East Portland artists welcome guests into their studios

If you didn’t visit artists during this annual event, come along on our tour – as we meet some of the most creative folks in Southeast Portland, who showed us where they make their magic …

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For the tenth year, art lovers have been given the rare opportunity to “go behind the curtain” of the static display gallery – and to meet talented artists in their working studios, during the Portland Open Studios event.

During two weekends each autumn, some 100 artists affiliated with Portland Open Studios demonstrate their process of making art, and share about the media and materials they use. Not just any artist can join the tour; the studios in the tour are selected by a committee of three jury members.

Outer East Portland

In past, featured artists on the Open Studios tour have been primarily located west of the Willamette River, or in the inner East Side. But, we were delighted to find artists in outer East Portland being invited into the tour this year.

Outer East Portland’s Bridget Benton demonstrates working in “encaustic” – a melted wax process – for guests Leslie Reister and Tamara Sorelli.

Bridget Benton
SE 119th Avenue, in the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood
Encaustic collage

Invited into her home – she’d turned her living room into a display gallery – Bridget Benton took us into her finished two-car garage, where she was demonstrating her technique for other guests.

“I started making art, probably, when I was four or five years old,” Benton recalled. “I think most artists are like that; they start making things very early in life.”

In college, Benton studied art, and said she found herself attracted to the techniques of silk screening and batik.

“Now I’m working largely with encaustic,” Benton explained. “In really simple terms, it’s using hot wax as a medium for the pigment. Let me show you.”

Instead of paint pots, Benton had large temperature-controlled electric griddles, on which were metal containers filled with colored melted wax.

“I also work in acrylic, collage, and assemblage,” she noted. “But, I really enjoy encaustic, because – working with wax – I build up layers of the image. I use lightweight and heavyweight papers, or fabric. See how we can build up layers – you can’t do that with oil paint.”

Bridget Benton shows some of her work, displayed in her home’s gallery.

About her work, Benton said, “I love to make art. For me, it’s very much a spiritual practice. It’s part meditative, part exploratory – it allows me to learn a great deal about myself and about the world that I’m in.”

She said her artwork is mostly based on natural and “found” materials, combined with drawn or painted images.

“Watch what happens when I heat the image, and burnish it. You can see the layers become translucent, letting the layers show through.”

To learn more about Benton and her artwork, see her website: CLICK HERE to visit it.

Mill Park artist Robin Bown uses a “kistka” to apply beeswax to a portion of an egg shell, to hold back the next layer of dye she’ll apply to it.

Robin Bown
On SE Stephens Street, in the Mill Park Neighborhood
Decorated Ukrainian-style Eggs

In her home, Robin Bown creates exquisite artwork on a most unique sort of canvas – egg shells.

“My mother encouraged us to participate in art, from a very young age,” Bown said, as she worked in the light of her large living room picture window. We took art classes, even during the summer.”

After experimenting with many different media and forms of art throughout school, Bown said, she got into natural-fiber paper-making. “I was doing research and development for my sister, who is a collage artist.”

But, her artistic vision turned, when a good friend saw a children’s educational program on TV a dozen years ago. “They were reading a book called ‘Rechenka’s Eggs’ – a story about a magically-decorated egg. We found an egg-decorating kit – tried it out – and we’ve been doing it ever since.”


Neither of them are Ukrainian, Bown noted. “So, we call it Ukrainian-style eggs; decorating them using the Ukrainian style and technique. Our decorating themes can be either geometric or free-form. They can have a lot of symbolize them behind the design.”

The process starts with finding fresh, locally produced eggs; they tend to have stronger shells, Bown explained. The artist uses chicken or goose eggs. “The goose eggs are easier to work on, because they’re bigger; they take the dye really well. And, yes, they’re delicious.”

Using a special tool, she can put a single, small hole in the egg, and – using air pressure – easily evacuate the content into a bowl. This process has the added benefit, Bown explained, because weak-shelled eggs will crack or pop during the process. She described the disappointment of discovering an egg had a weak shell only after hours of decorating.

From natural egg to a decorated gem, Bown set up this display that illustrates the ten steps used to create the final design.

Sophisticated ‘Easter Eggs’
“The actual coloring is done with dyes, just like Easter eggs,” Bown said. “First, I use an electric kistka to apply lines or areas of wax to keep the aniline dye from coloring the shell in that area. After dying the egg, we melt the wax off, let it dry, and apply wax to new areas we don’t want colored by the next color of dye. You build up the color and design, one layer at a time.”

As a wildlife biologist, Bown mentioned that this kind of artwork is kind of like an extension of her “day job”, in that she’s recycling what’s typically considered a waste product. “Doing something with the natural product like eggs is ‘part and parcel’ with my profession.”

Bown doesn’t have a website, but you can contact her through Portland Open Studios, or by e-mail: bisonbird@charlo.net.

Inner Southeast Portland

We continued our tour by traveling about as far west on SE Holgate Boulevard as one can go, to watch this artist at work.

Martin Anderson says he gets real joy from completing a painting.

Martin Anderson
4510 SE Milwaukie Avenue
Drawing, painting and pastels

Although he’s held a variety of jobs over the years, Martin Anderson said his “real profession” for the past 40 years has been art.

“This is my job now, but I don’t work at it every day,” he mused, as he sat at his easel.

“I was an art major at California State University, Long Beach,” Anderson said. “I was originally an engineering student, but just didn’t want to carry that on – but I probably would have made a lot more money if I’d stayed with engineering.”

About his style of drawing and painting, Anderson described it as “not quite realistic, but it’s usually about people. Street scenes, musicians, and workers are some of my favorite topics. They all have an abstract nature to them; flat planes placed on one another. It’s important that my paintings tell a story, and have human content.”

Anderson’s paintings tell stories of people at work, and play.

We remarked that we found his works emotionally evocative. “I have an aspect of illusion in all my paintings. It’s hard to tell whether it’s real or not real. There’s also a little surrealist thing involved.”

While he enjoys the process of making art, Anderson observed, “The best part is finishing a really good painting or pastel or drawing. It’s rewarding; something that I haven’t gotten from any other pursuit in life. I enjoy making things that people like.”

You can learn more about this artist by visiting his website: CLICK HERE.

What she holds looks like a highly detailed painting, but Laurene Howell’s artwork is made of fused glass.

Laurene Howell
3737 SE 21st Avenue in Brooklyn
Fused glass artist

This fine artist paints without oils or canvas. Laurene Howell creates stunningly beautiful, highly-detailed artwork using colored glass.

Addressed as “Dr. Howell” until she retired from an 18-year career as a surgeon at OHSU, Laurene said she’s “very much an East Portland girl” all the way, having attended Grout Elementary, and graduated from Cleveland High School. I’ve lived as far east as SE 36th Avenue, but I moved back to SE 31st.”

Howell said she became captivated by the fused glass process when she took a class at Portland’s Bullseye Glass Company called “Painting with light”.

“Even though I found working with glass to be fascinating, I was fearful of cutting my hands,” Howell confided. “But now that I’ve retired, I work at it full time. I eventually built my workshop behind the gallery, installed two kilns, a belt sander, a sand blaster – everything I need. I learned from my father, ‘you can never have enough good equipment’.”

Instead of using paint and canvas, Laurene Howell says she “paints with light” using the medium of fused glass.

She was never attracted to painting. “It’s two-dimensional. With glass I create three-dimensional art. The medium itself is fascinating: It can be opaque or transparent, thick or thin. I use glass powder, little chunks of glass, or long skinny pieces. Only one’s imagination limits what one can do.”

To learn more, stop her studio, call (503) 238-4319 for an appointment, or send an email to lhowll02@hotmail.com.

Working from her home studio, Rachel Austin creates artwork sold in a variety of stores in the region.

Rachel Austin
SE 30th Avenue, north of SE Holgate Blvd.
Oils and mixed media

Using maps as the basis for her most popular mixed media series of artwork, Rachel Austin appears as if she certainly knows where’s she’s headed with her career.

“I’m self-taught,” Austin said, as she created a new image at her home studio. “I worked at Art Media for three years, and learned artists’ materials really well. Then, I sold a couple of paintings on the side. I ‘got addicted’ to painting – and, then, to selling my work.”

Austin says she really enjoys the process of creating art. “I like working with a lot of colors, and I’ve always loved maps and cartography. My husband studied mapmaking, and I like studying and collecting old maps. So, it was natural that it became a subject of my artwork.”

Austin’s most successful series, she says, comes from her love of cartography.

By finding success at marketing her works, Austin said she was able to give up her “day job” and concentrate on art. “It took a while to build it up, but it’s kept growing. I have my artwork at shops and galleries across the country. Locally, Debbie Hamada has my work at Tilde in Sellwood.”

While formal schooling can help artists grow, Austin noted that one of the secrets to being a working artist is to “find an artistic vision, believe in yourself and pursue your craft.”

You can learn more, or buy her artwork online: CLICK HERE.

Showing off her “carbon-neutral kiln”, ceramic artist Careen Stoll says her firing process appeals to her “green” ethic.

Careen Stoll
SE Nehalem Street
Functional ceramics

Many would consider making ceramic vases and tableware a gritty, industrial manufacturing process. But to Careen Stoll, the process is an extension of her being.

“I’ve been pretty serious about ceramics for 15 years,” Stoll revealed in her home studio. “I’ve studied formally and informally in apprenticeships, mentorships, and graduate school.”

Other forms of art didn’t click with her, Stoll recounted. “But with ceramics, the medium really speaks to me. It speaks to me, body-to-body.”

She elaborated, “The process both gives and takes. I enjoy the particular qualities of my chosen medium. And, I know also that once I’ve completed my work, someone else can handle it, and make use of the work in their own aesthetic creation within their kitchen.”

Important to Stoll is that her fully-functional, food-grade ceramics are fired in an alternately-fueled kiln. “This is really important to my environmental ethics. We start heating the kiln using oak wood [shipping] container separators; in the second stage, we burn reclaimed vegetable oil. So, it’s a fully carbon-neutral kiln.”

Careen Stoll says all of her ceramics are both decorative and functional.

Stoll shares her knowledge and experience by teaching ceramics at community colleges in the Portland area she said. “This work is my life – to my delight.”

Find out more by visiting her website: CLICK HERE.

And, to discover more about Portland Open Studios – and learn about the 2010 tour, check their website CLICK HERE.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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