The Whidbey Open Studio Tour revs up

Here’s a challenge for you. Produce something that will appeal to the senses and emotions of a complete stranger. And don’t forget to include truth and beauty while you’re at it.

Oil painter Kent Lovelace works on a painting in his Black Sheep Studio in Freeland.

Here’s a challenge for you.

Produce something that will appeal to the senses and emotions of a complete stranger. And don’t forget to include truth and beauty while you’re at it.

Making art can be a complicated enterprise and requires creativity, skill, materials, tools, a room and the ever-elusive inspiration.

Whether you are a longtime art lover or new to the game, the Whidbey Open Studio Tour is an excellent time to take in the work of 77 island artists, and to have a peek at their process, ask them questions about the work in progress and decide for yourself if their work does indeed appeal to your sense of truth and beauty.

The tour is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27 and Sunday, Sept. 28.

The special thing about this tour is that, unlike all the other gallery shows, festivals and art events that abound, this one allows the viewer to see the artist’s dirty work like no other.

Down the many gravel lanes that lead to multifarious settings of beachfront or pasture-lined or forest hideaway studios of the island’s artists is where the Open Studio Tour guides those interested in seeing where all these island artists do their thing.

An excellent new tour map in the form of a 15-month calendar with slick graphics and a schedule of art events throughout the year acts as a ticket for two and gets tour goers where they need to go.

The tour, in its 12th year, is presented by the Island Arts Council and organized by a hard-working team of art enthusiasts who get better at the logistics of the event each year.

Sue Taves is the chairwoman of the tour committee and is excited by the new facets of this year’s event.

“In an attempt to get back to the roots of what the tour was originally all about, we have required every artist this year to demonstrate their process in a personal studio space,” Taves said.

It’s all well and good to see the finished work of an artist in the beautifully clean setting of a gallery, or to see a portion of what an artist does at an arts festival.

But to be able to see the place where an artist works, to see the full gamut of their work and to ask them questions while they are creating a piece, is unique to the Open Studio Tour, Taves said.

This idea is in keeping with the mission of the tour, which is to facilitate a connection between the public and Whidbey Island artists in order to foster an understanding of the processes involved in creating art.

Painters, sculptors, photographers, potters, glassblowers, blacksmiths, woodworkers, jewelers and weavers, among others, will make themselves available to any tour participant wishing to discuss processes and techniques, hear what inspires the artist and purchase art in the space where it is created.

Angie Stark, an Issaquah resident, said she was hooked after the first time she was invited to the tour.

“I enjoy having this glimpse into the artist’s process. I like to see what inspires them,” Stark said.

“The artists’ studios are tucked away in some of the most surprising spots on the island, so I get to go down roads and explore new vistas that a regular tourist would never discover. I always come home inspired and refreshed. I’ll be back again and again,” she said.

The business community has embraced the tour this year with an unprecedented nine sponsors and 24 advertisers. Also new are not one, but two pre-tour exhibition spaces at Bayview Corner’s Front Room in Langley and a new, mid-island hub at the Crockett Barn in Coupeville.

These stops allow visitors coming from either the northend or the south to have a place where they can preview tour artists’ work, pick up tour tickets and make purchases throughout the week before and during the tour.

Exhibits are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and tomorrow in both locations and continue through Sunday, Sept. 28.

Visit the Web site for info at www.whidbeyopenstudiotour.org.

The artists

Down one of those woodsy gravel lanes in the foothills of Freeland, tour visitors can catch a glimpse of the Black Sheep Studio and the work of painter Kent Lovelace.

The studio, built by Lovelace, was aptly named for a flock of Shetland sheep who he said are a dynamic and personable bunch, including “Zippy,” “Zach” and “Moe,” who were all born black.

On a recent morning far afield of the uninterested sheep, Lovelace wandered over to a window in his studio and photographed a stand of trees which were drenched in a morning shaft of sun.

“I’ll use one or two of those for a painting I need to start,” he said.

Lovelace is a prolific landscape painter who works mainly with oil on copper plate.

He said he often takes photos which may inspire a painting and from which he may use an idea or only a single element.

“I wander around looking for the quiet places which will allow the painting to speak,” he said.

He often will “fictionalize” a painting, using a mix of things like subject matter, light and color to create his own vision of a tree in a Whidbey field, or perhaps a mob of sheep grazing on some French hillside.

In fact, Lovelace claims the Dordogne River Valley region of southwestern France to be one of his favorite places to paint along with Whidbey Island and Ireland.

He’s done an entire series of uncluttered and vibrantly colored paintings devoted to the Dordogne and bearing the names of the landscapes that inspired them. Though these paintings are less about a certain place than about the qualities of light and atmosphere which reveal Lovelace’s playful quality as an artist, his willingness to attach his own story to each work.

Perhaps his 30 years as a professional lithographer has something to do with his proclivity to use a variety of elements in his work.

“I paint like a printmaker,” Lovelace said.

Lovelace founded and developed Stone Press Editions; a fine-art original print-workshop and publishing company in Seattle.

He is a master lithographer in the classic sense, combining the Old World craft of printmaking with a contemporary panache and aesthetic sensitivity.

For more than 20 years, Lovelace was the principal lithographer for artists Robert Bateman, Jacob Lawrence, Dale Chihuly and organizations such as the Smithsonian, New York Society of Arts and Letters and the Seattle Art Museum.

Working on copper, Lovelace starts by painting a monochromatic image and then glazes over it with color.

Copper, with its intrinsic luminous property, not only allows him to achieve brilliant highlights but it is also forgiving and he can produce a lot, proving as much with the 26 paintings he’s made since June. He said the 100 to 150 paintings he makes each year is not enough for the half-dozen galleries around the country that routinely show his work.

He’s busy, and dedicates five days a week from about 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to painting.

Lovelace said the traditional process of oil on canvas wasn’t for him and, although he likes working in watercolors, it’s limiting.

“In the art world that we live in you have to paint in oil,” he said.

“I love watercolors, but it’s much harder to do, you can’t change the painting after you’ve started and you have to put it behind glass, which separates the piece from the viewer.”

Each of his paintings starts with visualizing it and taking a leap of faith that a painting will not be a failure.

“I often will have to put a painting away and look at it later with new eyes. I’ll go back to it, fix something, try something new and give it new life,” Lovelace said.

There is a certain optimism that seems necessary to his process. That same optimism comes into play in this painter’s general outlook on being an artist.

On his Web site there is a painting of a lovely light-strewn but lonely tree he’s entitled “Harvest Study.” The tree is held up by a series of support beams surrounding it.

Lovelace said the painting is a metaphor for the artistic community.

Like the fruit-bearing tree, artists produce the fruit of their crafts.

“We are given gifts. We create, we sing, we build, we love. With the support of our friends, families, our community, we thrive. In our orchard broken branches bear no fruit. So, we support the fruit-bearing branches with orchard poles instead,” Lovelace writes.

The Open Studio Tour is one of the orchard poles which keep Whidbey artists fruitful, and for this, Lovelace is grateful.

Here is a man happy in his work.

“The best part of any day is painting,” Lovelace said.

For a look at his work, visit Click here or go to the pre-tour exhibits.

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or pduff@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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