Rock Solid Bodies

In undergrad classes at Savannah College of Art and Design, I tried my best to take the most interesting electives, and my Intro. to Metals and Jewelry class didn’t disappoint. From simple sawing projects to more complex riveting, soldering, and even cuttlefish casting projects, I knew I would eventually return to this medium even though I majored in painting.

Now that the four summers of my Masters Degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art have been completed, I’ve had the time to continue expanding my skill base as well as the direction of my work. With a generous Professional Development for Artists Grant from the Arts Council of Hillsborough County and the County Commissioners, I was able to attend a 5-day long course in Channel Inlay Jewelry at the William Holland School of Lapidary Arts in Young Harris, GA.

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My obsession with “treasure” started young, with the prospect of finding buried gold doubloons from Spanish galleons that have wrecked off the Florida coast where I grew up.  Throwing fire onto my flame for expedition, my parents even spray painted some stones gold and buried them in our backyard sandbox for me to dig up (much to my excitement!). As I grew older, I became interested in other sorts of treasure as a rock-hounder: patterned agates, colorful tourmaline, and various fossils like megalodon teeth and trilobites.

Using treasures I’ve found on trips out west, channel inlay is a specific form of silversmithing that combines my interests of metals, semi-precious stones, and fine art. As a technique that closely aligns with painting or collaging with gemstones, strips of sterling silver are bent into organic-shaped enclosed spaces where stones are hand-cut to fit into their designated slots (think along the lines of “Paint-by-Numbers” for jewelry). To me, this is the closest way I can get to wearable paintings by being able to translate my drawings into sterling silver lines, with various colored stones as my “limited palette.”

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Because the channel inlay class was so small (just two of us), I was able to really spread out, which was a wonderful treat.

Many forms of jewelry tend to rely on symmetry, but I wanted to approach jewelry-making from the perspective of a painter, and use my preliminary sketches for paintings as material for pendant designs.

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This is the second piece I completed during my week at William Holland (my first piece was a braid-like piece). As a true glutton for punishment, I gave myself some challenging shapes to cut with this one, especially with the arm and booty pieces since they had to be separated into two stones butted-up next to each other.

The first step for channel inlay is to take your design and copy it on onion skin paper and tape to your soldering brick. As you form your sterling silver strips along your drawing outline, you pin them down so the sections don’t move when you start soldering your joints.

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I got beginners luck on this piece and didn’t have too much clean-up work to do after soldering.

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Now that the “channels” have been made for my figurative pendant design, it’s time to cut the stones to fit. These numbered templates were from my first braided piece as I forgot to get pictures of my gal’s progress at this stage. From left to right: petrified wood, jasper, and dinosaur bone slabs. To get them preformed, you use a trim saw to roughly cut these shapes out.

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If I only had this kind of grinding equipment in Florida, I’d be grinding away the days! On either side of this hand-made carving machine, there are diamond-plated wheels with different widths to assist in getting the right curves for each stone to be cut once they have been trimmed. You can see my little stack of rocks on the top right of the machine.

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While the stones are being cut, the backplate needs to be soldered on. Here, I’m testing out some bail designs (headphones, that I didn’t end up using but perhaps I will in a future piece).

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With the templates adhered to the tops of the stones, it makes it a little easier to cut the stones to size, but there’s still a lot of Cinderella-esque fittings to be done until the stone slides in perfectly. Here are my first and second pieces with the stones set in place.

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Once all the stones are cut, a strong epoxy is used to glue the stones in place. In the last image, you might be able to see how the stones stick out from the silver channels by at least a quarter inch if not more. Because the surface is irregular, the next step is to use a flat lap to grind the surfaces down evenly and flush. Once that is done, all it needs is a final polish and it’s done!

(Stones for the fan/skirt piece on the left: black petrified wood and lapis lazuli; stones for the braid: black petrified wood, dinosaur bone, and jasper; stones for the girl: black and tan petrified wood, jasper, and brecciated agate).

The fan piece still needs it’s bail, but I’m excited to have completed 3 pieces in 4 1/2 work days!

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With only minimal jewelry and lapidary experience, I’m excited with the results and would love to get the equipment to do more of this type of work at my home studio.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on the channels for pieces I’d like to pursue in the near future:

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Silver channels for powerlift gal

And additional sketchbook drawings playing with some ideas:

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Because of the necessary simplification of lines needed for making the silver channels, I’m looking forward to this new conceptual direction and how it will make an impact on my paintings.

-Caitlin

SCAD Summer Show: Modern Love

I’m happy to have been able to visit Savannah College of Art and Design’s Summer Show “Modern Love” as I was on the drive up to Baltimore from Florida.

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It is a great show with a variety of works from SCAD students, alumni, professors, and faculty members. Four of my paintings are included in this exhibition

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The show runs through August 20th at the Gutstein Gallery in downtown Savannah, so if you’re in the area, please stop by!

-Caitlin

Painting Before Baltimore

It’s been a race against time to finish the last few paintings in my studio before I head back up to Baltimore for MFA classes at Maryland Institute College of Art.

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Things got trippy in my studio with lots of spirals happening in my latest paintings.

I was able to snap a few progress shots of my first circular panel piece, all sculpted oil on wood.

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And the finished piece:

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It came out just as expected from my sketches from my residency at Morris Graves Foundation (which rarely happens in my studio!) The palette is very candy-like (taffy, anyone???). It’s 24 inch diameter panel, so a good size in comparison to my past sculpted paintings.

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They’re so good, you could ride those oil waves!

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It made my day when I finally had the chance to see my bus billboard in person on the highway in Tampa recently. It still never ceases to make me giggle seeing that!

Today is my last day in Tampa until August, but I look forward to 7 weeks of intense studio time in Maryland.

-Caitlin

Shaped Painting Panels

Round panels

After weeks of waiting, I finally got my round and oval panels to start working on paintings from sketches I did at Morris Graves Foundation. A huge shout out to Crone’s Woodworking for the awesome job with them! (They also have round and oval stretcher bars- that’s next on my to-do list.)

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And since my studio is running in all sorts of tangents now, here’s some other work that’s being pumped out:

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Crunches (small sketch), 5 x 7 in., oil on canvas, 2016

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Crunches, 36 x 40 in., acrylic and oil on canvas, 2016

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Details from Crunches

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Peekers (small sketch), 6 x 9 in., oil on canvas

(Don’t you ever get the feeling…. you’re being watched?)

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Sketches while watching the Lightning hockey games (Go Bolts!)

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I’m enjoying this time in my studio to pursue all things I’m interested in, instead of limiting myself to one idea or sole body of work. (I’ve been incredibly inspired lately by some great figurative/narrative painting by the likes of Nicole Eisenman, Dana Schutz, and Todd Bienvenu) It’s always good to be experimenting and keep things fresh in the studio.

-Caitlin

Morris Graves Foundation: A Week of Solitude

On Saturday, I got back home from a wonderful week of solitude, meditation, inspiration, and art at The Lake at Morris Graves Foundation. It truly is a unique residency, as one artist stay at Morris Graves’ studio at a time. Robert and Desiree Yarber, who maintain the land and the Graves’ Estate (Robert was Morris’ assistant for 25 years until he passed away in 2001), made my stay a real adventure.

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It’s taken at least a week to slowly get my feet back on the ground from the residency stipulations of no phone, no internet, no photo recording device (camera, video, etc.), no newspapers, no radio; the purpose of the residency is to immerse yourself in nature and be completely disconnected from the outside world.

One would think a millennial would have trouble leaving all of those “luxuries” behind for a week, but I found myself not missing them. I loved hearing the wood ducks on the lake, chattering to one another, without the radio interrupting. They allow CDs to be played, but I decided ahead of time to just enjoy the sounds around me while I was there- I didn’t want to miss out on anything.

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I spent my days immersed in my artwork, focusing on watercolors while I was there (for multiple reasons: I didn’t want to bring oil paints and make an oily mess bringing things back home, and I wanted to experiment with watercolors since I don’t do that enough). I also spent a lot of time just thinking; it was an incredible luxury just to have the time and mind-space to really soak into my own thoughts, and write them out for further consideration once I got home. Lots of sketches were made for new oil paint pieces to start working on as well.

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Most artists leave to go on residencies to “get away from distractions,” and while it’s great that artists want to come to The Lake to strictly work, I found myself distracted by nature in the best way possible. Why would I want to have my head down working all day, when I had the chance to watch the bald eagle fly across the trees surrounding the lake? If I didn’t look up from my work through the wall of window panels in the studio, I would have missed enjoying the cormorant aggressively hunt for his fish dinner. Coming to The Lake is about immersion and experience directly with the land- smelling the cloud-like azalea bushes that were blooming behind the studio (and were mostly composed of flower-little leaves were to be seen!), and touching the bark of a fallen tree to feel its moist, rough surface. Being there sharpened all of my senses again from being so desensitized by the commotion we all experience in our daily lives.

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Earth Print 1, 19.25 x 12.25 in., watercolor on rice paper, 2016

One of the fallen trees had exposed where tree beetles had bore into the wood, carving out paths in the bark. It was like looking at a highway, paths, rivers, topography, the universe- all in one place. Being in nature so pure and unadulterated by man, it sort of makes you have to say, “Why am I even making art? It’s all right here.” Nothing comes close to this kind of beauty. I made a few monoprints to try and capture the markings, but it still doesn’t do justice.

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Earth Print 2, 19.25 x 12.25 in., watercolor on rice paper, 2016

It was a treat to see Morris Graves’ paintings in person hanging on the walls; they have an aura about them that you can’t feel in reproduction. It was yet another treat to go through his archives, sifting through images of his work and life over the years. Robert told me he was a great storyteller, and I can believe that just by looking at his works.

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Earth Print 3, 18.75 x 12 in., watercolor on rice paper, 2016

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Earth Print 4, 18.75 x 12 in., watercolor on rice paper, 2016

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I don’t typically journal, but every day I made it a point to write about my experiences candidly, and include some little drawings from life or from memory on what I saw on my daily hikes.

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Sketchbooks full of drawings for new paintings- round and oval panels are in my future.

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It was a shock to the senses coming back into civilization (and 294 emails sitting in my Inbox). I still feel like the right words I want to say about my experience haven’t come to me yet – to really describe it – but it is a week I won’t forget.

-Caitlin

College Art Association MFA Show: RBTL

CAA's RBTL Show

Three of my paintings were recently included in the College Art Association’s annual MFA Regional exhibition, RBTL (Read Between the Lines). The show was hosted at the Katzen Art Center at the American University, and coincided with the annual CAA Conference held in DC this year.

Since I was unable to make it to the show, I had my friend and art colleague Rebecca Rivas Rogers get an exhibition shot for me. Thanks again, Triple R!

-Caitlin

Morris Graves Foundation Residency

(picture from Morris Graves Foundation website)

(picture from Morris Graves Foundation website)

I’m very excited to announce yet another artist residency I have been awarded this year from the Morris Graves Foundation. At the end of April, I will spend a week of solitude at Morris Graves’ home and studio in Loleta, CA to work on some new projects. No phones, no cameras, no computers, no newspapers, no connection to the outside world. Just nature.

I really can’t wait for my first residency experience, and it’s only a few months away!

-Caitlin