Joni Mitchell, Stone Sculptor

By Susan Gallacher-Turner

Joni Mitchell, chiseling out beauty.

As I stepped out of the car, it was obvious right away that a stone sculptor lived here. In the front courtyard was a pumice sculpture of a mother and child that radiated a loving connection mixed with free-spirited playfulness. This was one of two outdoor sculptures adorning Joni Mitchell’s home but there was much more in her backyard studio which she and her husband built themselves.

Through the double doors, this simple white studio held an amazing array of power tools, a kiln, and a hose connected to the air compressor housed in the garage. And it’s the tools that powered Joni’s interest in stone carving, without them Joni would have given up on stone. “In my first class, I only had a hammer and a very small chisel and I swore that I would never touch marble again, because it was too hard,” said Joni. But when Marlyhurst teacher, M.J. Anderson, a well-known stone sculptor, introduced Joni to power and air tools, Joni said, “Then I really loved it.”

Joni took me through her process step by step. First, she begins each piece by going through the stone for obvious flaws, carving off at least 1 inch of the stone surface to get rid of marks and imperfections. Then she uses her power tools to cut lines 1 inch apart, and uses her hammer and chisel to knock out the rough shape. After marking out the form with chalk, Joni puts on her safety gear including ear plugs, safety glasses, gloves, mask and hat and carves away using smaller power tools. From then on, the process becomes more about responding to the emerging shapes.

Joni described it as feeling her way through the stone, “It’s very tactile. I have to stop and use my hands to feel my way, using the small air chisel, I start carving the features in.” Joni changed to smaller and smaller diamond tip grinders and carved out the baby’s nose and lips. Joni said, “I do a lot of feeling and hand work.” She used a series of small stones in different textures to smooth out bumpy areas by hand. Then a variety of wet/dry sandpapers and compounds are used to polish the marble ending with a stone sealer to protect the stone.

It was easy to see the beauty of the marble when viewing any of Joni’s finished pieces. But how does Joni choose her stone? She said, “I usually go buy a piece of stone, sometimes for color or shape or posture, then I look at it for a while. With this piece of pink marble, I had it for a couple of years until I was ready to carve it. I could see the posture, very feminine and very fleshy and perfect for the mother and child and the relationship.”

Images of mothers and children abound in Joni’s work. As a mother of two, it was her loving memories of the special joy and connection with her young children that inspired Joni. Joni explained, “A lot of times what inspires me to make a piece is a moment in life that has really touched my heart. That’s why I work.” “I love the mother and child. I would do just babies, if I could.” About the inspiration behind the pink marble piece in process, Joni said, “It’s the way that the mother and child are physically connected.”

And it was that physical connection to the art making process that kept Joni working during a very difficult time. After losing both her brother and her son in a little over one year, it was the studio, the stone and a choice to be positive that helped her heal. “Art has really helped me a lot through some very hard things and that’s why I do it. I hope that when people look at my art it helps them, gives them a feeling of hope, feeling that things are ok,” said Joni.

Joni’s journey into art started with a correspondence course and ended with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Marylhurst University. In the process, she has worked in watercolor, acrylics and charcoal. But it was a clay sculpture class that fired her love of the three dimensional form and led her finally to stone. Joni said, “With sculpture, I just knew what to do, it might be anatomy training for the radiology work that I do, helped, but I loved it and I couldn’t stop doing it. I’ve always loved stone. I grew up as a child collecting pretty rocks. And I love the permanence of it when it’s done. I like the fact that I work on my pieces for months before they’re done.”

Marble sculpting was a process that took patience, focus and perseverance. And for Joni, it was a way to find answers to personal questions and a choice to see the beauty in life. Joni said, “It’s a very spiritual thing to me. I’ve always been that person to see the beauty and the beautiful things in life. In my heart I always wanted to sculpt something positive and beautiful.”

Below, Joni at work in her studio.

Joni has shown her work in the Beaverton Arts Commission show. Currently her work is being shown at the Kingstad Gallery, and will be in the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts Show.

You can visit her this fall during the Portland Open Studios Tour October 11-12, 2008. Portland Open Studios is a self-directed tour of 98 artists workplaces located throughout the Portland Metro area. Tour Guides will be available at local outlets soon.

To see more of Joni Mitchell’s work visit her website at

To hear a podcast of the interview, please visit; scroll down to the bottom to find the Joni Mitchell interview.

Contemporary Abstraction

Portland Open Studios artists Lorna Nakell, Jennifer Mercede, and Kelly Neidig recently had an interesting exchange about the place of abstraction in contemporary art. Lorna conducted this as an interview with Jennifer and Kelly, and you can read it on Lorna’s blog, in this entry.

Lorna Nakell at Portland Art Center

Portland Art Center presents:

The Family Dynamic
A family exhibition featuring large scale paintings by Portland Open Studios artist Lorna Nakell, sculptures by her husband Noah Nakell, oil paintings by Noah’s mother Susan Sumimoto, and photographs by his stepfather Chuck Nakell

Sept 6th – Sept 28th, 2007
Portland Art Center
32 NW 5th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97209

Opening reception Sept 6th, 6 – 10pm

We asked Lorna to tell us a little bit about her working process, and this is what she says:

More Paint – More Water
by Lorna Nakell

Since starting in my new direction as an abstract painter about two years ago, I have gone from creating 22”x30” watercolor and mixed media paintings on paper to making these new 8’ x 12’ acrylic and mixed media paintings on canvas. The change of size and medium has been a challenge, but a rewarding one. Below is a description of my painting process:

My canvases are custom built. After they have been delivered to my studio, they are laid flat on the floor where they receive one coat of gesso and one coat of Golden’s absorbent ground. When they are fully dried, they are leaned upright against the wall where I begin to sketch out the design with pencil. Then charcoal stick is used to develop the lines and shapes creating the final under-drawing.

When the drawing is completed, canvases are laid back on the floor where they are dampened with water from a spray bottle. I then apply colored inks with a dropper and thinned acrylic paint in carefully placed splatters and drips. I alternate applying ink and paint careful to keep the surface constantly wet until the desired colors and blends are achieved. The wet canvases are then lifted carefully to allow the colors to run together in a slightly controlled fashion. Although some aspects of this background process are controlled, the paint tends to have a mind of its own, pooling together in unexpected ways. I never know exactly what it will look like until the entire surface has dried.

When the canvases have dried, they are leaned back against the wall where they are sealed with a fluid coat of acrylic medium to prevent the charcoal from rubbing off. After the medium has dried, the surfaces are ready for me to add painterly shapes and forms with acrylic paint, sparkly shapes with mica or glitter and other layers with tinted acrylic resin. Because my work is so process oriented, even though I might begin with a plan for each painting, I end up having to spontaneously work with the effects created by each step. This is exciting to me because it leads to surprising results. Only when all the colors and shapes seem to balance out and an overall mood is achieved do I consider a painting done. When finished, each painting receives a protective coat of varnish.

Lorna working in her studio

Above, Lorna working in her studio.

To find out more about the Portland Art Center, see

Karen E. Lewis at Columbia River Gallery

Columbia River Gallery presents:

Local Oil Landscapes by
Karen E. Lewis

August 3 – 31, 2007
Columbia River Gallery
305 E Columbia R. Highway
Troutdale, OR

First Friday Artwalk August 3, 5-9

Below, Just Around the River Bend, oil on canvas, by Karen E. Lewis.

just around the river bend

We asked Karen to talk a little about her work, and here’s what she says:

Gathering landscape material is my first step. I find inspiration on hikes and canoe trips, and painting en plein air in favorite places. I sketch directly on small (12 x 9) canvas, using a limited palette to mix all the colors I see. Painting on location forces me to simplify, distilling the scene into its most important elements, because within two hours, the light will have changed dramatically.

Although I take many photographs, my strongest impressions come from the plein air painting. Being there, my eye sees what the camera cannot. Time after time, I’ve painted a scene, putting in colors and shades that I saw. Bringing home sketch and photographs, I find that the camera faithfully recorded detailed shapes–the angles of a building, the multiple leaves on the trees–but all the colors seem to have averaged out into a mere approximation of the sensations I experienced. Being there, you notice the warms within cool shadows, the cools at the tops of trees, the dancing colors in the water. You notice the color of the sky. As you continue to look, you become aware of atmosphere, of a hint of breeze. You put these into the sky, and it becomes more sky-alive.

In the studio, these on-location paintings expand into larger works. Searching through my photos and sketches, I select and design new compositions, using my imagination to freely change the design. I manipulate the digital photographs on the computer, expanding parts, creating composites, emphasizing certain colors, de-emphasizing others. The palette of the plein-air sketch informs the studio choices. On my palette in the studio, I enrich colors even further, juxtapose contrasting hues to enhance atmosphere and mood.

The new composition goes onto the canvas in brush-painted lines, with sketchy shading for the darks. Then I can evaluate the light and dark pattern one last time before I begin actual painting. Each painting develops in a slightly different way. Sometimes I cover the entire canvas alla prima, incorporating all the color and texture the first time around. Other paintings build in layers, enabling me to separate complements and create rougher textures.

My favorite subjects are rivers, lakes, waterfalls, clouds, any form of water.

Karen’s studio will be open October 20-21 through Portland Open Studios, where you can see more of her work and artistic process.

For more information about Columbia River Gallery, see

To see more of Karen’s work and learn about her classes, see

Corporate Waste Turned into Art

Portland City Hall presents:

Corporate Waste Turned into Art

July 1 – July 20
Portland City Hall
1221 SW 4th Ave, Portland, Oregon

Opening reception First Thursday, July 5 from 5:00 – 7:00pm

Artists gleaned materials from company storerooms to make commissioned artworks. It is a great way for businesses to support artists and it keeps trash out of the landfill. Funding for the project comes from the businesses and from Cracked Pots.

The organizers of this program used the 2006 Tour Guide to select half of the artists. Mar Goman, Susan Levine, and Dawn McConnell were in last year’s tour. Trina Hesson and Bonnie Meltzer are 2007 Portland Open Studios artists and were also in the 2006 tour.

Below, the 4 sides of a sculpture by Bonnie Meltzer created from the castoffs supplied by Pavelcomm.

Bonnie Meltzer’s sculpture made from telephone parts

We asked artist Bonnie Meltzer to talk about her experience of creating this particular piece for the exhibit, and she generously contributes not only her own story but also that of Trina Hesson’s:

Trina Hesson, a sculptor who makes colorful wooden and found object portraits, took cutoff ends of 2 x 4’s and 2 x 6’s at Hampton Lumber. The pieces are the result of cutting boards to the size needed. There are always leftovers. She decided to make a wall piece made up of wooden wafers to be used like mosaics. She sliced the ends of the lumber like you would slice salami and then glued the “salami” on to a board. By using the ends of the wood rather than the sides she could make use of the more heavily patterned grain. She further intensified the patterning by rubbing thin paint into some of the slices. Others she painted with opaque paint. The wafers fit together to make a bigger than life expressive portrait.


Above, detail of Trina Hesson’s sculpture at the exhibit.

About her own piece, Bonnie adds:

Talks with other artists in the program revealed that artists were having some of the same problems and joys that I was having about making art with an unusual array of materials. It is always good for artists to be thrown off their comfort zones. Unless, of course, it is the artist it is happening to or more specifically me. Well frankly, it is uncomfortable. Until the magic happens. This is a short story about how the uncomfortable became Ok and even good. I am used to working with computer parts and a variety of found objects. I usually chose them for either symbolism or because they are just beautiful. The object of this project was to mainly use what each company had. When I walked into the warehouse at Pavelcomm, a phone and networking company, there was a mountain of cartons in the middle of the floor. These were things ready for the scrap heap — old models no longer sold, broken parts, or parts with no place to fit. As I pawed through the boxes and boxes of phones the first dilemma was what to take. What things would give me ideas. What do I have too much of already and shouldn’t take. I did not need one more circuit board. The curly cords looked interesting, and so did other cords with plastic connectors that I thought could be incorporated into a crocheted wire wall piece with dangling phone fringe. I drove away with a car full of things, mostly phone receivers,cords, and designs in my head..

In the studio I emptied the boxes on the floor…what to do, what to do? Nothing was particularly gorgeous, but I had a lot of each thing. To complicate matters, I dropped by the company to measure a wall and the owner asked if I could do a free standing sculpture…SURE, I said. So I emptied my head and filled it with 3d visions. I spent a day playing with phones fitting them together like children’s blocks. There is hardly a flat surface on a phone so two phones could be glued together. I guess that is because our heads aren’t flat. New idea! Great, I thought. I can crochet around the cords and make the piece self supporting so it could stand up. Bonnie Pavell generously offered to have a sculpture stand made if I needed one. Without belaboring my trials, tribulation and frustration the piece was just not working. Yikess, 2 weeks wasted. Back to the drawing board and the phone pile. (some other artists i talked to had the same experience of abandoning their first attempt).

Break Through…Two sculpture stands that have been in my way for quite a while because the base wasn’t big enough to accomodate my sculpture became the structure for a shrine to the phone. it is an obelisk with operators taking your call on its sides. I collaged yellow and white page; took phones apart for the goodies inside; glued, screwed and crocheted parts together. Painted phones; and went back to one of the earlier phone structures and figured out how to get it together for the top. I am happy that I abandoned my first idea for this later better one. I have found my equilibrium and am comfortable again, until the next challenge. Got to go, the phone is ringing.

For more information about this exhibit, see

You can see more of Bonnie’s work at

And you can see more of Trina Hesson’s work at

Sara Swink at Guardino Gallery

Guardino Gallery presents:

Sea Change
new ceramic sculptures by
Sara Swink

May 31-June 26
Guardino Gallery
2939 NE Alberta, Portland, OR 97211

Below, Poisson, 2007, clay, 21″ x 19″ x 6″


In 2006, Sara Swink established Clay Circle Studio in West Linn where she creates her ceramic sculptures and teaches studio classes in clay as well as creative process workshops. Her exhibit at Guardino is stunning and has been very well received; there is still time to see the show if you have not done so. She will be participating in the Portland Open Studios Tour for the second time in October, 2007.

Sara graciously gave a private studio tour this morning to talk about her creative process.

At first glance, her work appears whimsical and light hearted. Her use of animal imagery and human figures creates combinations that are sometimes unexpected and sometimes as familiar as a mermaid. But as she says about Poisson, her fish-headed woman, “don’t be fooled.” Keep looking, and you will see mouths, gaping, exposing well formed teeth; eyes, closed, half open, downcast, or hidden behind swim goggles; surfaces, encrusted with inner thoughts, or poisonous octopus suckers, and you will know that it’s an open invitation to explore Sara’s psyche, as well as your own.

Perched between working and playing, she improvises and she creates collages, doodles, writing and sketching that she has been forming into books for many years. Through this half play, half work, she delves deeply into her conscious and unconscious self. From this beginning of images and texts on paper, through the touch of hands on wet clay, to the transformation by pigments and intense heat, a personal narrative emerges from her kiln.

She returns to these books again and again to seek meaning, understanding, and inspiration. These books are not only a treasure trove of ideas and a personal document, they are artistic objects in their own right. Like the sculptures that are the end results of this process, these books are also symbols of the connection between her (and our) inner and outer realities.


Above, a few of Sara’s working notebooks. Below, the back half of her spacious studio.


Visiting an artist’s studio is always a privilege, and Sara is a generous host who is happy to share her working methods through Portland Open Studios tours and through her creative process workshops.

For more information about Guardino Gallery, see

To learn more of Sara’s work and her classes, see

Marcy Baker at Mary Lou Zeek Gallery

Mary Lou Zeek Gallery presents:

In the Garden
11 acrylic paintings with collage by
Marcy Baker

June 5 – June 30th, 2007
Mary Lou Zeek Gallery
335 State Street, Salem, Oregon

Late Winter

Above, Late Winter, acrylic and collage by Marcy Baker

We asked Marcy to talk a little bit about her work, and to give us a ‘mini tour’ of her monotype printing process, and here’s what she says:

Inspiration is found in the rhythms of my neighborhood and in graceful relationships between natural and man-made structures.

Relief printing blocks are hand cut in Victorian-era textile designs and traditional Celtic motifs. Stencils are inspired by seventeenth century chintz fabrics, as well as my own botanical drawings. Using these and other tools – anything that will create interesting marks and texture – I apply acrylic paint or oil based printing ink in overlapping patterns, an influence from my background in fabric design. Many layers are built up in this way, with each layer informing the next, and much of what is painted is eventually covered up – but its presence is integral to the final piece. Collage elements – added in between and on top of the layers – include architectural and botanical line drawings from my backyard, and relief prints using the same blocks that have been stamped into the paint. I also draw into the surface with charcoal and graphite – I like the juxtaposition of random, intuitive mark making with orderly repeat patterns.

When engaged in my neighborhood I feel an intriguing play of comfort and anticipation. This balance is what I seek in my work.

And on making monotypes, she adds:

I pulled my first monotype fifteen years ago and was hooked – spontaneous, colorful, immediate – creating monotypes is great fun.

To prepare for a new series of prints, stencils are designed using botanical drawings from my neighborhood and backyard garden, and with inspiration from seventeenth century chintz fabrics and Victorian-era textile designs. I also carve printing blocks in similar motifs, and create relief plates by drawing on foam sheets. I use these tools to build many thin layers of oil based ink on a Plexiglas plate before making one transfer to paper with an etching press. Interesting marks and texture appear when a printing block is lifted off the Plexiglas plate. Mysterious things happen when ink is inadvertently transferred to the plate from the back of a stencil.

After a print is pulled there is a ghost of that image left on the plate’s surface that I incorporate into the composition of the following piece. This can create lovely contrasts as the plate is reworked with some areas left untouched, revealing fragments of history from the previous image.

For my most recent monotype series I began by first making quick line drawings on the plate with litho crayon, then building layers of ink on top of the drawings. I also add collage elements to the print once it is pulled and dried – mostly these are line drawings inspired by my colorful and lively backyard. I like the juxtaposition of intuitive mark making against the repeat patterns created by stencils and printing blocks.

For more information about Mary Lou Zeek Gallery, see

To see more of Marcy’s work, see