Tag Archives: coloring books

Weird Is Good

July 14, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Since transplanting from Pennsylvania nearly a decade ago, Christopher Vaughn Couse has made the observation that Omaha is downright weird—but in a good way.

From the hipster-laden streets of Benson to the apex of West Omaha’s suburbs, where cul-de-sacs meet cornfields—and of course there’s our friendly local billionaire, Mr. Buffett, who you may just spot snacking on a Dilly Bar—Couse is right: There’s no place like Homaha. As an artist, to pay homage to all the things that make Omaha, well, Omaha, Couse painted a simple black-and-white design with text that reads “Keep Omaha Good Weird.” It was part of Benson First Friday’s Tiny Mural Project.

“It’s about celebrating the city’s diversity and everyone’s willingness to embrace others for doing their own thing,” Couse says. Of course, it’s also a mix of the almost-revoked Nebraska mantra, “The Good Life,” and the “Keep Austin/Portland Weird” slogans.

If you’ve walked the streets of Benson or Dundee, stopped in at one of the latest oh-so-trendy and oh-so-healthy Eat Fit Go restaurants, or are familiar with the Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s “We Don’t Coast” campaign, you’ve likely seen Couse’s work. He may not be a Nebraska native, but with roots firmly planted in this city, his work as a freelancer, photographer, and illustrator seems to be sprouting up everywhere.

And that’s pretty darn good for a self-described “art school dropout.” It took just two years of classes in the art photography program at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for Couse to discover he needed to try a different path —and eventually a different city—to forge his career. Determined to utilize his keen eye and knack for creative styling as a professional artist, he knew it was time to move on from the world of lectures and syllabi when a professor told him art photography was a dead-end job.

“Just like that, tuition money became payments for nicer photography equipment,” Couse says.

Just because Couse was done with school didn’t mean he was done with education. He took his lack of professional training as a chance to personally develop his craft and began learning new mediums.

While he had been taking photographs since his teen years, the next evolution of his artistry came when he began combining his shots with handwritten notes to make collages. Then came illustrating and painting, then printmaking, and even working on zines. One glance at his Instagram, @christography, and you could argue he’s made social media his next canvas.

“I delve into different genres of art, figure out what I like, and begin incorporating these aesthetics into my own work,” Couse says. “I’ll admit, I have a bad problem of not sticking with one thing and instead trying to tackle a lot of things.”

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any similarities across mediums. Stylistically, his work is usually filled with color, idiosyncratic humor, and his emotions as each piece reflects what he was feeling when it was created. Thematically, he regularly combines text with imagery, and he’s often inspired by the conversations, people, and the city surrounding him.

For one of his most popular series, a combination of party gossip and local lore inspired him. Shortly after moving, he heard boozed-up friends describing metro movers and shakers as “Omaha Famous.” Using his love for pop culture, he decided to borrow this phrase and started illustrating portraits of actual famous people who were born in Omaha. Perhaps nowhere else will you find a collection that includes the likes of activist Malcolm X, President Gerald R. Ford, and Lady Gaga’s ex and “cool Nebraska guy” Lüc Carl. There’s even a coloring book available online, so you too can shade the mugs of Conor Oberst and Marlon Brando for only $4.

“What I love about Omaha—and why it inspires me—is it has a small-town feel but in a big-city atmosphere. I haven’t found that elsewhere,” Couse says.

Couse has further made an impact in the community through his creative freelance work. Often collaborating with branding agency Secret Penguin, he’s helped design packaging for Eat Fit Go, design signs for Flagship Commons, and developed promotional material for
“We Don’t Coast.”

As if all that combined with balancing a full-time retail job and playing daddy to a newborn wasn’t enough, he also preps collections of his work to show at local galleries, with a recent exhibit at Harney Street Gallery.

“I’m always searching for ways I can do better in life, better in my craft,” Couse says.

With Omaha and all of its oddities keeping him so busy, art projects get done when he can find the time. If one makes him a sweet penny, then great. If not, that’s A-OK with Couse, too.

“My end goal is to have fun and inspire other people to create things,” Couse says. “It’s not complicated. I just hope my art makes people smile for even a second.”

And there’s nothing downright weird about that at all.

Visit christophervaughncouse.com for more information.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.

Christopher Couse

Fighting Dementia With Coloring Books

June 15, 2017 by
Illustration by Mady Besch

Remember getting an unopened box of crayons—for school, for a birthday, just for fun? Remember the smell of the wax? The new, sharp points? Choosing your favorite color?

Most people would answer “Yes.” Coloring, whether as a kindergarten assignment or a rainy-day project, brings about happy memories for most people. It is those pleasant memories that have triggered a surge of popularity in adult coloring books.

Coloring was often a way for kids to stay entertained for hours, focused on filling in the lines on a piece of paper. That is one reason why therapists are now turning to coloring books for people with dementia.

“In my experience, the most helpful reason is because it is a focusing tool,” says Maggie Hock, a licensed mental health practitioner and owner of Bellevue Psychological.

Actually, the concept of coloring as an exercise to focus and relax is not new. Psychologist Carl Jung had his patients color mandalas, or geometric patterns, used to express the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. In these traditions, the creation of a mandala helps with meditation.

Intricate circular patterns might be too complicated for dementia patients, depending on the stage of the dementia. Coloring books can be found online or at bookstores, and subjects range from World War II warships to classic movie posters and more. Those with historical subjects may be the best for dementia patients.

“Commonly in Alzheimer’s, older memories are intact,” says Dr. Daniel L. Murman, director of the behavioral and geriatric neurology program at UNMC. Merman says memories of doing things as a child often remain while memories of five to 10 years ago fade away.

“Memories from childhood are stored in a different part of the brain,” Murman says, noting that the act of coloring taps “into an area of strength, where people would potentially have fond memories of coloring and be able to participate in and enjoy the activity.”

Hock says people with dementia have difficulty focusing because the world around them is confusing and distracting. Handing a person with dementia a coloring book and coloring utensils gives them a purpose and takes them out of the confusion for a while.

Murman adds that even if they are not experiencing dementia, keeping active mentally and physically will help older people. And if someone does, in fact, have dementia, staying active can help preserve neural connections, which stimulates the brain and may help slow down the progression of the disorder.

While solving crossword or Sudoku puzzles may produce the same focus in people in less advanced stages, coloring has the added benefit of chromotherapy, or color therapy. Colors have different meanings for us as individuals. Someone who was forced to wear brown clothes as a child and hated them may still feel a strong dislike for the color brown. Someone who received a set of primary-colored blocks as a birthday gift might color only in primary colors.

Hock says letting someone with dementia color certainly won’t do harm, no matter how advanced the stage.

“It’s always worth a try,” Hock says, “to see what would engage them.”

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition of Sixty-Plus, a periodical within Omaha Magazine.