cleaning the studio...

...and other adventures in art

sleight of hand

I’ve grown rather fond of this suite of ten small encaustic pieces that I’ve just completed. Each is 6″x6″, encaustic on panel.  I delivered them today to this show:

Sleight of Hand
Pajaro Valley Arts Council Gallery
January 16 – February 17, 2013
Reception: January 20, 2-4pm

the thicket

More images from my encaustic series about children.  I explained what I’m doing in my last post, “in memory”.  To recap, I am thinking both of children’s fragility and resilience, their resolve and vulnerability.  I think of the piece on the left as “children emerging from the thicket of childhood”.

in memory

In the wake of the Newtown school shootings last Friday, I was at a loss for ideas as I walked into my studio Monday morning.  I have a child, and the sheer horror of what happened is unfathomable, unbearable, unimaginable.

I’ve long considered using children as a subject matter, and this feels like an appropriate moment.  In these pieces, I am considering children’s utter fragility, their strength and inner resolve, their vulnerability.

These pieces are destined for an upcoming invitational show of small-format pieces at Pajaro Valley Arts Council Gallery, to be on exhibit in January and February.  They are all encaustic on wood panel, 6″x6″.  These are two of the first few, with more to come.


This photo of my studio floor caught my eye because of the geometry of the composition and the colors.  This is part of the limited palette I’m using in my newest paintings, which can be seen on my website, here.

This askew composition appeals to me; it’s the sort of thing that I’d like to work with in painting or drawing form, so I started doodling (in Photoshop, for the purposes of this blog post).

I think the end result leaves open the possibility of a larger piece based on this photo.  It’s a step away from the figurative work I’ve been doing lately, but we’ll see, we’ll see…

what’s that doing on the floor?

A new painting. What’s it doing on the floor?  I prefer to work this way, but I do most of the painting on the wall so that I can properly see it.  Working flat on the floor makes it difficult to see the entire painting without distortion!  Once I know I have the basic information down, I can take it off the wall and work like this.

Barbara Downs, large-scale painting on studio floor

Floating, Acrylic/Mixed Media on Unstretched Canvas, hung with grommets, 72″x108″, 2012

You can see a more conventional photo of it (yes, hanging on the wall) here.


I live and work in Santa Cruz, California, on the northern tip of the Monterey Bay, and over the summer I was invited to participate in an upcoming show about the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Thinking back to a previous heron piece I had done, I focused on our wetlands and the wide variety of wildlife found there, including herons, egrets and raptors.  Researching great blue herons (Ardea herodias), I settled in on a single element of their elaborate courtship display wherein they extend their neck so high that the bird would seem to be in danger of falling over backwards.

Herons and egrets appeal to me mainly for their unlikely form… football-shaped body atop stilt legs, their neck often coiled into an s-shape.  They hold stock-still while hunting and jab their long, pointed beak out at lightning-speed to catch their prey.  They look as though they could not fly (and yet they do!).  I’ve seen one flying low in the trees near my house, always on the periphery of my vision (“what is that thing!?!”), and by the time I can properly focus on it it’s already gone.  Strange to see such a large bird in flight.  I was intrigued with the idea that I can see them for only a split second, as they fly overhead or as I drive past the slough, a mirage or vision of some sort.

Heron Display, Encaustic on Panel, 76" x 40", 2012, Private Collection

Heron Display, Encaustic on Panel, 76″ x 40″, 2012, Private Collection

This large encaustic painting is one of my two pieces in the show that came out of that inspiration.  The show, Monterey Bay: Land, Air & Sea, is now hanging at the Pajaro Valley Arts Council Gallery in Watsonville, California.


I don’t mind if people find my work perplexing. I’m often equally perplexed.

This photo was the inspiration for the sculpture Fountain (I).

Barbara Downs, photo of grass growing on sidewalk, inspiration for sculpture

thanks, ed

Quote for the day, from Ed Ruscha, “Whatever I do, I’m having a dialogue with myself.  That’s the impetus for it all… Two types of work might be different in some ways, but they have a little silver thread between them.”

And on that note, I’ll leave you with two types of my own work, side by side.  That silver thread is there, whether or not it’s immediately apparent.  It makes no difference at all to me whether I’m working with birds or people or chairs or steel, I am still working with the same broad set of concerns.  The sculptures obviously look different than the paintings, especially since I’m not doing figurative sculptures, but in my mind they are not so very different.  (These two, for instance, each have arms and legs!).

haven (II)

Another one of the large paintings…

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Haven (II), Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas

Haven (II), Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas (hung directly on wall with nails though grommets), 70″ x 107″, 2012

And here are some of my working materials…

Barbara Downs, photo of studio floor showing painting supplies

been gone too long

I know it’s been a while since I wrote anything on these pages, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy.  I have several projects, so it’s difficult to know where to start.  It’ll take me some time to catch up here.

But I’ll start with my large-scale paintings. They technically are paintings, but I think of them as drawings. I’ve written about them already, but I’ve now finished more than a few of them and have more in the works, so they are starting to make some sense to me.  As I move forward with them, I find myself fighting my tendency to paint these pieces heavily, and to rework endlessly. If I want to do that, I should be working in oils on stretched canvases. These pieces are on unstretched canvas, and I mean them to be more akin to large-scale sketches, very direct and not too thickly painted.

They are to remain unstretched, as well.  As you can see with this one, they are hung on the wall with grommets and nails.  To me, they are evocative of parchment, or rawhide (another material that I’ve used in the past).

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Inward, Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas

Inward, Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas (hung directly on wall with nails though grommets), 70″ x 117″, 2012

The scale of these pieces is important to me, so for scale purposes, here is a photo R.R. Jones took of me standing in front of this painting.

Barbara Downs standing with her painting Inward, Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas

Inward, Acrylic/Mixed-Media on Unstretched Canvas (hung directly on wall with nails though grommets), 70″ x 117″, 2012