Meet

Arielle Zamora

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I’m from Coos Bay, Oregon – a small town town on the coast. I now live in Portland, Oregon.
What’s your favorite part of living in Portland?
My favorite part is how quickly I can get out of the city. I live in a neighborhood called St. Johns, which is the most northern tip of Portland on a peninsula where the Columbia river meets the Willamette river. Across the Willamette River is Forest Park, which at 5,200 acres is one of the largest urban forests in the United States and has 80 miles of trails. A few minutes north of St. Johns is the largest fluvial island, called Sauvie Island, which is all farm land, nature reserve, and beaches. At my fingertips I have peaceful greenery, berry picking, fishing, and birding. Portland is amazing: a 20 minute drive from anywhere in the city will place you out of the city and into your own natural paradise.
Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I own a flower farm and floral design studio, and carpentry is my hobby. I also have three ducks and a rabbit – and this is all in the city! I also almost went to school to study music and to be a choral conductor and composer, but art had a stronger pull.
Do you see any of these facets of your life going into your work?
I’ve actually found great pleasure in keeping my floral/farming life out of my artwork. Before I moved studios, my garage was both art space and floral design space, which was really hard to juggle. I hated having the influences of the floral trade and the dirt of farming life impeding on the whiteness that I craved for my creative space. But now that the two are separate, I can breath. I feel if my work was more organic, intuitive, and colorful, then I would feel okay with drawing inspiration from florals. But I leave intuition and organic form to the floral side of my brain, and strict color guidelines and ratios to the painting side.

Carpentry has played a big role, however. For the last eight years I have been building my own artist’s panels, which I took pride in. But now I have a local person build my panels for me as I’ve been painting more and more, and I just don’t have the time to build them. Plus, he makes them perfect. I can’t compete.

You have a particularly unique process for creating your artwork. What led you to this process and how did you know it was the right one to pursue?
A professor in school had suggested I test different grounds for my painting, and I tested joint compound. I loved how giving it was – how I could sand it and carve into it, how it absorbed the thinned-out oil paint and allowed me to leave a flat field of color without texture from the paint. I knew it was the right one because it allowed for me to paint in the way you imagine painting (mixing paint, using paint brushes), and at the same time I could use other tools, as if it was a different craft altogether. I also really enjoyed how in the end, when people looked at my work, they would need to get real close to inspect how it was made, and still be puzzled.
When did you begin your current practice?
I began right after I graduated, so seven years ago. I went straight into a healthy studio practice, knowing that this was the career I wanted, and that in order to have it turn into a successful practice, I needed to keep creating. If my practice lapses for even a few months, I get a little itchy and antsy with way too many ideas of potential creations clawing inside my brain, so I never go too long without making something.
What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?
The motif that I discovered once I really looked at a whole body of my work at once was ‘shape encapsulating shape’. More often than not, the shapes I paint are confined within the perimeter of the panel, and that inevitably makes me feel that the shape and edges of the panel are just as much a part of the composition as painted shapes are. And within those shapes that are confined on the panel are lines and other shapes created by lines. Everything has a boundary and a beginning and end.
How do the different elements of line come together in your works?
My work exhibits three types of line: the straight line, the curved line, and the accidental line. The straight lines are encompassed in the curved lines (the shapes) and the accidental lines are the offspring of me trying to create a straight line, while still being human.
Slant
The motif that I discovered once I really looked at a whole body of my work at once was ‘shape encapsulating shape’. More often than not, the shapes I paint are confined within the perimeter of the panel, and that inevitably makes me feel that the shape and edges of the panel are just as much a part of the composition as painted shapes are. — Arielle Zamora
Can you tell us more about accidental lines? Which lines come first?
I always start a line with the intention of perfection. But, as much of a perfectionist I try to be, I am also a very impatient person. So when I try to make a perfect line (and hundreds of lines over and over) I tend to get loosey goosey, or my hand slips, or the carving tool hits an impurity in the joint compound and a line veers off a little. I’ve learned to really enjoy these accidental lines. I feel they add a touch of human hand to the work that can seem very precise and calculated from afar. These accidents happen, I love them, but I don’t seek them out. If they happen, I let them be. Because if you start to try to recreate accident, you get into a lot of trouble.
How does your choice of material inform the final piece?
My ground is joint compound instead of gesso, and by nature it is somewhat soft and chalky. After frosting it onto my panels, much like icing a cake, I sand it smooth and often there are blemishes or bubbles that the compound has left. I enjoy those blemishes because they employ texture to the final piece. The joint compound as a ground is really great at giving my work a porous or soft feeling, which balances the rigid structure of my mark making.
Does joint compound allow for mistakes, or is it more unforgiving?
I enjoy joint compound because it really allows for mistakes. It sometimes has bubbles or impurities that show up when painting a wash of pigment on top, or my carving tool hits a soft spot and the line veers from its intended path. And I find when the painting is done, those mistakes in the joint compound really make the painting what it is. Most people, when viewing my work, get up really close and inspect those lines and blemishes, and then they turn to me and say “here, this moment with the little line and the splotch, that’s yummy.” If joint compound didn’t allow for mistakes, my work would be completely different, and my tendencies towards perfection would make it seem too stiff.
Slant
My ground is joint compound instead of gesso, and by nature it is somewhat soft and chalky. After frosting it onto my panels, much like icing a cake, I sand it smooth and often there are blemishes or bubbles that the compound has left. — Arielle Zamora
What necessities do you require when making your art?
Oh I definitely require a music player. I like to sing while I work! Although I don’t always listen to music – often the silence and the light scraping of my tools and brushes is its own kind of music. Second, I require my work apron. My work is messy and dusty and I’m one of those people who wipe their painted or messy hands on their clothes.
Describe a typical day in the studio for you.
I recently moved my studio from my detached garage to a private studio space in a warehouse in St. Johns, so I definitely don’t start my studio day by turning on the space heater! Typically, I head into the studio in the afternoon because I’ve never really felt creative in the mornings. I turn on some music and tidy up the space best I can, as I really don’t like starting a new day in clutter. Then I sit and look at things for a while. I mentally plan my next moves – assessing which paintings need what, deciding which ones may need a break, and doctoring anything I really screwed up the night before. Some days are filled with color mixing and laying pigment on panels, and some days are filled with priming new panels with joint compound, meaning the following day will consist of me wearing a respirator and sanding for a few hours. If it’s a printmaking day, I roll out the etching press and wet my paper, and go to town. I generally spend six to eight hours in the studio, with a break to go home really quick to put my ducks into their coop before it gets dark.

Where do you find your day-to-day inspiration?
I find it in the cobalt blue of a dumpster, the repetitive shape of buildings against other buildings, the shapes and colors in the marbles I find from the 1950’s when I’m digging up grass in my yard. Inspiration pops up everywhere. Sometimes it’s too much.
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
How fast I can lose inspiration. If I dream up my next painting that was inspired by something I dreamt or a color and shape combination I saw in the city and I don’t go to the studio to paint it that week, the idea will lose traction and I will forget the relevance of it. With so many projects going on at once, I often can’t find the time to start a painting right away. It does help to keep panels around that are primed and ready for anything, in case I do need to execute an idea before it disappears.
How important is spontaneity in your art?
I find that each piece is half foresight, half spontaneity. Either the composition of forms is planned and the color is left to happen as it will, or vice-versa.
Do you sketch?
I sort of sketch. When I was younger and was primarily a figurative artist, I kept a sketch book and would draw all the time. Now, the gist of my sketching happens on random pieces of paper of a composition that has flashed in my head, or a color combo I woke up after dreaming. This often happens when I’m on the go and all I have is a napkin to draw on. It’s a rough scribble, depicting general shape and line relationships, and some barely intelligible words describing possible color combos. Then this paper either gets stuffed into a drawer or pocket and accidentally forgotten about, or it makes it up on the wall in the studio.
What’s your favorite color?
Cobalt Blue when I’m painting, black when I’m printmaking, and pink when I’m floral designing or gardening.
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work has been slowly leaving the wishy-washy, fuzzy color field compositions of soft, muted, and minimal color, and has been edging into the exploration of more color and graphic shapes. I see it continuing in this way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the two meet harmoniously down the road and something new yet familiar emerged from it.
How would you describe the shapes and compositions you’re exploring?
I work with about three different shapes, and never more than one shape is used on a painting . I’ve made stencils of these shapes and with a particular shape I explore the different compositions that can come from the flipping and repeating of that single form. All the shapes I work with are curved, but I wouldn’t call them organic shapes. They have math to them and proportions, and above all they have symmetry or can create symmetry when repeated and paired together.
Slant
All the shapes I work with are curved, but I wouldn't call them organic shapes. They have math to them and proportions, and above all they have symmetry or can create symmetry when repeated and paired together. — Arielle Zamora
Are you formally trained?
I graduated from the Oregon College of Art and Craft (formerly), and there I was mentored by an amazing painter Michelle Ross. And really, I owe that school for teaching me what I know and for providing the space for me and everyone else to use our hands and explore the meaning and tradition of craft. I’m so thankful for my education in numerous disciplines, including metal smithing, woodworking, book arts, and letterpress printing. OCAC will be sorely missed.
Do you admire or draw inspiration from any of your peers who are also working now?
I draw a lot of inspiration from my peers. I’m actually a part of a critique group that a handful of OCAC alumni have put together, and we meet once a month. We recently started inviting more artists, so we critique work that includes painting, printmaking, glass, photography, writing, fibers, sculpture, and more. It’s such an important group for me, as my art-making does get very solitary, which I think is the case for most artists. So with this group we can bounce ideas off each other, explore themes, give “homework” , and ask those questions we really need an outsider to answer. Collaboration is something I’ve wanted to explore for a while, and we’ve talked about collaboration in our crit group. I think it’s the next step that could really help me break boundaries within my own work.
Do you remember the first work of art that captured your attention?
It was a Rothko. Bigger than my whole self. Dark and soft. I really enjoyed looking at his work from the belly of it, but then moving to the sides of the canvas to see his edges, and where his thoughts and movements ended or began.
Are you influenced by any author or non-visual artist? Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?
If it has to be non-visual, it would be music. I’m heavily influenced by music that emits the feeling of landscape, like Sigur Ros or Andrew Bird, or music that reminds me of love in another century, like classical composers Maurice Ravel and Erik Satie. There is a lot of shape in the sounds these artists create.
What’s next for you?
More printmaking and a new series of paintings. I’ve got some large panels primed and ready to go, and I have some ideas of color and shape floating around in my head that really need to come to fruition.

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