Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Microscopic" beads? No problem for artist Courtney Denise Lipson!

Artist Courtney Denise Lipson

If you thought, as this reporter did, that seed beads are about as tiny as human hands can work with, you'd be in for a surprise in viewing the creations of  Courtney Denise Lipson. The Bellingham artist showed members of Contemporary QuiltArt Association just how small you can go as she displayed her "micro-mosaic" beaded jewelry at the group's September 13 meeting.
CQA members inspect Lipson's jewelry pieces
One of Lipson's beaded belt buckles. Hands give an idea of scale of beads.

A spectacular "micro-mosaic" beaded bracelet

This bracelet was particularly coveted!

Lipson had completed her degree in Arts Administration at Lewis & Clark College and was assistant director at the Stonington Gallery in Seattle when, in 2002, she took a basic metal-working class at Pratt Fine Arts Center. By 2004, she had turned to metal-working full time, specializing in jewelry.

In a typical piece of jewelry, she will solder a flat sheet of silver to a rim which she then trims and polishes, creating a frame to surround the beadwork. First she applies epoxy to an area about1/2" to 1" square, with the epoxy giving her about 2 hours in which to insert the beads before it cures. The final step is to apply standard tile grout ("the consistency of tooth paste") to fix the beads in place. Usually she matches the grout color to that of the beads, but sometimes she alters it to add a new color to the mix on the piece.
Lipson begins the metalwork part of a bracelet.
Back side of trimmed, polished bracelet "blanks"
"Blank" for a cuff bracelet is shaped by hand.
The tiny, tiny beads are applied!

 Here's what Lipson says about the beads she uses:   
"The beads range in size from 13° diminishing in size to 28° (the higher the number, the smaller the bead.) In other words, roughly starting at the size of a pin-head the beads get as small as a grain of sand. In a given mosaic, depending on the size of beads used, there can be as many as 150-700 beads per square inch."
This 6" x 6" beaded piece with passion flower and butterfly was inspired by a piece of "college-lined" notebook paper.

Lipson starts her design work with sketches on anything that's at hand--a sketch pad, paper napkins--even a sheet of "college-ruled" notebook paper can be the start of a beaded piece.

Some 80% of Lipson's work is commissioned, often through her contacts at Stonington Gallery. Rather than first offering up her own ideas for such pieces, she determines what the customer wants...and then figures out how she can get what she wants into the piece. She likes to push herself forward with something new in each piece, and commission work, with the attendant outside influence, allows her to do that.
Close-up of cabachon magnifying underlying beads

One such commission was a bit of a test of her nerves. The customer wanted a set--necklace, earrings, bracelet--to match the colors of pet parrot "Sparky"...and Lipson pronounces herself terrified of birds! "I just focused on the feathers as hard as I could," she relates. This first "feather" commission led to more feather-type work.
"Sparky," the pet parrot that inspired a jewelry set
(Above and below) Sets of jewelry inspired by the colors of "Sparky's" feathers

Often Lipson will use stones, especially in necklace pendants, to suggest a look of nature in her pieces. The appearance of the stones can vary widely, depending on how they are set and with differences in lighting, so that a single pendant stone can appear light one minute, and dark the next. Lipson frequently makes pendants double-sided, with a stone on one side and beads on the other, adding yet another bit of variety to the piece. The stone will be set first, then the beadwork done on the other side.
The large pendant is stone; the smaller drops are beaded in coordinating colors.
(Above and below) The same stones appear quite different in a change of lighting.
(Above and below) The same set of jewelry, showing the stone side of the main pendant (above) and the beaded side (below).
(Above and 2 images below) A sketch for a combination bead-and-stone set of jewelry results in one set with two-sided pendant and a different variation in the same colors.
Lipson often uses nature as her muse, as in these flowers, above (with the rare Taylor's checkerspot butterfly), and a variety of marine life, below.
Close-up of sea anemone from far right side of marine images above.

Along with her beading, Lipson is also a weaver. Several years ago she apprenticed with a Tlingit Chilkat weaver in Bellingham, and has since created several pieces in traditional patterns, including using her own handspun yarns. Many of the traditional Tlingit motifs soon began to show up in some of her beaded jewelry pieces, especially the "Raven's Tail" series. She became so immersed in the Tlingit culture that on her wedding day (to noted Northwest woodworker Scott Jensen) in 2010, she was also adopted by two prominent Tlingits, in a ceremony where she wore a specially created "button blanket" and her husband wore a traditional blanket she had woven for the occasion.
Lipson weaving a typical Tlingit design.
Sample and close-up of Lipson's Tlingit-design blanket, including some of her own hand-spun yarn.
Lipson and Jensen  on the day of their wedding and adoption by Tlingits. Her button blanket was created especially for the occasion, and she wove the blanket for her husband.
North Coast Native American motifs in some of Lipson's beaded bracelets.

Jensen has created a number of wooden pieces in traditional North Coast Native American style, including boxes and masks, each incorporating special grooves where Lipson inserts beads to heighten the impact of the motifs.
Lipson placed red and blue beads in special grooves near the bottom of this box created for her by Jensen.
Lipson created the motifs with beads in this mask carved by Jensen.
Close-up of the beading placed in grooves carved in the mask.

Certainly Lipson's greatest challenge to date is the "Century Project"--a beaded piece 100 inches long by 2 inches high--commissioned through Stonington. Pediatric oncologist/genetic researcher Stephen Friend met Lipson when he ordered a totem pole from her husband, Jensen, and became interested in her work. Now in his 50s, he had the idea of creating a timeline of his life, from 10 years before his birth up through age 90 (hence "Century")...then, now, future. Friend thought about it for a year and, on 10 pieces of paper, complete with doodles, captured that lifespan in three levels: Facts; Professional Accomplishments and Challenges; Emotional Journey.
A lifespan in 10 sheets of paper, created by Stephen Friend in commissioning Lipson to do the "Century Project." Lipson's drawing is the color band below.
Friend broke the 100-year timeline into three levels: Facts; Professional Accomplishments and Challenges; Emotional Journey
Lipson begins to turn her color sketch of the timeline (bottom) into finished beading (top).
Beading the 100-inch piece took 2 months, and grouting, one week. Lipson estimates the entire piece contains approximately 75,000 beads!
Work in progress on "Century" showing beads being placed in the epoxy (above) and the same section finished (below)

Friend and Lipson met for three hours to go over the project, and Lipson was able to lay out a drawing of the entire piece during one afternoon. Friend saw the drawing, but he saw none of the beadwork until the entire piece was done. Lipson began working on the piece in December 2009 and completed it in early 2013. She spent two months doing the beading and took a week to do the tile grouting.
Lipson combined two views to show the beginning of "Century" at left and how it matches the end, at right.

The finished "Century" piece required the skills of a local furniture maker to create a wooden framework to keep the long, thin, beaded strip rigid. The piece, now displayed in Friend's office, is mounted vertically on metal "legs" in front of a backdrop consisting of a wall-sized lightbox displaying a composite "galaxy" that cycles between almost total darkness and full light. A small, separate light bar lights the "Century" beaded strip from the front.
A skilled furniture maker prepares a wooden frame to keep the 100" by 2" finished piece rigid.
The finished "Century" piece installed in Friend's office in front of a lightbox displaying a composite "galaxy."
Close-up of "Century" showing how it's mounted in front of the "galaxy" lightbox.

For more images of Lipson's work and details on her creation of the pieces, see her website:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Deborah Kapoor uses ancient technique to create very modern art

Artist Deborah Kapoor at CQA meeting
Seattle-area artist Deborah Kapoor calls her work mostly experimental as she continually pushes to new boundaries. That she does this using one of the most ancient of art media--encaustic--intrigued the members of Contemporary QuiltArt Association as she spoke at the group's August 9 meeting.
The materials of encaustic: beeswax, pigment, resin (R&F Paints)

Encaustic work uses a mix of beeswax, pigment and resin that functions as paint and that can be used in much the same way as oil paints, but with the added ability to encase three-dimensional objects within the wax. Some of the earliest uses of encaustic date back to 500 B.C., and the medium was used in mummy paintings by the Egyptians around 100 A.D.

"Hot boxes" or palettes (R&F Paints)
The wax, pigment and resin are mixed and melted on top of a "hot box" or palette, and applied with brushes or spoon- and knife-like metal tools. Modern encaustic materials have an advantage over oil paints in that there's no need for solvent--they can be cleaned up with soy wax, then soap and water.

"BloodMilk"--encaustic with plaster bandage, wire, thread, book pages, onion skins, lace, Saral transfer, string, dryer sheets.
Encaustic pieces are archival--as long as they are not subjected to uncontrolled intense heat--and can be reworked at a later time by applying heat to any given area. They can crack if dropped--but the artist can then simply reheat the affected area and fix it!
"Retention of Life Force"--Encaustic,wire, paper, yarn.
"Non-Violence"--Encaustic, lace, paper
"Swinging Between External and Internal"--Encaustic, ink, fabric, ribbon

Kapoor was into painting and drawing in graduate school, then found herself cutting things up and adding stitching to her paintings. Soon she was integrating cold wax into her paintings to create layers, so it became an easy move to encaustic.
"Vehicle of the Gods"--Encaustic, dryer lint, thread, batting
Closeup of "Vehicle of the Gods"
"Inexorable Passage of Time"--Encaustic, old greeting cards

Many of her works spring out of three main themes--nature, the body, the self--each of which offers numerous paths for her to follow. Her husband is from India; that, combined with travel to India and study of Indian philosophy, has resulted in a good deal of her work exhibiting themes from Indian culture and traditions.
"Small Acts of Kindness"--Includes rubber bands in encaustic
"Village Gods"--Encaustic, paper, ink, thread
"Sense Base"--Encaustic, Satsuma peels
Back side of "Sense Base"

Kapoor takes full advantage of encaustic's ability to "hold" three-dimensional objects within the wax, and she collects and uses materials as disparate as bags of fibers, rubber bands, eye makeup-remover pads, dryer sheets, dryer lint, greeting cards, batting, "plaster bandages," plastic wrap, Satsuma peels and madrona bark in her work. She often includes prints and/or printed materials, and some pieces include hand-written mantras.
"Inner Soul"--Encaustic, thread, paper (with written mantras)
"Divine Mother"--Encaustic, felt, ink, paper, cord. Part of "Remembering" installation honoring Kapoor's late mother-in-law.

Installation of "Remembering"
"Cosmic Consciousness"--part of "Remembering" installation. Encaustic, paper, found objects, brads, cord.

"Remembering: Bones"--Encaustic, cord from pajamas

Kapoor began teaching encaustic classes at Bellevue College last year, and this winter will be teaching classes in Color Theory and Encaustic and Color. Her work can be seen at Art Exchange Gallery in Seattle, and on her website:
Students gather around Kapoor in encaustic class at Bellevue College.

For more information on encaustic history, materials and techniques, go to R&F Paints,