I’ve always been a bit of an oddball. I’ve created art in one form or another since I was a kid: directing my little sisters in plays I wrote (and starred in, of course); singing at the top of my lungs, perched in the highest branches of a sprawling ficus tree. They were brutal, larger-than-life teenage dramas that could certainly qualify as performance art.
I was always illustrating my imaginary worlds through art. How else could I begin to explain whatever cloud my head was in?
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Weather in September
My strange, contradictory nature confounds even me: I am excitable and easily distracted, yet capable of unnatural feats of concentration and focus—when I was a child it often took a great deal of shouting to rouse me from my dream world and force me to participate in “Real Life.” Whatever that is.
As a student I bounced from one passion to another with a fickle intensity, declaring each new interest What I’m Going to Be, before moving blithely on to the next: preacher, teacher, missionary, doctor, biologist, psychiatrist, writer, actress, and artist. (Although. . . I never wanted to be a ballerina. My clumsiness is legendary; I was oblivious to anything as ordinary as the spatial relationship between hard, stationary objects and easily bruised shins, knees, elbows, and toes.)
It wasn’t until 1999, as I was graduating from Western Carolina University with an English degree, that I stumbled—quite literally—onto what has become my life’s overriding passion. I found inspiration right under my feet, on a mountainside bisected with veins of colorful earth. I began collecting the various earthen hues, and determined to figure out a way to paint with them.
This part of the mountains of western North Carolina is dotted with gem mines—ruby, sapphire, amethyst, garnet, olivine, and bits of mica that pervade everything and makes dirty floors sparkle.
The local abundance and variety of gems and minerals is world-renowned, so even back then I was able to collect a basic palette that would be hard to find anywhere else: Crimson-red clay, red and yellow ocher, a bluish gray, green, chalky off-white, and of course powdery mica that glitters like gold dust.
Nadir (In Memory of David Shirmohammad)
Sixteen years later, I’ve collected a full palette of mineral colors, dozens of techniques and tricks, and an assortment of crazy improvised tools, made mostly from a random collection of odd metal bits, plastic and cardboard packaging scraps, and re-purposed household items I call The Weirdo Toolbox.
I am still so in love, totally enthralled by this challenging medium that builds my understanding (as well as curiosity and wonder) with each painting.
It’s the closest I’ll ever come to being grounded. I’m still an absent-minded klutz, but there’s something about the physicality of crushing rocks that somehow bridges the divide between my imagination and this awkward alien world where I crash into things and have to pretend I understand what’s going on.
It’s given me an awareness of and appreciation for the natural world I wouldn’t otherwise have—and the labor-intensive process is very cathartic, stilling my turbulent nature so I can make art in relative tranquility, peaceful works that are largely free of the emotional apparitions that populate my sketchbook.
It is the calm eye of my storm, the peace after I have endured it.
Special thanks to Laura Zepeda for contributing today’s post. Click through to browse more of her unique earthen paintings and learn more about her process!