Winter 2019/20: Return to the Studio

A pendulum pauses ever so briefly at the reach of its swing. What better time on the wheel of seasons than winter to mark the fleeting stillness between moving toward and moving away?

I’ve heard silence described as What’s left after the train passes through the tunnelNow, it seems stillness is What’s left when a long haul has come to a natural end.

Quietude comes more readily in the deep, damp chill. The garden beds and fields exude rest in their fallow ways. One’s animal bones and flesh are happy to follow in their own ways. 

While the remains of What Was decompose on the surface, in the underworld, soil teams with What Is to Be. 
This phase of change is a restful, gentle rekindling of my beloved art-making practice after a long, growthful stint on the more outward, hands-on designing/building side of my creative pendulum's swing.

Reawakening the mediums that have been fallow awhile feels like diving into a warm, familiar pool. Ah yes, I remember again this technique, that subtle touch… 

So even with winter’s hush all around, early spring emerges in my creative garden. The practice is, as I am, reborn in the act of showing up at the edge of the unknown, having grown in other sorts of doing, and bringing those gleanings with me.

Familiar materials and processes overlap with new ideas, technologies and approaches. Happy I am in a mix of old and new, hands, heart and head stoking the artistic fire.

In the stream of posts below, I’ll be sharing some thoughts and images from this arc of unfolding, so stop by every now and then and see what's taken form.

Not all artists are interested in creating by commission. I am. It's one of the ways my studio and architectural work flow together beautifully. If you'd like to open up a conversation, you can contact me here.

You can check out my portfolios of earlier work, including furniture and various phases of light-emitting sculpture.

Follow the creative flow on Instagram and Facebook.

Uplifting an old farm: the Garden (2018-19)

Taking on building projects can be a bit like dating: it may start out casually, but months later you might look around and realize it’s become a more serious thing. With this recent farm project here on Orcas Island, it turned out to be a two-year affair in which I renovated the 1960’s era farm house and the barn facade, as well as designing and facilitating the installation of an event garden.

The most creatively fun aspect, despite the vast physical output required, was the garden. About the time I was wrapping up the house renovation, the question of what to do with the 2.25 acre, already deer-fenced space at the front entrance arose.  It had been used to raise veggies and flowers for sale, but the farm wanted to move in a more public-welcoming direction, so I suggested a strolling garden that could host community events, continue to raise food and flowers, and be an educational landscape.

I’d been working with undulating forms and serpentine lines with the light-emitting sculpture, and it seemed a good fit for generating a vibrant, lyrical feel to this much vaster area. I’ve always seen my studio work in terms of landscape, so it was a matter of scaling it up in service of the numerous functions and features in the mix.

It was clearly an ambitious plan, which we took on knowing that it would take many years to develop it into a fine destination garden. I suggested that, for the first year at least, we think in terms of large, varying areas of meadow (indicated in pale yellow-green on the plan). 

Transposing the lines of the drawing into paths on the ground began in the deep chill and muck of early spring. With a ready supply of wood chips for the enormous task of lying them out, the process felt a lot like sketching with one eye on the ground and the other on the bird's-eye view.

The vision for this landscape wasn't just of curved lines overlaid on the quite flat existing ground, but of land forms like gentle ocean swells. Between soil brought up from trenching the lower fields and amendments like aged manure, about 200 cubic yards of material was moved by machine and hand to sculpt the land.

Early spring was also time for a flatbed of structural plants to arrive and get in the ground. 

By late spring, the meadows were in bloom, the beginning of a season-long succession of colors: poppies, cosmos, bachelor buttons, sunflowers, clover, brown-eyed Susan, daisies, and more. Along with the flowers came honey bees, dragon flies, birds, frogs, and landscape painters...

...and kids! I made a climbing structure from madrona branches as the start of a natural playscape. 

It was deeply satisfying to sculpt on this scale and feel the joy it spawned in the stream of folks visiting the farm.

The Lumenwave installed (2018)

It’s in these little buildings that my sculpting and architectural work really come together.

Maybe it’s a sign of having gotten more than a few miles on my tires, but I’ve been reflecting lately on the ratio of creativity to labor, and looking at projects through this lens. 

I dearly love the practice of honest labor: it does my body and monkish nature good to move about, rearranging myself and things around me. If this labor is in service of the practice of creative choice, it does both my body and soul good.

So while these little creature-cabins are indeed a serious bout of work, there’s a fine stream of creative choice at every turn. And lots of room to play with the mergence of plant, animal, insect, land and human forms that courses through my studio work.

In this installation, I chose to be very meticulous about showing up with everything needed to not just re-assemble the pieces, but to work out the little things that could only be finally resolved with all the elements together. I’d preassembled it the initial building process at my studio, but I knew there’d be no power on site and no hardware store anywhere near. I wanted to be enmeshed with the birthing process uninterrupted.

You can see two of the four copper roof sections waiting to be lifted up to the ridge beam. The curving door jamb is also a structural element.

The site becomes a temporary studio, especially as the details and finishing touches are fleshed out.

Note the big sheets of cardboard from the shipping process coming in handy on the ground as I was dashing in and out from crunchy gravel to oiled-wood floors. 

This design plays with contrasts: aged copper floating above white, translucent polycarbonate, natural forms defined by clean lines, natural materials set against manufactured panels. What invites these disparate materials to work together is the interplay of curves that keeps the eye moving, intermixing the elements, forming a kind of empathy between them.

At the core of my sculptural work is the ability of a still object to evoke movement. Yet, if it only suggests movement, it can feel ungrounded. What impassions me is creating objects that seem to be simultaneously at rest and in motion, as if the movement is constantly refueled by the stillness. 

These little buildings set on skids have for me a sense of perching, being at rest, but just momentarily. The curves arise from the flat bottom, which, instead of being adhered to the ground, floats on a shadow. 

The interior combines the smoothness of the outer surfaces with earthy burlap for a warm, intimate feel. It’s a tiny space, yet the relatively high ridge and flowing lines all around make it spaciously cozy.

Radiant color and curves: Lumenpear, Skyhull, and Seedpod series (2016)

Lumenpear series: Aspearsa

The studio work has been focused on tranluscent pears, boats and seeds. There's a blog dedicated to the unfolding of these series here. Some snapshots:

Pears and I go way back creatively, but now I get to mate them with all sorts of imaginings with the Lumenpear series. Perhaps one meets a snail in a garden...

Skyhull series: Slipperfin

A model rowboat hung from the studio ceiling for a while, during which time I proceeded to fall in love with hulls floating in air. The first of the Skyhull series combined a fanciful boat form with a surface that remembers its watery ways. 

Seedpod series: Waters of Mothers

Seedpod evolved from an earlier painted series that merged a seed form with abstract landscapes. Fertile ground here, starting with a translucent rebirth of a pregnant belly and its placental waters.

Beauty in the the process

The aesthetics of the studio have been on my mind while making paper the past couple of weeks, as it is for me the most beautiful of the many processes behind the finished pieces. In these phases, I’m creating flax-fiber “skin” that will later be incorporated into numerous works. Yet it’s a whole medium and series on its own.

The pile of finished sheets grows, with red-oranges drying.

The flax pulp is specially processed for translucence, strength, and shrinkage. In its vividly wet state, it takes me to my roots as a colorist, and to hours spent in the darkroom as a budding photographer, watching and waiting for the floating images to reveal themselves. Now, the liquid drains and dries, leaving behind huge sheets unlike any other...  (see more of this)

Orcan Swallowtail (2015)

(Update: I didn't know in the making that this metamorphosis-oriented piece would spawn other series, in the process finishing the natural arc of the Sky House series.)

 One big difference between working on the series in Bali and here is that once again I have access to my own paper making setup, so I’m able to create high-shrinkage, translucent flax fiber paper in a gorgeous spectrum of colors, in shapes and sizes resonant with the work.

Applying my creative sensibilities in response to given settings readily evokes new forms and approaches. In this case, the owners wanted to invite in some curving, organic lines to counterbalance the straight lines and angularity of their home. And, poignantly, they wanted the piece to memorialize a family member who had recently passed away young and unexpectedly.


The piece called for a sense of rebirth, of earth releasing into sky. As I contemplated the space and the role of the piece in it, an image of a butterfly fluttered right in. In many cultures, the butterfly is associated with soul, transformation, and transcendence. Along with its fitting form and symbolism, it seemed a fine expression of their dear one’s spirit. (see more on this...)

Mandala Sanctuary: lighting the madrona tree (2012)


The sculpting, finishing, and lighting of this madrona tree was commissioned by Mandala Sanctuary, a private retreat center nearing completion at the time in Eugene, Oregon. 

The lighting needed to provide a focal point, add substantially to the ambient light level, draw little power while being on for extended periods, and work effectively with light pouring in through the skylight.

Ideally, I’m involved much earlier in a project, but entered this one well under way. It’s hard to pass up a space with richly toned clay walls, live wood edges, curvaceous lines and a passionate natural building crew. Besides, the raw tree practically begged to have its potential released.

The first step was to get the tree right with itself by carving the lopped branch ends into more gestural forms and finishing it with natural oils.

I made the paper for these pieces with a nod to the Vesica Pisces, the eye-like shape in Sacred Geometry symbolizing the opening between duality and oneness. The color play stemmed from the palette of clays and natural materials all around.

The paper needed to be rich in color, yet thin enough to allow for layering while retaining a high degree of translucence. Laying it out on a large light table helps immensely in seeing the variance in color, density and size. (see more here...)