Q&A with Autumn Cobeland


by Mimi Montgomery

photograph by Keith Isaacs

This month, when runners cross the finish lines of the many races being held during the City of Oaks marathon event, they’ll be leaving with more than medals and views of Raleigh. Local artist Autumn Cobeland has partnered with the event to create Raleigh-centric prints that will be given to overall award-winners. (The prints will also be available to all runners as a souvenir for purchase.) You may recognize Cobeland’s art from her many pieces of work around town – Artspace, DECO, Raleigh City Museum, and the Wells Fargo Building have housed her pieces, and her murals of Raleigh and its greenways have graced the sides of buildings and buses. The marathon collaboration is a fitting one, as Cobeland is a runner and will be participating in the 5K event on race day. Below, we chat with the artist about running, Raleigh, music, and art.  

How did you go about creating the art for the City of Oaks marathon?

John Kane and I had many conversations regarding art as an award. This image of looking to our amazing Capitol building seems to be a good fit, as most of the runners in November will experience this view. I went out into the middle of Fayettville Street when it was closed off for an event, took photos, then completed several sketches. When we decided on the final idea, I got to work with my gouache paint. The final piece is on watercolor paper and has a hand-drawn logo for “City of Oaks.”

You’re running the 5K race held during the marathon. How long have you been running?

I began running regularly in 2009. Coincidentally, that’s also when my husband and I were training for a sprint triathlon and discovered how beautiful and extensive the greenways were becoming in Raleigh. I cover a lot more ground by bike than on foot. I am still striving for adequacy as a runner.

What are some of your favorite running routes through Raleigh?

I am partial to Crabtree Creek Greenway, but I adore the Loblolly Trail in Umstead State Park. Is there any better running surface than a bed of pine needles?

Do you like to run with a friend and talk, or run alone?

All of the above. My dog keeps me company on long runs and I have some amazing neighbors who are fabulous to run with.

If you could run alongside one person (dead or alive), who would it be?

Elizabeth Gardner – WRAL meteorologist and happy person extraordinaire.

Top three songs on your running playlist:

I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night by the Electric Prunes; Back It Up by Caro Emerald; This Tornado Loves You by Neko Case.

Where’s the best place to buy running gear in the area?

Runologie, shop local!

What’s your best advice to aspiring runners?

Don’t run too fast: Shin splints stink. It took me too long to figure that one out.

What’s your best advice to aspiring painters?

Keep it up and know that your voice matters, that your artistic voice is different from anyone else’s. If you love it, don’t stop creating what you find to be true to yourself.

A lot of your work has been featured across Raleigh – your Greenway series, your Art-on-the-Move paintings on Raleigh buses, and murals on the side of Cafe Carolina and off of Peace and Glenwood Streets, to name a few. How does the intersection of making art with a geographical presence and living in Raleigh influence your work?

I love camping and being in national parks, and there are these great posters that have been created to celebrate parks historically. I love Raleigh and figured I could use my art to celebrate one of our awesome features. At this point, I have donated about $10,000 in support of our local greenways from sales of prints of my greenway pieces.

Who is your favorite artist?

So many to love: Georgia O’Keeffe usually tops my lists, but add Alphonse Mucha, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, John Singer Sargent. On a local level, I’m a fan of Leslie Pruneau drawings and paintings and Thomas Sayre sculptures.

Which is your favorite Raleigh museum?

I’m a very big fan of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences; and without a doubt, the gardens and greenways surrounding our N.C. Museum of Art.

Walk us through your creative process when painting a new piece.

First of all, I get out on the trails on my bike and take dozens of pictures. I like doing this in the wintertime, as the light comes through the trees in a magical way, casting shadows across the paths. I use a computer to simplify the images, and then I print out images on watercolor paper to create color studies and narrow down the look I am intending. Most of my enjoyment in this series comes from the color study element. I then sketch the image on 32-by-40-inch watercolor board with graphite and with a layering process, using watercolor, gouache, and conte crayon to complete the final painting.

Do you have a favorite piece you’ve painted? If so, why this particular one?

The image of the bridge at Kiwanis Park is indeed a favorite because it’s the location of the greenway nearest my house, so I often access the greenway from that point. I studied art in Japan, and to me this work is a hearty nod to many of the Japanese woodblock prints that I studied in school.

Top three songs on your painting playlist:

The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi; WSHA 88.9 Reggae and African music on Saturdays; anything by Caro Emerald.

Where’s the best place to buy art in the area?