cleaning the studio...

...and other adventures in art

babies and barns

Barbara Downs studio

On the eve of Open Studios (tomorrow and Sunday!  11am-5pm!), I’m thinking about my work that’s hanging in my studio and what all the connecting threads are from one series to another.  With that in mind, here is the statement that I wrote for a recent show:

What do babies and barns have in common?   They both spring forth from the same set of ideas for me: “elemental” in both meanings of the word:  1) primary or basic; 2) related to or embodying the powers of nature.

The barn is in Iceland, a land that truly embodies the powers of nature.  The sky and land there slam together at an insistent horizon line, rendering human structures fragile and insignificant.  When I’m in Iceland, I feel the growth and formation underfoot; Iceland is a baby in geologic terms. If I could live a millennium, I could see what it is becoming.

That baby is growing too, just about bursting out of its cage, embodying its own true nature. The cage, like the barn, may provide a degree of protection, but the structures are ultimately ineffectual.  Though it’s a wee baby, it’s the opposite of fragile and insignificant—in fact, it’s full of potential and larger than life.  The baby is the landscape, and the landscape is the baby.   —  Barbara Downs

And that said, please visit me this weekend and see the babies and barns.


the photographer and the photographs

RR Jones photographed some of my work the other day, both new pieces as well as older drawings that I had never had photographed.  Here is Ron, photographing something new, amidst the drawings now hanging for Open Studios.

Barbara Downs photo shoot

And here are a few of the photographs he shot…these are drawings from a few years ago. I have always envisioned these three being hung together, in this order.  Thanks to our wonderful model Melinda for having the imagination to show up with a tutu!

that barn

I’m continuing on with my Iceland landscapes.  I’m not so sure that the original photo needs any interpretation, but perhaps this in-progress painting gives some idea what I’m seeing when I see that barn, and that landscape.

freehand: a drawing show

I am excited to be a part of this beautiful exhibition.  We have a reception this Sunday, May 17, from 4:30-6:30.  Please join us!

Barbara Downs Postcard for Freehand: A Drawing Show

oh iceland

I’m back in Iceland, taking a lot of photos for later use in the studio, as inspiration for drawings and paintings.

Barbara Downs photo of Iceland

The horizon line is not as prominent in this one as in some of the other photos I’ve taken (and in all of the drawings), but I like that line of fenceposts and the inconsequential-looking building against the overwhelming landscape.

That inconsequential-looking building would keep you warm though. Yes, it’s May, but Iceland doesn’t know that.

reception this friday!

Please come to the reception this Friday if you can: A Figurative Affair 2015, Blitzer Gallery on the west side of Santa Cruz…

Barbara Downs announcement for A Figurative Affair 2015 exhibition

talisman three

Another Iceland drawing (see this post for the first two).  This one, though done with drawing materials, feels like a painting to me.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Talisman (III), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper

Talisman (III), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper, 53″x79.25″, Photo by R.R. Jones

As is usually the case, the scale of these drawings seems important to me, so here is the obligatory studio shot with my yellow ladder included for scale reference.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, studio photograph with drawings on wall


I don’t normally engage in magical thinking, but I do believe in the power of art. I needed a talisman, for personal reasons, so I edited my two recent large landscape drawings to add doors to the buildings. I felt that I need an entrance to that stark world. The titles have also changed, Iceland/Ísland  to Talisman. There’s a third drawing for this series in the works.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Talisman (I), Charcoal, Chalk, Wax, Pencil on Paper

Talisman (I), Charcoal, Chalk, Wax, Pencil on Paper, 45″x49″, Photo by R.R. Jones

The drawing below has already appeared on this blog, sans door.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Talisman (II), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper

Talisman (II), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper, 46″x66″, Photo by R.R. Jones

in the beginning

I get asked all the time how I go about starting a painting.  Do I work from a drawing that I then copy onto the canvas?  Directly from a model? Or from photos?

Do I sketch first on the canvas?  With charcoal? Pencil? Paint?

Truth be told, I don’t have a single “method”. I try it all. Sometimes I work directly from a model, sometimes from photos, sometimes from both, or neither.

One thing I almost never do is work on a painting from a preliminary drawing. I draw, regularly, but I don’t draw to turn the drawings directly into paintings. There is not a direct and linear path from one to the other. I draw because drawing is a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself, and needs nothing else to recommend it.  Drawing is full of its own challenges and rewards, and it has the capacity to inform all my work.

At the moment, I’m drawing Iceland, so the title of this blog post, “In the Beginning” seems to relate.  Iceland is a landscape in the process of coming into being, and so it truly is “In the Beginning”. This one is charcoal and chalk on paper, and it’s a largish drawing, 46″x66″.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Talisman (II), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper

Talisman (II), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper, 45.75″ x 65.25″, 2014

12×12 (x12)

This piece is currently in a show at the Cabrillo Gallery titled “12×12 (x12): An Open Invitational 2014.  As you can guess from the title, all pieces in the show are 12″x12″ (x12″), which makes for a cohesive show.

A trick of the eye makes this piece appear to be more vertical than square, but it truly is exactly 12″x12″. It is encaustic on wood panel with a rust-patina metal frame.

The horizontal bars are not welded into place so they can (or could) slip out of the frame. I like the idea that the piece could mutate at a later date, outside of my control. Those bars remind me of pick-up sticks from the childhood game, though the piece is far from playful.