Eating my Vegetables

It began in one of the workshops I’ve been teaching at Gage Academy in Seattle. It’s a big jump to go from learning about the paints to doing a landscape, even from a photo, so I’m always looking for ways to bridge that gap. One day I brought in a few items out of my fridge. I asked each person to pick one, place it on a white sheet of paper and point a small desk lamp at it. Then I gave a demo:

Class kale (674x1024)

Class kale, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 7.5″

There’s something humble and unassuming about some leaves of kale.

I’m fond of saying that often people draw the Platonic “class” of an object instead of the “instance” that is there in front of them.

Or, as fellow vegetable-loving painter/instructor Lisa Goren says, “I always use chard for my teaching. I use it because, unlike flowers, [students] don’t have as fixed an idea of what it looks like in their heads. So I think they look more carefully and are more focused on the task rather than the outcome.”

Chard (1024x759)

Swiss chard, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″

Our correspondence about this shared pedagogy made me think hard about why I am finding painting vegetables so liberating.

There are relatively few examples of “Great Vegetable Works from Art History”—whereas try to paint sunflowers and a whole famous field’s worth is glaring at you!

Red Leaf (753x1034)

Red leaf lettuce, watercolor on paper, 15″ x 11

It’s hard to get to over-invested in painting a vegetable—compared to, say, a beautiful landscape you’re sentimental about. Since you don’t have so many hopes and expectations attached to it, you paint more freely and the results are fresh. (Mind you, they still require careful observation!)

Long radishes (1024x767)

Long radishes, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″

Or maybe it’s a jolie laide or underdog thing? Even in the foodie world they’re usually not the star of the meal…

Artichokes (1024x757)

Artichokes, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″

Perhaps it’s also my own semi-conscious interest in getting people to look at what isn’t conventionally considered “art worthy.”

Plus I get to eat them afterwards… Or at least most of them:

Lungwort Lichen (1024x751)

Pulmonaria lobarium, watercolor on paper, 11″ x15″. Lungwort lichen is a vegetable to the deer and moose that browse on it!

[Note: a number of these small paintings will be in a solo exhibit at the Food Art Collection opening July 14. Rather than traditional framing and glazing–which just didn’t feel right when I hope they end up in people’s kitchens–they are mounted on panels and coated with epoxy–so the spatters from frying up those potatoes can be wiped off!]

 

 

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Suze’s Art News June 2019

(This is the most recent newsletter update I sent to my mailing list. Sign up if you’d like to receive it in your inbox!)

Hello, it’s been a while.
This is an overdue update of everything happening now and a look back at events past. 2018-2019 has been a whirlwind and I am excited to share that with all of you. Thanks for your interest!

Workshops
“Watercolor on the Move: Practical Plein Air”
Gage Academy Workshops
July 20-21
Saturday-Sunday 9:30 A.M. – 4:30 P.M.
For those in the Seattle area, I will be teaching watercolor once again at Gage Academy. Sign up for the workshop if you’d like to learn more about how I go about doing plein air — painting outdoors from life.
Top: Zion Light, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″ (sold);
Bottom:
The Three Little Pigs (Gasworks) watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″

Above the Checkerboard Mesa Viewpoint (1024x754)
Gasworks
Upcoming Shows
Davenport Cellars, Woodinville WA
June 5 – early September 2019
The theme is “beautiful and disturbing landscapes,” scenic views of the public lands contrasted with burned-over landscapes.
Top: Frisco Again, watercolor on paper 11″ x 15″
Bottom:
The Landscape of Fire (rotated) 52″ x 15″
Frisco Again (1024x760)
TheLandscapeofFireRotated
Puget Sound Book Arts (PSBA) Annual Member Exhibit 
June 6- July 31, 2019
University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA Collins Library
Two of my bark beetle books are on display.
Top, Volume XXIV: What the Beetles Wrote
Bottom
: Volume XXI: The Curve of Loss
vol xxiv composite (764x1024)
VolXXIcomposite
Food Art Collection, Seattle
The quiet existentialism of discrete fruits and vegetables
July 14th, 2019 Opening 1-3 P.M.
In July I will be showcasing something new, a series of vegetable paintings. I began them as class demonstrations and soon realized that the process of trying to free up my students’ work was freeing up mine. Apropos to none of my other work, but enjoyable and satisfying. Come see what we serve up at the opening!
Top: Swiss Chard, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″
Bottom: Long radishes, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″
Chard (1024x759)
Long radishes (1024x767)
Anacortes Arts Festival 
July 27 – August 4th, 2019
Opening July 27
The annual juried exhibit; this year Joanna Sykes is the juror. Three of my bark beetle books will be on display.
Top: Bark Beetle Book Volume XXV: Outbreak
Bottom: Bark Beetle Book Volume X: Encyclopedia Beetletainia
Vol XXV Composite 3 (1024x458)
Vol X Encyclopedia Beetletania composite
State of the Forest Installation in Environmental Impact Sequel
James Museum, St Petersburg, FL
August – November 2019
This is the first stop on a touring exhibit that focuses on the environmental impact of climate change. Thirty of my burned tree portraits will be suspended, floating fabric media to evoke the fragility of forests. Fourteen of them have Lorena Williams‘ fire stories printed on the back layer of the set. I look forward to presenting my work in this way.
Top: State of the Forest, 10 of a 30 tree installation. Bottom: Detail of the three layers for each tree, black, solid print and transparent print (Jonathan T. Bishop photos)
State of the Forest 10 trees-2 (1024x683)
Tauromachia fabric detail (1024x683)
Slash & Burn
Seattle City Hall
September 5 – November 5, 2019
If you missed this repeat exhibit at Green River College earlier in the year, “Slash & Burn” will be presented again at Seattle City Hall. I’ve contributed several burned tree portraits and bark beetle books.
Top: Okanagan Iridescence, varnished watercolor on torn paper, 52″H x 20″ (rotated)
Bottom: Bark beetle book Volume XII: Buprestid Katakana
Okanagan Irridescence rotated
Buprestid Katakana 2 (1024x785)
Columbia City Gallery 20th Anniversary Book Arts Exhibit:
The Book as Art: The Page and Beyond
Seattle, WA
September – November, 2019
This show will focus on finely crafted books that explore a variety of structures and books that can challenge traditional notions of a book and page.
Columbia City Gallery logo
All Stitched Up
University of Puget Sound Collins Library
Tacoma, WA
September 3 – December 11, 2019
A recent bark beetle book will be exhibited.
Volume XXII, Scolytid Lifecycle
Vol22detail

 

Willowtail Residency
Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve
Mancos, Colorado
In late October I make my way back to Mancos, Colorado, for my fourth return to Willowtail Springs Nature Preserve. I’ll have an opportunity to work with author Lorena Williams on the stories that accompany the State of the Forest installation above.

Zion Centennial “100 Objects – 100 Images”
Zion Plein Air Invitational
Zion National Park, Utah
November 6-10, 2019
I am honored to be invited out for my 8th season during the Centennial of Zion National Park and Zion Plein Air Invitational. The Centennial will be celebrated through the art and history of this magical place via the exhibition “100 Objects – 100 Images”, beginning September 15th, continuing through and during the traditional plein air week. I look forward to sharing more as the year goes by so stay tuned for more details.

“Word | Image | Object”
July 2019 – January 2020
An artist book exhibit organized by Abcedarian Gallery in the main Denver Public Library. My small beetle-chewed branch books contain Melinda Mueller poetry about bark beetles.
Bark beetle book Volume XIX: Poetry Sticks

VolXIXcomposite
A Long Overdue Recap of 2018 and Previous Events

booksaboutbarkbeetles
Thank you, friends and followers, for seeing me through another year, and I hope to catch you at home and out in my travels.
SuzeFontSignature

Iteration = Inspiration

My respected colleague Iskra Johnson recently posed a question in her blog, “Who Is Your Muse?” in which she tags her mother as an ongoing source of inspiration.

I found myself thinking of my inspiration as coming from multiple gods rather than a single muse—that is, each work in a series builds on the previous one. When I worked with a team of program managers and software developers, at the end of every project we held a post mortem in hopes of gaining even better results on the next project. While every project had different parameters — context, deadline, team members, audience and so on — one finding was always the same: “I wish we had/allowed/planned for more time at the end so we could make more than only “must-do” fixes.  We didn’t know we’d have these better ideas until we saw the first (alpha), second (beta), third (final or release) version…”

The practice of iteration is sorely underrated. Defining imagination as an ability to envision that which doesn’t yet exist, most people — even artists — have less imagination than they think do. But the great thing about the self-directed practice of fine art is that you can keep iterating, if you acknowledge it as your muse

Seeing how the last creation came out is often the prompt for the next idea… 

Sometimes those ideas never seem to stop! Below you see my third artist book made from bark-beetle damaged wood and my twenty-fifth…. This video explains some of my inspiration, process and collaborations.

Bark Beetle Book Vol III: Bug Ruts

Bark Beetle Book Vol. III: Bug Ruts. Pine-beetle-bored bark in epoxy resin, laser-cut iron-oxide dyed felt pages, wire-edge bound with wooden “worry” beads. 9.25″L x 5″W x 2.5″H plus strings

vol xxiv composite (764x1024)

Bark Beetle Book Vol. XXV: What the Beetles Wrote. Wood with mountain pine beetle galleries, hand-made paper-cast from mountain pine beetle and other beetle galleries; iron-oxide dyed non-woven viscose book cloth. 11″H x 9.5″W x 7.5″D

Capitol Reef Residency

During October I had the privilege of living and working inside the smallest – at least in terms of visitation – of Utah’s five national parks, Capitol Reef. This was my third visit to the Park. I stopped in a snowstorm on my way home from a similar residency in Zion National Park in 2012 and in May of 2017 served as the outside juror for the Utah Watercolor Society’s annual plein air week there.

Fall was a wonderful time to be in residence – golden cottonwoods along the Fremont River, temperate days and cool nights, low insect populations and possibly a bit quieter – though every time I was in the Visitor Center it was bustling. Fortunately for the flora and fauna, the preceding drought was easing, but unfortunately for the outdoor painter, there were a lot of wet days. 

Doubleoverthe Reef Lo Res

A gorgeous double-rainbow over historic Fruita, from my studio window — but of course this means it was raining….

Rain comes to the Henrys (1024x7610

Rain Comes to the Henrys Watercolor on paper 11″ x 15″

I spent a lot more time getting to know the east side of the Reef, enjoying extensive views of the country’s longest monocline, the colors of the uplifted layers, the slots that drain the angled spine, all presided over by enough snow in the Henry Mountains east of the Park to be skiable (at least by backcountry skiers’ measures).

My stay wasn’t long enough, so I was a bit frenetic about trying to get everywhere, see everything and produce as much work as I could, at the expense of getting to know staff or the nearby town of Torrey. I have six months to continue the work I began there before presenting a portfolio of choices for the Park’s collection. Here are some of my favorites (all watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″).

 

   

 

Playa Summer Lake

As part of the climate-change Surge exhibit at the Museum of Northwest Art, artist-scientist teams were invited to visit Playa art colony on the edge of the Great Basin, in south central Oregon. It’s the northern edge of the country so well described in one of my favorite of John McPhee’s geology works, Basin and Range.

Summer Lake is a shallow lake that in this Anthropocene warmer age goes almost dry in the summer, leaving behind a vast, flat playa of white mud in various stages of drying and cracking. West of Playa’s collection of cabins, studios and lodge, a volcanic uplift called the Winter Rim rises nearly 3000 feet above the lake.

DSC08264 resize

“Skate skiing” on the playa

I spent a number of days exploring this landscape. Subject to a severe bark beetle outbreak around 2002-2003, much of the nearby forest burned not long thereafter. I even found examples of trees with both beetle galleries and char, neatly combining two of my most extensive bodies of work: painted portraits of individual burned trees and artist books incorporating complex galleries of bark beetles.

Burned and chewed

Both burned and chewed

The epidemic outbreak of bark beetles is the subject of the 9 artist books on display in the Surge exhibit; my project while at Playa was to complete an explanatory video to accompany the exhibit.

One problem with artist books on exhibit is they sit in a case and viewers can’t experience them directly (and given that they are unique and sometimes fragile, it’s appropriate). So I wanted to offer a way for viewers to understand what they were seeing, my motivations and processes and some of the science underlying the visual experience. You can see the 8.5 minute video here.

booksaboutbarkbeetles

As is my habit wherever I am, I also painted small landscapes, trying to capture some of the sense of the sky and playa, which I later made into a small book that I sent back to them.

Playa6 (1024x743)

Playa 6, watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″

I was deeply honored that entomology professor Dr. Diana Six came from the University of Montana to spend time on the project with me. My understanding of the issues and her work with them grew exponentially during our time together. Playa’s blog, Edge Effects, published a short article about us here.

July was predictably hot – and perhaps equally predictably, the forest that Dr. Six and I tromped through erupted with the Watson Creek Fire in the Fremont National Forest not long after we left.

2- and 3-D technology in service of an organic artist book – persistence required

Some people may already know that I have a not-so-secret life as a book artist, as well as a painter. One body of my work as a painter is large portraits of individual burned trees. (See the Burnscape section of my website.) Spending recreational time in the wilderness all over the American West has brought me in close contact with large burned-over areas. I also began to notice the number of dead trees in forests that otherwise seemed fine. I saw what seemed like writing or hieroglyphics on the inner bark of dying trees.

It turns out there are thousands of species of bark beetles, most of which are happily decomposing already-dead wood. But a few species that attack living trees en masse have become epidemic thanks to climate change: warmer winters don’t kill off the larvae and warmer, longer summers allow them more reproduction cycles. And drought- or heat-stressed trees are more vulnerable. Working with two entomologists and a forester, I’ve created a series of artist books on the topic.

Vol XIV composite (1024x514)

Bark Beetle Book Vol. XIV Ars datum est
16.5”H x 4.5” diam.
Log with fir-engraver galleries*, laser-cut and engraved mat board pages,
laser-transfers, paint, linen thread

For example, Volume XIV, Ars datum est above, is made from an actual Eastern Washington log, with laser-cut pages bound into its center. Each page is essentially a bar from a bar chart representing areas of British Columbia and Alberta affected by mountain pine beetle from 1999-2007 – so the book is art and data, too.

My most recent  bark beetle book was definitely the most technically ambitious one I’ve tried yet, and I learned quite a bit in the process.

Bark Beetle Book Vol. XVIII
27” x 3.5” diam.
Maple branch covers, laser-cut and engraved bamboo pages, tea-dyed wool felt, linen thread

I collected a branch with many beetle galleries on it, interesting to me because, with rot, the larval galleries were dark-on-light instead of the more typical light-on-dark. It suggests intra-tree spread: the number of engraved galleries* on the pages increases from bottom to top as you page through the book.

The branch was somewhat curved and also twisted along the axis of its split. I thought the best way to create pages for such a irregular, non-rectangular shape might be to obtain a 3D model of each half, create the solid between them and then slice it in software. Unable to find a local service bureau for 3D scanning, a mechanical engineering friend created a seat-of-the-pants XYZ data capture system composed of 2 rulers, a radial arm saw and digital calipers.

DSC07922 (2)

It took me an entire day to take (4) XYZ measurements at 1-centimeter intervals along one half of the branch. And I now realize this is just too coarse, I missed some key features in the shape.

After a lot of work trying to understand how to import an XYZ data cloud Fusion360, we eventually succeeded in making the data points operable, creating the solid volume between to the 2 branch half models, adding binding holes and slicing it. I also traced the actual ragged fore-edge, imported that line and created a second solid to chomp into fore-edge of the book page solid, so that it would have some of the nicks and craters of the beetle galleries where they cross the edges from front edge to back edge. Slicer, a Fusion360 app, at least made the slicing easy and generated flat cutting patterns. Then I traced some of the beetle galleries onto the cutting patterns for engraving.

wireframe editedSlicer Screen Shot5 thumbnail

Binding the book was equally challenging because:

  • not all the page pieces met along the spine edge,
  • some were too small to put binding holes in,
  • and despite choosing the straightest edge as the binding side, there was enough of a curve that even with elastic thread I couldn’t bind across that big a gap.

So it’s “differentially” bound; that is, sewn where spine-side page edges met best.  Some of the tiny and/or non-spine side slices were glued to the branch wood before binding. I used pieces of tea-dyed felt as end-papers to soften the stair-stepped edges of the glued-in pieces and to hide the ends of the binding threads.

About 9 weeks…. Phew!


Many, many thanks to Jon Cluts and Rafael Machado de Lima Silva at UW Bothell’s Maker Space; Tom Stone, who made the data capture system and helped me work out how to get the data usable in Fusion360; also to Per Steenstrup and his brother on the latter task; to the support folks at ponoko who helped troubleshoot my cutting/engraving files. And Steve, who likes to be away from home so he can’t hear the cursing when I can’t get something to work : – )


*Galleries is the term most often used to describe the complex patterns that the larvae chew between the bark and the sap wood. I’ve also seen them called larval mines.

Colorado-Utah-Colorado

I was fortunate to be invited back to Willowtail Springs to collaborate with Lorena Williams, a wildland firefighter and author, thanks to the Winifred Johnson Clive Foundation.  Scheduling was complicated, with Lorena only available after the fire season ended, and my commitment to the annual Zion Plein Air Invitational at almost the same time. So I split my time at Willowtail before and after Zion.  I won’t go in to any details of what we’ve cooked up until I’ve got something to show for it, but suffice it to day that we’re both excited.

During my 26 days away from home, I:

-drove 2 days down, 2 back and 2 back-and-forth between Mancos, Colorado, to Zion, Utah
-did 11 hikes, 6 of them new to me
-painted 12 small landscapes and 2 new burned trees
-sold 8 pictures, including one of the big burned trees

Here are some of my favorites from this time at Willowtail and Zion:

Left: Blazed, 52″H x 20″W varnished watercolor on torn paper (sold)
Top right: Country Rock 11″ x 15″ watercolor on paper
Bottom right: Above the Checkerboard Mesa Viewpoint 11″x 15″ watercolor on paper (sold)

At Peggy Cloy’s request, I started taking photos of each day’s progress. This sequence shows Jolie laide evolving – not as beautiful as Blazed, above, but perhaps the more powerful piece.

Jolie laide sequence (1024x318)

Jolie laide, not-yet-varnished watercolor on torn paper, 52″H x 24″W

The detail in the lower right quadrant took the longest, but it’s also where I began to feel as if juggling so many colors and values might just work out after all. It’s one of the more complex and anthropomorphic of the series, like Knotted.

I’m a reasonably disciplined person wherever I am, but there is something about leaving home that allows you to be productive and focus that much more intently. And new places always give me new ideas.