Saturday, November 21, 2009

Staring at a blank wall inspires artist Gina Wilson to create an art mural.

Listen to an audio interview podcast on Voices of Living Creatively.

Chuck Wilson said to his wife one day, “I’m tired of looking at a blank wall. Would you be willing to paint a mural there?” Gina Wilson, award-winning fine artist, replied, “Sure.”

By the next day, Wilson, Beaverton Sub Station owner, had called the mayor, the arts commission and the owner of the building with the blank wall, Ickabod’s Tavern. Everyone thought the idea was wonderful, but there was a catch.

“It turns out that murals were under the laws of signage at the time and only a certain percentage of a business could be in signage,” explains Gina Wilson. There was a way around the law, a variance permit, but it could cost up to $3,600. Although Mayor Drake was willing to wave the variance, he suggested they wait. He wanted to change the law.

A year or so later, the law was changed designating murals as art instead of signage. The Beaverton Arts Commission formed a mural committee and Wilson submitted her design. Three months later, Gina was turning the blank wall on the back of Ickabod’s Tavern into an art mural for the City of Beaverton.

“Just me and my ladder,” said Gina. “There were a lot of people who were willing to help, but I’ve never made a mural that size before.” Gina learned on the job and it involved a lot more than just painting. “My husband power washed the wall. Bonnie, from Ickabod’s, painted the whole building so the surface was fresh paint for me. Once you have the idea, you grid it out and get it up there. Then, you kind of want to tweak the lines and move things a little bit here and there. The brown of the mural is actually the brown of the whole building. So although, I painted over the brown sometimes, because I’m moving lines around, most of the brown was already there, so it was really a matter of getting the lines in right and putting in the bits of color.”

The mural concept evolved out of Gina’s figurative abstract work as well as the site itself. The mural’s brown color reflected the color of the bank building next door. The four blue figures matched the number of the trees planted in front of the mural. The color purple, the only secondary color missing from the mural, will appear in the blooming bushes along the wall in the spring. “I looked at it as three different ways in which I dance with it. I’m really trying to make it interact with its environment,” Gina explained.

Decades ago, Gina and her husband, Chuck graduates of University of Illinois, packed up their truck and moved to Portland. Together, they’ve owned the Beaverton Sub Station, renovated an historic 1800 farmhouse and raised two daughters. “Mostly I’m enjoying life with my family, getting to know my children, helping Charles and working hard at my own craft and my own art,” Gina says.

Her art, family and community have come together before as you can see when you enter the deli. All along the side wall is a mural that started as a project for Gina’s two daughters and their friends, but now continues to evolve as customers come in and add pictures they’ve found. “It started about 12 years ago,” said Gina. “We’re still working on it and it’ll never end. It’s just fun and a real sense of community.”

The new mural for the city of Beaverton gave Gina another way to connect her art with her home town. “Anytime we interact in our community, we feel more like it belongs to us and that’s a really good feeling. I feel more involved and it’s empowering,” said Gina. “We really can change things. We thought we’d like a mural and in the process, laws got changed.”

The change that started with Chuck Wilson’s wish for a better view outside his window led to a beautiful new mural for the whole Beaverton community to enjoy. Gina hopes this means more art all around the city, “Hopefully there will be a lot more murals, now. I want to encourage people to work with the matching funds program and get other murals started.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Helen Hollick pens a different path for the legend of Arthur.

Listen to an audio interview podcast at Voices of Living Creatively website.

”I was just so intrigued that he might have been real and that all of the stories of the knights of the Round Table, the Holy Grail, Camelot and Lancelot were all just made up. But as soon as I realized that maybe there was a real Arthur, I became fascinated.”

Author Helen Hollick remembers the stories by Mary Stewart she read about Merlin and the young Arthur. But for Helen, it was something in the back of Stewart’s book that actually brought another sort of magic into her life. “The thing that intrigued me was her author’s notes which said if Arthur had been real, he would have lived around post Roman times,” explains Helen. “Now that really got me interested. Because I had never liked the stories that had placed him around Medieval times. When I read that, I thought, oh, I’ll check into that.”

That started Helen on a path leading her to write a trilogy of books about Arthur before and after he becomes king. The first book, The Kingmaking, was a down to earth portrayal of Arthur as the supposed bastard son who takes the throne and becomes king. The second book, Pendragon’s Banner covers the years between 459-465 A.D. and tells the tale of Arthur’s struggle with the power, politics and family strife. This book details the daily life of Arthur, Guinevere, their three children, servants and soldiers. Her take on the fighting among the family for control of the throne is just as believable as the battle scenes.

And begs the question, how did Helen Hollick write so richly of a past that may or may not have existed at all. The answer is some of it comes from extensive research and a diploma in Early Medieval History. Hollick says, “I looked into what facts we do know of that period, really researched post roman and early saxon, so in weaving in the real facts, that can make what we don’t know for sure to be more real. I looked into daily life. I looked into what kind of horses they would have had, harnesses, armor, and the buildings.”

Helen’s research also includes personal experiences as well. “I’ve actually been to all those places in the books, Glastonbury, visited Summerset, been to Scotland. It makes a great excuse for a holiday,” says Helen.

Some of the plot details, like the scene where Arthur’s young son falls into the river, come from her feelings and experiences as a mother. “We were actually on vacation camping by that very river,” Helen explains. “My own little girl was about 5. It had been raining, and we went down to look at the river. It was in flood, flowing very fast exactly as in that scene. I held my Cathy’s hand so very tight, because I had a vision of a child falling into the water. I pulled her back from the bank, told her to be careful and picked her up and held her. Then I went back to the camp and just wrote the scene down. It was very hard to write. I was in tears the whole time.”

And that wasn’t the only scene that was hard for Helen to write. The Battlefield scenes were a challenge as well. Helen says, “I have to say I don’t know how I manage to write the battle scenes. It really helps to be in a bad mood. It’s a really good way to get rid of angst, to write a battle scene.”

The battle scenes details aren’t the only thing that grabs you as a reader but it’s also the depth of Arthur’s feelings about the work a soldier must do. According to Helen, “When you read a story of battle it’s always made out to be a glorious thing, propaganda, of course, to get people to go out and fight. But you don’t think about the other side, people get killed, horses get hurt. This is the reality.”

The battle scene that begins Book Two, Pendragon’s Banner came after a long period of writer’s block. “I got to the point where I thought, if I don’t do something about this writer’s block, I’m not going to get this book finished,” explains Helen. “And I was determined to write the words, ‘the end’, even if I never got published. So I went along to a writer’s course and the teacher said, I want you to write down your feelings. I just wrote down the first word that came into my head. Before I knew it, I wrote the word, sword, then the word battle. And all of a sudden the whole battle scene just came into my head and I just sat and wrote. It was really funny because then the teacher said, ok, you can stop now and I said no way, I haven’t written for 6 months and if you think I’m going to stop now, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Even though Helen’s extensive historical research gives the scenes detail, it’s not what got her started writing. “I hated history when I was at school, absolutely hated it,” says Helen. “When I was 13, I was writing pony stories, because I really wanted a pony of my own and we couldn’t afford one. So I made one up.”

From then on, writing has been a life long passion. Even when her original publisher stopped printing her books, she got the copyright back and self-published them in the U.K. Then found a new home for her trilogy here in the United States with Sourcebooks. In addition to her Arthur trilogy, Helen Hollick has written a fantasy adventure series about pirates for fun and most recently, a movie script about the battle of Hastings called 1066.

“We hope to shoot in the UK but it will be on release in American as well,” Helen says. “We’re talking big blockbuster here. Fingers crossed, I’ve even got my dress.”

But whether or not her books or movies about Arthur, pirates or the battle of Hastings are a success, Helen would never stop writing.

“I’m always scribbling something down, even if I’m not working on a book. That short time when I heard that they weren’t going to publish my books, I was devastated,” says Helen. “I sobbed for 2 weeks. Then I pulled myself up and thought come on, it doesn’t mean you can’t publish your books.”

Helen Hollick advises everyone to follow their dreams, too. “Do it. Don’t think about it, go out and do it,” says Helen. “At least try, I feel that at least I tried and I’ve managed it. Ok, if my books don’t sell it doesn’t matter, at least I’ve done it. Rather than looking back in a few years time and thinking oh, I wish I’d done that. At least have a go, give it your best shot.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Margie Lee: Following an intuitive path through art and life.

Listen to the podcast interview with Margie on the Voices of Living Creatively website.

“I have done a lot of different things, but I think that’s the way my art developed,” says Margie Lee. “It’s not just a straight path, that’s for sure.”

Margie Lee’s life path has led her across the country and Europe, and across the fields of geology, literature and art. Margie’s interest in art started in second grade when she tagged along to her older brother’s private art lessons, “I was very encouraged by my brother who was a painter. It was a very rich environment, all the teachers were from the college,” Margie explains. Her early schooling in Bellingham, Washington, was at the Campus School, a lab school associated with Western Washington University.

Margie’s interests grew to include math and science in high school and it was there her path took a turn that led her back to art. “I got kicked out of French class, and put in art which was horrible because all the weird kids were in that class,” Margie laughs. “But I started doing my sketching. I liked to draw figures and fashion illustration. The teacher noticed and said I think you should go into this…so I kept that in my mind.”

Fashion illustration was Margie’s first career choice, but with the advice of her mom, and her interest in science, she went to Western Washington University getting a BA in Geology but right after graduation her path took another turn. “I worked for one day, and I got fired,” says Margie. “So that weekend, some friends and I went to Carmel. It was so beautiful, and I wanted to know who lived here, and they said artists.” That’s when Margie realized, “I don’t think Geology is for me. I think I’d better go into art.
So I started that path.”

Seeing her figure drawing and painting as characters, someone suggested she look into working in costume design. Since there were only a few places in San Francisco that hired costume designers, she took another suggestion and headed across the country getting a job working as a wardrobe mistress in New York. It was there, resident playwright Lanford Wilson, asked her to do the graphics for the theater. That’s when Margie started taking classes at The Art Students League.

“I studied printmaking,” says Margie. “Then I met an artist named Ari and he said why don’t you try oil. I was very frightened of oil but I tried it and I just got hooked on oil painting.” Her classes didn’t lead her to graphic design for the theater, but into the fine art world instead. Margie describes her path, “I had a few exhibits in New York, went back to Bellingham and had some more exhibits, then I won a Purchase Prize at the Anacortes Art Festival and I used that to go to Europe.”

Margie went back to New York after Europe and met her husband, a writer. From there, they went to San Diego, where Margie painted and her husband wrote a book. A move to Boston led her back to college, this time to study another love, literature. After getting her masters in English and American Literature from Harvard, Margie started writing. Making art and writing was a balancing act according to Margie, “It’s hard to do both. Because, all this time I’m doing different jobs to make a living, I could not possibly do both. When I say balance, I mean I’ll do writing for 4 years and art for 3 years.”

Margie’s worked at a variety of jobs over the years including UPS loader, telephone survey researcher, fish cleaner, Burger King cashier and bookstore clerk. But it was her last job that finally allowed her to combine her unique skills. Working at the Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Margie did graphics and art. “I did a lot of charts and maps,” explains Margie. “I mainly wanted to do illustrations for the features section. My art was being used, not in fashion illustration but in this character study way. I did it all from memory and on photo shop. I get them all out of my head, my imagination. You have to have an imagination for that, that’s why they want an artist because the artist can do something they can’t get from a photograph.”

Describing her painting process Margie says, “I start with a blank piece of paper or canvas. I just start putting paint on it, sometimes I have an idea in my mind and sometimes I’m just putting paint on it. I’ll see what’s on the canvas. If I see something exciting, I’ll just go with it.”

It’s her intuition and imagination that fuels her creative process now more than ever. Whether it’s writing poetry, creative non-fiction, painting or her newest passion, video, Margie is involved in characters, words and stories.

This year in addition to being on the Portland Open Studios Tour, Margie is on the board and produced a video about other Portland Open Studios artists. As she learned about how other artists work, she learned more about her own work as well, “It’s just amazing what these artists have in their backgrounds. You’re going into a studio with someone who’s practically spent their whole life on something and what a wealth of information. I was just amazed at the biographies and process.”

While filming artist Bill Park painting, Margie recalls he said, “And now, it’s getting really ugly and that’s just where I want to be.” Margie agrees, “That’s just the perfect point to be in art, to be creative, when you’ve just lost everything and you have nothing more to lose.”

Margie’s never at a loss for work these days, dividing her time between her solo studio work, Five Windows Studio, her poetry and creative non-fiction groups, video work and Portland Open Studios. Margie’s life and art have taken many turns along the way but there is a common thread to her intuitive path, “There are just so many projects that I want to do. As an artist, my number one thing is experimentation and always something new.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

From the past to the future: Beaverton’s new mural celebrates youth and hope.

Listen to the podcast with Hector Hernandez at Voices of Living Creatively

“My intention is not to portray a beautiful world, my intention is to portray a world that is real but we can overcome problems,” says Hector Hernandez, mural artist.

Working with 15 students from Merlo Station High School, Hector Hernandez, created a mural concept that spans the solar system, early Beaverton, the threat of global warming and technological development to a hopeful resolution for the future generation and their children. This new mural combined new technology with traditional mural methods that Hernandez learned growing up in Mexico.

As a child in Mexico, Hector remembers he was always drawing and painting, “My first memories were of painting the walls, painting the street, the images of the trains, the landscape around me of the city.” Hector says, “I knew that I cannot be detached from art.” So while he was completing his degree in social anthropology, he worked for a Mexican mural artist. This art experience led him to study drawing and painting at San Carlos in Mexico City, art history and culture in Japan. Hector has degrees from Oregon State University and University of Oregon where he completed his Masters of Fine Art in 1999.

After all his study, it’s murals that still capture his artistic passion. “We need to express something, so for me I’m following the Mexican tradition,” says Hector. “Mural painting is the most unselfish work of art expression because it is public and therefore for everybody to see. I think that is very important.”

And he feels that his study of social anthropology has added a dimension to his mural work. “Anthropology was a very good way to learn about social issues, and culture and that is also reflected in my murals.” He wants his murals to bring messages to the people in the community. “For me, an artist is more like an activist,” explains Hector, “who is involved in many areas, in research, in the artistic creation, in the exploration and also the use of new materials and new techniques.”

Hector combined teaching traditional art techniques with the latest technology, but the center of his work with Merlo Station High School students was the mural itself. According to Hernandez, “Murals are an excellent teaching tool. Not only in the message, but also because it involves the cooperation of people for the implementation and organization of the mural. I will provide those tools for them to learn how to paint and create for a new generation.”

The 13 by 80 foot mural located at the intersection of S.W. Farmington Road and S.W. Watson in Beaverton has a powerful message of the dangers of global warming in our technological society and the hopes for future generations.

Hernandez explains how the elements of color, figures of youth and flower symbols tell a story of moving from darkness into the light. “The universe and solar flare represent this threat, the elements of technology, the motherboard, the circuit board, intertwined with the butterflies, if we use technology in a wise way, we will intertwine our interests with the interests of nature. The students follow the butterflies, and encounter again our path to nature represented by the flowers.” The Lotus flower represents emerging from difficulties, the Peony symbolizes wealth and well-being and the Sunflower completes the cycle of overcoming the problems and emerging into the light with energy and strength.

This hope is not just for the future and our children but the future of public art as well. Many cities once banned murals out of a fear that it would increase graffiti and tagging. But studies in California and Philadelphia proved just the opposite. Hernandez says, “Basically the more murals you have the less graffiti you have, especially tagging.”

Hernandez hopes that these studies and the new public art regulations will mean more art for the enjoyment of everyone. ““I hope that we’ll have more pieces of artwork and community artists in the cities around the country in general. We need more public art to reflect the spirit the identity and character of the people there.”

But what means the most to Hector is being able to share his vision and work together with students, teachers, arts organizations and the citizens of Beaverton. “Even if you did not have a good idea about my vision, you had faith in me and that was really touching,” says Hernandez.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jan vonBergen: Building On Cultural Influences.

Listen to the podcast interview at

Jan’s interest in art started in her childhood at the family dinner table where ethnic dishes were served up with side discussions of the culture, textiles and art from around the world. She remembers delicious curry dishes, her mother’s beautiful sari, and a home filled with exotic smells, artifacts and furniture. These early influences are the building blocks for her kimono inspired prints and organic ceramic vessels that you can see as part of Portland Open Studios Tour.

Jan explains, “It was all based on food, their way of showing us the culture was through the food, beautiful fabrics, clothing, some of the customs. They would make these curry dinners and that’s how we celebrated these cultures. And my parents would go to auction houses and they collected a lot of their furniture, some of it was Asian table fabrics and kimonos. And my grandparents house, too, was filled with antiques.”

It was her artistic grandmother who fueled Jan’s early art training teaching her to sew, knit, paint and make wreaths. From there Jan took Saturday art classes at Marylhurst and the Portland Art Museum, moving on to college at the Museum Art School, where she majored in ceramic sculpture and minored in print making. These two diverse media are still a major focus for her today.

Whether it’s one of Jan’s Asian-inspired kimono prints or her organic, ceramic vessels, there’s always a combination of line, color, texture and form. According to Jan, “Along with my training as a sculptor, I was also a calligrapher. Calligraphy, sculpture and printmaking, those three are my favorite things.” And although these might seem like very different media, to Jan, they both involve building.

Says Jan, “To me they’re very close. Print making is more immediate, you have an idea and try it. With ceramics, you throw it, bisque it, glaze, fire it so I’ve got two weeks before I can see it. So it’s not as immediate but I do love making it.”

With the vessels, Jan starts with a formal shape adding calligraphic marks in the clay, much like printing, then makes tiny, organic, sculptural shapes to form the lids.

To build a print, Jan might start by taking a picture of a swirl image in the road. Using that as a base to make a copper plate, she adds bits of her hand-painted Sumi papers, stamps from garage sale envelopes or ethnic ceremonial papers piecing together her image. Then, she might cut the plate into smaller, more abstract shapes before she runs it through her printing press.

Jan explains, “I like that building. I can take the plate and cut it up, glue stuff down, add whatever and build this thing. Then I ink it and it has all this texture.”

While the mediums might be very different, the connections in Jan’s art and life are easy to see when you tour her home with its multi-ethnic furniture, sculpture and garden tea-house. Sitting in the tea house, Jan reflected on how her passion for art led her to teaching which in turn, taught her even more.

“Teaching those students was where my learning began, because they taught me so much. They taught me patience. How to really think about what I’m really doing because I had to verbalize it for them. And they would share an idea and I would think, gosh, I never would have thought about it that way. It’s another point of view and another vision that you get in that time and space to be part of …I can’t think of any other profession that you get to do that in, to join that young person in that part of their creativity,” Jan said.

As a Fulbright scholar, Jan went to Japan five years ago and taught lessons in Italic calligraphy, book binding and drawing. Now retired, she was a beloved art teacher for many years at Arts & Communication and Southridge High School in Beaverton.

You can visit Jan and see her at work in her studio October 10, 11 and 17, 18 as part of the Portland Open Studios Tour. Tour Guides with tickets are available at Art Media, New Seasons and other outlets listed at

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Kitty Wallis: Artist, teacher, entrepreneur and founder of Portland Open Studios.

You can hear the podcast at Voices of Living Creatively website

“I’ve spent many, many years waking up in the morning saying what do I feel like doing today? As an artist, do I feel like going into the studio? Do I feel like going out meeting people? Do I feel like getting reference material? I’m very young looking for my age. And I think that’s one of the reasons,” says Kitty Wallis.

From the streets of New York to a California commune, Kitty has always lived an artist’s life. As a child growing up in a small, poor Pennsylvania town, Kitty’s mother was proud of her artistic daughter and encouraged her to draw. Later, it was a high school counselor who, saw Kitty’s talent, took her to New York City to apply for a full-tuition art scholarship at Cooper Union. Only 10% of the applicants to Cooper Union are accepted into this privately funded 150 year old college. After passing the difficult 8 hour entrance exam, Kitty was accepted into the program. Making her first move away from her small town home, in 1956, Kitty describes how it felt in the big city, “Culture shock! The first day was traumatic because I didn’t realize the importance of the fact that no one would know me. Because everybody knew me when I was growing up, there were only 2,500 people in my town. But people helped. By the end of the first day I had a place to live and a job. It’s amazing.”

Although being a student at Cooper Union is an honor and Kitty learned to work in a variety of media, she had her difficulties. The school was embracing abstract impressionism, the new wave of art in the 1950’s and Kitty wanted to do realistic work. Walking from her office job to school one day, Kitty passed by a group of sidewalk artists looking for customers when one of the artists said, “Get your portrait done.” Kitty replied back, “If I wanted a portrait of myself I would do one myself.” He challenged her to do his portrait right there and then. “So I did. And I was so excited by the whole thing because I did a good portrait of him. It was just a little charcoal sketch but it was right on.” The artist was so impressed with her skill, he suggested she set up her own street portrait business. Kitty says, “I was out there the next night with my chairs, easel and art supplies, the whole thing. That was the first move I made to be independent instead of having a job.”

Kitty’s journey began doing portraits on the streets of New York, but has taken her many places along the way. After three years at Cooper Union, Kitty got married and with her husband set up a shop in Philadelphia. He made sandals and she did portraits. Deciding to join a commune, they moved to California and a year or so later, Kitty moved to Santa Cruz. Kitty has traveled the country and the world making art and money, seeing old friends, making new ones and setting up gallery shows featuring work from her travels. Kitty says, “I first wanted to travel around the country so I could learn to be a traveler. So I got a van and some art supplies and started across the country for a year and a half.” Kitty found ways to make money along the way doing portraits, plein air painting and working with a therapy community. This led to a unique opportunity Kitty explains, “I got to a gallery in Dallas that had a few of my pieces. They were excited by what I was doing and said let’s do a show of your work when you get back.”

For a while, Kitty settled back in Santa Cruz, California enjoying the artistic lifestyle there. Then, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where the gallery scene was thriving but after a few years, missed California and moved back to Santa Cruz. It was in Santa Fe, she overheard an art store conversation that led her down another professional road. “I had been using sandpaper and that gave me that painterly quality, rich hard edges color on color. It was sold in art supply stores as pastel paper even though it was disposable paper,” says Kitty. “I heard the art company rep tell the store owner that they weren’t going to supply the sandpaper anymore. I knew I had to have a paper with that texture and a product that wouldn’t fall apart after 50 years. And it had to have the sandpaper surface but smooth.”

It was a personal need that drove Kitty to develop her now famous Wallis Sanded Paper. At first, she made it herself on a Santa Cruz hilltop. With a spray gun in each hand, she sprayed resin on the paper first, then pumice. At the end of the sessions, covered with paint and pumice, Kitty would have enough paper to last her several months. But when her students wanted to know how she achieved her unique pastel effects, she realized she had to share her paper with them. And it was a student with manufacturing experience who helped her find a way to get the paper mass produced. Introduced at the first semi-annual International Association of Pastel Societies in Denver, Colorado in 1995, the paper was a hit and Kitty began receiving a regular salary for the first time in her life. “When I first got into this business I was very excited about finally having an income that didn’t depend on selling paintings. I wanted to see what I would paint if I didn’t have to pay the rent with the sale of my work. So the first thing I found out was, I depended on that need to sell for my painting discipline,” explains Kitty.

About that time, Kitty moved to Portland from Santa Cruz, bringing with her the studio tour idea that she’d been involved with there. “When I moved to Portland, my heart was so much involved in the open studios idea that I felt that Portland needs this,” she says. “But I didn’t want to come busting up here with, “In California this is how they do this.” So, she waited 3 years, meeting artists and collecting the names of artists whose work she liked. Kitty explains, “I got eight people to come to a meeting in August of 1998. We put up our own fees for the first year, $80 dollars a piece, enough money to print applications and send them out. And when we got applications back and juried, we had 49 people in the first tour.”

Ten years later, the Portland Open Studios Tour has grown to feature 100 artists at work in their studios all around the Portland Metro area. Kitty has watched Portland Open Studios grow with pride. Although she’s not as actively involved, she still enjoys participating in the tour every year. Kitty says, “I am so proud of how people took the ball and ran with it because you don’t want your baby to die. And to have such strong legs on your baby is a very nice thing. Because it’s growing in strength, vitality and popularity every year.”

In addition to Portland Open Studios, gallery shows, Wallis Paper company, teaching around the country and doing her own studio work, Kitty, at 71, is busier than she’s ever been. Retirement is not in her future “I have never been so busy in my whole life. I’m 71 and I’m far from retiring,” says Kitty. “I never thought of it as a goal. I would brag to people I’m so glad I belong to a profession that I don’t have to retire from.”

All those years ago as a young Cooper Union student, Kitty says she wanted to develop the chops of a master. As an internationally known, award-winning artist, teacher and entrepreneur, she’s done all that and more. Now as she works in her studio, she’s painting not just what she sees around her but what she feels within. “I finally allowed myself to understand that I was bored with realism,” she explains. She wants the colors and shapes to come from her gut, and her work continues to grow and evolve. “Now I seem to have found a new challenge. I’m doing something new and I don’t know how to do it. It’s a good thing. I want to learn how to create an expression that is mine,” Kitty says. “This is who I am.”

If you're in Portland, Oregon in October, you can visit Kitty's studio and watch her at work. Her studio is open both weekends, October 10, 1l and 17, 18 from 10 am to 5 pm. Tour Guides and information is available at Portland Open Studios Tour website.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Teresa Sullivan: Don't Tell Fred and other stories.

Last year, when I interviewed Teresa, she showed me a note found with a necklace she’d bought at an estate sale. It was a short handwritten note with more questions than answers. The mystery intrigued and inspired Teresa to make an art piece incorporating the note with the beads from the necklace along with other icons. The piece pictured above, ‘Don’t Tell Fred’, is featured in the September/October issue of Fiberarts Magazine.

Teresa has many stories to tell about her bead art pieces. Here's the article I wrote after spending an afternoon with Teresa in her home and studio. You can also listen to a podcast of her interview at

Entering Teresa’s living room, it was easy to see her inspiration starts at home. Bookshelves lined the walls filled with an eclectic collection of books on music and musicians like Radio Birdman, Nico, The Velvet Underground and Ramones, comic books and graphic novels as well as science fiction authors like Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard. The other walls held CD’s and DVD’s, two guitars, band posters and, of course beads. There were beads in tubes, tubs and tins in all colors of the rainbow on shelves, the floor and hanging on the walls. Teresa also collects antique beads and African beaded jewelry from estate and garage sales.

Although Teresa didn’t get into beads until her mid-twenties, her interest in comic book super heroines and graphic novels goes back to childhood. As a kid, she loved to read Richie Rich and Mad Magazines. According to Teresa, she drew all the time, making her own paper doll clothes and comics, “I was even doing my own graphic novels before I even knew what a graphic novel was and doing my own cartoons.”

So it’s no surprise that her seed bead sculptures depict super heroines. And although her current work is comic book inspired, it was her job at a tile factory that got her started in beadwork. She said, “I took home some clay and started making my own ceramic beads and around the same time I finally got my ears pierced so I made my own little earrings.” After that, Teresa was hooked on beads.

At first, she was only interested in chunky, trade beads which she felt had more history and cultural significance. “In the same way we wear a wedding ring to tell that we’re married, there are people who wear beaded adornment that tells others that, I’m ready to marry or I am married and have a son that’s a warrior.” And even in recent times, Teresa sees beads as a way to make a statement, “When Nelson Mandela showed up for his trial wearing western clothes and traditional bead work. It can have a non verbal impact. You wear it and the message gets through. It’s interesting that way.”

While working in clay beads, Teresa joined the Portland Bead Society and took a class from Baltimore artist, Joyce Scott. It was in that class Teresa found a way to use beads to tell her own unique stories. Teresa explained, “When I saw Joyces’ work, I instantly saw a connection to the comic book style, the graphic representation that you could do and also the narrative aspect of it. Beads have always been a method for storytelling, so, that really grabbed me. And with a two day class from her, you could stay busy for the next ten years with all the information and inspiration. So that got me going in a very fun way. And I guess I took it from there.”

There are times when Teresa has a specific concept or character in mind when she starts sculpting one of her unique beaded art pieces. Other times, it’s the process itself that leads her. “Sometimes, I don’t start to get ideas for the piece itself that work until I just start working without specific goals in mind. So it does help to just dive in and let myself get a little bored and try something else, something new.”

Teresa’s very first sculpture was a seed bead eyeball complete with optic nerve. Since then, she’s done super women sculptures and seed bead paintings inspired by 60’s comic books as well as jewelry. A recent jewelry piece includes a cryptic note she found at an estate sale. Teresa said, “There’s a story there, so I can laminate and incorporate it in a necklace and you can read it.”

Sculpting figures and tapestry-like pictures out of seed beads is an exacting and detailed sewing process. According to Teresa, “You put three beads on, skip three beads and sew through the next three beads about twenty thousand times.”

Now her beadwork keeps her so busy with new projects, teaching classes from Seattle, San Luis Obispo to Detroit, she sometimes forgets to water her plants. But it wasn’t always this way. While working at the tile factory, Teresa began exploring how she could make her art, her full-time work. She got books out of the library and took more classes. It was one of those classes that led her closer to her path, “While taking a year long beadwork class that was about the creative process, a bead store owner told me that she was going to expand her business, and I started working for her and was around beads a lot.”

That led to working in several bead stores around town, teaching more classes for bead societies and guilds across the country, and showing her work here in town at Beet Gallery as well as in New York and Tokyo. And her exploration of beadwork as an art form just keeps expanding because she believes, “As artists, we push the notions of what is real. We’re making tangible objects, but they come out of our imagination.”

When you enter the world of Teresa Sullivan’s imagination, you see real objects sewn seed bead by seed bead representing the power, strength and beauty of women. It is a powerful message for the maker as well as the viewer, and new territory that breaks the old cultural stereotype of beadwork. And Teresa’s glad to be a part of it, “The whole modern bead work genre is so new it’s kind of like the Wild West, unexplored territory, and that’s one thing that I really like about it. There aren’t a whole lot of people representing this science fiction, comics, rock n roll, crazy wild stuff in beads, I’m happy to fill it.”

Teresa’s website is And remember, you can visit her studio this year during the Portland Open Studios Tour in October.

Friday, August 14, 2009

David & Janice Weitzer: A passion to live a healthy life makes them a healthy living.

Listen to the audio interview at

“We could see that the suburban development was marching toward us like a tidal wave,” said David Weitzer, about the need for privacy that grew into the bamboo nursery he and his wife, Janice, now operate. “We realized that the wonderful farmland feel was not going to last. So the initial bamboo hedge started with about 40 plants. It really turned into a business because people saw the bamboo and started driving up the driveway.”

Bamboo Oasis, now the main income producer for the Weitzers, is a suburban bamboo farm growing 35 hardy varieties of bamboo plants for residential users. Together, David and Janice also operate a massage therapy practice, a private yoga school and traditional Thai Massage classes. The couple met in a restaurant on a blind date when they were 19 years old. Three years later, they were married and had the first of their three children, Josh.

As young parents, the couple decided to find a new way to balance earning a living and raising a family. “Our family is very important to us,” said Janice. “By getting married young, we actually grew up together in every aspect of our lives.” Over the years, they’ve done a wide variety of creative jobs: David has worked building specialty wooden parts for classic cars, wood working and cabinetry in his father’s furniture factory, assembling office cubicle walls and a variety of custom carpentry jobs. Janice has studied natural herbs, organic gardening, worked sewing custom clothing, had a booth at Saturday Market and helped with the office cubicle business as well.

Their creativity, flexibility and commitment to make their interests into paying work developed into the range of home-based businesses they operate now. An interest in yoga that started in their teens led the couple from taking classes to teaching them. What started out as working for a large yoga school has evolved into a small, private yoga school which they operate out of their yurt just a few steps from their home.

“Our approach to yoga has shifted,” David explained. “We used to teach very large, structured classes. We’re teaching really small groups, now, that really allows us to make everything we do individualized.”

Janice became interested in massage therapy during her herbal studies at the Naturopathic College. After getting their massage license in 1988, the couple discovered Thai massage in 1989. This led them to further study in Thailand in 1992. They still go back there every year bringing others to study with their teacher. In addition to practicing the healing art of Thai massage, David teaches weekend massage retreats at The Oregon School of Massage throughout the year.

“The massage practice is the main source of income for me,” said Janice. She is also a Master Gardener through the Oregon State University program. “It’s all about community for me,” she explained, “doing the massage work, the garden work and some of the bamboo work.”

“If you look at the world, we’re all growing together,” she continued. “Now, it’s time for us to grow together again, as a community.”

As they’ve grown together as a couple and raised three healthy children, their businesses have also continued to thrive. It’s always been their passion for a healthy lifestyle that has fueled their interests and their businesses. And it’s been a model for their now grown children as well. Their youngest works at the farm and inspires visitors with his passion for bamboo. Their two oldest are now in their thirties and living in Spain.

“Both are independent teachers, and do translation work,” said Janice. “They love it and they’ve made it a business. They could see it can be done because we taught our children that being independent is important.”

With children grown, the western model of working would lead to retirement, but David and Janice don’t see that working for them. “Passions we hold we’ll never grow out of,” said David. “I could be teaching Thai massage till I’m 95 and still love it. The healthiest elders you will ever meet are the ones who stay active, have a hobby or passion they love.” Janice added, “Most people I know who are real entrepreneurs, they never retire. They’re always doing something they’re passionate about.”

Through the years, income has flowed in and out through a variety of different jobs, but they’ve been able to sustain their life by making conscious choices.

“In general we’ve always selected less debt and worked towards something that we wanted or needed and that has helped us stay more on the path. We’ve always had cycles of income,” David explained. “Some of the things we tried didn’t work for us because they were more financially oriented than happiness oriented.”

As they continue to grow together personally and professionally, they have some words of wisdom for others looking to make their passions evolve into a healthy life. First and foremost, they suggest taking some business classes in accounting and marketing. But it’s networking that really makes their business work.

“You build up a network when you are your own boss,” said Janice. “People recommend me, that’s how I get my business.”

“I think if you get good at what you’re doing, people will seek you out,” agreed David. “Remember that it’s not the product, it’s the communication that goes on, listening to the person and knowing what their needs are.”

Some might worry that networking might lead to less business and more competition, but David sees it a different way. “I do not see myself as a competitor with anyone in any of my business,” he explained. “If you love something, keep studying it, there’s always more to learn. It keeps you inspired and happy. So, don’t wait, start some small cottage business, something you like doing, you work when you want to. When you’re your own boss, you can’t get fired.”

For David and Janice Weitzer, their life, work and family are their passion. “Developing your lifestyle as an art form, it puts an element of fun and style into living your life,” David said. “For us the internal goals of being happy and healthy and having a good family life has been our primary drivers.” It’s their way to not only a healthy life but a healthy living as well.

Bamboo Oasis website:
Thai massage website:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kelly Neidig: Painting Landscape Memories

Listen to an interview podcast with Kelly at

“I’ve painted and drawn ever since I can remember,” says Kelly Neidig. “Now, when I think of my memories a lot of the details are lost, but I can remember the colors and how I felt.”

Kelly Neidig remembers drawing birds in kindergarten, and they were so good, even her mother didn’t believe she’d drawn them. After winning an art contest in first grade, Kelly devoted most of her time to art. Growing up in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, a small town west of Pittsburg, Kelly went to schools that didn’t have any art programs, but she didn’t let that stop her. “I would just stay home and draw all the time,” says Kelly. “One year, my dad got me a big box of Prisma colored pencils, which are really expensive. So I was so afraid to use them that for three years, they sat in my room on my dresser. I still have them.”

All that drawing led Kelly to a major in landscape architecture at Penn State where teachers took notice of her natural talents and skill in art. For the first two years, the majority of the work focused on things Kelly loves like drawing, perspective, and working with color but then things changed. “Then it got into computers,” Kelly says. “For the next three years, you had to be on the computer and I didn’t want to be on the computer. I wanted to work with my hands. So I switched my major to art.”

On her first day in the art department, Kelly knew she was in the right place. “Walking around the art department, I felt so happy,” explains Kelly. “I actually wanted to apply for an art major but you needed a portfolio and I didn’t know what that was. But after two years, I realized I could just transfer because I was doing an integrated degree, I was just able to play and take whatever classes I wanted. It was awesome to be taking art classes.” Kelly took a variety of art classes including figure drawing, sculpture, ceramics and book making. Even though she did take a painting class, she found the teacher too structured for her and learned best when the class was more flexible. These classes taught her more about being open to the flow of the process than trying to control the product. “I’d rather just do it and see what happens,” says Kelly. “I do that with my paintings. I don’t ever try to have a complete idea. I like to go with the things that naturally occur.”

Letting things happen naturally is a reoccurring theme in Kelly’s art and life. From college at Penn State, Kelly moved to Arizona while her boyfriend went to school, she learned about the desert landscape all around her. “I only lived there for a short time, but coming from Pennsylvania and going to this landscape that was so alien,” explains Kelly. “It was like living on the moon, you can really see how the land is formed. I love the desert. I can’t get it out of my head.” While she was there, driving around the desert seeing the clashes between farmland and urban landscapes, taught her much about the importance of having natural places left undisturbed by man.

This sense of honoring the natural sense of place stayed with her when she moved to Portland. A choice Kelly says was driven by her art, “One of the reasons we chose Portland, was because I knew there was a big art scene here. And if I’m gonna be an artist I should be somewhere where people embrace art.” Her art career started on the street where she lived, selling small paintings on Alberta Street during the Last Thursday art openings.

It grew from there one step at a time from Last Thursday street sales, to coffee shops, wine bars and ultimately a gallery show at Guardino Gallery on Alberta Street. “I just started taking all the little shows on and started selling my art, and was able to work less and less at a job and work more on my art,” says Kelly. “Finally I quit my job and I’ve been a full-time artist for two years.”

In the last two years, Kelly’s been busy painting and getting her work out to the public. “I just say yes to everything, and figure the more places my art is the more chances it’s gonna be seen by somebody so I get it out there as much as I can,” Kelly says. Her goal - to make her work accessible to everyone at every price range – has led to some very interesting opportunities. Kelly now has paintings hanging in a Westin Hotel in Cincinnati and the U. S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, as well as an upcoming show in La Conner Washington at the Museum of Northwest Art from October 10, 2009 to January 10, 2010.

Working on the paintings for that show and others, Kelly finds her process evolves naturally, “I start with a lot of layers of drippy acrylic and see something in it. Then I go into it with thin layers of oils and then thicker layers.” As Kelly adds layer and layer of color, the feeling of landscape emerges for her connecting her memories to a sense of place. “I’m more creating a feeling of a place on the canvas using color, rather than creating a specific place or statement,” explains Kelly. “I omit a lot of detail and let the viewer put in their own ideas. I try to help people connect to their memories using color. I use color to create a feeling that helps people connect with a place through color.”

Helping people connect with the landscape or each other is another important part of Kelly’s life and art. It was a neighbor’s suggestion that helped Kelly become part of Portland Open Studios. In 2006, Kelly says, “I got accepted, went to the first workshop and didn’t know anybody. But after the event, talking about my art for two days straight to perfect strangers, I had a better understanding of what I was doing.”

Kelly enjoyed the experience so much she re-applied in 2007, got more involved working on the publicity committee with Bonnie Meltzer and at Bonnie’s suggestion became a board member and president the next year. Kelly is amazed at how much she has learned as a Portland Open Studios artist and president, yet in the three years it’s the connections and community she values the most. “Meeting all the artists in Portland open studios is definitely my favorite part,” says Kelly. “I have a really good community of other artists. And the artists who do open studios are the type of artists who are open to sharing what they do with other people.”

Kelly wants to encourage artists and art lovers to come on the tour and get more familiar with Portland Open Studios. When she first took the tour, before her first open studios weekend, she learned so much. “It was a bit overwhelming at first,” Kelly says. “But all the artists that I saw were just great. I loved seeing everybody’s art work and going into people’s spaces. As an artist, just seeing the way other people do their artwork, it always reflects their environment.”

Kelly Neidig may be president of Portland Open Studios, but she welcomes anyone’s questions about art or the tour. Kelly says, “I’ve gotten so much help from other great artists and people in my life, I just love helping other people as well.”

You can visit Kelly Neidig’s studio during Portland Open Studios Tour as well as 99 other artists all around the Portland Metro area. Tour dates are October 10, 11 and 17, 18 from 10am to 5pm. To find out when your favorite artists studio is open, buy your Tour Guide at New Seasons, Art Media and other outlets listed on the website

And visit Kelly’s website at

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Erin Donley:
Marketing her truth and yours.

Listen to the podcast at Voices of Living Creatively website. And on iTunes

"I was looking for an occupation that I knew was really in line with my own truth," says Erin. "one that was engaging my creativity and integrity, where I was giving back in a deeper way."

Erin Donley's business, Marketing Your Truth, began with an ending. Erin's first job in radio sales taught her a great deal about media and marketing but after 8 years, she realized it was time to move on. "I realized that my talents and passions weren't really in radio sales," Erin says. " it was something deeper and I didn't really know what it was, but I wasn't fulfilling it in that environment."

At Ohio University, Erin majored in Interpersonal Communications which gave her an understanding about the psychology of choices people make. This helped her succeed in radio sales, and in making her own choices. "I had to change my whole lifestyle. I chose a lifestyle that was so opposite from the one I had," Erin explains. "I wound up taking a job at New Renaissance Bookshop and I've been there 3 years, now. It's been an intense search to find out what's true for me."

This search to find truth is the core of Erin's life and work. Through her work at New Renaissance, Erin learned more about herself through all the unique and different spiritual and metaphysical authors and businesses. Soon, she realized that there was a way she could help. "Their work was so amazing, really transformational and it was really helping people at a deep level," says Erin. "I believed in their work so much and I wanted to help them."

Erin could see that many of these soul-centered businesses needed help with their marketing. While they tried to promote their work, their message wasn't getting to the right people in the right way. Marketing Your Truth, Erin's new business was born out of her passion to help these people communicate with their clients and community. "My main passion is to help people talk about what they do in more effective ways," Erin explains. "I also help them with getting their message out, because there are so many options out there. I help them choose the one that feels best to them."

Messaging and marketing are not the only ways Erin helps these unique soul-centered businesses. She explains that it's important to help them build community that supports their passions, "Because in a soul-centered business, they don't want to build clientele in artificial ways, they want the right people to come to them. They want it to be an energetic match."

Erin Donley's, Marketing Your Truth, means getting down to the core, investigating the psychographics and finding the people who resonate with a client's product or service. First, Erin starts with the client's true message which might involve a 2 hour consultation. Some clients want on-going coaching on a monthly basis. Either way, Erin helps them with what they specifically need for their business. It might be getting a website built, business cards or developing a flyer. Or it could be coming up with social networking updates to post about their business or making a list of local businesses in town that might have presentation opportunities.

Whether it's a yoga school, massage therapy, or a Chinese medicine practice, starting your own business can be tough and Erin understands this from her own personal experience. She knows how hard it is to start making money for yourself in a business that comes so deeply from your heart. "I had so much anxiety about meeting people's expectations, making sure they got their money's worth," says Erin. "I've been able to create packages for people, where I spend 2 hours with them, but I'm spending 4-5 hours behind the scenes to be sure I come to the table prepared. When I've been a little more assertive about my pricing, I've found that I get more of the client I want to work with. Because I really want to help people, I want a really focused and driven person to come to me."

Community plays a big part in the process of building a soul-centered business and Erin believes, "You have to start engaging with people in your community. There are people out there to help you bring this into fruition." One way to do this is networking, but maybe not in the traditional sense. Erin works with her clients to figure it out, "How do I start building a referral based business with people who are leaders in my community, with businesses that I love, so we can help each other?"

Erin used her own advice when starting her own business, going back to her radio sales contacts and building from there as well as taping into the people she met working at New Renaissance. "I looked all around me in the spiritual community and fine tuned my message," says Erin. While writing a weekly column for the bookshop, Erin got more opportunities, " I talked to different authors, promoted different products and now, I have people come in and want to talk because they feel they've had a chance to get to know me."

Then Erin takes the time to get to know them and that's what makes her feel good about Marketing Your Truth. "I don't tell them what to say," she explains. "I help them discover within themselves what they really want to say, then I bring together people to help them, so it's about growing this community and having us all work together to move forward with all our causes."

To bring the best to her clients, Erin's always learning form her own experience as well as using the resources all around her at New Renaissance. From technology and social networking to personal growth seminars and the latest books about building a business that speaks to your heart, Erin strives to be as good a resource to her clients as she would want for herself. And sometimes that means slowing down instead of speeding up, "I had business plans, goals and projections," Erin says. " Then I realized I don't want to go that fast, I don't want to have that many clients, I want to really spend some time with the clients I have, nurturing them."

You can learn more about how Erin Donley can help nurture your soul-centered business by visiting her website Marketing Your Truth . You can sign up for the email newsletter and check out her monthly columns that take an inner look at Marketing Your Truth.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Nicky Falkenhayn:
Building a studio
of her dreams.

Listen to the podcast at

“About three years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer," says Nicky. "During chemo, my dream was to build the studio.”

Three years later, Nicky Falkenhayn is putting in the electrical outlets, painting and plumbing to make her dream come true. As a metal sculptor, Nicky needed a safe place to weld, grind and patina her large metal sculptures as well as showcase her knitted wire jewelry. Now, all she has to do is walk out her door, along a covered walkway and into her studio to work.

Nicky's worked in many different places and spaces over the years. Born in Florida where her father was a fighter pilot, Nicky is an American citizen with an international life. After her family left the U.S., Nicky lived in Holland and Switzerland. In addition to art, she loved sports and was a Physical Education teacher for 20 years. After moving back to the U.S., and finding out that her Swiss teaching experience couldn’t get her a job, she decided it was time to explore her other love, art. “If I have to go back to school,” says Nicky. “I’ll go to art school. So that’s what I did, I went to the Oregon College of Arts & Crafts and started with the basics and then just start doing it.”

Her first studio was the kitchen table where she did her wearable art coats. Then she moved to the attic which was so hot in the summer, she had to start her work day at 8 pm and sleep during the day. After that, her studio was in a basement in Corvallis until she became pregnant with her first child, Hans. Even though her wearable art was being sold in over 40 galleries across the country, she knew she had to quit. The dyes involved in her work were toxic and she didn’t want to take any chances during pregnancy. “I didn’t even clean up my studio,” says Nicky. “I just locked it and that was it. Then I decided this was the time to change.”

Nicky’s art moved from sewing wearable art to crocheting metal wire breasts. “My best friend in Switzerland had breast cancer,” she explains. “When she had mastectomy, I wanted to do something for her, just for a joke, I was going to make her a metal bra, I couldn’t weld, so I got some metal wire and started crocheting.” That experiment led her to a whole new way to create work, support her far away friend while being a mom at the same time. “Everytime she had chemo, I would knit her a breast,” says Nicky. “I had a backpack with a roll of wire in it and my crochet hook and Hans would play on the playground and I would sit and crochet.”

Nicky created a line of jewelry next, these delicate knitted earrings, bracelets and pendants still sell well at various shows and galleries around the country and allow her to work while her son is doing his homework. A memorial to her grandmother, her first crocheted sculpture, holds gold and silver beads that represent all the stories her grandmother used to tell about her life. After that, Nicky realized that to give her sculpture stability, she’d have to learn to weld. Taking classes at PNCA and PCC, she says, “I fell in love with welding. Just the smell of molten metal is like a drug. It’s the immediacy of it, it’s really amazing.”

Her goal now is to do larger public sculptures. And even though she has no experience in public art, she’s not letting that stop her any more than she let her own cancer stop her from building her dream studio at home. “Slowly I’m starting to make it a really good studio. It started after I was done with chemo and it took a while,” Nicky says. “It went way over budget, so I had to stop in the middle.”

Using skills she learned doing home remodeling, Nicky’s studio is finally taking shape. Doing some of the work herself saved Nicky enough money to have a bigger studio. “My idea was to build the biggest studio possible,” she explains. “And it’s kind of fun to be part of it and you feel proud when it’s done.”

Some people might give up on their dreams when facing breast cancer but not Nicky. It made her even more determined to have her dream studio, her art and her life.
“It woke me up. It’s like, you know girl, you better live now, because now is what’s happening. Dream your dreams. Don’t put them in the future. Put them right here, where you are now, because nobody knows how long you’re going to live. I don’t think anymore that I ever had cancer, but I’m going to live now no matter what.”

This year, she’s finishing her studio, selling her jewelry at a show in Bellevue, Washington, doing an artist residency in Calgary, Canada, a large scale commission and showing public art in Grand Junction and Lake Oswego. In addition to being part of the Portland Open Studios Tour for the second year, Nicky loves the connections she makes with visitors to her studio.

For Nicky Falkenhayn, building a studio, creating her art, are her dreams come true. “I’ve always had something to look forward to and this drive to get it. If I have to learn something new, then I go for it. I live my life the best I can, I don’t take it for granted anymore, I just cherish every day.”

Nicky is also part of the 2009 Portland Open Studio Tour in Portland, Oregon. You can visit Nicky’s studio along with 100 other artists during Portland Open Studios Tour. For more information or to buy a Tour Guide, click

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Living a Creative Life
Article by: Susan Gallacher-Turner

Podcast by : Michael Turner

Listen to the podcast at

“My first job out of school was sculpting for a high end mannequin company,” says Patrick. “I went from sculpting one life-size sculpture a semester to doing one every week and a half and getting paid for it. I had a beautiful studio and I was getting paid to do what I loved.”

Portland, Oregon sculptor, Patrick Gracewood, started his traditional and rigorous drawing and sculpture training at California State University at Long Beach. He describes the sculpture homework for one class, “We had to do one head bust a week. You could only spend 3 hours on it and only work on the face in the last hour. You had to learn to take accurate measurements, so you could produce a recognizable likeness in a very short period of time.” It’s this training that’s given him the skills, efficiency and confidence to do the wide variety of sculpture.

After the job ended at the Los Angeles mannequin company, Wolf & Vine/Greneker, Patrick went looking for work, showing his portfolio to an aerospace company, a mortuary and a wax works. The wax works company was approached by a film company and that led to working in the film industry. “I was told that you can’t get into the film industry unless you’ve worked on film and you can’t work on film until you’re in the industry,” says Patrick. “In, 1984 I got paid $25 an hour to sculpt.” Working on the film, “Legend”, Patrick did character drawings, sculpting and prosthetics for actors including Tom Cruise and Tim Curry. He worked on the film, Legal Eagles, created sets for the Twilight Zone and other shows for CBS and Universal Studios. What might look like a dream job was sometimes a nightmare. According to Gracewood, “The hours are inhuman, you work 10-16 hours a day with an hour commute each way. When you’re done after 6-8 months, you’re just exhausted.” And as a commercial sculptor, when he was done with a job, he was out of a job.

Gracewood combats the stress of job insecurity with curiosity and research. That’s how he found himself doing architectural sculpture for historic restoration, new construction and landscape sculpture. The commercial sculpture jobs give him the chance to expand his skills and work with a wider range of materials as well as giving him a chance to be part of a team, to create work he could never do on his own. He finds it’s a perfect balance to the isolation of studio work.

He’s designed fountains, columns capitols for casinos and created a portrait of Jimmy Hendrix for Seattle’s Garfield High School, that Hendrix attended. “My curiosity has always been a boon to my art and my professional life,” Gracewood explains. “I saw an article on landscape design and said, that’s sculpture. I introduced myself to the designers and found out what they needed.” He’s now using the internet to market his work with a website and a blog, but he feels it’s really about developing relationships, not how many people you know on Facebook. Sometimes his persistence pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. But he feels that failures are learning experiences and a chance for him to regroup and recommit to his art, not stop doing it. “I’m not going to quit making art. It’s ok that I bounce back and forth between my own work and commercial art,” Gracewood says. “I like them all and they’re all valuable.”

Along with sculpture, Patrick’s interests branched out into gardening and dance. He’s designed a beautiful garden outside his studio filled with large and small scale garden sculptures for his own pleasure and to show clients his art installed in a garden. In the 90’s, he and friend, Caroline Stewart did over 200 performances with their Contact Improvisation dance company, Touch Monkey. In the end, he had to make a choice. “The dance was a good counterpoint to sculpting,” says Gracewood. “But I realized I couldn’t have two careers.” Now, he dances for pleasure and stress relief.

The Buddhist theme of stillness is central to Gracewood’s dance, sculpture and dance. It relieves his stress and grounds him in the moment that allows his work to be quiet, contemplative and healing. That’s what he says drives his creative life, “I try to have my sculpture have a positive meaning, to make art about healing is vital.” His newest series of wood carvings featuring Buddhist monks in meditating poses clearly show his love of stillness. As he slowly carves the wood, he sees the transformation of life in the wood going from an old growth cedar tree, to a found fence rail to a garden sculpture.

Whether it’s an enormous dragon for Wynn Casino in China, a Portland area garden fountain, Seattle architectural restoration, or his own carvings, the bottom line for Gracewood is commitment. “In my early art I was trying to escape; now I’m arriving at myself. My pieces embody our humanity, patience, stillness or gentleness,” he says. “Art has saved my life many times; I give my life to art. It takes a big commitment.” He admits that the creative life is scary at times and that goes with the territory. Recently, when commissions dried up and out of fear, he applied at the local supermarket. When he didn’t get the job, he realized, “The universe is telling you stop. It’s not going to work. While I was waiting, I made a carving and figured out I have to be a better salesman of my work.”

His advice for others, “It’s a funny tightrope when you’re a professional artist, because it’s what you do for money. “But it’s also what you do for love. Stop comparing yourself and just be very grateful to have the good health and the good fortune to be able to do something you love. And be stubborn enough to keep at it.”

Patrick Gracewood is living a creative life and making a living with his sculpture work for many different businesses. Along the way, he’s managed to produce an impressive body of his own studio work from large concrete garden sculptures to small, hand-carved wooden figures. His ability to handle the variety comes from a simple philosophy: if it’s sculpture, he’ll do it.