Visit Artists in Their Natural Habitats at the Open Studio Tour

Posted in Spotlight, Visual Art, Whidbey Working Artists Showcase

Whidbey Life Magazine Contributors
August 16, 2017

For artists, creative space extends beyond their studio walls: It’s a way of observing interior and exterior landscapes. The studio becomes a place to distill, refine, and reflect on an interpretation or move into an abstraction of an idea or concept. As you choose from among the 44 studios and 61 artists participating in this year’s Open Studio Tour, you’ll discover bits and pieces of artists and their art. Is this a solitary artist? Does this artist thrive in social connection? What inspires him or her? What do artists take with them as they begin to work, and what do they shut out?

Plein-air painters stay with their subject through all incarnations of weather and events. This dogged determination creates a bond with the environment that’s reflected in the painting. One of the plein-air painters on the tour, Brian Mahieu, never paints in his studio at all, choosing to use his space for staging events and as a gallery. His husband Tom photographs Brian’s painting trips, creating a unique diary of painter and landscape.

Brian Mahieu’s “studio” is the natural world (Photo by Tom Harris)

Natalie Olsen laughs when she says “People walk into my studio and rave about how beautiful and organized it is. During the two days of the Open Studio Tour, that is true! By Labor Day it’s usually back to normal, and it’s difficult to walk around the piles of fabric, paper, yarn, and other stuff—just the way I like it to be. I’m a weaver and mixed-media artist. I like to be surrounded by color and texture, so I keep things out for new ideas to play with. My husband Earl is a photographer. He’s a Virgo, too, so he’s very organized. He has the right balance of being technically precise with camera equipment, the computer, and printers—yet is creative, with a wonderful eye for color and composition.”

There are two studios shared by a group on the tour. Blueschool Arts provides a large common space, inviting social interactions while working, a place to recoup, unwind, reflect, and critique; a space where the interaction becomes a creation in its own right, a deep and abiding friendship of art. Karin Bolstad, artist and Blueschool director, says, “Although my artwork is mixed media paintings with a romantic, fairytale, and sometimes gothic style, when I was designing the Blueschool, the idea became to embrace the concept of the perfect magical space to showcase my work. It really is another aspect of my artwork.” You’ll find this throughout the tour. The artist space becomes an extension of creativity as well as a conduit and facilitator for art.

Freeland Art Studios is a rambling affair with a rabbit warren of wonders. Sculptors working stone, glass, and other media create in this 7,000-square-foot building. Sue Taves and Woody Morris are two artists participating in the tour this year, with stone sculptures, water features, and resin paintings. On any given day, you can see dust moving through the air and creations emerging from the stone like creative apparitions defining an extended moment in an artist’s mind.

Sue Taves at work (Photo by Sharon Shoemaker)

“Discovery, in the art-making process, comes with the acceptance that learning comes by repeatedly failing, and then possessing the courage to continue trying,” says glass artist Katrina Hude. “Let me believe in the value of my commitment to search for meaning through art-making.”

Glass blowing is a dance, and glass artists are a wonder unto themselves. All glass studios have room to dance, to move in unison to a shared vision, an understanding of what the primary artist is trying to accomplish. All movement becomes focused to the vision of the primary artist.

Felt artist Janet King describes her space as “controlled chaos” in constant motion, like a juggler always moving the ideas around in her head, each piece birthing and creating space for the next. By contrast, luthier Janet Lewis’ woodworking shop is spacious and organized. Once you take it all in, there is a realization that each table, each set of drawers, each rack was crafted by the artist’s hand. The heart of the shop is the hand-tool area. “This is where I work with chisels, carving tools and abrasives. The workspace looks out to an open field, where I and my dog Ollie watch the hawks hunt in the late afternoon.”

Felt art by Janet King (Photo by Michael Stadler)

Several of the studios feature spouses who work together as artists. A couple of studios have artists with separate spaces working independently in different media, as with Marianne Brabanski and Al Tennant. Brabanski is a master of the introspective art of painting. “I do not relate to my space in any visual or physical way, however I relate, in my mind, about what binds me to this environment. All work is from my mind’s eye.”

Flicker Feather Press is the studio of Buffy Cribbs and Bruce Morrow, who interact in a dance created by years of working together creatively. “The area is divided into ‘his’ and ‘hers’ by a small amount of wall and a large redwood sliding door salvaged from a San Francisco Victorian Mansion,” says Cribbs. “The door, which is almost never closed, serves as a gateway conduit through which ideas and suggestions are shared. We offer help and/or ideas when the other is open to that. Sometimes we just need encouragement, sometimes the horse’s leg bends in the wrong place or the man’s arms are too long. Sometimes we defend our position, and sometimes we get out the eraser.”

The work of Buffy Cribbs Bruce Morrow (Photo by Buffy Cribbs)

Cook on Clay is a partnership of two women, Robbie Lobell and Maryon Attwood, who bring ceramic cookware to the world with a vision about an observance of daily rituals using handmade objects in the kitchen and on the table. “Authentic home cooking is a fine art. It may announce its presence in the form of yeasty, garlicky, lemony, peppery aromas wafting from the kitchen or the sounds of chopping, slicing, and laughter. It is what happens in the home kitchen —the deeply gratifying, universal act of cooking.” Their clay cookware speaks to a way of life centered in the studio and around the kiln producing pots for cooking and dining.

Jordan Jones, a potter who carves animal designs into her work, speaks of the intimacy of her 10×10-foot space that also creates camaraderie. “My studio-mate and I spend a lot of our time together in the studio, sharing ideas and critiques. We are bonded. I’m pretty much constantly thinking about making good, functional pots and imagining how people will use them. I draw my animals generally from experiences with the wildlife around me, and hope to capture and convey the liveliness and playfulness of those animals.”

Pottery by Jordan Jones (Photo by Jordan Jones)

For some artists, art is a solitary pursuit, and Dan Ishler defines them when he says, “I enjoy working quietly by myself, listening to music, or playing my guitar.”

Ultimately, each space reflects how individual artists work, their relationship with their media, and the needs of that media. Stone sculptors and clay artists have accepted dust. Glass blowers have the space to accommodate the collaborative nature of their medium. Painters want to know that, when they reach for a brush, it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be.

Boxes by Janet Lewis (Photo by Michael Stadler)

By seeing the artists in their studios, you can begin to understand the reality of the daily creative process that is their way of life. Come discover the studios, the artists, and the art.

More information

Dates: August 26 and 27
 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Location: 44 studios throughout Whidbey Island. Artists will demonstrate their work, and their artwork will be available for purchase. Information is available online about all participating artists with directions to each studio.
Catalog: You can download the 72-page catalog here or pick one up at Island businesses, chambers, and visitor centers.

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  1. Thanks for the publishing this article on the upcoming Tour, I appreciate the help and support from Petra Martin to get this published and to Kay Parsons and the WWA steering committee for all the volunteer work they do to make this Tour a success!

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