You can’t throw a paintbrush around Whidbey Island without hitting a “person of the arts.”
While there are plenty of artists, there hasn’t been a recent art book about Whidbey Island artists creating art in their art studios.
Just released, the limited edition 140-page book, “Artists of Whidbey Island: Vision, Space, Work, Resolution” takes a peek into the studios of 25 professional visual artists.
“I wanted to capture the moments when the artist is completely engaged in their work and where I vanished from their frame of reference,” said Don Wodjenski, photographer and author.
“I was there but not there.”
The 10-inch by 10-inch coffee-table book, printed on high quality paper and filled with a series of photos, essays and quotes, is a work of art itself.
It’s printed by Edition One Books of Berkeley, Calif., a company that specializes in fine art books, and sells for $55. Only 100 copies were printed.
Wodjenski, who retired in 2015 after 20 years teaching art at South Whidbey High School, said the project seemed a natural for an island mad with creativity.
“Photographing artists in their studios is nothing new,” he said. “But no one has done it on Whidbey.”
He set out to capture the elusive spark of art.
Where does it come from? What’s it feel like? How does it emerge?
Wodjenski divided his book into sections: vision, space, work and resolution. Each artist has three pages displaying their work, including submitted brief comments.
Some artists talked about inspiration, others about choosing their medium.
“When I walk about Whidbey, I look for all those bits of wonder just waiting for me to see them — becoming motivation for my work,” commented Janet King, who creates sculptural felt pieces and wearable art in her Freeland studio.
“I am thrilled beyond words with being asked to be part of this great endeavor of Don’s,” King said in an interview. “With so many fabulously talented artists on Whidbey, I am honored he asked.”
Anne Niles Davenport of RainShadow Textiles describes how an art form chose her, not the other way around.
“I never set out to be a weaver. It somehow came upon me unawares,” she said in the book, adding that something “simply kept leading me onward, warp after warp.”
Documenting painters was Wodjenski’s original idea. Having lived on Whidbey since 1979, he’s part of the island’s established art community. He knows all the tucked away places where art blooms in studios back in the woods, on beach cliffs and in converted garages.
“I started with people I knew best and asked if I could photograph them in their studios,” he said. “They’d say, ‘I have to clean it up.’ And I’d answer, ‘No, don’t clean it up. Your space is part of your story.’”
“Every single artist was really welcoming,” he said. “The best part for me was the conversations we had.”
Mary Ellen O’Connor, a silversmith of fine metal jewelry, was photographed at her studio in Central Whidbey. She called it “a wonderful experience.”
“Having Don come to the studio made the process easy for me,” she said. “As a natural introvert, being in my own work space kept me relaxed. It also made it easy to talk about my process as I was actually creating work.”
“Focused silence” is the moment Wodjenski set out to capture.
He also wanted to demonstrate the phrase “artwork.”
“We talk about artwork,” he said. “The artists are the workers. Art is work.
“It’s about the idea, taking the idea to the space and the physical act of creativity.”
Wodjenski lived in Coupeville for 37 years. He recently moved to Langley with his wife, Janet.
His past jobs include teaching secondary school in Coupeville, director of the Island County Historical Museum and art instructor at Skagit Valley College.
In the book section called space, artists show what’s important to their work environment — books, quirky objects, remnants from a beach walk, words on a wall.
Wodjenski lyrically describes them.
“Most studios feel like magpie nests filled with shiny objects and interesting bits covering shelves and walls,” he writes.
He also noticed similarities.
“They all had their tools, book cases of reference material, music going and a computer somewhere,” Wodjenski said.
His well-honed skills of photography and design merged with new computer software and social media skills. He created a Facebook page and website, adding artist portraits as he captured them.
“This was really a challenge for me,” he said. “I really had to stretch myself professionally.”