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″ (sold)
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. (Recipient of the T Bailey Corporate Award)
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, in 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

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″).

 

   

 

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.

Jentel Sojourn

Packed for departure

Once again, the car is packed and ready to drive 1000 miles.

In August-September I was among the fortunate recipients of a spot at the Jentel Foundation’s artist residency in north central Wyoming. There is always something that surprises me in every residency I attend – the pleasure of writers reading works-in-progress at Vermont Studio Center; extraordinary modern classical music at The Banff Centre, and so on. Here, I didn’t expect to find pockets of the British Empire among the sage hills of the Big Horn Mountains. In the 19th century a number of English second/third/fourth sons left the mother country and bought cattle ranches. The Big Horn polo club was established in 1898. One local family married back into the Queen’s retinue, so on her 1984 visit, she stopped in Sheridan, community of ~17,000 in north central Wyoming.

My other discovery was the banded-gneiss hard-rock core of the Big Horn Mountains. It’s 3 billion years old – two-thirds the age of the planet – and a billion years older than the Vishnu schists at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The cirques near the divide offer massive faces. Besides rock glacier obstacles to easy hiking (in some cases I made less than a mile an hour), its high elevation (for West-Coaster used to sea-level), this age alone seems worthy of respect.

Second Lost Twin Lake (751x1024)

Second Lost Twin Lake (watercolor on paper, 15″x 11″)

My four fellow visual artists and two writers were good company when I wasn’t off working or walking. The studio spaces are large and cool – important when you’re there in the hot summer months; in our case we also endured many days of thick smoke from Montana and Canada wildfires. I pursued my usual strategy of hiking a day, drawing and painting on location, then “resting” by painting or book-binding all day.

Suze in Jentel studio (2)

In my Jentel studio (Steve Price photo)

I worked very hard on a beetle book inspired by beautiful slabs of Alaska yellow cedar bored by Buprestid beetles. But after the 80 hours or so it took to finish my interior pages – I just didn’t think they were commensurate with the beauty of the wood. After creating the files to get mat board laser-cut, tracing the beetle galleries I’d seen in the 1988 Lost Fire area of the Big Horns, tea-dying 22 pieces of fragile antique rice paper (with a pattern that looks a bit like wood grain), applying Scotch 568 adhesive, gluing the rice paper to the mat board and dissolving the adhesive in the gallery areas, using a wood-burning tool to outline the galleries… It was very depressing. It took several weeks before I could face scraping off the rice paper and starting over.

Vol. XIII

Bark beetle book Volume XIII, page binding in progress. Maybe Thirteen is jinxed?

In the meantime, because I was in Wyoming surrounded by cowboy culture, and because I’d visited Kings Saddlery on our weekly forays into Sheridan, it occurred to me to try making the pages out of debossed leather. As usual in my book projects, this required learning about processes and skills entirely new to me, and multiple tests of methods.

Buprestid Katakana 5 (970x1024)

Front cover, Buprestid Kanakata (Cedar, leather, linen thread; 9″ x 7″ x 4″)

Buprestid Katakana 6 (1024x602)

Bottom edge

Buprestid Katakana 2 (1024x785)

Last page

All this effort reminds me that the more I follow the many paths my obsessions take me, the closer I think artwork is to science and engineering. I wish all these years I’d been keeping a lab book – preferably searchable – of all the tests of materials and methods I’ve made. It would be easier than pawing through my boxes and boxes of samples with barely readable notes scratched on them.

 

Willowtail Springs Residency

I have spent the last 13 days in southwest Colorado, near Mancos, at Willowtail Springs – a charming, eclectic, idiosyncratic set of high-end cabins near the La Plata Mountains and Mesa Verde, founded by Lee and Peggy Melyssa Cloy. Their off-the-beaten-path venue is both a commercial B&B (with fresh eggs and wonderful bread!) and an artist retreat with an avowed goal of “integrating the arts and sciences.”

On the journey here, I found myself “time traveling:” when I crested high passes it was almost winter but, depending on its elevation, descent to the next valley brought me backward in time to anywhere from late summer to early fall to solidly autumn. I saw aspen, cottonwoods, willows, tamarisks and oak thickets still in full color and ones now bare to the last leaf.

For this time of year I brought clothes for both heat and snow. For example, I’ve got four tiers of long underwear – extra light, light, medium heavy and heavy. Ditto pile sweaters, gloves and rain gear. Most of the time, no foul-weather gear needed – but the last two days I’ve worn the medium heavyweight as snow is only a thousand feet above us.

In the higher places especially I saw inescapable evidence of our warming climate: complete beetle kill on the Continental Divide at Wolf Creek Pass (linked article is over a year old; I saw not a single living tree at the same location). Hiking in the La Platas offered vistas of rock glaciers and old lateral and terminal moraines, glacier-smoothed and grooved roches moutonnees, but of course, no glaciers.

My stints in other places almost always follow a pattern: I wander around getting to know a place by painting its landscapes. Once I’ve exorcised “the pretty stuff,” I can begin to focus on the underlying issues and meanings. This visit is no exception—though with an initial week’s vacation hiking spent around southeast Utah on the way here, it’s taken me even longer to settle down.

I had another goal of a “from-life”-painting-a-day, practicing for the Zion Plein Air Invitational. This wall shows my progress:

Watercolor paintings by Suze Woolf near Mancos Colorado
Snapshot of my painting-a-day at Willowtail – the good, the bad and the so-so.
Top Row, left to right: The Pond 1; The Pond 2; Upended truck bed (“Marfa North”); Kiva at Balcony House, Mesa Verde; Hesperus mountain from the Sharktooth trail. Row 2: Below the Pond; Pond 3; Far View Doorways, Mesa Verde;
Sleeping Ute Mountain from Park Point; The Pond in the Rain.
Row 3: The Hill; Prater Ridge Rim; Balcony House, Mesa Verde;
Shiprock from Park Point

With bad weather, I had enough studio time to almost complete another burned tree: untitled yet, this totem (as wildland firefighters call the still-standing carved trunks) is from the 2015 Reynolds Creek Fire in Glacier National Park.

Suze Woolf watercolor painting of a burned tree
Untitled, Watercolor on torn paper, 52″H by 11.5″W

I have had wonderful interactions with Lee and Peggy, visitors, donors and avid arts-interested people in the area. It was deeply gratifying to hear that my burned tree paintings and my rock-bound artist books inspire them, and I’m looking forward to more exchanges in the future. Willowtail residents will be the focus of an exhibit at the lively Durango Arts Center in 2017.

***

I am deeply grateful to the Winifred Johnson Clive Foundation for partial support of my residency at Willowtail Springs.

 

A Thrilling Installation: Twelve Burned Tree Portraits Suspended in the Air

This fall I had the opportunity to participate in the Museum of Northwest Art’s annual Surge event in La Conner, Washington State. It’s a brief exhibit intended to inform and provoke, especially residents of the low-lying Skagit River delta area. They’ve expanded their purview to include less proximal causes of coastal flooding to the broader impacts of climate change, such as melting glaciers and forest fires.

I turned in a number of proposals, some of which I will likely pursue in the future, but the one the curators most wanted to see was an installation of multiple burned tree paintings.

I thought this would be easy since all but one of the pieces already existed. (I promised to try to complete a burned tree from the Skagit watershed in time for the exhibit. The painting below came from a tree I saw near Newhalem. Last year’s Goodell Creek fire touched down right next to this small town on the west side of the North Cascades.)

Suze Woolf watercolor painting of burned tree

Goodell Fire Instance, varnished watercolor on torn paper, 52″H x 16″W

Easy, hah! Some of the works were in frames. Some were already mounted on shaped black foam core, but the backs had been used for wall hanging and had bumpers, hanging wires, and tags that needed to be removed. I chose to re-cover the backs of these with black paper. And of course the ones that were in frames needed to be taken out and new shaped foam core backings jigsaw-cut for them. And I needed to come up with a way to suspend them from the ceiling that would last throughout the exhibit.

I made a number of tests of different coatings, papers, hanging hardware and lay outs before settling on my final method. I had been reading the David McCulloch biography of the Wright Brothers, and while I cannot claim that level of invention, I was amused by how similar our processes are: theorize, plan, observe, model, build, crash, tweak again and repeat, repeat, repeat…

Photo of mockup for Suze Woolf Surge installation

Backs of 7.5″ high prints of burned tree paintings, pasted onto 1/8th inch foam core. Wires into the bases allowed me to stick them into a foam base and move them around until I was satisfied with the layout.

Every remounting and each piece of foam core required two coats of adhesive. I had to give up varnishing the foam core because it too often warped it. I tried a variety of hanging hardware. Once I began the process I realized there was no way I could complete this in time on my own.

Thanks to friends, neighbors, fellow artists and Kelly’s Lyles’ artist list, they were finished in time. It was stressful having other people working in my small space. But I met some wonderful folks – thanks especially to Arisa Brown and Rosie Peterson who spent more time than anyone besides me. Working with other artists gives you confidence in your vision!

I could calculate the footprint from my model — which was trebly useful when we arrived to find we’d been assigned a triangular space instead of a rectangular one. But I could work out the new arrangement on the model before we started measuring and hanging.

Photo of Suze Woolf installation model

Front of installation mockup, reworked for triangular footprint

After that, leaning the paintings (still in their protective surrounds) up against office chairs allowed us to fine tune the spacing before committing to ceiling hooks.

Photo of beginning of Suze Woolf Surge installation

The twelve trees still wrapped in their protective foam core surrounds, which allows them to be transported and rearranged without damaging fragile edges.

That the trees came from all over the American West and one of them local makes them even more thought-provoking. One of the effects I was after was indeed realized: when you walk through a burned forest it seems as if the trunks closest to you are stationary, but those seen through the gaps between them seem to move as you do.

The result was stunning and something I hope to do again.

Photo of Suze Woolf 2016 Surge installation

Museum of Northwest Art installation of twelve, varnished, watercolor-on-torn-paper paintings of charred trees, installed September 2016, each 52″ high by various widths