Summer 2020: Sabbatical drifts into Self-Isolation

This winter I made some time and space to focus on my studio practice. After two years of out-in-the-world, architectural work, it was time for the sort of making that’s less practical: more playful, contemplative and soulful.

A load of Madrona branches for the new work.

Along with some much-needed deep rest, I delved into developing some new approaches to the light-oriented sculpting and papermaking, wading into a new series, and getting my creative encampment in good order. I noted on the calendar that late April seemed a fine time to reengage commissioned work and open the making back out to the realm around. 

The past couple of years I hadn't shared my studio and work on the Orcas Artists Studio Tour, and I was really looking forward to ramping into that and having the realm around come 'round to my creative sanctum.

Instead, the sabbatical has become self-isolation for an indeterminate time. Someone nominated the buying of a “2020 Year Planner” for the worst investment this year, an idea that manages to be all the more amusing for its being exponentially true.

My quiet lifestyle has changed very little with the onset of the pandemic. Yet the quality of the solitude has shifted: it’s less familiar, more populous now that so many others are living more quietly as well. The vast company in quietude amid social upheaval sweeps through and recedes like tides. I count among the great many things for which I am deeply grateful, a practiced sense of what is mine and what is zeitgeist roiling about. 

Struggle and uprising, pain and empowerment, fear and hope are in the air.

When the towers fell on 9/11, I was in grad school working on an MFA degree. In the aftermath, the finer concerns of form and line and color and idea and material that impassioned us at the university seemed light indeed. When we gathered up in the still-smoldering shock, a professor said, It might seem like what you’ve been working on isn’t important or meaningful after what’s happened, but this is the time to be vigilant; what you care about and make is what this world very much needs right now.

While not so abrupt and jarring, this unfolding pandemic reminds me of that turbulent, disturbing post-9/11 time, when I needed to reach down to my roots, remember that my calling is to creative practice—to showing up with openness at the edge of the unknown, ready to listen and make. Amid the tumultuous waves coursing through, I practice what’s natural for my monkish nature: In this moment, this rearranging of What Is, in a long stream of choosing toward grace and harmony in a flow of honest endeavor. 

I weep at times with the state of the world, reground in what is wondrous, keep making what feels wonderful to me, knowing that while the vast upheaval washes through my experience, it takes with it the qualities of my existence, as it does with each of us. We are just beginning to rebuild our world—to establish new norms—and this is the finest time to focus on what we truly care about. 

I keep making, feeding the best of me back out into the whirl: a drop in the tide of massive change.

The world needs joyous and loving people capable of just being. 
                                                                   -Thich Nhat Hanh

New work: Walk in the Wild

Sometimes earlier phases, places and objects intersect with the present, as if a journey has come full round—though not as much in a circle as a spiral, like a comet passing near enough to see, yet offset by the gravitational pull of time and change.

Late last year I let go of a piece I’d created while in grad school in 1999. I’d loved this family of standing branches across two decades, numerous moves, and bouts of living overseas. 

It was an artwork that readily came to mind when I recalled from time to time one of the professors saying that the program was really about getting down to the deeper roots of our work, and that if we were successful, it would open up avenues of exploration we could draw from for the rest of our lives.

Familial (1999)

There was an ideal space for it in a gorgeous home here on Orcas Island. That, and knowing I could visit, eased the decision to release it. Getting Familial ready for delivery and installing it reawakened the 20-year old interest in sculpting free-standing branch forms. I found myself with not only all those years of creative exploration and experience with which to refresh the approach, but the most gorgeous Madrona branches within reach.

I’d planned to open up some of my processes and techniques in a sabbatical over the winter, so the prospect of playing out at last a long-fallow direction with so much more experience, and in ultra-fresh ways was tantalizing indeed.

One big shift has been in thinking anew about the surfaces. When I made Familial, I was emerging from a focus on making furniture finished with deep layers of natural oil and earth pigment glazes.

Another interest at the time was paper-making, so all these years later, it’s been immensely satisfying to turn to it as a kind of skin for the emerging branch forms. The resinous materials are still there, now along with beeswax and collaged bits of the sorts of vibrant flax fiber paper I was making for the recent Lumenpear and SkyHull series. 

With this new, as-yet-unnamed series, I’m envisioning these human-scale branch forms having a range of relationships with light: being a continuation of the work in light-emitting sculpture, or perhaps simply reveling in whatever light falls upon or passes through parts of them, depending on what each piece calls for. 

At the outset, I intended for this first one to be simply a branch form like a single one of the elements in Familial. Yet the space between its legs evoked a skirt-like form responding to their motion, adding to the sense of the piece being alive, frolicking in the sensuality of nature.

The “wild” aspect of its name refers to its not just walking in untamed nature, but being it: as if nature is dancing in itself. Where one would anticipate a head, there’s a crescent moon, as if the dreamy feminine is at the helm.

This is the first piece I’ve made that feels overtly queer. I can’t help but see it as gender-wild, a mix of masculine and feminine aspects comfortable with its own nature.

A sibling screen

The first screen.

In an earlier post, I shared the remaking of a landscape screen on the Oregon coast. 

This first one was purposefully more sedate, as its role was to underscore the expansive view—to empathize with it, but not distract from it.

Winter view of the new home next door.

Fast-forward five years, a new house was built right off the corner of this exquisite home, obliterating its intimacy and privacy. This development called for a sibling screen to be a veil between.

With trees and lush growth all around, this one could be more wild and playful. And the large structure behind suggested it be more attention-seeking as well. The point wasn’t to hide the house, but to break up the mutual sight lines, while giving the eyes something besides the house to focus on. 

That it could and should be visually busier played along nicely with the need to reduce the see-through inherent in the woven slat design. When viewed straight on, the slats block the view readily. But as you move to the side, you increasingly see between the bowing slats. This wasn’t a concern with the first screen.

Some additional material that would obscure from the more oblique view was needed with this one as the angle of view stretching across the terrace, living room and master bedroom is very wide.

Screening is ideal, since it has the opposite effect of the slats: the view is best when looking straight through it, becoming more opaque as you view through it more obliquely. So in combination, the slats and the screening compensate for each other’s weaknesses.

This provided an opportunity to play with some abstract shapes floating down the length, like sea creatures in the streaming currents suggested by the serpentine copper lines. The bowed areas that allowed the most see-through were happily most available for inserting the large screen forms.

A concern of the owner was that we’d be introducing something that could make this area feel hemmed-in. With that in mind, I made the top of the screen lean outward at the top, as if the space is pouring out into sky. 

And where the screen begins on the half-wall, it’s away from the building and starts out lightly with just the copper and screen, leaving an opening to the landscape in that corner. 

A more sensory depiction, with the ever-present sound of the ocean: 

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...)