My first major opportunity as a part of Ojai Studio Artists is to participate in the Ojai Valley Museum's Scorched Souls exhibition which opens March 10th and runs until June 17. It is an enormous honor to show my work alongside my fellow OSA members as well as a great opportunity to process some of feelings left over from the Thomas Fire this past December.
I had only drawn one thing during the fire; an awesome image from Kate (of Kate's Bread) Pepper's Instagram. I was happy to have it as a fallback, but since Laserwolf creates with FIRE, it seemed like it would be a real missed opportunity not to use it.
I played around with the idea of doing a topographic map with multiple layers and a lot of depth. I think I spent an entire week staring at the fire maps, so it seemed thematically appropriate - plus the Glowforge is such a perfect tool for making these.
It turns out I had zero patience for drawing the svg.
Since I'm an illustrator, I thought maybe I could instead make a picture map similar to this vintage 1930's map of Brazil.
I could add in all the areas I had been keeping my eye on; places I love to hike and friends' homes... My own house.
I could make it from plywood and not even have to go through my usual finishing process as the charring would be perfect - no need to sand! (I've really started to hate sanding)
I could also add in a little of the confusion I experienced while listening to the police & fire scanners; since I've been gone from this valley for so long, my sense of direction is really vague.
But it was all getting a little complicated. There wasn't much time before the March 1st deadline and I thought a simpler idea might be more impactful. And anyway, I was kind of sick of maps.
The only part of the map I was feeling a connection to was this tiny drawing of Chief Peak, just north of town in the Topa Topa Mountains. I had anthropomorphized the mountain to reflect the Chumash legend of Chief Matilija, and drew him exhaling the smoke. I liked that it represented the mountains as more than the fragile things that live on them; they are ancient, and the fire is nothing to them - and of course, they will outlive us all.
Unfortunately, the mountain needed a re-design for many reasons, not least of which was my slight discomfort at illustrating a myth that I have no personal connection to. It just didn't feel right.
I still wanted to make the piece out of plywood. First I tried cutting the pieces out of quarter inch ACX and quarter inch birch and then painting and sanding them after. I did get some cool effects such as this sun, but the process was TEDIOUS and I was losing all the cool, burnt edges I wanted.
I did some research on the Glowforge Owner's Forum and saw that people were having some luck with cutting and engraving pieces that had first been painted with acrylic paint. Tentatively, I set out to experiment. I haven't used acrylic paints in years, but I remembered there was a whole world of cool textural mediums and I still had bags of smoky earth pigments from Kremer in Chelsea. So I took a trip to Ojai Creates to pick up some gesso and mediums and masking tape and got to work. The tests were so beautiful I couldn't bear to cut into all of them.
There was so much flame when I cut that I nearly chickened out. Fire still makes me nervous and I do not want to hurt Laserwolf. In the end, I got over it and using multiple passes was able to get a clean cut. After choosing the swatches I liked best for the mountains, fire, sky, and sun, I painted up a bunch of boards and got to cutting.
I made and printed out a numbered guide to the "puzzle" of the image and marked every piece on the back. Each piece had to be brushed with a toothbrush and wiped down to remove the ash. There was SO MUCH ash. I didn't want the piece to end up dirty with ash smudged into the glue. I decided to use a 5/8" piece of ACX to mount it and I painted that with a cabinet-grade spray paint hoping that would be easy to clean off any mistakes. I used a super-powerful wood glue and a bunch of my cement triangles to weigh it all down while setting.
My very talented husband Nicholas collaborated with local woodworker Ethan Koerton to make a gorgeous frame out of cedar heartwood. They used a router to make grooves that the piece fits in which keeps it straight and stable. Nick rubbed it with a few coats of tung oil to bring out the warmth of the cedar.
Anyway here it is! "Chief Matilija" 50" x 53" Wood & Acrylic. Artist statement below.
Details about the March 10th opening reception at the Ojai Valley Museum can be found here.