by Juanita Canzoneri
I interviewed Helen Smithwick in her studio on the west side of Colorado Springs. Large windows looked out at Pikes Peak through bare spring tree branches from the homes across the street.
Helen is a botanical illustrator, which means she makes illustrations of plants and flowers. Animals have crept in from time to time, but that’s technically not botanical.
She received her certification in this through the School of Botanical Art and Illustration in Denver, graduating with honors in 2013. Helen attended this school because she always enjoyed art and never had any piece of paper to prove that she could do it. “It kind of seemed cool to have a little piece of paper,” she says.
She spent the first few years after receiving certification exhibiting her work in shows. It’s fun to get dressed up and go to an opening every so often, but that wanes after a bit. She applied to Commonwheel last February to “see if I could sell anything.”
“I’m enjoying Commonwheel,” Helen states. “I love the people. I’ve met the neatest people—different, eccentric, wonderful, kind. They’ve been just amazing. When I had to go to Australia for a family emergency, everyone just jumped up and pitched in to cover my shifts and help out.”
Helen has a lovely British accent, having grown up in the south of England, near Winchester. She met her husband, Bob, in West Africa while she was teaching in the British equivalent of Peace Corps. They were both in a tiny village on the coast of Ghana.
They moved to Colorado when they were first married and started a family.
“I’ve drawn all my life. I was the kid sitting in the corner doodling around my notes. You’re told as a young person that art isn’t something to pursue, but I always did it on the side. My kids would laugh when they could come across a stack of my old drawings and exclaim that they didn’t know I would do this.”
“When I retired a very good friend of mine told me about the Botanical School and said it was exactly what I would need, so we started taking classes together. She dropped out but I continued. You get to a point where you’ve taken half the classes and you think, I might as well finish this. “
Most people achieve their certification in two or three years. Helen took three years.
The nice thing about botanical drawings is that your subjects are just outside the door. Helen prefers to work from live specimens, which means she sometimes must work very quickly, keeping the plants in the refrigerator. She’ll work 8-hour days on a drawing, taking 2-3 days to complete a piece to make sure the plant lasts.
This proves to be a problem in winter when the plants are dormant. She keeps a stash of dried plants in the corner of her studio, “but those get boring so I will work from photographs. I do not like doing that because I feel a photograph distorts. But I’ll do it because sometimes in the winter you want to work on something other than a dried specimen.”
Coming from England where you “just throw a seed in the ground and it grows” she hasn’t found gardening in Colorado to be one of her favorite things. Her husband prefers to garden. “Here, I discovered, you have to actually water things. I love to get my hands in the soil and mess around in it but, no, I’m not a very good gardener.”
“People give me plants. I borrow them, I go out and find a lot of wild flowers.” It’s good to have friends who garden. “I’m shameless. One year my Shasta Daisies didn’t do well, and Bob and I were out walking and passed a house with beautiful daisies. I just went up and knocked on the front door and asked if they would mind if I took some of their plants to draw them. They said I could, so I did.”
Because of her School of Botanical Arts training Helen works in a variety of media—graphite, carbon dust, watercolor, pen and ink, watercolor pencil, colored pencil on Mylar. Her favorites are watercolor and watercolor pencil.
"Love and . . . " gallery art show
We set out to surround Valentines Day and the idea of “love” with a show that will encompass the whole month of February. We put out an open call to artists to submit images of their art that finished the phrase “Love and . . .” and had over a dozen artists respond. Their work is as varied as their answers to the 3 questions we recently posed to them:
1. What prompted the art you submitted for this gallery show? What was your inspiration?
2. How long have you been working with the type of art you submitted?
3. Tell us a little about yourself.
1. What prompted the art you submitted for this gallery show? What was your inspiration?
“Love and finding the perfect partner” is my painting of two sea otters from the Carmel area of California.
I also submitted a painting of owls. They are all babies and best friends. “Love and your best friends.” This was painted with a batik method of watercolor on rice paper.
2. How long have you been working with the type of art you submitted? 10 years
3. Tell us a little about yourself. I'm a retired from 20 plus years in Newspaper Marketing in three newspapers all over the West. I started in sculpture but turned to watercolor. I love the medium.
1. The inspiration for my painting was a photo I took of my 5-year-old grandson and his best friends at his birthday party.
2. I have been doing pastels for many years but seldom do people.
3. I am an 82-year-old artist that works in pastel and oil primarily. I also do some tapestry weaving.
1. My inspiration was a long-term love interest and the understanding of myself and others that I have derived/am deriving from the experience.
2. I have been making oil paintings on wood panels for about ten years, and I have been making drawings on antique music paper for about 7 years.
3. I am a self-taught artist, native to Colorado Springs. I love exploring different artistic styles and different mediums, which seem non-cohesive at the outset, but will eventually coalesce into a cohesive body of work. Sometimes it takes years for the pieces to fit themselves into place.
hear we go, from out of the blue, as deep as a metaphorical mirror, hello to you
...scents of inspiration, vintage two 'n' too!
paint with words, left to right, love of 'rite, soft and tight, 'rythmatic of script sculpture
the big picture plus...
in the oddest place, in the artist place
tonight, turning 'rite up yore alley in left field, oceanic mountainous clouds
the roof of you're cellar
from thirty-four into approximately seventy... thirty six years in a wilderness of golden would essence 'n' petrified woulds,
pondering the deeper significance of invisible by day in sight of night...
...retired after 19 years at CMHS, 2005
taught seniors psychology, sociology, gradually becoming psychosocial movement of hearty heady
grew up in NYC, came thru Ellis Island at the age of one, 1949
MA applied Economics, QC ... finished doctorate course work at SUNY at Stony Brook in theoretical Economics
hitched from London to Jerusalem, nine weeks
receiving teaching assistantships at both institutions
ten years of in tense karate training, 3 national team kata awards, junior instructor
invited to train in Japan, JKA for a summer
Columbia University for graduate work, a year of Sports Psychology, NLP
taught at NY Institute of Technology, Queensboro CC, George Washington HS (math)
thank you, dream well
Suzi’s work is described as “Love and Health and Beauty”
1. I was prompted to enter this gallery show because I create porcelain essential oil necklaces, which celebrate the heart and love. They are worn with love of self because they have a purpose. The necklaces are infused with thieves oil to promote good health, well-being and self-care. The necklaces are given with love to show affection for the recipient. They are beautiful and have the bonus of keeping the wearer feeling well. Whether giving the essential oil necklace as a gift or gifting it to yourself, you are showing love and joy.
2. I have been a ceramic artist since my first pottery class in 1973. Clay hooked me and I won’t let go. It is a sensuous media and brings me joy to work with it. I create my pieces by hand, fire it in a kiln then decorate each piece, making each ceramic creation a work of love.
3. I studied ceramics the first time I went to college in the 70’s. I had a minor degree in art and have always worked in it. I married, had a family and needed something to give us health insurance and to work towards a retirement so I joined the U.S. Navy in 1990. Fast forward twenty-three years and I had earned a retirement. My family was grown and I was a disabled veteran, though not enough to keep me from doing art. I took my G.I. Bill and went back to college, this time earning my Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in ceramics. I have been happily creating with clay since.
1. My Love of Nature and seeing how disrespectful people have become when caring for the environment in recent years, the quote about who this planet belongs to has been posted around my home for a long time. The photograph I took of a man holding his child pointing off into the distance/future sitting on the grass became something to play with digitally and place them in a more nature filled setting. This image then seemed to be the perfect illustration for that quote.
The other images were inspired by Shawn Gallaway's song "I Choose Love" that I have listened to for many years. The idea of the choice between Love or Fear; or Peace and War; Sunshine or a Storm; Laughter or Tears . . . the answer to all those questions is "I Choose Love." The pairing of dragonflies or black swans or a Squirrel with its hand on its heart inside a heart illustrates that choice for me.
2. I have been taking photos on my hikes or in gardens for most of my adult life. Started using them in wall art about 2 years ago and in my books for about 5 years. Sometimes I use them as they naturally appear, other times I play with them more in Photoshop to give them a more abstract or painted look.
3. I have had a respect and love of the natural world all of my life and became involved in the arts when I worked behind the scenes in theater in High School. In College I started working with fibers and going to art festivals and selling in galleries. I am mostly known for my feather masks and jewelry pieces. I began writing books about 5 years ago and they needed illustrations. Most of them are illustrated with my photographs, some I do find elsewhere. The photographic digital art was an easy progression to another level of art to play in with my Nature photos. Using them as they appear naturally works sometimes, but I "fell down a rabbit hole of creativity" and began to manipulate them in a graphic program in ways to add interest. Some feel like you are looking through a kaleidoscope or at a mandala, others are purely abstractions and all invite you to look deeper to find fantastic forms or creatures within each picture. The ones in this show have some manipulation to gain the effect of the focus creature offering love in some form or another to each other or the viewer.
For me, the theme “Love and…” immediately brought to mind—fabric! Fabric presents endless possibilities of color, pattern, texture, as well as cultural connections and family, personal and emotional ties. Fabric communicates, even without words.
I have been sewing for nearly 50 years, beginning with outdoor equipment kits and homemaking items. I am a past president of Piecing Partners Quilt Guild in Colorado Springs, and have participated in a number of shows through the years. I gravitate toward simple fabric combinations, in hopes of taking advantage of the materials to create something both pleasing and useful.
I grew up in Boulder, and graduated from Colorado College (1972). I worked in a clinical psychology office for many years, while my husband owned a construction company. We have two grown daughters and two grandsons, and have lived on Colorado Springs’ west side for over four decades.
I find the activity of designing and creating sewn items to be stimulating and calming at the same time – also addictive! Thanks for the opportunity to share some of my creations with you.
1. Being new to Colorado, I wanted to show my gratitude for our surrounding scenery here at the Front Range. Taking walks through these open spaces in nature is my inspiration. I fell in love with the contrast between the bold colors of the red rocks clashing against Colorado’s blue skies.
2. Within the last year, I have found an appreciation for the versatility of acrylics.
I began painting with oils almost a decade ago and for many years, I used watercolors to capture my traveling experiences into landscape paintings. This approach involves a gel medium retarder that slows down the drying process allowing me to treat parts of the painting like oils.
3. I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania and spent most of my childhood exploring the outdoors. I attended Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a BFA in 2014. Three years prior, while in college, a collaborative camping trip with the Art and Geology Departments changed everything for me when we drove across the country in a van to South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. Traveling out West a total of four times since visiting the Badlands convinced me to move before my roots became too deep. During the summer of 2016, halfway in my twenties, I left home with my other half, Liv, and moved to Colorado Springs. After the first month of getting settled, we found our first dog to adopt, Fin. They make my life a whole lot better. I enjoy listening to music with a good beer and great company. You might see me at the dog park or at a local pub.
1. The photographs that I entered were part of the final project in the Photography II course at CSU-Pueblo. Students were required to enter 3 juried exhibitions, so when I found the information on "Love and....", I thought it would be a great way to show individual work. Art is all around us, but we pass by it every day without noticing because we don't stop, look up, look around, or take the time to appreciate the details and creations around us.
2. This is my second semester college course in photography, so I am new to this art form.
3. I was born in San Diego, California, and moved to Pueblo in 2000 at the age of five. I live with my parents and two dogs, and family is very important to me. I have always enjoyed drawing and have the dream to work in the animation industry. I am pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from CSU-Pueblo and enjoy learning and experiencing the various art forms. My favorite art form is drawing, but I have also enjoyed the courses in painting and ceramics. I also enjoy movies, Gundam models, Anime, and Marvel comics.
Laura Miller Maddox
Love and Reflection (digital photography on canvas)
My are is a meditation presented within a 2-dimensional space. Each digital image I create embodies a unique energy guided through the camera’s lens. “Love and Reflection” evokes memories of a lived past transcending time and space. I believe such memories become treasures of the heart.
By Leti Wesolowski, contributor
Claudia Dimidik is a Colorado artist and teacher (both high school art and studio classes) who believes that learning is a lifelong process. Trained and credentialed with a B. A. in Art Education, her desire to learn more than one style of art, led her to earn an M.A. in Fine Arts degree. She works with a variety of media including painting, sculpture, printmaking and photography. As an active member in the arts community, Claudia has earned numerous awards and recognition for her works. Her art revolves around childhood memories, her Slavic background, and her love for nature and the untouched landscape.
Claudia is a member of the Front Range Open Studio Tour in Monument, and a Commonwheel member since 2016.
What is your first memory of being introduced to art or creating something with your own hands? How did you get interested in art?
One of my favorite memories was during an art class in elementary school. We were instructed to paint with watercolors and I proudly painted a yacht. I can picture that yacht to this day with the Blue-Ribbon award attached to it :)
What does inspire you?
I love to hike, bike and fish. In other words, I have always been drawn to the outdoors and nature. I kind of wonder if this is because we were always sent out to play. I can remember the cattails, crayfish, ice skating and so much more. This makes me want to be outside enjoying the beauty and the endless paths one can find. My scenes are idyllic as they take me back to those happy places.
What is(are) your preferred medium(s) today?
My current preferred medium is the ebb and flow of the alcohol inks. Anything water-based as I enjoy working with wet in wet techniques. It never ceases to surprise me what I see. I also enjoy working with photography and computer graphics.
Tell us about your creative process. Walk us through the steps to create one of your alcohol ink trivets.
Each alcohol ink tile begins with a good cleaning and then a base of color. Often working from top to bottom. Depending on the image being created the inks are applied with sponges, brushes, Q-tips, eye makeup brushes, toothbrushes and even just straight out of the bottle. At times, a mixing palette is required.
What is the visual effect or emotion you look for capturing in your compositions?
I look to depict idyllic scenes that are happy, safe and peaceful areas. Usually associated with a happy place whether it be streams that I have fished, mountains I have climbed, moons that I have seen, paths that I have walked or areas that I have bicycled through. All of these are adventures that are waiting to be discovered.
What tool in your studio could you not live without?
I would have to say that it isn't a tool but two areas. The workshop and the studio. My workshop is where the pours, cutting and dirty work occur in. The studio is the staging and painting area. Everything has a place and without these areas I would feel as if I were confined.
Do you have a favorite artist that you admire or follow?
Ever since visiting Giverny and Monet's garden I have been drawn to his series and his winter landscapes.
What is your proudest achievement?
Being a member of the Front Range Open Studio Tours. This will be my second year participating in this event to be held the weekend of September 9 and 10th from 10-5 pm http://www.frontrangeopenstudios.com/map.php The 16 artists selected open their homes and studios to help bring awareness of what it takes to be an artist and to gain support for art and the process.
Also, being one of 52 photographers to take one analog camera, one week and shoot one roll of black and white film. The show and book depicts images from each photographer. “A Year in the Life of a Camera,” had been exhibited in Denver, Castle Rock and at Optical Reverb in Colorado Springs.
What is your favorite piece you’ve ever made?
I painted a large acrylic over the sofa size painting of some wild horses. The style was a mesh of shapes and colors depicting freedom. The piece was designed specifically to fit the room and decor and was one of the largest paintings I had completed at the time. I had titled it "Into the West". I tell this story to my students because it is important to take photographs of completed works for your portfolio. Well this is a prime sample of what happens when you least expect it to. I put the piece into the then BAC at a high price thinking I'll have it back at the end of the month. It sold and I had to try and remember how it looked to try and paint "Into the West II".
What are you currently working on? Is there anything new in the shop that you are very excited about?
More alcohol ink tiles. New pieces including very large triptychs and very small miniatures are in the works and will be in Commonwheel soon.
What’s next for you?
Alcohol ink workshops and Batik on rice paper workshops will begin again in September. Sign up on http://www.pictureithome.com/workshops. The Front Range Open Studio Tours happen September 9th and 10th http://www.frontrangeopenstudios.com. I will be at the Palmer Lake Craft Fair in October.
But first another bicycle trip. After returning from Spain it was decided we were not done cycling so this time we see Canada and the Kettle Valley Rail Trial.
Visit our Commonwheel Artist Co-op store to receive 10% off all Claudia’s creations through the whole month of August (in-store sales only). You can find her art also at the following links:
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by Juanita Canzoneri
Jo Gaston grew up on a farm in southwest Missouri. Grandparents on both her mother's and father's side lived on farms nearby. Some of her earliest memories are of vegetable and flower gardens and of the livestock.
Jo creates watercolors of the ranch and garden subjects she has known since childhood. The realistic details of her paintings make her subjects easily recognizable as she uses light and color freely to intensify her impressions of the inherent abstract forms.
Attractive forms, textures, and colors are present and waiting to be recognized in many of her subjects especially in vegetables, flowers and Western tack. Although, she admits she finds that turning them into art is hard work. She has to choose thoughtfully, stand close, observe carefully, and work within the fundamentals of artistic composition.
The intricate shapes and glowing colors of vegetables and flowers appeal to her. She uses saturated, vibrant pigments to dramatize their form and texture. She finds an endless variety of form, texture, and light and color in vegetables and flowers. From warm, rich browns to bright, whimsical pinks, purples, and blues, her palette grows with each painting. Form, texture, light, and color are there waiting in most of her subjects, but composition and value are the most important elements in her work. She combines and positions her subjects to achieve the strongest visual effect. Her goal is always a composition that intrigues and rewards the viewer, and dramatizes the features that originally interested her to the subject.
For the pieces in “Botanical Expressions” Jo begins a painting by selecting a subject with strong, interesting design elements. Prominent colors and light levels also direct her choices. The hibiscus blossom that is a subject of Kathleen’s jewelry and her watercolor painting attracted her with exactly those desirable design elements: colors, and light levels.
Having chosen a subject, she does several drawings until she has an outline that reads well, one with a clear center of interest and a combination of shapes and lines that will guide a viewer into, and out of, the eventual painting. Then she adds shading to help with decisions about the direction and intensity of light and shadow. These decisions about values are critical because with transparent watercolor one cannot go back to lighten something that’s too dark.
When she’s sure of basic shapes and light levels, she does a color study by blocking in principal colors. Those blocks of color tell her for the first time whether the light, color, and shape will come together well. Going from the color study to the final painting takes hours of attention to shading, texture, and detail—using multiple layers of transparent watercolor to get the right balance of darkness and light, adding intricate details to emphasize texture and bring out important features.
That sounds like a lot of work for a single hibiscus blossom, doesn’t it? Kathleen and I agree that what we create does take plenty of effort and time, but somehow work doesn’t seem the right term for what we do. We take delight in the creating of our jewelry and paintings, and we very much hope you’ll enjoy seeing the results.