Tell us about your background?
Art, like a homecoming, is something that I always have come back to. As a child, the first and only thing I wanted to be was an artist. Yet, while growing up, art was not emphasized or encouraged except for when we had special projects in school. It wasn’t until high school when I had to take electives that I came back to art and re-discovered that it was something that I loved to do. Pursuing art in college was an exploratory time for me. I took fiber arts and traditional pottery at the Institute of American Indian Arts and came to the conclusion that I did not want to work in only one medium or in a strictly traditional way. When I went back to school for my Master’s degree, I had the opportunity to do a little exploration into other art forms: bookmaking, paper casting, and image transfer. It wasn’t until some years later, when I once again went back to school for art, that things finally gelled and I felt I had “found my voice” in working with mixed media, lights, and layers of 2-D art. These days, making art is no longer a homecoming; it is the home where I reside.
How would you describe your style to someone who hasn’t seen your work before?
I would describe my style as whimsical and playful in expression and detailed in execution. I take 2-D drawings and layer them within a shallow or deep box to create depth. Although I use some 3-D elements in my deeper boxes, they are not dioramas where all of the elements are 3-D. One reason why I do not strictly use elements in the round is that more often than not, in crossing over to a 3-D world, the objects become starkly fake-looking, unconvincing, or creepy to me, and that is not where my artistic sensibilities lie. By sticking to mainly two-dimensional elements, my work can remain in a different world that retains a certain charm and that is believable for what it is. My work is more akin to a stage set than to a diorama.
Another device I use in my work is light. I use light to enhance the mood of a piece. Oftentimes, I use backlighting to light up a sky. In these cases, I have used a watercolor sky with strip LEDs or an LED light panel behind it. Other times, it’s more complex – using programmed LEDs to create lightning or grain of wheat lights to light a firefly jar. The added use of light in my pieces also gives them a transitional quality which I enjoy. For example, the image changes from being fully visible in daylight, to becoming a silhouette against a luminous sky when the room becomes dark.
I have not seriously considered becoming a set designer in a theatre but I am open to it. I have always enjoyed set designs and I would particularly love to see and experience those which Maurice Sendak designed. Since I want to go larger with my pieces and am interested in creating installations further on down the road, getting some set design experience sounds very prescriptive.
Yes, I have written a children’s story that I also mean to illustrate. Two of my toad pieces, “Burying Treasure” and “The Wedding” are illustrations for the book, which I haven’t yet submitted to any publishers. I have wanted to write and illustrate children’s books for a long time, being that they were what inspired me to want to write stories and to do art.
Can you take us through the process of creating one of your box animations, from start to finish?
Sure. I start with an idea, which may be inspired by anything from a story, to materials, to a song, or a picture. From there, I make at least 5 thumbnails of my idea. I go with the composition I like the best, and start fleshing it out: character design, design of elements, colors, materials. I draw and redraw until I like the design. I may leave it alone for a while so that when I look at it with new eyes, I can spot what may be off. I play with sizes and composition, trying to see what works best. I do research on materials that I am looking for, I buy items that I think may work and I experiment with them. Then it’s production time. After I have made all of the elements, it is time to put them together. I create the stage or inner frame that will house my piece. I then assemble the elements within the inner frame, which, in my shallow box pieces means gluing a backing onto the drawing to the desired depth. My deep boxes require securing to the ground plane, with glue/brads/staples. I always leave room in the boxes for light elements/electrical elements that will be used in the piece. I have a couple of talented special effects people who have done my electrical work, and a master wood worker who has made my deep boxes. It’s a collaborative effort. The final step is plugging in the art piece.
What inspires you to create such amazing, intricate and detailed work?
The wonder that I get from my inspirations is the feeling I want to convey in my work. My delight in the process of making art, in research and development, in the materials themselves, and in what I envision is what drives me. Being detail-oriented seems to be just part of my make-up, so to do intricate work is not a big deal for me – I thrive on it. I feel like I am in my element when I create my pieces, like I am being who I was created to be, and that is part of my worship to God: to be, to develop, to enjoy, to give back, and to share what He has given to me in my affinity with art.
Is there a theme or medium you would like to explore further in the coming years?
Goodness, yes! I am excited to continue my “T’ode to _____” series with Maxfield Parrish, Hiroshige, and Franklin Booth being the next subjects. I can’t wait to begin a new “I Love L.A.” series which will not only incorporate iconic places like my beloved Venice Beach, but will also celebrate L.A. art: Kent Twitchell murals, A Community of Angels Sculptures angels, Cindy Jackson’s Yo-yo men, Kristine Schomaker’s Avatars, etc. Size-wise, I have in mind to go larger, with a large scale Noah’s Ark project, an arched triptych piece with movement, etc.
In terms of mediums and art forms, I would particularly like to explore paper casting, paper engineering, electronics, “inventions of wonder”, fiber arts, and printmaking. There is a whole world of materials exploration waiting for me.
I think two of my favorite pieces are The Battle and T’ode to Klimt both of which have your signature toads. Where did your inspiration for the toads come from? Tell me about your live models.
My inspiration came from my pet toads. A co-worker gave me my first toads. They were so tiny and so adorable. Three of us in my department actually wanted the three toads. At first we thought each of us could take one, but then we decided that we could not break apart the family, so the ladies, to my delight, decided that I should take home all three of them. We called them La Familia and we named them Pancho, Pancha and Panchito. It was the first time I had pet toads, and I adored them. They are simple-minded and innocent; such harmless little creatures and yet so often reviled because of their physical characteristics. My affection for them made me want to advocate for them, and they seamlessly made their way into my mind for a children’s book and illustrations.
The toads also work well for me as a degree of separation device, both in story and in art. Stories can be safe ways for children to learn about the difficulties/harshness of life. To use toad characters, in my opinion, adds even more of a buffer while also tapping into the imagination, and adding humor. In the T’ode series, it gives me a unique way to explore the world of the artist I am paying homage to.
My live models are my pets Tesoro, Orita, and Verdito. They are actually pretty good models if I sit and sketch them when they are not in an active mood. They make hilarious faces when they are shedding their skin, so I have some good blackmail photos of them. Toads are not affectionate creatures though, and the two smallest ones get anxious when I get too close. Tesoro, happily, does not seem to mind me.
Tell me about your solo show at the Los Angeles Art Association. What can visitors expect when arriving in the gallery?
When entering the space, visitors can expect to feel like they are stepping into a different realm. It will be a dimly lit room so that the illumination from my pieces is heightened. I am hoping that the viewer will feel like they are looking through a window into another world when they view my pieces, and that it is an experience of wonder.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes. I would just like to encourage anybody who likes art but doesn’t feel like they “are good at it”, to take a different approach. Anybody who can write with a pen can learn to draw. If we all had spent as much time learning to draw/making art as we had learning math or English, we would have some basic art skills and understanding down. Please don’t accept the fallacy that you can’t draw just because you couldn’t produce a likeness at one or a few tries. Of course some people display more inborn gifting in art, but even for them, developing one’s skill never comes without hard work. There’s no mystique about that! So if you are in that place where you like art but don’t think you can do it, take a class and work at it. I think you will be wonderfully surprised.