Tag: Columbus art

Jen Bodine: Analytical Organic Chemist + Artist

Talking about a love of portraiture with CAW member Kate Morgan

IMG_4346Kate Morgan exudes enthusiasm. Her studio at The Columbus Idea Foundry is the incubator for her mixed media portraits. Not confined to one medium, she utilizes painting, printmaking, collage and many other methods to articulate her figures. Elongated limbs, ethereal washes, and emotional tones signify her work. Kate is a relatively new member of CAW, but she is no stranger to art-making, nor the Columbus arts scene. She has been drawing since childhood and never abandoned that practice, even while studying fashion photography at CCAD. Since going full time as an artist, she couldn’t be happier. She is quick to mention the “fierce support” that has helped her get to this point in her career, from both family and friends, as well as other artists in Columbus and beyond. She is compelled to keep painting, drawing, and experimenting – constantly striving to discover the next thing on her artistic horizon.

Bound to You, Vintage map, enamel paint, acrylic paint, gold leaf paint, pencil & gouache on board 18 3/4 inches tall x 43 inches wide | ©2015 Kate Morgan
Bound to You, Vintage map, enamel paint, acrylic paint, gold leaf paint, pencil & gouache on board
18 3/4 inches tall x 43 inches wide | ©2015 Kate Morgan

Have you always drawn figures?

Originally, I was going to school for fashion photography. I would draw out little plans for shoots. Once I got an education about where the bones and muscles are in the body, I very quickly realized the models couldn’t pose like my drawings – it wasn’t humanly possible. So I let the drawings become one thing and the photography became another thing. Even though I studied photography, I have always drawn. A few friends from my high school history class have little drawings from me. It is fun to see those, before my formal education. Now I just let the drawing go free.

What part of the figure have you struggled to draw?

I hate feet. I don’t like them in person and I don’t like to draw them. I’ve always loved portraits, which are traditionally not feet. I accept that as a challenge that I need feet in some works. I try to make them cute to compensate. Like in this painting for example, I made round, little, berry toes. I have to make them not look like feet to trick myself into drawing them.

Your work brings to mind so many different references – Egyptian sculpture, Renaissance paintings, Modigliani’s eyes. What are some favorites of yours?

I run really hot and cold, not just between artists, but also within an artists’ body of work. I will love one piece, but not another. Egon Schiele was my first art guy love. There are things that he does, that just aren’t for me. That’s true for me too. There are some things that I make and it is an immediate no. Right now everyone is saying that I am channeling Gustav Klimt, and I can totally see that.



What influences might surprise people?

Folklore and history are both inspiring me lately. I’ve been listening to history and old time radio mystery podcasts. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History goes in depth and is outstanding. Usually I listen to music while at my studio. Since I need to pause podcasts when I get a studio visitor and more often than not, my hands are dripping wet or messy, music is easier in the studio.

How do you approach the gaze of the figures?

I am obsessed with profiles, which I think comes from my love of Egyptian and Greek historical figures. One of my teachers a long time ago pointed out that the figures don’t look at you. That it seemed like they were hiding something. Her words felt like a challenge. It took a couple years to turn their heads. Now I have done some that are directly straight on. I don’t find it challenging any more, but it really did take awhile. For the longest time, I didn’t put pupils in the eyes. Since the eyes are the windows to the souls – if there was nothing there, the figure was just the shell vessel that contained the soul. I have somewhat abandoned this, in part because it really creeped a lot of people out. I now add pupils. To me it makes it look more traditional, which is where most of my references are coming from anyway.

Informer | Right: Madiera Lingers Mixed Media Mono Prints, Editions of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan
Informer, Mixed Media Mono Print, Edition of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan
Informer | Right: Madiera Lingers Mixed Media Mono Prints, Editions of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan
Informer, Mixed Media Mono Print, Edition of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan

You obviously embrace experimentation. It helps you stay engaged in your studio practice. When did you begin incorporating found paper?

I started out making acrylic paintings with light washes and several coats of resin or polyurethane. Quite frankly, I was broke due to student loans right after school. I couldn’t afford a color printer, so I started experimenting with mixed media monoprints. I couldn’t print with color, but I could add color as a layer underneath a black and white print. It was at this time that I was getting into incorporating old paper. The historical aspect of it was also really appealing. I have always been into art history. I minored in art history because I had a great teacher who taught all of the surrounding history to explain the relevance of the art. The paper is a textural element, but it also has more to offer – different points of conversation that you can engage someone in. I like the way old things like maps and old wallpaper look. It’s a piece of history in your art. The next step has become collaging more and giving the works more depth. It has been really fun to see people interact with these new works.

What was the impetus to go back to school?

I was working at the photo lab at Wal-Mart. I had fallen down on ebad decisions and some hard times. When you’re not feeling good about yourself, you make little decisions instead of big, good decisions. It took about four years to pick myself up emotionally and financially from that. It also took the courage and self-awareness to know that it was not where I belonged. At the same time, my friend went back to school to CCAD. She got a scholarship and I didn’t realize you could do that as an adult. So I tried too, and I got a scholarship that helped push me.




At what time after school did you realize that you should pursue drawing full time?

Not until a few years ago. The very first show I did was Independents’ Day Festival. I prepared like crazy and brought all my college work and some of those new monoprints I had been making. I think I made $800 and I was thrilled. I initially started doing festivals to pay back my student loans. I had photography in there too, but I only sold three photographs and the rest were paintings and drawings. The more I did it, the more I realized the photography was not fulfilling my need to get dirty and make things with my hands. It was a different level of connection with the work when I was drawing or painting. I was working full time and it took about a year or two for me to quit my job and pursue art. I have been very happy ever since. I’m a giant dork. I make lots of lots of mistakes with my artwork. There are lots of rejects and things go wrong. Sometimes things just don’t work, and I am ok with that. I just want to be happy all the time, making stuff.


Ginger Float, Mixed Media Mono Print, Editions of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan
Ginger Float, Mixed Media Mono Print, Editions of 100 | ©2014 Kate Morgan


Visit KateMorganImageDesign.com to view more of Kate’s portfolio. 

Talking about color, calm, and clouds with CAW member Betsy DeFusco

Edited_Betsy_IMG_3901Betsy DeFusco has called a studio on Spring Street in downtown Columbus her artistic headquarters for over twenty years. Her colorful paintings evolve one thin layer at a time. Across all of her series, light emanates from within each work. Her careful application of the paint achieves this goal, as well as a sense of calm and serenity. This is especially apparent in her Light Crossings series which feature overlapping stripes. In some paintings within this series, a calligraphic line cuts across the canvas in a playful gesture. This push and pull between planning and spontaneity mirrors how she approaches a new painting. I recently visited Betsy at her studio while she was preparing for an upcoming studio sale. This was cause to revisit past work, providing a road map of her artistic journey.


Palancar by Betsy DeFusco
Palancar by Betsy DeFusco


After studying art education at the University of Dayton, you didn’t teach, but rather worked in fashion illustration and then started a business drawing house portraits. Do any of those endeavors play a residual role in your work today?

The residual effect is that I used pen, ink and transparent watercolor for that early work, and I still prefer working on a white background. I work on a gessoed, white background and try to let the light come through. I also really like line, and I am always trying to figure out how to get more line into the work, harkening back to those pen and ink sketches. I learned the line drawing at my first job at a department store doing fashion art. That was so much fun. Party job!

What pushed you to make the leap from illustrative drawings to painting?

I knew I could probably have a bigger business if I kept going with the house portraits and prints I was doing, but I wanted to progress further and learn how to oil paint. So I went to CCAD and enrolled in painting classes. I loved it because it was a brand new medium. I had used acrylics, but I had never used oil and I liked it so much more. When my friend Marti invited me to share studio space at 55 E. Spring Street I jumped at the chance. I had always worked at home when my children were young, but I was ready to have a studio away from my house.

What was the first subject matter that you painted?

When I was about nine I painted a beautiful tree that stood alone in a field behind my house. I remember thinking I had to get it down on paper, it was so lovely! Fast forward many years to when I started in my studio, I painted landscapes and clouds followed by a bit of collage, always two-dimensional. The first time I did anything three-dimensional was in graduate school when I cut openings into my paintings. Some openings were closed off in the back, and some were open. I also experimented with different depths.




What was the significance of opening up the panels in that way?

I wanted another element in there since my work was getting very minimal. At graduate school, anything we put in our paintings was questioned to death. We had to answer every question about why each element was there. I could never do that, so my work became very minimal and still is, in a way. I believe in ‘less is more.’ The challenge comes in making works that still have a certain complexity. I got the idea for the openings in part because I was studying Asian Art. I was thinking a lot about Buddhism and Taoism. In Taoism, there is a quote about how it is not the jar that is important, but the empty space inside the jar. “We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.” Also, “We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable.” To me the opening represents our inner thoughts and dreams, and also refers to all the unanswered questions in our lives.

After you finished graduate school, you abandoned minimalism a little and returned to clouds. Why is that?

They had been forbidden in graduate school (”already done”) so I had to go back and do them. Which just shows you really have to do what you want to do. But then they became limiting. Any time I got too close to realism there was some structure I wanted to break out of. So I did the clouds in different colors, and then started my Pine Creek series that depicted reflections in water. Eventually I realized that it was more about the color than it was about the subject matter. That is when I started painting stripes and just playing with colors.

Yes, Yellow by Betsy DeFusco
Yes, Yellow by Betsy DeFusco
Crescent Beach by Betsy DeFusco
Crescent Beach by Betsy DeFusco



How would you define the category of painting your work adheres to most?

Landscape. Some of the big paintings in the Light Crossings series are more landscape-like. It is about the light in the sky and the earth. When I look at my painting I see sky, water and land, even if no one else does. I think many artists today try to straddle the line between abstraction and representation in an interesting way so that it’s not one or the other. That is kind of the big challenge for two-dimensional painters now. How do you refer to reality in a new and unique way that might be a little unexpected.

Your studio mates describe you as very orderly – with all of your brushes in a row. How would you describe your studio practice?

That is true! I cannot work if there is a mess around me. The ideal is that you come in every day and you put everything else out of your mind and just work with the paint. If things happen, they happen. I like to start early, but sometimes it is easier if I get things done at home first and come in with a clearer mind. I like to come in, put music on, fool around a bit, and just start working. I work on big things and little things at the same time. If I am getting ready for a show, I work on ten to twenty pieces at once. I find it helpful since I paint with oil. I like to use thin layers – so I do a thin layer, set it aside, and come back the following day and paint another thin layer.




How many layers do you think are on any given painting?

Probably at least forty to fifty. It seems like I work on some of them for a really long time, so it is hard to say exactly. I am a thin painter. I have tried to put the paint on thick, but I just can’t do it even though I love when other people do it. Maybe it is the whole minimalistic style of my work. I like calm and I don’t want that bumpiness. I also can’t paint fast. Just like the thick paint, I like it when people do, but I can’t seem to. I am reading a book called A Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman. It about the painter Camille Pissarro and his mother and there is a quote I just love. “Jestine had told me never to rush something I was creating, but instead to let it come into being as if it had a soul of its own.” Not sure why the quote struck me so, except that I love to spend time with each piece, and take my time. And, I love looking at work where you know that time was spent making it.

What artists inspire you?

My favorite artist is Richard Diebenkorn. He had three distinct phases: abstraction with a lot of movement, figurative, and color fields. I was thinking I was getting tired of him, but then I saw his work again in Washington DC a few years ago and it was breathtaking. I find it very healing to see those large areas of color, and I love his use of line. There are a lot of grays in his work, like in the paintings of Matisse. I am just starting to learn about the different grays you can get by mixing oil paints. I still go back to him and look at the colors. His figurative and representational work is also really nice.

What makes you want to paint more?

Painting is always an unanswered question. It is an adventure.

Talking about the third dimension with CAW member Kristin Morris

KMorris_PortraitThe wheels are always turning in the artistic mind of Kristin Morris. Her studio is full of pieces and parts she has culled from garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores. These wooden parts may be the base for a sculpture or integrated into the spine of a skeleton. Working in three dimensions is primary to her practice, and she deftly experiments with different sculpting materials and assemblage. Kristin’s mother is a potter and her father is a geologist so it’s only natural that the process and rigor needed in both of those fields is apparent in her work. Her sculptures skirt the line between dark and light, as well as playful and more serious. Her home studio is full of inspiring projects all on the cusp of coming to life.


Installation for the exhibition Remnants by Kristin Morris (Photo credit: Caroline Kraus)

You created a school of fish that included found objects embedded within their ceramic bodies for Remnants. What was the most challenging part of that project?

The most challenging part of the Remnants project was figuring out the best way to hang the fish. I had some good ideas about the styles, types of fish, and found objects that I wanted to use – which I think worked out fairly well – but I’m still finding my way with ceramic techniques. I had some help with technical issues from Eric Raush, my ceramics teacher at the Cultural Arts Center.

How did you get your start in sculpture? What attracted you to working in three dimensions? 

I have been making things in clay since I was about 5 or 6 years old when I made little snakes to bring to art and craft shows. My mom is a potter who has done fairs my whole life, and I wanted something to sell, too. I have always loved clay because I grew up around it and I love the feel of it in my hands. It can be manipulated into any form or shape you desire – the possibilities are endless!  When I was little I had a sandbox in the backyard and I had more fun making “mud pies” in the dirt outside of the sandbox than in the sandbox!



You created a school of fish that included found objects embedded within their ceramic bodies for Remnants. What was the most challenging part of that project?

The most challenging part of the Remnants project was figuring out the best way to hang the fish. I had some good ideas about the styles, types of fish, and found objects that I wanted to use – which I think worked out fairly well – but I’m still finding my way with ceramic techniques. I had some help with technical issues from Eric Raush, my ceramics teacher at the Cultural Arts Center.

How did you get your start in sculpture? What attracted you to working in three dimensions? 

I have been making things in clay since I was about 5 or 6 years old when I made little snakes to bring to art and craft shows. My mom is a potter who has done fairs my whole life, and I wanted something to sell, too. I have always loved clay because I grew up around it and I love the feel of it in my hands. It can be manipulated into any form or shape you desire – the possibilities are endless!  When I was little I had a sandbox in the backyard and I had more fun making “mud pies” in the dirt outside of the sandbox than in the sandbox!

After studying studio art, you continued your studies in 3D illustration at CCAD. How would you define that way of working?

After I graduated from college, I saw the annual Student Show at CCAD and was immediately drawn to the 3D Illustration work in the exhibit. I signed up for 3D Illustration and took it every semester that I was there. I learned to make molds, work in resins, foam and latex, and was invited to spend a summer working with my teacher – Mark Hazelrig – and 8 students sculpting characters for an amusement park haunted house. While in the class we also made a life size “chess set” of Alice In Wonderland vs. The Wizard Of Oz and sculptures of Roman gods on columns – all out of foam and latex. I had a great experience in that class and learned a lot of valuable skills that helped me later on working for a company making figures and props for haunted houses and an effects studio constructing a ride for a large water park out west.



You are very prolific, working on several projects all at once. Is this always how you work? 

I’m always working on several things at once. I get bored doing the same thing for a long time if I don’t mix it up a little bit! I love to sculpt more than anything- but I also love to paint my sculptures. I go back and forth between these two things a lot!

You took a workshop with the sculptor, Janis Mars Wunderlich last year. What was your biggest takeaway from this experience? 

I learned some sculpting techniques from Janis, and she also talked a lot about glazes and underglazes.  Unfortunately I didn’t spend as much time listening to this part because I paint all of my sculptures with acrylics.  It was great to go in every day and see what everyone else was doing and most amazing to watch her sculpt and just see the way she approaches each piece. I’m in awe of her knowledge of clay and her active imagination!  I always thought her work was so strange but when I actually heard her talk about it – it really made a lot of sense. I could see where the stories and ideas found their way into her work! I also really enjoyed visiting her studio (at her house) and seeing where everything comes to life.

You have said that Walter Herrmann describes your work as “playfully macabre.” Why is this a fitting description? How do you describe your work? 

I think “playfully macabre” is a perfect description of my work! It is somewhat edgy, dark, scary, and weird, but it has a lighter side to it – a fun side. It’s not malicious or gruesome or mean-spirited in any way. I think one of the worst things to me is when someone walks up at a show and says “Oh, it’s so cute!”  That drives me crazy!  I admit, I have made some cute things, and I still do, but there is a time and place for that. The majority of my work is not on the cute side. More often than not people say to me it reminds them of Tim Burton – which I take as a compliment.

A sculpture of a tortoise created by Kristin Morris at a workshop led by Janis Mars Wunderlich at the Cultural Arts Center
A sculpture of a tortoise created by Kristin Morris at a workshop led by Janis Mars Wunderlich at the Cultural Arts Center


You work in a variety of 3D mediums, including clay, apoxie sculpt, latex and more. What determines the material for a given project? 

The given material for a project depends on what its use will be. I used to make latex hand puppets but there wasn’t a big market for those. Apoxie Sculpt is one of my favorite mediums to work with but it has a faster set-up time so sometimes I will use Super Sculpey instead. For instance, if I am working on a face that could take a while. Apoxie sculpt is heavier too, so if you’re doing something light it’s not the best option.  However, it’s really strong and it’s self-hardening – no oven or kiln needed – which is great!  It’s awesome for working with found objects and adhering things together when glues just won’t do. I love stoneware clay (pottery clay) – I am developing more skills as I continue working with it.

Since you work in so many materials, how do you organize your home studio spaces?

I have a downstairs studio in my basement for stoneware clay and painting; in my studio/computer room upstairs I have a large table I use for other types of clay sculpting such as Apoxie Sculpt, Super Sculpey, and materials that aren’t messy.

What project is next for you? 

Up next I will be in the Upper Arlington Labor Day Arts Festival in September. In October, I will be a featured artist at the Oakland Nursery Gift Shop in New Albany (Johnstown Rd.) during the Fall Festival weekend. In October of 2016 I will be in a show with Debbie Loffing and Kate Morgan at the Vanderelli Room.

A Resurgence of Historical Ladies’ Wear: Corsetry with Designer Larissa Boiwka

larissa (1)

Larissa Boiwka (pronounced Boy-eve-kah), a recent recipient of the Greater Columbus Art Council’s grants, and her Wilde Hunt Corsetry came to my attention through a Facebook post on the Art and Artists of 614.  I was totally enthralled by her artistry and amazingly detailed work.  I’ve never had a corset before but her work has sure made me think about that twice! I asked her if she would be interested in being interviewed and, happily, she said yes.

blue and gold corset

Not only did I interview her, but I got to take a great 3D embroidery class from her near the end of April. First, the interview and then a little bit about the class.

Originally from Amherst Ohio, she is both a first and second generation here in the USA…her dad immigrated from the Ukraine and her mother’s family immigrated (great grandparents on her mother’s side) from Germany and England…THAT is an interesting bloodline and could explain her love for history.

Creating came to her through her genes as her mother is an artist and raised Larissa in an environment that fostered creativity, artistry and creation. While her mom doesn’t enjoy sewing much, she taught Larissa the basics at an early age. ‘As far as corsetry is involved, I  am 100% self-taught through a lot of expensive mistakes!’


Like so many other artists I have interviewed, she states:

Yes, I have always been drawn to creating. I have thought about this a lot over the years, and I don’t think that you really get to choose. If you are an artist, you simply are. You can try to defer it, stifle it, but it will always surface. I feel that generally when an artist tries to forego art for another occupation, they end up pretty miserable.  Ask me how I know…ha ha!

Having a degree in anthropology from OSU, she has a passion for historic clothing, ancient cultures, cultural adornments and ethnic costumes that have inspired a lot of her work. ‘Towards the end of my degree I realized that while I am very interested in and inspired by ancient cultures, I did not want to spend my life in academia. I worked as a retail buyer for an art and jewelry gallery after college. It was during that time that I established Wilde Hunt Corsetry in 2007. ‘ She calls her work ‘art corsetry’ since it is a mix of fine art, traditional craft and fashion. Nature, Art Nouveau, antique furniture, ethnic textiles and jewelry, extreme contrasts and beautiful and distinctive women serve as inspiration for her gorgeous creations.


In addition to her own creations, she teaches couture embroidery and beading. She sometimes teaches Couture Embroidery and Beading at the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) or at her home studio. Since she believes that it is kind of a dying art form, she thinks it is important to pass on the techniques. Recently, she taught a course in am obscure medieval style of embroidery called Or Nue’ (nuance in gold). It is like painting with silk upon densely laid threads of gold. ‘The detail and subtlety possible in this medium is incredible.’ Unfortuntately, the best artisans in this style died without passing on their skills and so now, just a handful of them internationally practice this form of embroidery, having taught themselves through studying extant examples and trial and error. Fortunate for the Columbus art and fashion scene that Larissa is among them! Read more

Talking about the materiality of wood with CAW member Melinda Rosenberg

Melinda_10Melinda Rosenberg’s wooden sculptures often include an organic piece, like a branch, that cuts against a more rigid form constructed from boards. No source of wood is off limit. Skeletal Christmas tree trunks, weathered barn wood, and traditional lumber are all stowed away in her studio space. Pristine or weathered, she highlights the inherent nature of the wood – often with layers of stain and careful sanding. She has amassed a workshop full of tools and is constantly learning new methods to create her forms. Although Melinda works predominantly in wood, her influences are far-reaching.

A large selection of Melinda’s “boat” forms will be on display for Remnants at the Urban Arts Space. She is also represented by the Sherrie Gallerie locally, as well as the CIRCA Gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Haen Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina. I met up with Melinda at her studio. Tagging along was her furry sidekick, Maggie who really sunk her teeth into the material – or at least the scraps on the floor.

9. X-43
X-43 by Melinda Rosenberg

You started working with wood whole-heartedly while getting your MFA at Ohio State. What was the pivotal project or moment that sparked your interest?

It was the first thing I did there. I was really excited by the artist Ree Morton. I had just come back from New York City and she had an exhibition at the New Museum. She brought play and humor [to her work.] In one piece (image here), she had made a tabletop with just a piece of plywood and some sticks. It looked very handmade. Then she had little sections of tree and put a rock on it at different heights. Then on the wall, she had diagrams that were very carefully drawn of each little vignette. I was excited because it was a bridge between the 2D and the 3D, but it was also her pleasure. She was showing you how carefully she had observed this thing. That is what we do on the beach, we collect rocks. It took something very ordinary and it made me feel like I was going to the beach with her. It was a fun, intimate thing.

I was all inspired by her, so I just started right away doing things in wood that I would then paint or draw. I would find a log and make it into a ballerina by putting a lot of tutu stuff on it. I painted the wood grain to make it more evident – with neon and bright colors. I then banded it off, sort of like it was an altar. I was inspired by [Ree Mortin]’s idea, but I had gone crazy with it.

You combine formalist elements like shape with organic wood pieces. Does a series start with the organic pieces or a more geometric framework?

It starts with the framework. I will set something up. With the X’s it was an exploration of more painterly issues, but also optical and material issues. I was trying to directly solve what can happen as a painter dealing with wood in all of its multi-faceted aspects. With the boat forms, I was more inspired by the desire to reintroduce something more organic into the geometric and really make a deal of it, like the Cha-shitsu Architecture [of Japanese tea houses]. When I write about it, I talk about how the organic can be a metaphor for the more natural side of human life and the geometric the more rational side. I think about that dichotomy and I want to try to bring things into balance that may not be so in harmony in my life – your desires against what you know you should do.


Is there a reason these boat forms have a negative space framing the organic item running through the center?

I was thinking about many things at the same time.  I was thinking about male, female – the stick is phallic and the opening is vaginal. The stick is natural and the surrounding form is man made. I wanted to give space so that the natural object has room to be observed and appreciated. So there is definitely a reason why there is space. I was really playing around with how thin to get the sticks on the sides. When you go really thin, what will that do to it? Playing around with all that stuff kind of formally, but also seeing how it made it feel when it’s done.

I know you plan to hang your boat series in a configuration for Remnants. Do you have the arrangement in mind from the outset, or is it more a response to the space when you install?

That part definitely comes to play in it, but it’s not pre-planned. In the beginning, it is enough to wrap my head around what I am going to do with a stick and a piece of wood. Every time that I put on a show, I spend a lot of time doing thinking about how is it going to be arranged, how it is going to fit in the space and what the relationship between objects are going to be, both in size and style. By working in a series, I want to point out differences and subtleties in the material.

Boats by Melinda Rosenberg

Wood isn’t like other materials. It has a growth history. Can you speak to that?

It is one of the reasons I love wood. The growth history seen in the wood grain and how wood decays is very important. When my daughter was three, it was fall and in our backyard there are tons of trees and there were leaves everywhere. She ran out to this pile of leaves and picked up a leaf and screamed, “Mommy, I found a leaf.” She was pure joy that she had found this leaf. I think that’s it. She had her finger on the pulse of life to appreciate something like that so much. With wood, it is my way to get at the pulse of life. I want to be able to put my finger on something that is alive. It is metaphorically, for me, the whole great life thing that we’re a part of.

Your influences range from such disparate examples as minimalist painting to Japanese architecture to conceptual photography. How do these synthesize in your work?

When digesting influences, I think it’s really important to both be respectful of the source and its original intent and context, but it’s also important to let go of that. Maybe I am too accommodating as a person, but I feel like if we are going to progress as a culture we have to be able to communicate visually. I’m not Japanese, but I’m really excited about Cha-shitsu Architecture, which I have been for years. I could tell you stories about this architecture. It’s grand. They do optical stuff that is designed to bring you into the present moment. I am inspired by the intent and the effect of those moves. I think we should use them intelligently to move forward. We should learn from them.

I take what I get excited about and find it in my work. It’s not what it looks like, it’s what it does to me. When I’m going through the museum I’m not seeing 99% of it. The things that I see are the things that I need to see. That’s how we work. You learn what your antennas are up for. I think the information comes in because we’re ready for it to come in.


In showing me a new system to cradle your works-in-progress you mentioned working with Cliff. Who is Cliff?

I got a professional development grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council to work with Cliff Lewis, a woodworker, to help me problem solve throughout this past year. It has been transformative. I encourage all you guys to apply for a professional development grant. He has provided a plethora of ideas that have enabled me to do more things.

Do you have any words of encouragement for other artists?

I have been on an amazing roll for the last five years or so. But I want to recognize for all those artists that aren’t on an amazing roll, that I have gone through terrible dry spells where it has been drudgery – making bad art, after bad art, after bad art. So just hang in there. Have faith.

What broke you free from the drudgery? Time?

I started working on this series before I retired, so it’s not only time. It was also finding something that was really exciting. Every day is a pleasure. I feel so blessed to have the time and the space and the ideas. It’s really been amazing. I wake up all excited to work.

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Books by Melinda Rosenberg

Visit melindarosenberg.com to view more of Melinda’s portfolio. 


Talking about encaustics of industrial landscapes with CAW member Kellie McDermott

IMG_3216Kellie McDermott is working around the clock on her upcoming exhibit,Luminous Landscapes, at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington. In addition to her studio, she has a temporary set-up in her basement with all the necessary supplies. With pools of wax melting in a muffin tin on an electric griddle, Kellie joked that she has co-opted her mother’s kitchen gifts for her art practice. She uses these melted, pigmented waxes to create encaustic works depicting industrial landscapes, a subject matter that has fascinated her since childhood.


Save the date for the opening reception of Luminous Landscapes
Thursday, March 5, 6-8 PM.

What was your first foray into working with encaustic?

Before I knew it was encaustic, I was in college my senior year (at CCAD) only about six weeks away from my senior thesis show and I felt like everyone else knew what they were doing. They had their themes, their oil paints, their sculptures and I still had no idea what I was going to do. I was panicking. So one night in my tiny apartment on campus, I was sitting on the floor at my coffee table sketching. For a while I had done sculpture so I had a bunch of slabs of slate laying around. I started doodling with charcoal and some ink on top of the stone. I was very frustrated because it looked terrible. I took a candle that was burning on my coffee table and just dumped it over the whole thing. To my surprise, I was really excited about the way the drawing was coming through behind the transparent wax. From that moment of huge despair, I had that aha moment. I started practicing on little, tiny panels with charcoal and inks with wax over it. From there, I developed a more solid technique and created an entire thesis show based around architectural streets and cityscapes using the wax and charcoal.

Please describe the process of encaustic.

I start with a hard board panel to support the structure of the wax. If I am doing a smaller scale [piece], I have a hot plate melting a muffin tin filled with beeswax and Damar resin. The wax needs to be hardened by that resin. I tint [the waxes] with either powder, oil or encaustic pigments. As they melt down I’ll apply layers and layers of wax using natural bristle brushes – usually working light to dark. Then I will start carving in some details with my paring knife before adding more details with wax. Finally, using an encaustic stylus pen which is like a hot inkwell pen, I go in and pull out the fine details like the telephone lines or very sharp shadows. Every time I do a layer of wax, I use the industrial heat gun to seal it back in. Encaustic really means “burning in.” Fusing each layer of wax to the previous layer makes it stable.


Do you consider the process of encaustic more like painting or more like relief?

Maybe in the past it was more painting, but now I am using it more as relief. I go back and forth – addition, subtraction. So it’s pretty much fifty-fifty. I’ve watched tutorials on YouTube about how to do encaustic, because I am pretty sure I am doing it completely wrong. Their whole thing is to work on a very small-scale and make it as smooth and glasslike as humanly possible. To me that goes against the material. If something has such beautiful texture and can be worked with in such a tactile way, why not pull that out? Why subdue its natural tendencies?

You create mainly industrial landscapes, what attracts you to this subject matter?

I grew up in West Virginia and my small hometown had that early 1900’s “stopped in time” feel. The old architecture and original buildings weren’t kept up; they had broken down. I really was attracted to that from a very young age. Along the river and along a lot of the roads, there were always these massive factories and refineries. I was mystified that you had this beautiful countryside and this lovely river and then across were these billowing smokestacks with fire spewing out. Every fifteen minutes or so there was another and another and another. I found the contrast really striking. I have always been so fascinated by abandoned spaces. Always having the story of what was there before – the legacy of the building and what it meant.

Your work employs fairly high contrast – how do you strike the right balance between light and dark?

There isn’t a lot of nature in the encaustics. I try to show it through the sky and the light – have that be the nature of it. How do I know when it’s done? I usually go way too far and take my trusty paring knife and start carving the layer off. There is something called too dramatic, and I go there every time. I take it over the edge and I bring it back in.

Road to Chillicothe II by Kellie McDermott

What do you mean by “deconstruct the details”?

A lot of time I use my photography as references and I find that if the image is too clear or too detailed, I will get mired in the little windows and structures. I will start noodling too much on the individual elements instead of looking at it holistically. Sometimes I’ll just smudge out entire areas, not really abstract them, but deconstruct them. Instead of getting so into the small details, the focus can be more on the feel of the entire piece.

Why do you usually work in series?

By the time I figure out what I’m doing with one composition or one color palette, I want to explore a little further and see if I can make it better the next time. Essentially every time I start a new piece it is a new experiment because I have no idea what the wax is going to do, where the colors are going to take me, or how they’re going to mix together. The first one is the experiment and the second one is making sure I’ve covered all the bases. And if I really like it, I’ll do a third and fourth, but usually no further than that. Then it’s just redundant.

You finish the image around the edges of the panel. Why do you do that?

I like the idea of having a structural piece. I like the visual appeal of it. I’ve always done it, without questioning it. I treat these more like objects than paintings. Especially the way I carve them and really dig into them.

Road to Chillicothe I by Kellie McDermott
Window Wall by Kellie McDermott


Your upcoming exhibit, Luminous Landscapes, will open at the McConnell Arts Center in March. How do you approach a show? What is the biggest challenge about exhibiting a large body of work?

The biggest challenge is deciding what to paint. The important thing with a big show like this is keeping a balance between the different compositions, color palettes, and styles – and to show a variety of pieces that still have the same concept. I usually take a blueprint of the space and start laying it out, deciding what sizes where. This is basically for me to decide how many pieces and what sizes do I need. Is my color palette too blue? Is it all yellow with one strange blue piece? It is a lot of background preparation to find the right balance.

Visit www.kmcdermott.com to view more of Kellie’s portfolio. In addition to her upcoming exhibition at the McConnell Arts Center, she is planning to exhibit at the newly remodeled exhibition space at the Columbus Airport. That show will run from May through August 2015. 

Talking about stories of the past at a new studio with CAW member Mary Ann Crago

Mary Ann Crago just relocated her creative quarters to a newly renovated garage studio. From the inspiration wall to the shelves of bits and baubles to the finished works, the space is pure magic! As I listened to her reflect on past work, it seems that the studio has entered her life at the perfect time. After evolving her practice as a mixed media artist, she now has the space to build and expand her body of assemblage work. With an “installation-ish” piece planned for CAW’s Remnants in May and a solo show at Tacocat in September, this year promises to be one of exploration and pushing boundaries.


After studying at CCAD you continued working at the library and attained your Master’s of Library Science. What brought you back to art?

I had been working on art all along, just not a lot. School and my library job had taken precedence over everything else, but I missed it. When I’m not creating, I’m just not as happy. I had a friend who did festivals and I would go see her at this one festival. I was kind of inspired by it. I remember leaving thinking, I should be doing this too. From that point I pursued that specific festival. I reached out to the organizer and expressed interest. I didn’t think it would happen, but she had a spot because someone had dropped away and I was in the very next summer, which is crazy. So that was some motivation to actually start creating and making some work and it was fabulous. That summer was really great.

Your work evolved from more painterly landscapes (first in watercolor and later in acrylics) to mixed media assemblage. What made you gravitate towards this new way of working?

I was in the same place for a long time with my work, especially with a lot of my paintings. At an Ohio Art League art talk I remember an artist pushing me a little bit in a really supportive way. He just kind of threw the idea out there that maybe I should try something else because what I had been doing for a long time was really safe. It stuck with me. I started exploring and looking at books – reading a lot about creativity in other artists. I’ve always been intrigued by fabric and collage artists. A lot of time people use collage as a way to explore creativity in a way that is less structured. This triggered something in me. So I just started thinking, what if? What if I added some cut paper elements to this painting? What if I would try this or try that? I experimented with gold leaf and with adding little bits and pieces. I drilled into panels and added grommets. I started adding painted panels to boxes or drawers that I would find. It has just evolved from there. I have tried to not worry so much about it being what I was taught in school that art needed to be. It sounds cheesy, but I felt like it was freeing. At some point, I gave myself permission to experiment and to try things. When I was painting I felt much more of a struggle than I feel now with the mixed media pieces. I don’t have these preconceived ideas of what it should look like. I have no idea. I just let it be.


In addition to incorporating all sorts of bits as well as sculpted bird heads, you now scavenge old forgotten photographs to use in your work. How do you pick the photographs?

I try to stay away from extra creepy photographs. I think there is energy around objects, but I definitely think there is energy with photos. I am really drawn to pictures of women and kids. I have the occasional man photo too, but they just aren’t as interesting to me. I have refined what I look for. Early on I would collect or gather any old thing, but as I have started working with them I have a better feel for what I like and don’t like. I like actual photographs, not printed postcards. There is a lightness and darkness in the photos that I am drawn to. When I incorporate dots, the white against those lights and darks is amazing to me. There is something really special about their eyes, too. When I see it, I know it. Sometimes in photographs their eyes will connect with the camera as if it’s not even a photograph. It’s like you are sitting there staring at this person and they’re alive. Things that are atypical like groupings of people or family members are really interesting, especially when there is something odd happening in the picture. For instance, if not everyone is looking where they should be. Sometimes there is information about the person, like their name or the year, but often there isn’t. It is like there’s a story there, but you don’t know what it is. There are no real clues other than the image itself.

One of my favorite things about you is your love of books, which is totally fitting since you are Mary Ann the librarian. Words and narrative have entered your work in a very big way. Is this new?

Yeah I think it’s new. It has always been something that I’ve thought about. Sometimes I have hints of ideas that are just a glimmer of something that hasn’t quite solidified and I don’t know how to make it happen. The word thing has intrigued me for a little while, even when I was painting. Some of the earlier mixed media pieces I would incorporate a lot of numbers, which was a way to start playing with text. The photograph pieces are a perfect scenario for using text or words. Like I mentioned before, these people have stories, but I don’t know what they are. It is fun thing to figure out or create the story for them.


You are going a step further and incorporating the public into the story-telling aspect of your work. You did this by crowd-sourcing ideas for Woman as Truthvia Facebook for your tile in the Woman As ___ exhibit. You also did this at the Upper Arlington Labor Day Arts Festival this past summer. Can you describe your booth?

[Along with my art,] I set up a typewriter and put a photo out. I asked people to come up with their own story or what they thought about the women and kid in the picture. It was amazing. It was really cool to see how people interacted with that photo – what they were thinking and what they saw in that picture. I have goose bumps just now thinking about it.

So the photograph and typed text was the impetus for a piece of art. Have you made it?

Not yet, but I will!


Speaking of festivals, congratulations on your recent first place award at Upper Arlington’s Labor Day Arts Festival! You exhibit in both festivals and more traditional gallery spaces. Does the venue inform your work?

I don’t know that it does. I make the kind of work that I make. I personally like showing in all ways, but enjoy the festival setting more. I like interacting with people and observing them as they are interacting with my pieces. I love selling work. Obviously that’s awesome. It is cool to meet and talk to the people who are taking my art home. My work doesn’t really change depending on where it is. I enjoy both settings, but love knowing where my art is going at festivals.

You will be exhibiting in CAW’s upcoming exhibition Remnants at the Urban Arts Space in May 2015. The theme is perfect for your body of work. What do you have planned?

I have a plan and hopefully it will happen as planned. I want to explore the same path as my recent work with photographs and stories. I have thought a lot about the six degrees of separation. So I will have a big collection of pieces with photographs of people or animals and stories and how they are connected in different ways. I am still figuring out logistically what that will look like. I see red string. I see words. It is a little overwhelming to me when I think about it because it could be pretty massive. So I am trying to figure out how to make it manageable. Maybe there is a smaller set of these finished pieces and one bigger overall piece. Maybe kind of installation-ish which I haven’t really done.

Visit www.maryanncrago.com to view more of Mary Ann’s portfolio.

Interview completed by Allison Buenger.