Ben Dye’s sculpture The Heron at Fields Bridge Park in West Linn is a great example of the community embracing a sculpture. “They embellish it throughout the year with seasonal themes.” This is important to Ben. “We spend our lives filling our personal spaces with art to enhance the living experience; public art is a way for the community to express those feelings on a greater level. As a member of the local community, I would like my work to inspire others to explore the arts on a more personal level.”
“As a youngster, I loved clay, but never pushed it to any level of competency. The art comes from building things I like.” His artistic career started with needing a hand rail for a property he owned. “With basic welding skills, I built the hand rail; it turned out good and got a few people asking for similar work.
[Art] has become what I do when I wake up and what I am always trying to get back to if forced to do anything else.
With over 25 years in the commercial diving industry, he brings an extensive knowledge of welding and mechanical design to his complex, multi layered projects and uses recycled metals as base material. “99% of the skills I have collected come from the 25 years I was a commercial diver. I seek out colored tanks or cars and maintain the original finish throughout the process.
“For the last 6 years, my focus has been gallery shows and exposure through large-scale public works.” He is currently in the final stages of a large installation [Two 22’ tall structures] for the City of Tigard.
Leah Kohlenberg, Vice President and upcoming President of Portland Open Studios, took some time from her busy schedule and answered a few questions for us.
Art is now her main occupation, and she tells me she makes half of her income teaching art, half selling paintings. But she didn’t get there through the normal channels. Her arts education is as eclectic as she is. “I am primarily self-taught, but I deeply value art education. I take as many classes as I can, and learned a lot at the Gage Academy in Seattle, and PNCA in Portland. I spent five years in Eastern Europe meeting and studying with some great artists: Lado Pochkhua, from the Republic of Georgia (and lately, Brooklyn); Suren Nersisyan, from Armenia (and lately, LA); Zara Manucharyan, and Hakob Hovannisyan, also great painters from Armenia; And here in Portland, Don Bishop, who has taught me the little amount I know about plein air painting.
“I was not one of those kids who drew and painted growing up. I was a journalist in my previous life, and I loved it. By the time I was 30, I’d worked for small dailies all over the country, helped cover the Hong Kong handover to China for Time Magazine in Hong Kong, and was sent to Mongolia on a Knight Fellowship to train local journalists. Yet I still felt something was missing – perhaps the visual-spatial side?
“I moved back to the U.S., bought a fixer upper house, and immediately painted every wall in every room a different color. Someone came to visit and said ‘You are an artist.’ I denied it, but secretly began pulling out pieces of wood leftover from house projects, and began painting, using all that multicolored house paint. I was hooked immediately. I had no idea what I was doing – I couldn’t draw to save my life, though my painting was always a little bit better – but I vowed to learn. That was 16 years ago.”
How she works: “I work in layers – building paintings up from simple, but strongly contrasted bases, working in details on the top layers. I love glazing! I am trusting my initial strokes more, and letting them come through the final works. I used to think they were messy. And, well, they are … but that’s me, so I don’t fight that so much.”
Art is a discipline and a proper job. You should do it whether you feel like it or not. Don’t wait for the muse to strike. Work, so the muse has plenty of opportunity to strike.
Her professional goal: “To be selling with five galleries around the world who keep me busy, including one in Berlin! To be in museums before I die.”
She is currently working on several series which you will see if you visit her during the tour: “I just returned from a trip to Scotland and England, and I stayed on a farm, so I’m painting abstracted cows (very enjoyable) in oil. I’m also working an acrylic series of paintings of the city at night, as photographed by my boyfriend, Rob Forrester. I love portraiture, too, so I have a half-finished painting of my friend Leslie Yates which I am vowing to finish. Too much to do!”
Speaking of the tour, “This year is going to be great! I am sharing my studio with two fellow open studio-ites, the talented jeweler, Melissa Moline, and landscape painter/abstract artist Don Bishop. We’ll have live music playing on the lawn outside, and a bar in the back. Watch out, you might never leave!”
“I’ve had a fascination with art glass for as long as I can remember, probably starting with the stained glass windows in the church I attended as a child. I also fondly remember the tree that my grandmother kept decorated with brightly colored bottles hanging from strings. Blown glass balls and intricate glass paper weights intrigued me as an adult. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I finally decided to try it myself and my wife and I enrolled in a stained glass class. I really loved the process and the magic that happened when you put lead or foil around pieces of glass then put them together to create a picture. Then I discovered glass fusing and the myriad possibilities that it held for different ways to manipulate glass and there was no looking back. The technical side of glass fusing appealed to the engineer in me and I found myself always thinking about new techniques that I wanted to try and working out processes to achieve specific designs. That’s still what drives me today, over 20 years later. I imagine things that I want to make out of glass, then spend days, weeks, sometimes years, figuring out how to do it.”
Bob Heath is a retired software engineer. While he doesn’t have a formal art background, “There are a number of excellent glass art schools and organizations here in Oregon and I’ve been very fortunate in opportunities to learn from dozens of truly gifted glass artists and instructors. I continue to be fascinated by new techniques and there are always more classes on my horizon. There is actually a lot of room for artistic expression in engineering design. I was always trying to achieve “elegance” in my software designs and I think that’s art. Unfortunately, it was often art that could only be appreciated by another software engineer. My engineering background continues to be a strong influence on my glass art. I love to play with processes and combine techniques from multiple disciplines to try and achieve something new.
“Where possible, I like to start by making a drawing of what I want a piece to look like. This is usually done on a computer where I can easily edit and play with shapes, sizes and colors. For complex pieces, I use the computer model to dissect the work into component parts which can then be constructed separately. I take extensive notes about each kiln firing I do, so when I’m finally ready to convert the computer image into glass, I have a reference library of previous work to consult in order to get just the effect I want. If I am doing something new, I’ll often do some test pieces first to work out the details before committing to larger work.
If you visit Bob’s studio during the PDXOS tour, you can look forward to a fun, hands-on activity. ”We have on hand some basic glassware, including simple water glasses, wine glasses and beer glasses. For a small fee, visitors can choose a glass then decorate it with vinyl stickers made with a wide variety of punches that we have on hand. Then they can take their glass to the sandblast cabinet and frost everything that isn’t covered by a sticker. After that the stickers can be removed to reveal a permanent design in the glass. In the past, we’ve had everyone from children to seniors give this a try and they all had fun and left with a treasured memento. Some people have even used this opportunity to make Christmas gifts and we’ve even had people come back a second day to make more.”
Amanda Triplett was always intuitively creative growing up. “I learned needle craft from my mother and I grew up doing a lot of theater and dance. I was notorious for making creative messes and spending my math class doodling in my notebook. When I got to college, I took my first real art class and fell deeply in love with painting and studio time. Sculpture followed after that. Creating art is what feeds my soul. It’s also something that is innate within me. I’ve always done it. I’m happiest when I’m making work and I can’t help myself from doing it.”
I asked Amanda what inspired her work and she replied
“I think Nature is my greatest inspiration: biology, trees, the cosmos and the beautiful, unspeakable thing that binds it all together.”
Right now she’s working on larger scale, fiber installations. “I’m expanding into doing more installations of sculptural fiber. I really enjoy creating more immersive art experiences. I’m also working on some tiny pieces for my Specimen series. I like working on both macro and micro. Working tiny allows me to develop techniques and work with details. Working with large scale installation allows me to create a full, juicy experience for viewers.”
If you visit her on the tour, you can expect a range of different projects. “I will have my tiny Specimen series displayed. They are small, circular pieces, with lots of juicy details, embroidery, lace and beading. They are affordably priced and are excellent entry points into collecting my work. I also will have a larger installation downstairs in our spare room where you will be able to experience some of my larger scale work.”
Amanda shares her time right now between taking care of her family and making art. “Right now I balance being a stay at home mom with making art. My hope is to expand my art business so that when both my kids are in elementary school I can continue to do art full time.”
Karen Sunday Spencer has transformed her life – in just four years. She received a BS in Math from the University of Michigan and was in the corporate world, eventually working for Intel for 30 years. She ended her career on a high, in the Philanthropy Department, finding non-profits that were in line with Intel’s goals. She was personally responsible for girls and women’s issues globally. Girls’ education was her last project, and it culminated in a multi-year project making a film with known actors, on the big screen. The film highlighted the ways that girls’ education in many countries is not considered a priority, even less than that, it doesn’t happen.
Her arts training has all been in the last four years, and it’s all been focused on using fabric as a medium, “but I tend to go to art classes vs quilting technique classes. It’s amazing what you learn about color, and about using fabric as your medium. There are dull colors, bright colors; how does a bright yellow vs a dull yellow affect something? What’s the purpose of grey fabric in a composition? You can’t change the color of a fabric. You can paint over things; and she has painted on fabric, but only as a first step.
Art is her main business. “I am an abstract artist who uses fabric, thread and sometimes paint or other media to express myself and reflect the world around me. My training has been more on the job, but I definitely sense an improvement in my ability to put depth into a piece and my choice of colors are more sophisticated and more real – original is a bad word, because there’s no such thing as an original color composition, but they are just more intriguing. I feel I’ve grown.”
She loves what she does. There are two processes. “The materials you work with are these beautiful fabrics, wherever you go you can find materials you want to use, or if you’re so inclined you can make your own by dying the fabric yourself. I turned a table into one you can do wet work on and I’ve got my dyes and chemicals back there. I get an idea and start looking at it, maybe screen print and dye over it. Sometimes I Just make fabric and fill up my drawers, and sometimes I feel like putting something together.”
I come here every day. I don’t have to. I come because I want to. I’m never lacking new thoughts.
When she begins a piece, she starts by cutting the pieces she wants, then takes the pieces and places them on a flannel wall, moving them around to create the look she wants. Once she gets it the way she wants it, she takes them down and sews them together on the machine. That can be the hard part, making sure they travel from the wall to the machine in the same composition, so she photographs a lot before she moves the pieces. So, first she comes up with a design, then she ‘puts some thread on it’. She often uses variegated thread which gives the piece an additional design aspect.
The best piece of advice she’s ever been given: “Just keep trying out everything. Start with an idea and continue to try out all the possibilities until you’ve exhausted them. It’s so easy to give up early on, when it doesn’t work, or you have your idea, and the first one is just blah, and you think, I’m going on to my next idea, but no, work it through, make it bigger. I’m always fascinated by how taking your idea and exploding it into its biggest form does make such a huge impact.
She wants people to go home with something when they visit her during the tour so she is thinking of having a project ready for visitors to make their own piece of art. When you visit her studio, though, remember please that it’s not a good idea to touch the art – and you will want to. The art is very tactile, and I know I wanted to touch it; a lot of people want to see what’s on the back. But the oils and other things on our hands can discolor the fabric itself.
Shannon Buck is a printer and artist. Her great grandfather was a professional illustrator and designed puppet sets in Europe, and her Grandmother was a skilled Draftsperson. She says she “was raised by bookworms. I learned letterpress printing from old-school Printers.
“I can recall in elementary school just wanting to color all day, and I loved observing other kids drawings and taking note of their styles and what worked and what didn’t. As a teenager I felt unsatisfied with my role in art-making and instead devoured books and discovered poetry and short stories, and that is what has formed my work to this day: unresolved narratives. While growing up in the South, I worked with the city to find venues for small art shows in vacant buildings.”
I asked about her process: “I am always drawing and observing. I trace over my drawings with a soft pencil and then transfer them onto linoleum, which creates a reverse of the image. This is necessary for printing. I often draw things upside down in my sketchbook; it keeps me from getting lost in the details. (I set letterpress type, which is done upside down, so my brain is already wired this way.) I print my smaller works on a tabletop letterpress. If I end up using a hand-pulled print digitally for a surface pattern or print, I source my colors from vintage textiles and photographs.”
She is currently working on a series of linocuts entitled ‘Intersections’. “I am depicting Portland street intersections carved into linoleum that are printed on rice paper. Using relief printing as a medium means I’m always conscious of lights and darks, negative space and contrast, and I have to improvise to create grey areas. This balancing act formed my basis for the work as I witness the changes within the Portland urban landscape and how the intersections between race, social status, and the old and the new converge.”
Another series of linocuts that I am currently working on focuses on women who have inspired and challenged me. I started this series during the 2016 election. I donate 15% of each sale of the prints to Portland’s YWCA Domestic Violence Services.
Art is a language. We all start out speaking the language as children and then are subjected to various influencers that steer us in a direction that causes us to judge the process of art-making; what was originally inherent in our freedom to play. This is perhaps why our culture specifically seems to have a complex about art as a profession. Part of the role of being an artist is to continue the conversation of what it is to be human; peeling back those layers we conditioned ourselves to ignore.
Wait till you see what she has in store for visitors! “I am excited to offer Portland Open Studios visitors an opportunity to pull their very own letterpress souvenir of the event. I will have one of my tabletop presses inked up and ready for printing, and I will give short tutorials on how the letterpress operates. Visitors can also peruse my collection of letterpress type and cuts, as well as my personal work of hand carved linoleum cuts.”
Plastorm is an artist I want to get to know. How about you? Here are some answers to a few random questions I put to him.
“As far as any formal art background or education, I have none. I earned my degree in Film and still work as a Video Editor. The interesting thing is, my editing and painting workflow is not that different. Each thrill me with the daily complexities of assembling order from chaos.
“Another ‘game-changer’ in terms of securing a proper foundation for the production of art was reading Stephen King’s, On Writing. I read that with exclamative lightning bolts flashing over my eyes. His description of the creative process mirrored what was already percolating in my brain. Hearing very much the same from him made those thoughts trustworthy!”
The name Plastorm came from a dream I had while still in high school, featuring three green lizards carrying briefcases. It’s been with me ever since.
“The most memorable and cherished response [to his work] will probably always be from the owner/operator of Outsiderart.info: “Plastorm creates mythicons, colorfully drawn with caveman eyes and mathematician hands.”
Is the artistic life lonely? I asked. If so, what do you do to counteract it?
“Yes! Nothing. I embrace it joyfully. An old friend once told me, ‘There’s a difference between being alone, and being lonely.’ Like many painters/artists, I need a great deal of alone time; I cherish and horde it like gold. With my own painting process, it can often take hours of various warmups or busy work just to finally get my synapses firing adequately. Luckily, I’ve got a great relationship with someone who loves his alone time just as much as I do. But here’s the key: if he wasn’t there I WOULD be lonely. Just knowing he’s there keeps the fires lit in the solitary confines of my backyard studio. As such, there’s no other place in the world I’d rather be. I’d also be remiss to forget to mention my two dogs. I don’t think it’s possible to be completely lonely with two Golden Retrievers!”
A good painting talks to me as if I’m taking dictation. It’s the most miraculous experience in the world!
Next I asked him what research he did before starting a project.
“Strangely, research often happens while in the middle of a project. As mentioned, I’ve co-opted Stephen King’s metaphor for the writing process as I don’t think there could be a better description. He views the writing process as an archeological excavation. The moment I read that, lighting struck! Yes! Painting IS like digging for fossils. You brush away the dirt and clutter to reveal the bones underneath. For myself, those bones frequently reveal stories and structures that feel pre-built and whole. My job is to simply get out of the way and let those discoveries unfold. When all is said and done, I have uncovered myths, legends, and history that, to my knowledge, were previously unknown to me.”
What couldn’t you do without?
“Podcasts, The Simpsons, carbonated water, popsicles, my Adderrall prescription, and Investigation Discovery!”
Now don’t you want to just crawl into that brain and hang out for awhile?
Anji Grainger is currently working on a body of work exploring the world of raindrops. The series is called Pacific Northwest Raindrops.
“If we look closely, there are many wonders to see inside a raindrop – its own little world so to speak – but actually it is refraction of what is around us. In this painting series my goal is to give the viewer a look into the tiny world of raindrops and to create a feeling of magic and mystery. The challenges I face are accomplishing the combination of the exactness of a raindrop with the blurred and distorted effects that happen in the refraction process of a round and clear sphere. With watercolor as a fluid medium, it was very difficult to get sharp clear lines so it took many hours of working slowly to achieve my goals.
“My work derives its inspiration from the magic and wonders of nature. I paint with the movement of nature and visualize the growing twists and turns of a twig or a leaf. I try to capture the stillness of an early morning walk in a field, along a river or in a forest. I also focus on detail whether it’s simply the blending or bleeding of two colors like one would see on a ripening peach or the finite lines and edges of a raindrop. My current explorations are in the discovery of how elements of nature and texture react in watercolor to leave beautiful patterns and surprises in unique patterns on the paper.”
Four years ago Anji quit her day job and began a full time career as an artist and instructor. “It was a leap of faith and has taken many hours of hard work. This last year I made it past the earnings mark and had a great year supporting myself solely as a working single artist.”
To see her beautiful paintings, and visit with her about her art and her process, stop by her studio during the Portland Open Studios tour this fall.
Rick Wheeler has been a working artist for most of his adult life. “My art career includes working as a ‘commercial’ artist, doing illustrations for clients around the country, as well as being an art instructor to several art organizations and private students for about the last 20 years. This is balanced with my studio work, which includes painting (acrylic and watercolor), drawing (varied media), and mixed media projects (found objects). My work has been jury selected to a number of national and international exhibits, and has been collected by local, regional, and international clientele.
“My style of work also covers a broad range of interests, from tight realism to a looser, more painterly approach to my work, as well as outdoor/plein air work. Subjects range from landscape, wildlife, to figurative. Exploration in media, subjects, and style of work is one of my great pleasures as a visual artist. As a result, I can’t be easily categorized. And I’m okay with that.”
Rick is looking forward to seeing you all at his studio during the PDXOS tour, and he plans to be working on a painting in his studio so he can share his technique with his visitors. “I find working with the public in this way an enjoyable opportunity to exchange ideas.”
Samyak Yamauchi is one of the most interesting artists I’ve ever met, or maybe it’s just because I’ve gotten to know her personally. Read her blog at https://www.samyakyamauchiart.com/blog and you will have the privilege of seeing directly into her psyche, and learn just what she is thinking and visualizing at any given moment. And you can immediately see the expression of those thoughts in her paintings. As we all show only part of who we are to the rest of the world, I’m fascinated to know more. You can learn more too, by visiting her in her studio during this fall’s Portland Open Studios tour.
She describes herself as “Third generation Japanese-American – mostly self-taught painter – native Portlander – partner, parent, grandparent – tree-hugger – color lover – hair enthusiast – retired teacher – friendly introvert – Superpower: big inspiration in a small frame.”
Her art background: “I am pretty much self-taught. I’ve always made art, but I was a ‘closet’ artist until 2001 when I started making and showing glass mosaics. Through many years of making mosaics, I learned a lot about color, composition, and ‘seeing’ imagery.”
While she is self-taught, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been learning. She has taken figure drawing classes through PCC and from artist Phil Sylvester, who helped her get out her head and draw the way she sees things. Serena Barton taught her to use her hands and paper towels; Jesse Reno taught her about letting things morph and change. Most recently she took a class from Bill Park who taught her to embrace drips! “Mostly I have learned to paint by going into my studio almost every day and moving paint around and paying close attention to what the painting has to say and how it feels to paint.”
Her actual process has changed very little over time. The biggest change is her color palette. “When I started I painted dark abstracts. Then I began using mainly primary and very bright colors. My paintings got more and more colorful and bright until suddenly last winter I started using mostly black, grey and pale blue. I think I was feeling sort of overwhelmed by things going on in the world, and the change in my color palette was calming. Getting ready for a recent show at the P 5, I knew I need to have lighter backgrounds to show off the paintings on those dark walls, so I did a series with white backgrounds, bold black lines and little pops of color. Now, I’m using subtle color and lighter backgrounds. My challenge is to figure out how to get adequate contrast in value with such subtle colors because I really like contrast, so I’m interested in incorporating black lines in interesting ways.” She’s always growing. I love that.
She tells me she has had many ‘pivotal’ experiences, but she tells us about three.:
“1. Being featured on Oregon Art Beat gave me more confidence in calling myself an “artist”. At the time I was facilitating painting workshops, and sharing my painting process with others. The Art Beat episode reached a lot of people who wouldn’t have seen my art otherwise. Because so many people started signing up for my workshops, I met lots of really lovely people, so that really opened my world up a lot.
“2. Another really life changing event was the day I met Portland artist, Fred Swan. Fred is one of the most gracious, creative, authentic people I’ve ever known. Meeting Fred, and coming into his orbit has brought me a beautiful sense of grace and gratitude. And
“3. The last experience was not really an art experience, but a recent spiritual retreat from which I returned, surprisingly, without a desire to call myself “artist” anymore. I believe that as I let this settle in, it will probably be the most important experience of my life.”
I asked her what the best piece of advice She’s ever been given was. She had two: First: “If something in your painting isn’t moving the piece forward, get rid of it.” – Jesse Reno Second. “Change direction.” – A voice in a dream.