cleaning the studio...

...and other adventures in art

everyone has a day job

In a moment of surprising forethought and planning when I was in high school, I took some drafting classes because I knew I wanted to study art in college, but I also knew that I needed to earn a living.  Why not do drafting as my day job?  I liked drawing and the tools of drawing, and I was a visual thinker.  It seemed like a good fit.  This was back when drafting was ink or pencil on vellum or mylar.  I eventually did do quite a bit of work in Autocad when it came into common usage.

So while I finished up my college studies, I also worked as an electromechanical draftsperson.  I had many jobs over the years, but I had the unique experience of working for an early private enterprise rocket company, and I still do love watching any sort of rocket movie or footage.

I always tried to keep my drafting job separate from my artwork, but when I look back at my drawings from those days I see quite a bit of draftsmanship in them.  The influence is there, like it or not.  Drafting rewired my brain for a certain sort of seeing and thinking.  Here’s some early lithographs from my college days:

I did manage to veer away a bit from the drafting influence for many years as I did figurative work, though line and edge have and still are always important to me.  But I started to embrace the drafting influence in more recent years, using straight lines, centering something on the page, and focusing on a single thing, like a drafting view.

Here are some large-scale tarp paintings illustrating this point, from 2012, mixed-media on 6’x8′ unstretched canvas.

This has got me thinking about the drafting concept of views.  In drafting, a specific view of an object is shown: front or side or bottom or cut-away section of 3D orthographic projection.  This implies a sort of selective vision, which we all have of course, but it goes without saying that artists present information through their own personal selective “vision” (be it visual or otherwise), showing the viewer something about how we approach the world.

In my case, I’m often trying to show the viewer what it is that I am looking at (and equally important is what it is tht I’m ignoring, but the viewer isn’t privy to that information).

These two pieces are a good example.  In Making My Own Paradise (left), I divide the landscape into into three sections: earth, horizon (populated with a man-made structure) and sky.  It’s like a drafting view of an object, in a sense, but the object is the entire landscape.  I’ve edited out anything that is unimportant in my description of the earth, the horizon, and the sky.  In Nothing But Blue Skies (right), I show specific and small areas of sky inside each box.  Look here, and now here; look at this and now this.  These pieces are currently in an exhibition put on by the European Cultural Centre titled PERSONAL STRUCTURES – Identities in the Palazzo Mora in Venice, Italy, in conjunction with the 2019 Venice Biennale.

original artwork by Barbara Downs, left: Making My Own Paradise, Right: Nothing But Blue Skies

installation for Venice exhibition summer 2019, left: Making My Own Paradise, Right: Nothing But Blue Skies

Again, in these pieces below, I split the landscape up into three sections, but I minimized the horizon line with a more ghostly image of the man-made structures within the Icelandic landscape.

And then there are all these images of barns in Iceland, in perspective, in front views or oblique views, all like drafting drawings with only as much information as needed, and no more.


how it’s made, redux

I finished this piece, Nothing But Blue Skies, some time ago, but I was so busy getting it finished and shipped to Venice for the European Cultural Centre’s Biennale show that I neglected to cover it in my blog at all.  I’ll make amends now.

Nothing But Blue Skies, and detail view, oil on wood panels with steel frames, 96″ x 22″ x 4.75″ , 2018

Like a previous post I did about its companion piece in the Venice show, I’d like to show you some of the making of this piece.   Below you’ll find plenty of pictures and descriptions.  Click on the first photo and you can scroll through the rest of them with captions.  More photos of this and other pieces in the Skies series can be found here.

As I was finishing this piece, I remembered those early color versions I’d done, and since I had two additional cases I decided I would use those with some color.  I already had the blue skies, so I painted these two red and yellow.

original artwork by Barbara Downs, The Primaries, 2018

The Primaries, oil on panel with painted steel frame, 22″ x 12.5″ x 4.75″, 2018, private collection

the endless reworking

Sometimes I think I’ve finished something and it turns out that I’m wrong. The longer a piece sits in my studio, the more chance there is that I will modify it at some point. This is especially true of paintings and encaustic because they are both infinitely workable. It’s not so true of drawings on paper, which can’t take the ongoing abuse.

For instance, here’s an encaustic piece from 2017 that I recently reworked to heighten the color. I honestly don’t know if it’s better now or not. But it’s different and I’m enjoying it at the moment.

Interestingly, this encaustic actually started life in a much different form, as you can see below.  I kept some of the green from the original but everything else is different, including the frame patina.

Here are a few more…



thinking out loud

I have some work in the Take Aways show at Pajaro Valley Arts Gallery right now—I’ve been participating in this show for a few years, and I do a special series for it each year.

Because all the pieces for this show are under $300, and the artists are expected to replenish pieces as they are sold, my working process is quite different from normal.  I’ve settled into a process that I call “thinking out loud“.  The pieces aren’t exactly sketches, and they aren’t exactly macquettes for something bigger to come.  Instead, they are explorations of some themes in which I find myself currently interested.  I might take it further, or these series may be the end of it.  It’s an enjoyable process and it leads me in new directions.

Because this year’s series followed directly on what I did last year, I’ll explain that one first.  Nothing But Blue Skies was comprised of two components, birds and skies; buyers could mix and match individual pieces as they liked.  But I always envisioned them hanging together as seen here.

The “skies” are small encaustic panel constructions that are framed with a construction material that is stiffened with a specialty paint, and the “birds” are mixed-media with that same paint.

This year, I worked with the same themes and materials but in a different fashion.  Again, there are birds and skies.  Technically these are two series, but, again, they hang together.  Buyers can mix and match pieces or select just one.  The birds are titled North. South. East. West. and the skies are titled A View From the Other Side. I’ve included side-angle shots also to give a better indication of depth and shape.  The series totals eight pieces at the moment: four skies and four birds.  But I think I’ll continue to work on the ideas behind A View From the Other Side.

another barn in Iceland (and another, and another)

There are plenty of barns in Iceland.  And there is plenty of appeal for me in a barn: a long, low, simple building, a blocky shape dropped onto the landscape with little innate beauty.  Its utility is not obvious from the outside, and any windows are placed too high to peer into (or out of).  There’s not much there to see, and a lot to overlook, which leaves me with plenty to work with.  It’s almost like a blank canvas.

Here are a few new paintings, on the small side:

I’ve also just finished this large-scale drawing, which joins a suite of other drawings of similar size and subject matter. The other drawings can be found on this page, along with more work in my Iceland/Ísland series.

original artwork by Barbara Downs

Talisman (VIII), charcoal, chalk, wax, pencil, oil on paper, 34″ x 80″, 2017, private collection, photo by R.R. Jones

This next one is encaustic on paper, but because the image itself is such a flat rendition of a barn, I wanted it to sit flat on the wall. So that ruled out a conventional frame that adds depth. Instead, I made a rust-patina steel frame that screws the drawing directly onto the wall.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Talisman (IX), Encaustic on Paper with Steel Frame

Talisman (IX), Encaustic on Paper with Steel Frame, 27″ x 47″, 2017

Here are close-ups of the frame, and a photo showing the surface sheen and texture of the encaustic:

And, finally, something a little new, perhaps moving me into another direction: a barn with the addition of a figure. I haven’t done much figurative work for a while, so it was interesting to go back to the figure; I found that I wanted to work it in a flattened manner like the landscape work I’ve been doing.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Crime Scene, oil on canvas

Crime Scene, oil on canvas, 40″ x 48″, 2017

alliance (I through V)

Another collaborative sculpture: this time with Jamie Abbott, my studio neighbor.  We are frequently in and out of each other’s studios and often discuss our work with each other.  We’ve often thought that a collaborative effort might be interesting because of the parallels that we see between our work.  We settled on a collaborative effort for Sculpture Is: 2017 In The Garden at Sierra Azul Nursery in Watsonville.

We started by thinking about forms that we are each drawn to, trying to recognize where they overlap.  But we also had to be careful to not veer too much in one direction–towards Jamie’s forms or towards my forms–because this is first and foremost a collaborative effort.  In the best of all possible worlds, we would each learn something new in the process, and see something through the other person’s eyes.  It’s the magic of collaboration…becoming tuned in to the way that another artist sees and thinks about the world.  We collected some photos of chrysalises because those sorts of closed forms would make sense within the garden setting of this show.

Like the post I did on another recent collaborative sculpture, I probably have too many photos in this post. But I like to look at process photos from other artists, so here are ours.  If you open any photo, you’ll get a captioned slideshow that starts from that point.

This show is still up for another month, and there are many wonderful pieces, so go take a look!


3 + 7

“3 + 7” is the name of the collaborative sculpture that Jamie Abbott, Roy Holmberg and I did for the upcoming show Art in the Arboretum: Environmental Installations at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  This exhibit was beautifully curated by Susana Arias.

We have a reception this Saturday, May 20, 3-6pm.  An announcement can be found here.  This will be a great time to come see the show and meet the artists.

Now, on to all these photos.  I know that common sense dictates that I have included too many of them, but it was a complicated project with three artists and many steps.  Anyway, I know that I myself like to hear about what other artists do in the studio, so I’m hoping that you do too.

If you open a photo, you’ll get a captioned slideshow.  Or you can simply view the thumbnails and take a guess what we’re doing.  If that’s too much effort(!), just ignore the photos altogether, and come see our sculpture in person!  We’d love to tell you all about it at the reception.

We have a full statement about the piece at the arboretum, but you can also find it here.


how it’s made


original artwork by Barbara Downs, Making My Own Paradise, Encaustic/Oil/Mixed-Media on Panel with Rust-Patina Steel Frame

Making My Own Paradise, encaustic/oil/mixed-media on panel with rust-patina steel frame, 56″ x 81″ x 3″, 2016

I finished this piece, Making My Own Paradise, a few months ago, but, although I’d taken a lot of in-progress photos, I didn’t post many of them.  It was a complex creation and assembly process…it took over a year from start to finish…but I am happy with the resulting piece.

Here are plenty of pictures and some descriptions of what it is that I’m showing you. Click on that first photo and you can scroll through the rest of them with captions. And more photos of the finished piece can be found here, along with other pieces from the Iceland/Ísland series.

spring studio sale at mission industrial studios

We’re having a Spring Studio Sale at Mission Industrial Studios!

Where: Mission Industrial Studios, 2573 Mission St., Santa Cruz
When: May 6-7, 1pm-6pm

Many of you have visited me at Open Studios, but this is not the same sort of event.  My studio is currently very much in a working state, with plastic sheeting on my working walls and projects in progress (in other words, I’m not exactly cleaning up!). I have pieces in progress, projects that I’m contemplating, and plenty of finished work, both old and new. I’m offering discounts on some pieces, hoping to find the right home for them. And ten of my neighbors are also open, so it is a big event for us.

I’ll be showing some older pieces, like these…

and newer pieces, like these…

I hope to see you there!



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