The world is my studio

I’m completely thrilled to be the recipient of an Artist Trust Grant for Artist Project award. This wonderful Seattle organization funds individual projects, professional development education, and acts as a clearing house for information of all kinds relevant to artists. As one of this year’s recipients, they asked if they could send a photographer to my studio as one of twelve artists for a poster. But I am out in Utah, in Zion National Park’s amazing canyons and slick rock. While I do quite a bit work indoors (it rains a lot at home!), nothing lifts my spirits as much as hard walking in beautiful country. Combining this with painting is as happy as I can be….

Photo of Suze Woolf at Zion National Park's Observation Point

The studio a few days ago: Zion National Park’s Observation Point. I’ve hiked up with my board and paper on the outside of my backpack.

"Fall View from Observation Point" watercolor on paper, 11" x 15"

“Fall View from Observation Point” watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″


…And grateful. I met one of this year’s Zion Artists-in-Residence, Rebecca Fogg; she’s here  in Zion, despite two strokes that have her wheelchair-bound, unable to speak. She is learning to use her non-dominant hand to work. Her devoted partner gave her talk for her. I am moved by her determination to practice her art, inspired by how much it can mean to a life to have that practice. To have the capacity to pursue both physical and professional expression is grace indeed.

Quilting Zion

I came home from Zion with (17) 11″x11″ square paintings of the fractal landscape I found right at my feet. I called them “The Rock Textures.” That is, on a day when I wasn’t satisfied with a landscape painting, I cast about for something else to do. I went from the macro to the micro. Then I began to think of the squares as a kind of quilt, a fading patchwork of my memories of the colors and textures.Inspired by an exhibit I saw when I went to Southern Utah University to give a talk abo

Suze Woolf painting of Zion rock textures

Zion Quilt, 35 x 35, watercolor on paper, assembled from 12 rock texture paintings

ut the residency, I’ve also gone to friend Nancy Cluts, a quilting artist. Together, back and forth, we’re collaborating on a fabric quilt of same. She’s working on the interstices between the rock squares. We’ve talked about how water shapes all the rocks you see in Zion. I love the paradox of something soft and warm representing cold, hard stone. I can hardly wait to see the next iteration.

An update, May 2013:

Nancy continues to work on fabric versions, but I decided to experiment with a paper version. Thanks to the experts at Dry Goods Design, I used 2 layers of a non-woven viscose intended for pattern-making. I wanted to make a kind of gridded window mat to act as a frame for 9 of the paintings. After a number of tests on small squares and much deliberation, I decided to add color. It took watercolor paint beautifully, still transparent enough that the covered edges of the paintings showed through. Then I became worried the pattern paper would not be stiff enough to keep from bowing from the thicker watercolor paper.

So I soaked it in Golden’s GAC 400 diluted with glazing medium (thanks, Barbara DePirro) and added another 2 layers to the inside of the sandwich. I traced the locations of the painting squares and trimmed out the windows in the top layer, then cut slits in the back layers so I would be able to insert the paintings into their “pockets”.

This is really where my trouble began, because the back layers were now too stiff to go through my home sewing machine and the slits gaped open and caught on anything nearby. Luckily, Nancy rescued me with her long-arm quilting machine, and I discovered heat-reversible Framer’s Tape II for closing the slits. I then made a edge binding out of unpainted “fabric” and considered it good enough.  It won an award in a local competition.

An assembly of square paintngs on paper by Suze Woolf

Rock texture paintings assembled in a paper quilt

I think I’ll be doing this again, having learned these lessons:

  • Don’t use fabric stiffener until after it’s put together
  • Don’t cut into the pockets until after it’s put together
  • Review how to make a corner on a bound edge before binding the edge 😉
  • I will consider using lightweight fusible interfacing to keep the top layer stable, with luck, still transparent enough to see the edge of the paintings underneath.

Tying up loose ends and looking forward

Tomorrow I will pick up Sunset Ranch (Large) from the framer and get it ready to ship to Zion National Park. It’s the work they chose to keep in partial fulfillment of my residency there. I painted it after I got home from a smaller version that I did in the Park.

It’s a good choice — vast like the vistas from the Kolob Terrace Road; it’s where I realized I could use a “live” or “shaped” edge on a landscape painting; and it depicts a parcel of land the Park acquired from a grandfathered in-holding while I was in residence. Feels good!

Last week I submitted my application for residencies on the North and South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Oh, how my fingers are crossed!

Suze Woolf painting of the Sunset Ranch area of Zion National Park

Sunset Ranch, watercolor on shaped paper, 11 x 30


Suze Woolf painting of Sunset Ranch area in Zion National Park

Sunset Ranch (Large), watercolor on shaped paper, 12 x 51.5

Left Zion

I’ve been enjoying the exploration of nearby areas as we work our way back home – at first slowly and now, into the final two-day marathon drive.

Here is the entry I left in the guest book (that I’m guessing Michele Lauriat made?). If you cannot read my handwriting, either because the photo is low-resolution or because it’s my handwriting —  here it is as text:

“September 7 – October 8, 2012

A blissful month as Artist-in-Residence: I have contemplated the nature of Time – and Nature in time, too – with great pleasure. It is certainly my idea of Zion (sanctuary) to spend so much time outdoors in such immense, imposing and infinitely variable surroundings.

At 6:00am I’ve just seen the first headlamp lights bobbing down the road and heard the slats on the bridge clank to their feet. I’d hear the first shuttle whoosh in around 7:20am. The deer will munch around my car under the big tooth maple. The fox will prowl under the picnic tables – several times a day. If no fox, then turkeys. I know when the afternoon sun will disappear behind Lady Mountain, and the evening chorus of crickets (cicadas?) begins. The moths – large enough to pollinate the sacred datura flowers – hit on the windows of the Grotto House so loudly it sounds like rain. The moon will be brighter than dawn. The morning breezes will blow down the canyon and the rhythm of the day will all begin again. Sadly, without me – though as I’ve said to many Park and Southern Utah University people, I’ll do nearly anything to come back.

I painted 33 watercolors, about a third in the field, a third here in the Grotto House, and a third from my detail photos of rock textures. I invited somewhere between 100-200 people in to see what I was working on. I hiked somewhere most days of the week. I have 10 drawings yet to be turned into paintings, and thousands of panoramic photos of landscapes and burned trees that I’ll be working on at home.

I got to see rain in the desert; the pour-off at Emerald Pools was like a muddy Niagara.

My life and work is immeasurably richer for the time I’ve spent here; I am optimistic that I’ve brought the program goals of “insight, enjoyment and understanding” to other visitors.

Suze Woolf
Seattle, WA in life
Zion Canyon in spirit”

Suze Woolf guest book entry at Grotto House, in Zion National Park

A last canyon watercolor in the guest book

Leaving Zion

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion (Psalms 137:1 and Bob Marley 😉

Only one more day open to hike and paint in this incredible environment. Then I will spend a day packing and cleaning the Grotto House for its next inhabitants.  I gave my  talk at Southern Utah University in Cedar City last night, and will speak at Zion Lodge in the Park tonight. Here is my slide deck:

Suze Woolf Zion Artist in Residence, October 2012

A Rant about Litter in the Frontcountry

It seems to me that the closer one is to a road, the greater the likelihood you will see cast-aside tissues. I’m no fan of any garbage in the wrong place, but tissues cast aside in places that are World Heritage sites, jewels of national park systems of any nation, are just plain unforgivable. Don’t they know they take 2-3 years to decompose? (And probably longer in dry environments like this one in Zion.) It’s not as if they get any better-looking with time. Who do they think is going to clean them up?

What could we do to change this horrible – and I hope unconscious – habit?  Nothing takes me out of my deep appreciative and serene meditative state in the wilderness more than seeing these ugly reminders of unthinking carelessness.