Illuminated Letter: The January ACEOs by our Members

illuminated letter ACEOs

Valerie Riveras illuminated letterThe results are in for the submissions of the January ACEO challenge. The theme was “illuminated letter”.

The work is a beautiful take on the illuminated letter theme, submitted by Melissa Benson, Mark Hannon, Joe Jacouzzi, Karen Keane Anne Mulligan, and Valerie Riveras.

The piece as a whole will be framed and available for sale at upcoming shows.

The next month’s ACEO challenge theme is “Water.” Please bring your submissions to the March Meeting. If you

The art is also available for purchase in our Zazzle shop.


illuminated letter ACEOsAbout the Making Art Monthly Challenge

Each month, CAGCT members are invited to create an original piece of art based on a theme, in ACEO format.

ACEO stands for “art cards, editions and originals. ” They are also called artist trading cards. These are miniature pieces of art measuring 2.5 x 3.5 inches. They should be original pieces of work created for the theme.

A Gift for Artists not on their List (But Should Be)

Gift for Artists
An gift for artists that isn’t paint?? Why didn’t I think of that??

When you are wracking your brain for a gift for artists in your life, here’s one you probably didn’t consider, but should.

Buy them a membership to their local art guild.


1. Community. A membership to the local art guild is a gift for artists — and everyone else in your community. Supporting the arts in your community increases tourism, boosts the economy and raises property values. (Americans for the

2. Cost. Guild memberships are relatively inexpensive. Our annual, individual membership is just $35.

3. Resources. Artists can often feel and act as solitary creatures. Yet creativity feeds off of other creative sources. Some of the best resources (grants, arts partnerships, showings, marketing) comes from groups like the Coastal Arts Guild of CT.

buy-local4. Support. The membership cost supports arts programming, yes. But more importantly, the membership says: “I support YOU as an artist.” Many artists don’t join a guild because they don’t feel “good enough.” A membership tells them: these are your people! Join them!

5. Convenience. It’s easy to purchase the membership online. Right from the comfort of your pajamas or mobile device.

To purchase a membership for your artist, click here. Join them in a family membership, and you can even purchase a “patron” or business membership for yourself.

Enjoy the season and remember to shop local and handmade, whenever you can.



Painter Karen Essig in the Natural World

Sailboat by Karen Essig
Karen Essig CT painter
Painter Karen Essig, a Coastal Arts Guild Member,  depicts her New England home and neighbors in landscape, portrait and still life through watercolors & oils.

Guild member and painter Karen Essig will not be found painting in her studio all day. In fact, the room where she most recently used as her studio is now a spare room for her grandchildren.

Like many artists, Essig works full-time. She is a nurse.But her practical life has not stopped Essig from pursuing her dream one. She paints copiously.

“When I was young I would love watching my Mom paint pictures in her spare time. She is a very talented artist, and  I hoped her talents would rub off on me.  I started playing around with a sketch pad for fun as a young girl, and  I painted my first oil painting at the age of 16.”

Sailboat by Essig

It wasn’t until she was 50, that she started working with watercolors. She had found her medium.

“I had always worked worked in oils. It wasn’t until the last 5 years that I really expanded into watercolors. I love it.”
As a painter, Essig has enjoyed dozens of commissions over her years paintings, including children’s portraits as well as 15 paintings for the Hershey Hotel when it was remodeled.

As a lifelong New Englander, Essig said she is affected by the beach, the sea and the natural world.

“I am intriguied by nature and colorful subjects,” she said. “I like to paint realistic images. I have done everything from scenery to portraits to still lifes.”

Contact Karen Essig for commission portraits or to view a gallery of her latest available work.

Suzanne Coiro – An American Watercolorist

Coastal Arts Guild of CT member Suzanne Coiro uses watercolors to create beautiful and representational visions of the natural world. Coiro is an American landscape and seascape watercolor painter based in Stratford, CT and formerly of Queens, New York.


Landscape by Suzanne Coiro


Throughout her life she has continued to refine her skills as a fine artist, but Suzanne began her artistic career in the early 1980’s as a graphic designer, designing corporate marketing materials primarily for the legal field. She received her initial training at Stony Brook University, Long Island, School of Visual Arts, NYC, and Parsons School of Design, NYC. She decided to close her personal graphic design business in 2007 and now devotes her time exclusively to painting.



Members of the guild enjoyed Coiro's discussion of her work at the guild's April meeting.
Members of the guild enjoyed Coiro’s discussion of her work at the guild’s April meeting.

Although her true love is the ocean, you will often find Suzanne at the beaches of Stratford and Milford, sketching dune grasses and the rocky shoreline of Long Island Sound. She will sometimes explore a floral or architectural subject.

Coiro's painting "Sunflower" was selected to be included in the Guild's notecard collection
Coiro’s painting “Sunflower” was selected to be included in the Guild’s notecard collection

Coiro is currently a member of the board of the Coastal Arts Guild of Connecticut, holding the office of Secretary since 2004 and in previous years when it was the Stratford Arts Guild.
If you wish to contact Suzanne to schedule a meeting to preview her work or to commission a work, email Coiro at

Featured Artist Amy Oestreicher

Amy Festreicher 2015Amy Oestreicher is a mixed media artist who lives in Westport, CT.

Amy Oestreicher is a 28-year-old artist, musician, teacher, actress  composer, dancer, writer,yogi, foodie, and general lover of life. 

Surviving and thriving through a coma, 27 surgeries and other trauma has inspired Amy to share her story with the world through her passionate desire to create and help others.

Amy has written, directed and starred in a one woman musical about her life, Gutless & Grateful, has flourished as a mixed media and acrylic artist, with her art in multiple galleries and dozens of solo art shows.

CAGCT: Did you study art?

AO: I learned art accidentally on my way to healing and don’t have much formal art training.

However, I plan on studying more of the technical aspects of art, such as figure drawing, to have a wider range in my work.

Being a self taught artist, the idea of drawing the human body always has intimidated me – we all have an inner critic! However, I used figures in my work over and over again throughout the years in order to process what I was feeling after nearly 30 life AND body-altering surgeries.

   Amy Oestreicher 2015 trees

After every surgery, I would wake up with a new anatomy – a bag here, no belly button here, this missing, that added. It was very dissociating and made me feel like an alien to myself. I drew the figure to find wholeness with my body again, to accept it, to show the different “selves” of me, to love it as my own.

Now, I am very fascinated with the figure in how it relates to the world, nature, and the flesh. Seeing my “figures” look more and more body-like reassures me – it lets me know that I am starting to feel human, starting to accept my body for what it has been through, and call it my own.

CAGCT: Who has influenced your work?

AO: Originally, painting… was an amazing way for me to express what was too overwhelming, frustrating and scary for words. Whatever distress I was feeling, whatever uncertainty I wrestled with, once I put my brush to the canvas, something felt released – my sadness was still there, but at least I could feel it. And so for a long while, my sadness inspired my painting. YET, it would transform my painting. …

… Of course, my latest inspiration has been … my fiancé – who will become my husband in a few weeks. Basically, life inspires me – the fact that life always gives us second chances – that it’s never too late to grow, learn, evolve, and continually change.

Now that I’ve learned more in the art world, I find my romantic whimsy in Chagall, the art therapy part of my work portrayed in Frida Kahlo, the collage part in Matisse, and the abstractions in Kandinsky.

Artist Amy Oestreicher 2015_X

CAGCT: Where do you work?

AO: I work in a studio in my basement that used to be an old storage room.  I tend to work with a lot of layering and mixed media materials – anything from tissue paper to fabric, buttons, papers, or toilet paper (I created much art in hospitals and was very limited with materials!).

The process really depends on what I am sensing within. I love playing with textures, colors and shapes and allowing them to form the sadness, frustration, joy, or whatever inspiration I am feeling at that moment. I love acrylic painting, mixed media art, collage, clay sculpting – anything that I can fully immerse myself in and grasp a sense of who I have become, and discover my interior world.

The best thing about my studio is how it envelopes me – the space is relatively small, and there are shelves on every side, so the shelves of supplies form a circle around me, like my copic markers, stamps, cigar boxes and paints are all surrounding me with love and support, giving me a big bear hug. If I turn around, myself, in a complete circle, all I see are my art supplies. No windows, nothing but art. I always feel like a kid in a candy store when I’m down there.

Amy Oestreicher_Kid Today

CAGCT: How has your work changed over time?

AO: As a self taught artist, I first started to paint to express what I was feeling. It was deeply personal, unstructured, free form, and uninhibited. Now, it is still abstract and personal, but more artistically refined as I have discovered my artistic voice and learned new techniques.

Only lately have I started making my passion a business. I started blogging daily just as a way to document all of the painting I was doing. Soon, I amassed a large social media following, and now have people waiting to see what I’ve created every day! I just opened my first Etsy storefront and am selling motivational prints of a painting that I first made in the hospital, with plans to donate some to foundations and hospitals. I’m also selling cards of my work and mixed media pins – I do sell my originals though it’s sentimentally difficult for me! My art is currently in seven galleries in the area, with the latest in a museum that I always loved as a child.

Amy Oest_2015


Visit Amy online at Etsyher website, and Facebook.

Featured Artist Mark Hannon – Illustrator

Mark Hannon Illustrator
Mark Hannon

Mark Hannon is a Stratford-based graphic designer and illustrator and currently the president of the Coastal Arts Guild of CT.

Mark has worked on national accounts for medium to large ad agencies. He is able to offer big agency expertise to smaller clients who operate on smaller budgets.

Mark is married to Anne Mulligan, the Guild’s executive vice president. They have 3 cats.

SAG: Mark, you are a designer for commercial brands and products and websites. So you have to be creative, but also stay true to concepts that are not your own. How does that work for you?

MH: Graphic design is a mix of right- and left-brain skills. You have to create artwork which has visual appeal but also solves a problem for a client. Problem solving requires using analytical skills simultaneously while thinking creatively. Clients value designers who can successfully apply both skills. In addition I have worked for and alongside many marketing professionals. These people helped teach me how to create a visual message that persuades or sells.

But to answer your question more directly, my background is in sales promotion where the focus is getting the consumer’s attention and not being subtle about it. I enjoy creating these types of designs, whether it’s designing point-of-sale displays or packaging which demands to be noticed on the shelf.

SAG: You’ve worked on products for huge names we’re all familiar with, like Bigelow Tea, Elizabeth Arden, and Subway. These aren’t “similar” brands. What is it about a designer’s style that draws a client to them, do you think?

MH: What gives clients a comfort level with a designer is familiarity with the client’s business. Whether it’s food & beverage, beauty or healthcare, if a client sees examples of brochures, ads or online marketing from their industry in the designer’s portfolio, they will be more willing to assign their design projects to that individual. Every type of business is unique in how they reach their audience or customers. Showing that I understand their visual marketing needs helps close the deal.

Original art by Mark HannonIt also helps if the client unsuccessfully tried to create their own marketing materials by assigning the work to the secretary’s kid. My work will always outshine the secretary’s kid.

SAG: You design for print media, yet also for websites and other digital media. Do you have a preference?

MH: My experience and comfort-level is in print media but I like to push myself out of my comfort zone. Digital media requires a level of technical skill on top of the creative. I have gotten a lot of satisfaction from developing more left-brain skills as part of my design tool set.

SAG: If you get a chance, do you create art for its own sake? For fun or to sell?

I enjoy creating fine art once I am doing it. But getting myself motivated to start a new piece is my biggest hurdle. But I am hoping to have a new piece ready for Art In The Studio.

You can talk to Mark Hannon about his art and design work at our next meeting, or have a look at his portfolio online.

Featured Artist Melissa Benson

Melissa Benson Nightmare Artist Magic the Gathering

Melissa Benson – Illustrator and Fine Artist 

Melissa A. Benson, owner of Ranting Centaur Studios, is best know for her highly distinguishable fantasy-based work for private collectors and collectible card game publishers. She uses a colorful, realistic style for both fantasy and decorative work.She has been creating quality artwork for over 20 years.

She works mostly in a mixed media of watercolor dyes, and color pencils. Black and white work is high contrast multi-weight graphite pencil and large pieces are done in oils. Her work has made her a celebrity in RPG, gaming and fantasy circles.

CAGCT: You are well-known for your work as a fantasy illustrator. Are you famous?
MB: Big fish in a small pond. Go into a comic book shop and everyone will know my name. Walk into Barnes and Noble… probably not.
CAGCT: Your Zazzle and Fine Art America shops are huge, with absolutely stunning work. How does the quantity and variety of products in your shop help you sustain yourself as an artist?
MB: The more products you have available, the wider the net you cast. The income is regular, and constantly growing. 
Trident Fighter by Melissa Benson Coastal Arts Guild of CT
CAGCT:  I know you do commissions, such as character portraits for role playing gamers. Is fantasy illustration the core of your personal work?
MB: I would have to say yes. It is what I gravitate toward. I enjoy drawing organic forms. Mechanical forms don’t come as naturally to me. I want to do some steam-punk pictures, which will be a challenge since that genre is a blend of both. I’ll include my artist statement at the end of the email.
CAGCT: What process do you use to create your fantasy characters? Do you work from a brief or description?
MB: I work best from a description, be it an excerpt from a book or a legend. Then I augment it with my own various accouterments.
CAGCT:  What is your favorite part of the artistic process? And what frustrates you most about the life of an artist?
MB: My favorite part is sketching. Making something that doesn’t exist into something that people can believe exists when they see it. 
The most frustrating thing is when people who think they are artists sell work when in fact they are merely luft mongers. They convince people that if you don’t like their art, you are not culturally elevated enough, are old fashioned, or that you can’t empathize with a tortured soul. Bull shit.
I seek to create a world of beauty & mystery using organic forms and mythic imagery, often with Celtic compositional elements. I present these images using vivid color and dynamic designs through the use of dyes, and colored pencils, graphite or oil paint.
I also explore a range of possibilities through my choice of subject matter. I do not create mundane imagery and defend it as social commentary. I believe that designing with attention to values, contrast, ratio, and proportion are essential to creating a painting that transports the viewer into an alternate reality.
I draw inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts & Crafts Movement, and Wiccan Pagan traditions.

Melissa Benson’s work is highly sought after for commission. You can totally get lost on her webpage, or follow her on Facebook and @NightmareArtist on Twitter.