In the art world, what you paint on is called the substrate. Many times, this is canvas or panel, although parents of toddlers know that walls are also options. The major limitation, really, is that paint adhere to the surface, so one’s imagination is free to go wild.
And that’s what artist Nancy Gresham let her imagination do — go wild. While the White Bird, ID, painter uses traditional canvas, panel, or paper when she works in acrylics, watercolor, and colored pencils, she also accesses more untraditional fare: river rocks.
“I love painting on smooth river rocks,” Gresham says. “For some unknown reason, I actually prefer painting on rocks to canvas.”
Now when Gresham says she paints on rocks, she means it: she creates intricate and detailed images of flowers, birds, butterflies, undersea gardens, and even commissioned pet portraits on rocks of all sizes, from those you can hold in your hand to her largest so far, a 50-pound rock with three dogs, surrounded by Asian lilies. Some rock art works are freestanding, others lie flat, and still others Gresham trims around the edges to make them stand upright. Finding them is the first step, then scrubbing them clean, letting them dry, and priming them before getting out the indoor/outdoor patio paint. A non-yellowing protective varnish is the final touch.
Using up Her “Stash”
“I started painting on rocks 10 years ago when a client made a special request. I found it addictive and so easy to take on trips for evening projects.”
Gresham, who readily admits that she is “an art supply hoarder,” is always looking for new and unique ways to use her stash, and that’s where that go-wild imagination comes in handy. About the same time she discovered rocks as substrates, she stumbled upon a block of polymer clay in her studio. It had been there a long time, and she decided she either needed to use it up or give it away.
“At the time, the Salmon River Art Guild, to which I belong, was getting ready for its Fall Regional Show, and we were considering removing the sculpture category due to a lack of sculptures. I brought up playing with clay to one of my art friends, and we decided to give it a try.”
Trying Something New
Though her first creation was “one of those masterpieces that live forever in the closet,” subsequent online research introduced Gresham to the concept of character dolls, creations in clay that reside within a certain environment or setting that creates a story. Not only did Gresham use up the polymer clay in her stash, she now had reason to buy more:
“My character dolls are primarily created from imagination,” Gresham says. “I love them to be whimsical but somewhat believable.
“I love unique features and expression, everyday people such as the ’roundtable’ coffee drinkers who meet at the cafe and solve the problems of the world.”
Gresham incorporates her character dolls into specific sets revolving around a theme, such as the coffee drinkers, or people waiting at a bus station, a fisherman reeling in a big one, or two women searching for mushrooms. To this end, she also creates the necessary accessories, whether from polymer clay or carefully chosen, organic items, to complete the visual vignette.
“I build the story as I am creating the dolls,” Gresham explains.
One day, Gresham will focus on creating character dolls; on another, she paints rocks; on still another, she paints elephants on a Masonite board: “I bounce back and forth depending upon my mood and the commissions I receive.”
It’s all inspired by using up that “stash,” whether Gresham is painting on rocks, barn boards, saw blades, canvas, or anything else she can get her hands on.
“I’ve been fascinated with creating ‘stuff’ since the beginning of mud pies,” Gresham says.
“My creations begin with an object that strikes my fancy, and it grows from there. It may be a piece of driftwood, or an odd shaped rock.
“But once I get started, it just develops as I go.”
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.