Jean Cousins is an award-winning photographer, illustrator, and graphic designer, based in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. In her 15 years with Central Maine Newspaper, she won numerous design awards before launching her freelance career, which has spanned more than 25 years. Jean got our attention recently via Instagram. Her artistic account is a reflection of her beautiful photography in and around Maine, which you can see for yourself at @JDCousins. As the winner of our recent winter photo challenge, we caught up with Jean to learn more about her creative work; and of course, we also talked about Maine. A lot!
- We know each other from Instagram, so I already knew you are a very talented photographer, but now I know you’re also a graphic designer and illustrator. Which one brings in more business?
Thank you very much for your kind words, Anca. It’s been a pleasure to connect with you on Instagram and to share our love from your coast to mine.
I have been a freelance graphic designer and illustrator for over 25 years, creating a wide range of marketing materials such as company magazines, brochures, logos, posters, infographics, DVDs, and books for example. Graphic design brings in the bulk of my business.
- Which one is your favorite?
Photography has become a passion. It is how I unwind and recenter. I look forward to the time of day when I take my camera to the places I love to be, like the ocean, local lighthouses, and walking Portland’s working waterfront.
Graphic design is my profession, which I love as well. I think graphic design and photography are similar in the process of combining elements to create a compelling image that conveys a feeling. The main difference is that photography happens in the moment. I have seconds to decide how to compose a shot because everything is rapidly changing. It is amazing how fast the sun sets, or how quickly a full moon rises. When I create a graphic design, I have the luxury of time to play with the composition.
I don’t plan my shots. I prefer to photograph handheld, rather than using a tripod. I like to grab my camera and go. When I get to the end of my street, I look both ways and turn in the direction where the sky looks the most interesting. My favorite time of day to photograph is late afternoon during the “golden hour” when the light is warm and casting long shadows. I visit the same places over and over, but there is always something new. The weather in Maine is constantly changing. It can be bright and sunny one minute, and dark and stormy the next.
- So let’s talk about your photography. When did you start your photography career, and what brought you to it?
I took up photography about seven years ago when we were living in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I started taking photos with my iPhone when I was walking on the beach. I fell in love with the medium, and my son bought me my first “real” camera for Christmas. I’ve since upgraded cameras a few times but it’s not about having the best equipment. It’s about being true to your art. There are so many photographers out there doing great work. It can make you feel like you have to compete with what they are doing. I try to remind myself to photograph what speaks to me. If it speaks to someone else, then that is a delight.
- What do you like to photograph the most? I think it’s the coast, right? I see lots of boats and lighthouses on your Instagram.
I was born and raised in Maine. Many of my favorite childhood memories revolve around time spent at the ocean. I think that is why I am drawn to the ocean to take photographs. It is the place I feel most centered. I feel fortunate to live in Maine. I’ve lived here most of my life and there are still so many places I haven’t explored yet. There is a quote written on a bench at a nearby beach that reads, “If you’re lucky enough to live by the sea, you’re lucky enough.”
- Do you have a favorite season that you like to photograph in particular?
This is a tough question because I love all four seasons in Maine. Each one brings its own special experience. Spring blooms vivid green. Summer brings warm winds and sailboats. Fall flashes bright colors. Winter snow brings a calm stillness.
- Your winter photos are so beautiful. But Maine is freezing in the winter, especially by the coast. How do you manage to take these gorgeous photos, against the arctic temperatures?
I love this question. Being out with a camera in the freezing temps and wind can be brutal. Sometimes I can’t feel my fingers on the buttons and dials. (I think it would be great if someone invented a heated camera). I find it an interesting contrast to watch the brilliant heat of a setting sun while standing in the freezing air. It isn’t always freezing, though. Sometimes it’s a balmy 30 degrees. Winter brings so many variations to the landscape, from a blanket of white snow to sea smoke rising off the ocean. Sea smoke is an incredible phenomenon that happens when the ocean is warmer than the air, which causes a layer of mist to rise. It’s quite magical to witness.
- What are your top 5 absolute fav places to photograph in Maine?
These are my five go-to local places, but there are so many across this state:
- Bug Light Park in South Portland with it’s Grecian style lighthouse and panoramic view of the city of Portland and the harbor.
- Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland with it’s long breakwater offers amazing views of the ships and lobster boats coming and going.
- Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth has some of the best walking trails along the ocean, and of course, the iconic lighthouse.
- Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth has gorgeous sunsets year-round.
- Portland’s working waterfront with its old wharfs where the lobster and fishing boats are docked.
- Your favorite places to travel to in Maine?
Maine is almost as big as the other five New England states combined with so many amazing places to travel. There are the sandy beaches in southern Maine; York, Ogunquit, Wells, Kennebunk, Old Orchard, Scarborough, Higgins, Crescent, and Popham Beach. Magnificent mountains like Sugarloaf, Sunday River, and Saddleback for skiing, hiking, and golf. The Appalachian Trail ends on top of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park. There is the Rangely Lake region with six large lakes renowned for fishing. Acadia National Park is the crown jewel of the North Atlantic Coast, and definitely a favorite place to travel in Maine. I love the seaside towns of Camden and Rockport. Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in New Harbor is another favorite destination and a wonderful place to photograph. Popham Beach in Phippsburg is a gem. When the tide is low you can cross the sandbar and explore Fox Island. But, keep an eye on the tide because it rises fast and you might get stuck until the next low tide.
- What are your favorite places in New England?
One of my favorite places in New England is Boston! It has such a great vibe. I love walking around historical Faneuil Hall with its great shops and restaurants. The seaport district is growing so fast with its skyscrapers, wide sidewalks, and harbor views. The Boston Common is a beautiful public park. Newbury Street has great shops and restaurants. There is the TD Garden where the Celtics play, and Fenway Park where the Red Sox play. I love the town of Salem which is famous for the 1692 witch trials. People love going there for Halloween. Portsmouth, New Hampshire has a great downtown. It’s a great city with lots of awesome restaurants and shops. Providence, Rhode Island is another cool city. It’s like a smaller version of Boston.
- Your favorite season?
My favorite season of all is autumn. It is a visual feast as the leaves turn to vibrant red, orange, and gold. After the heat of the summer, autumn brings a refreshing change with cooler temps. It’s the time of year when you get out the sweaters and layer up. That is another wonderful thing about living in New England, you get to change your wardrobe with every season.
To learn more about Jean’s work check out her website http://www.jeancousinsphotography.com and follow her on Instagram at @JDCousins.