Introducing Artist No. 1 – Sara Swink

Sara Swink lives in a fantasy world – one that she’s able to translate into remarkable clay sculptures.  She can tell stories about every piece – each one has some kind of narrative to it that means something to her.  She freely admits that this is an unpopular idea in academic circles these days, but she sees it as “a feminine way of relating to the world, to be personal and connect with people; it’s not patriarchal -which is more intellectual -and so I think that’s where my work comes from, is that trying to connect.  I live in a fantasy world, I really do.  I live in my fantasy world most of the time, and my art is an expression of that.  So I just do what feels interesting to me and what feels good and I experiment a lot.”

If you want to see her work in a gallery, she has a show coming up in August at the Hansen Howard Gallery in Ashland.

Sara’s journey to creating in clay started when she was about 8.  Her family moved to California in 1964. Her next door neighbor was a potter “and she planted this seed in me and my sister – something about clay would be a great thing for you and I absorbed it, because I didn’t get that kind of thing at home.” She took ceramics in High school, and learned to throw on a wheel, which she cleaned house to buy. She sold the wheel at one point when she was in college and had no facilities to keep working.  She forgot about it until her kids were school age. She was a graphic designer by occupation, but getting cravings for art. She started taking drawing classes and beginning painting at the Palo Alto Art Center “but I kept poking my head in the ceramics room.”  She finally took a class there, then classes at Foothill College and various workshops, one by the person who would become her mentor, Coeleen Kiebert.  She was teaching ‘art in spirit’, a creative process approach to working in clay.  The experience was a pivotal one for Sara, and she has based her own artistic process on it and also teaches in her own version of the process.

“The first thing we do in a workshop is a collage, which gives you imagery that you care about, that you’re attracted to, and that feeds into your own vocabulary as an artist. It’s like any other vocabulary, but it’s a visual vocabulary that you can draw upon. So the collage is the first step, and then doodling is about making your mark, and the style of your line and your color and the kinds of shapes you choose, is just kind of getting in touch with what’s already there. Which is a very large process. As an artist, that’s what we are doing all the time.  It’s very big for everyone, and endless because there is always more in the depth of one’s psyche to discover. We do collage exercises, then doodling exercises, and then we take aspects of those into clay. I won’t tell you exactly how that happens but then people do clay sketches from things that they glean from the exercises and then those sketches have the potential to become bigger pieces or be combined in some way.  At the end of the workshop we make an image journal.

“There are many classes you can take in ceramics that go through the basic clay techniques, coil, pinch pots, etc.  I teach them as needed as someone is making a piece.  So if someone who is new to clay wants to know how to make a figure – maybe its two pinch pots put together to make a head, or this part can be coil, this part slab, and they learn the techniques that way. But they are learning based on ideas they have, sometimes from this process, or maybe something they’ve always wanted to make.  It’s still a lengthy learning process, ceramics is, a lifetime process – many lifetimes worth of information in the ceramics field, because there are so many ways you can go with the types of firings, and the types of clay, and the glazing, but people can come to me with either no experience or lots of experience.”

If this is all very intriguing to you, or you don’t know what a ‘clay sketch’ is, or you want to know what her secret step is during her workshop, stop by Sara’s studio during Portland Open Studios this fall. Oh, and ask her about the donkey and the cat.

Introducing Artist No. 78 – Serena Barton

I spent a lovely hour today with Serena Barton, artist, art instructor and therapist specializing in creativity issues.

Making art was her favorite thing when she was a kid and then she switched over to doing local community theatre. Luckily she had the chance of expressing herself at home and at nursery school a few days a week.  As she got older she took art classes in school, “but my water color always dripped, and I’m not good at exact things at all and so when we cut out snowflakes, mine would be a mess, and paper dolls wouldn’t stay together.  And I kind of got the idea over time that I just wasn’t any good at art.” So she became an ‘appreciator’.  She tried making crafts, but found it too exacting.  She started painting on muslin which she used to make pillows.

Then came Italy.  “When I was 47 I went to Italy for the first time and it was the first time in my life I felt like the sky opened, and oh my gosh, the sky, the art, the peeling buildings,  and I thought, I have to be an artist, I have to figure out how to do this. Then I came back and I taught myself, a lot from reading books, but mostly by looking at my favorite artists – I was working more representationally then – and it was like, I finally found my thing.  It took me that long to find what I’d been looking for, and so to pick up where I left off when I was a child.”

She started working with acrylic, then oil, (renaissance inspired with a modern twist), and, about four years ago, started with cold wax.  I’m just now learning about cold wax, so I found this interesting.  She created a picture as we talked, (see right)  which was really instructional.  Her creative process is also interesting.  “Right now I do intuitive abstract.  I may have an idea at the beginning and it turns out very differently, but often I don’t have any idea at all, but I might have an overall thought. With cold wax what you do when you work on a board is you just start building layers, scrape back, scribble around with oil bars and add some more layers, then maybe use some solvent to wash some of it back. I Usually don’t know what’s going to happen.  Challenging, interesting, sometimes frustrating, but I think I turned a corner lately.  I don’t mind anymore if I have to start over, or keep going – it’s kind of like life in some ways. There are always do-overs.  You have to get out of your own way and pretend you don’t care.”  Sage advice.

She now balances her life between working as a counselor, which she’s done for 41 years, making her art, and teaching art classes.  She will be traveling to Taos this August to teach, to Italy in September, and then to France next June.  In her counseling she works with creatives on any issue, but especially on issues of process.

She has so much good advice – a born teacher.  I asked if it was difficult to create art if you aren’t in the right mood.  “Then you paint not being in the right mood.  The important thing is to keep going – understand that getting blocked is a part of the process and it’s going to happen to you sometimes One thing I finally learned is that no matter how bad it is, I’ll come through it.”  She has noticed that “Before I have some kind of shift in my art there’s this period of angst, where I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m only creating ugly stuff, but I just keep painting, and you can always paint over it once you’ve turned a corner, but it’s a weird process.” After the period of angst her art usually changes in a way she likes, “but there’s always a spiral, going over to the dark side of things, before you come over to the next rung. It’s not true for everybody, but I think it’s true for a lot of people.  Especially if you work intuitively, because you have to wait until your intuition catches up with where you are.”

If you visit her during the tour, she will be demonstrating her process and she may just let you pick up a brush yourself.

Introducing Artist No. 4 – Cindy Sullivan

Cindy Sullivan is a passionate folk artist, who relishes inspiring childhood memories in others. A mother, wife, nurturer and creative soul who connects with the world through painting, mosaics, music and laughter. “Art for me is an internal expression that desires to communicate through form and color. Being a quiet, reflective person I am inspired to use materials to convey a part of my inner nature.

“I’m compelled to create art to express a time period that I mourn. Life or how I recall it in the 60’s and 70’s was warm and dreamy. The pace was slower. Technology was not pervasive. Music was a wonderful reflection of that time period. I paint images of times past because it holds a romantic and nostalgic comfort for me now that time is anything but slow.

In 2014 Cindy was creating mostly mosaics and had only painted a little in black and white. “I was drawn to an old photo of my husband’s Aunts. Joanne and Ginny are two of the most spirited, fun and loving members of a large Irish clan. An old photo of them taken in the mid-70’s captured my imagination and I felt an inner compulsion to paint it. I never considered myself a painter but, decided to try it and was so pleased and surprised by the outcome that I painted several other works also inspired by old photos of family members.”

She loves the honesty, simplicity and innocent charm of Folk and Naïve art. “Many folk artists are self-taught like me which brings an almost childish naive nature to it. I love children’s art because it’s so sweet and unfiltered.”

Cindy had what she considers a pivotal experience in 2015. “I entered my very first juried show in 2015. It was held at the Oregon Society of Artists as a Rose Festival sanctioned event. I meekly entered feeling really out of my comfort zone and was pleasantly surprised when I received a call telling me that I had been juried in.

“The woman that called me said that the juror wanted to know all about me as he was really taken with my piece. I was shocked and elated. I won an Honorable Mention Ribbon and some wonderful prizes, but the most amazing part was that the juror pulled me aside after the show and praised my piece. He validated me as a folk artist and gave me wonderful encouragement which has made all the difference in my world.”

Introducing Artist No. 22 – Christopher Mooney

Christopher Mooney enjoys hiking and walking around the city with his camera, stepping off the sidewalk to get a different perspective of the city and its bridges.  He uses the photos as references when he creates his original oil paintings.

He received a grant in 2014 from the Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) to fund Tributes: Portraits of Working Heroes of the new Tilikum Crossing, the Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge. With the grant he created a visual artistic record of the process to build Tilikum Crossing.

He recently attended The Hellene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos New Mexico as an artist in residency.  “Artists are given studios, time away from home, and the chance to explore Northern New Mexico. While visiting and exploring the area, I discovered the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge…locally known as the “Gorge Bridge” and the “High Bridge.” The magnificent structure boasts a steel deck arch bridge spanning the Rio Grande Gorge 10 miles northwest of Taos. There was nothing between me, my camera, and a 650-foot drop into the gorge except a chest-high guardrail!  It gave me a new and unusual point of view. The experience was much like stepping off the sidewalk and seeing the beauty and connection across a terrain with sunlight and shadows never seen before. The photographic references were used to create large scale paintings.”

If you want to see the paintings Christopher created after this exciting opportunity, and his wonderful Portland bridge paintings, be sure to stop by his studio in October.

Introducing Artist No. 52 – Janie Lowe

Janie Lowe’s background in art came from her family, specifically her ‘Momo”, her grandmother, who was an art teacher with a passion for art and antiques. She studied illustration at Texas Tech University and then received a Masters of Fine Art from the School of Visual Arts in New York. After freelancing as an illustrator for publications such as The New York Times and Random House Books, she moved to Portland.

After a 10 year hiatus from her personal work, during which time she co-founded YOLO Colorhouse, an eco-friendly, architectural paint company with curated color palettes, Janie is back in her studio, and painting again. She is inspired by what brought her to the West – the mountains and the coast.

“I am currently working on landscapes, or dreamscapes, that begin with a place and go into obscurity. I am trying to edit out non essentials in the landscape while giving enough information that the viewer can make up their own story or maybe a nostalgic reminder of something from his or her past.

“As one might imagine, spending days in the studio can be pretty lonely. I’m trying to engage with people and pass my knowledge along by offering painting workshops in my studio. Being a part of Portland Open Studios will also help me widen my circle and meet people who support and are interested in art.

“30 years of painting my journey continues and I learn something new every day. The thing that keeps me coming back to this path is the pure joy of painting.”

Introducing Artist No. 68, Tess Donohoe

Though Tess Donohoe calls Portland home she was born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark. Even now, she returns every summer to spend time at her family’s house in the woods in Sweden, far away from the world and close to nature. “For me art is a way to slow down time by observing things we otherwise take for granted or pass by. As someone who moved away from their home country and had to learn a new culture and language, I feel like art gives me freedom to communicate in a way that doesn’t require specific words or cultural knowledge. It’s a way for me to record and interpret the world around me.

“I have always been painting and drawing. I studied art in High School in Denmark and continued to draw and paint from life at City College of San Francisco. I attended Art Center College of Design where I focused on design and illustration. Since then I have been learning on my own and have continued to study with other artists. I love to travel for art workshops and painting trips.”  She also runs a creative studio called Dean Donohoe that focuses on conceptual design, creative strategy, and branding.

She paints as much as she can from life. “I try to learn from nature and observational drawing and painting. I bring my paints with me whenever I can. I recently went to Joshua Tree to paint with a group of artists and it was very inspirational to paint the unique landscape of the area and spend so much time just observing nature. I also painted at night during the full moon, which made me realize how many other senses are involved in painting. That’s what I love about plein air painting, it’s really about observing nature closely and not just painting what you think you see. To capture a mood you have to observe, listen, and even smell the world around you.”

Introducing Artist No. 8 – Dennis Anderson

Dennis Anderson is rooted in the “method”of genre painting, a category of painting in which domestic scenes or banal incidents seem familiar.  I find the Portland area, with its people and places, a great resource for my interests in painting. My greatest influences in painting have come from Lorser Feitelson and Richard Diebenkorn.”

I love Dennis Anderson’s explanation of how he gets his inspiration. “My desire is to elevate the activities of daily life, those mundane scenes where the moment becomes the subject. I like the balancing of what is familiar with the thought of what was seen. Whenever I venture out into the Portland area, I take random pictures and make selections from this data. What I’m searching for in a particular scene is a feeling, some sense of place, or maybe it’s just happening upon the way sunlight defines and creates shadows. But, my paintings are not recordings. The figures and elements can be ambiguous and remote like props on a stage. Often I’m interested in the way people interact with or detach themselves from one another.

“I consider my painting successful when the viewer can pause, and maybe reflect on the narrative of their own experience.”

A word from the President – General Artists Meeting – June 19, 2017

On June 19, the participating artists gathered at the Multnomah Art Center for the second General Artists Meeting presented by the board. Approximately 60 artists of the 103 attended, along with the full board, and several of our guests representing sponsors and partners. The format of the evening was entirely restructured from the past three years based on feedback from artists and board members alike. Continue reading

Introducing Artist No. 23 – Rob Sanford

Rob Sanford comes from an artistic background. His Mother was an artist and musician. He entered his first art contest in second grade. “I was hooked after that.” He earned a degree in industrial design and worked as an Engineer, but has always painted.

Rob works in acrylic on canvas. Right now he’s focusing on wildlife art, but he has also won many awards in the science fiction/comic book industry. He is inspired by wildlife and landscape artists Jay Moore, Carl Rungius and Robert Bateman.

While Rob sees the art world changing from digitization and computer generation, he feels that even though the tools change, the inspiration remains.


He will be demonstrating his process during the fall PDXOS tour. Before he begins a project he takes photos and sketches ideas, then begins the piece. Before he considers the painting complete, though, he takes advice he has been given and lets the painting rest for a while. His goal is to become better with each new painting.

Introducing Artist No 72, Jonathan Glowacki

Jonathan Glowacki’s greatest inspiration is Mother Nature, who he describes as “perfection defined”. He particularly loves the trees. If you visit his studio during the tour you can expect an interactive live wood turning experience.

“After five years of running a successful but uninspired used consumer electronics business, I decided it was time to pursue something more meaningful. I closed the business, sold my belongings, and moved to Hawaii. There I discovered a bottomless well of inspiration. I began working with the trees, making wooden bowls on a lathe.

A few years later I found myself living in Portland, Oregon, turning wood full time from my home studio. At first focusing on creating art pieces using rare wood and stone, I began to recognize the inherent beauty of simple forms, and felt inspired to share this. I wanted to create something that was more accessible for people than lavish art pieces. I wanted my creations to be both beautiful and extremely useful.

Form married function & the Portland Peppermill Company was born. All of my pieces are hand turned on a wood lathe. I use subterranean root burls that have numerous naturally occurring voids and cavities. I grind up different stones and inlay the crushed stone into these crevices. My pieces are finished with oil and wax to maintain the natural feel of the wood.

I am dedicated to bringing back the disappearing art of handmade craftsmanship. Every piece I create receives my undivided attention when it comes to form, function and quality. It brings me joy to create functional art pieces that will be well loved and well used & that will last for generations.”