Diana Rico, Gordon Qu); Rachel Goldsmith; Timothy Goodman; Lisa Grubb; Erin Halper; Neil Patrick Harris & David Burtka; Eric Haze; Hektad; Logan Hicks; Joe Iuarto; Jihae; Billi Kid; Xiang Lan; Jen Lewin; Yannick Lowery; Brian J. McCarthy; Michael “Kaves” McLeer; Elizabeth Meggs; Jody Morlock; Moulin Rouge! The Musical; natchie; Nicer; Ivan Ortiz; Peter Paid; Nick Peate; Lady Pink; Eve Plumb; Zac Posen; William Quigley; Victor “Marka27” Quinonez; Fernando Romero; Chris Sainato; Dave Singley; Darvin Silva; Melissa Staiger; David Stark; Sydney; Taylord; The Love Child; Lizzie Tish; Peter Tunney; Beatrice Wolert; Lenny Zbarsky; and Kamila Zmrzla.
For more information, please visit glwd.org/cowparade