4 Elements Series

I started the Salmon image five years ago. I’ve included my initial sketch and a version made using felt. There were many lessons learned with that medium and so it wasn’t an entirely disastrous experience. I put this project on the far back burner at the time. I love working with wool as much as paper. I hope to go back, full circle, to wool someday soon… There still is a button blanket floating around in my head.

Then two years ago I was fortunate enough to find my way into a Flat Design class taught by Chief Tsungani at the Lelooska Foundation in Ariel WA. I was already a great admirer of NW Coastal Native art and knew things like native drawings of orcas were anatomically correct. The art was big and bold. I’ll give the ancestors credit too as my childhood homes were always full of SW native art, including Navajo Rugs on the floor, Kachina Dolls on the shelf, Navajo woven baskets on the table, and clay animal talismans made black from firing in dung fires, or so I was told…

There are two tangents at this point in the story and I will take a sharp turn and come back around at some point in this post. My professional work began in graphic arts/typography, photography and video production. I was blessed to work with genius, Tom T. Taylor III. Lelooska Foundation knew Chief Lelooska was dying and so they hired Tom to record one of Chief Lelooska’s last performances. The video is available through the Lelooska Foundation. I also highly recommend their children’s books with CD recordings of the story, as told by Chief Lelooska. Tom hired me to crew. My daughter was still in grade school when this happened and she was able to come to work with me. Chief Lelooska personally showed us the costumes, the totems, the masks, and how they worked in our first few days of preproduction. He spoke of the images and the importance of animal talismans. We shot live performances with only the fire in the center of the lodge, just as it had been done for centuries. It was a deeply spiritual experience and a great honor

I came back to this project after a snow storm in 2021 because these experiences stayed with me. I checked out the recommended book from our public library, which was originally written over 50 years ago. It was the only recommended book and it’s been transformative to me. So much respect for native artists. My only regret is that I won’t be able to take a class from Bill Holm at the University of Washington, where he taught for years. I won’t go into the multiple revelations I’ve had while reading the introduction and the elements of design chapters. It led me to pick up that same sketch book that I took notes in and I started drawing again. I think it’s important to post my struggles here because art does not come easily to me.

The Coho Salmon drawing came alive after the book’s influence. The image told me what to do within the rules of traditional elements. After the drawing was done, I turned it into a svg file for my cutting machine. The crisp cuts and jet black lines really brought it to life! The color version is cut out of vinyl and adhered onto an overhead transparency sheet. Because of the labor intensive process of making each sticker by hand, like the original Mt Hood sticker I make, I farmed the printing out on this one out because of the traditional tri-color. This sticker is only 5” X 3” and I’ll see if they sell better. I’m planning to do a four elements (earth, fire, air, water) series and am now working on a red tail hawk for air. They are magnificent animals. Armed with my new understanding, I look at the elements of native art as usual, but now I start by using a photo for form and then outline shapes like the ovoid before filling them in. I really want to develop “my voice” in the images coming out of me.