Describe your work for us.
My work explores man’s elemental interaction with his environment, particularly in the way he builds and inhabits shelter. Influenced by the forms and materials of primitive earth dwellings, my visual language is grounded in architecture and repetition. Like the building process, the paintings develop through stacking, weaving, and assembling simple forms. In addition to referencing the physical structure of a home, the textures and patterning of the paintings suggest woven cloths or quilts, also symbols of protection and comfort. I make paint from pigments processed from the soils near my home, constructing a painted sanctuary with a sense of its origin.
Tell us about your process.
My painting process begins outside, collecting colorful clays, shales, and other rocks. After I process pigments and make paint, then it is finally time to get painting. I usually have several paintings going at one time, most starting from a basic sketch or watercolor. While I have an idea of the general structure of each painting, there is also some adapting and responding to the interaction of colors and lines as I go.
From where do you draw inspiration?
Structural and architectural elements of houses, like stud walls and drywall mud and tile and brick patterning. Dwellings built from their immediate environment, like log cabins and wattle and daub homes. Building blocks and blanket forts with my son. Quilt piecing, weaving, rug knotting, and sewing patterns. Baskets and chair caning.
What led you to discover soil as a paint pigment?
Many years ago, a sculptor I worked for told me, “Get to know your medium. The material of your work is just as important as the content of your work.” In 2010, I was a bit dissatisfied with my painting practice and finally decided to focus on the fundamental element of my work: paint. What is it, really? How has it developed throughout history? What can I learn through the process of actually making paint myself? I ordered a small earth pigment set and made my first batch of oil paint. The following year, I took a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School with the artist Sandy Webster. We learned how to gather our own earth pigments and process them into paint. That class changed the path of my painting practice. In painting with the earth, I am finding a deeper connection to history, to my own environment, and to my work like I had not been before.
What’s the most complex part of mixing your own paints?
I’ll go ahead and describe the whole process for you. It’s basically four steps: grinding, sifting, mixing, and mulling. I grind the clay, shale, or rock in a granite mortar and pestle. Then, I sift it through several geological sieves, ending up with a very fine powdered pigment. I mix the pigment into a paste with linseed oil and then mull the paste into a paint. I guess the most complex parts would be trying to find the right balance between pigment and linseed oil and using the best kind of linseed oil for the pigment I’m working with. Every pigment behaves differently, so when I gather and process a new color, I have to learn and work with its unique properties.
Does the palette you use feel confining at times or is there a freedom in the range?
My palette is limited by the colors I can find in this area, but that makes every trail run or drive down the interstate an adventure. I get really excited when I find a new pigment. I just found a bright yellow clay on a trip with my husband, and I couldn’t stop talking about how much more yellow it was than other yellows I had found! I’d say I feel quite a bit of freedom within the boundaries of the colors I use. Since they are all earth pigments, they all work together well. I can play quite freely with different combinations. Also, because of the limited range of color, I’ve become very aware of subtle differences between hues, intensities, and even textures of similar pigments. That subtlety is really beautiful to me.
What would you like viewers to take from your work?
I hope my work offers a sense of quiet to the viewer, amidst so much noise. A space to be still. Possibly even a feeling of familiarity, being reminded of a grandmother’s quilt, a favorite woven blanket, or building stick forts by the creek as a child.
Also, the connection with the earth is an important one. Dust is a material of creation in many ancient stories. I am participating in some small way in that creation, hoping somehow to build a kind of sacred space within my work. I hope the viewer can enter that space with me.
How long have you been working as an artist?
11 years. I graduated in 2007 from Freed-Hardeman University with a BA in Art.
How has your practice evolved?
My studio time now that I have two sons (a three-year-old and a six-month-old) is definitely more intentional and focused (and sporadic) than it ever has been. My process has also become a lot slower, primarily because of the time it takes to gather and process pigments. I’ve become more patient. Slow is good for me, I think, because I’m not rushing in to start a painting. When I finally approach the panel, I’m ready and warmed up. The work can develop at its own pace. Also, as the years have gone by, I’m learning that forcing a painting to happen just doesn’t work. It’s ok to let it be simple and quiet, or bolder and more complex, or whatever it needs to become.