cleaning the studio...

...and other adventures in art

in the studio now

Here’s what I’m up to in the studio right now: big paintings, more of which can be seen here.

This new one, still in progress, is acrylic and chalk on unstretched canvas, and is approximately 9’x6′.  The ladder in the photo shows the scale, which is important to the piece.  I’m thinking about the inward-turned figure in contrast to larger-than-life scale.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, large-scale painting on tarp

the drawing salon

I’ve blogged in the past about working collaboratively with Claire Thorson.  We’ve done many drawings together as well as some paintings, working from the model.

We’re very excited to be showing two of our collaborative drawings at an upcoming show at the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  You can see one of them on their website: just click on the screenshot below… (and then come to the show!)

Barbara Downs announcement for The Drawing Salon exhibition

The Drawing Salon

January 20th – March 10th, 2013
Reception: Sunday, February 10th, 3-5PM
Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery
Cowell College, UCSC

Here’s our statement for the show:

In addition to the work we do individually, we have been working collaboratively for some years now. In the beginning, we worked alternately on pieces, as many collaborators do, but now we work on the same piece together, at the same time, side by side.

There are no rules: decisions or marks made by one person may be—and often are—immediately altered or erased by the other.  In a fluid and dynamic process, we change sides, step back to look, call to each other to correct an area whose fault can only be seen from a distance, try to protect a favorite line or tonal area and then most likely let it go.

Sometimes we agree.  Sometimes we struggle.  We may pursue dissimilar directions, wrestle with each other through the charcoal, chalk and paint.  Working together may trigger a conflict of interest—drawing is, after all, a very personal endeavor.

But in spite of or because of the intensity we share, a drawing comes together from our combined work at the easel. And the endpoint of the drawing, while often surprising, is almost always mutually understood.  Our most successful drawings blend our two visions seamlessly, and though we may recognize a mark or a passage that belongs to one or the other, the overall piece is something neither of us would have arrived at on our own.

By working together and embracing the unpredictable outcomes, the possibilities of making an image are somehow multiplied by more than a factor of two.  The collaborative process opens new vistas and directions that each of us can take to our own work, and the work we do together stands on its own accord. — Claire Thorson and Barbara Downs

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!).


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