Briony Morrow Cribbs creates art infused with science and fantasy

Briony Morrow Cribbs. What a name. Not only is it eloquent and fun to say but, as names go, Cribbs is one that may be the envy of artists everywhere.

Briony Morrow Cribbs. What a name.

Not only is it eloquent and fun to say but, as names go, Cribbs is one that may be the envy of artists everywhere.

The Cribbs family, 11 of whom are working artists, is a South End clan of innumerable talents and Briony inherited a healthy portion of the lion’s share.

Cribbs is the only child of artists Buffy Cribbs and Bruce Morrow. She is 24, but has already made a name for herself in the art world of Whidbey Island and beyond.

Her work reflects an imagination that was allowed to develop and prosper as a child, creating etchings that are fanciful, beautiful to look at and edged with the precision of a scientist.

“I grew up hanging out in the studio with my parents,” Cribbs recalled.

“It was very exciting and positive. I remember it was always a challenge to take something and turn into an art project. It helped me with problem solving.”

Ethereal etchings

Cribbs creates finely detailed, aquatint etchings and illustrated, hand-bound small-edition books that combine the influence of highly detailed botanical renderings with the wildness of her imagination.

Cribbs’ work fuses art and science in a way that entices the viewer to look more closely at a piece that appears at first glance very scientific but, on further inspection, reveals the playfulness of the artist.

Cribbs’ growing bestiary of anthropomorphically jumbled creatures includes birds with fish bodies and scorpions with alligator heads that Lewis Carroll would be proud of.

In addition, Cribbs invents and writes a systematic taxonomy for her creatures, so that the description and names of these renderings lead the viewer further into the through-the-looking-glass world she has invented.

Her art itself follows a technical process.

In pure etching, a metal plate — usually copper, zinc or steel — is covered with a waxy ground which is resistant to acid. The artist then scratches off the ground with a pointed etching needle where she wants a line to appear in the finished piece, exposing the bare metal. Like etching, aquatint uses the application of acid to make the marks in the metal plate using a powdered resin that’s acid resistant in the ground to create a tonal effect.

The remaining ground is then cleaned off the plate. The plate is inked all over, and then the ink wiped off the surface, leaving only the ink in the etched lines.

The plate is then put through a high-pressure printing-press together with a sheet of paper. The paper picks up the ink from the etched lines, making a print.

Cribbs’ talents do not stop at print-making, a craft she was taught by her father who had access to the family press.

Her work also includes porcelain sculpture and mixed-media installations which she displays in elaborate curio cabinets modeled after the 16th and 17th century practice of philanthropists who displayed collections of creatures and artifacts from around the world.

A continental artist

Cribbs herself has traveled many miles to grow as an artist.

In 2000 she went to southern Vermont to study printmaking at Bennington


In 2002 she moved back to the West Coast to attend the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, BC. The school not only provided a base closer to home but also gave her a more intense art education.

While at Emily Carr, Cribbs again studied printmaking — specifically etching, the book arts and digital art.

After graduating in May 2005, Cribbs moved back to Whidbey Island. Recently, she has set up her own graphic arts business, Cribbs-Morrow Artworks. She conducts book-binding classes every few months and continues to produce etchings and books at Cat Skinner Press, an etching facility owned and operated by her grandmother Ann Cribbs and her father.

Cribbs was lucky enough to travel to Florence in April of 2006 for a month at Il Bisonte: The Stamperia (print workshop) and School. She traveled there with 11 other printmakers, mainly from the Northwest, including Tom Wood, a printmaker of 30 years whom Cribbs greatly admires.

Cribbs realizes that her print-making will probably have to be supplemented with other skills so she can earn a living. She has recently started to teach herself how to paint.

“Every printmaker I’ve ever met has needed to paint as well in order to survive,” said Cribbs.

“But, both my parents were self-employed. It was liberating to know, ‘I can do this on my own,’” she said.

New horizons

Cribbs is an artist who seems to keep a level-head and her horizons open. She is already attracting collaborators, even at this early stage in her career.

Heavenly Monkey Press in Vancouver has commissioned Cribbs to develop and print several intaglio prints – and possibly some line drawings reproduced in relief – to accompany the first book publication of American poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s prose poem “Iskandariya.”

The book will be made on handmade paper with etched frontis and tailpiece, for a total of eight etchings. The edition will be limited to 50 copies, sewn in a soft paper case with a slipcase. The first 10 copies will be extra bound in full leather. All copies will be signed by Kelly and Cribbs. “Iskandariya” is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2007.

Additionally, Cribbs is no neophyte when it comes to exhibiting her work. Since 2004 she has shown at several local galleries including Art by the Port in Anacortes, Bayview Gallery, Frogwell Gardens and MUSEO, as well as at the Trilateral Print Exchange Exhibition 2005 held at the Malispina Printmakers Society in Kanagawa, Japan.

She currently is preparing for a new show for emerging artists at the Bayview Cash Store Front Room, which will open March 31 and run through April 8.

Some would say that Cribbs is a kind of heiress, inheriting the artistic gifts that run in her family.

But, no matter how much natural talent a person has, it takes discipline to succeed as an artist and it seems Cribbs, determined to shine even while surrounded by a cluster of diamonds, is destined for great things.

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or