I’m very excited to bring you today’s post! Not only is it about one of my favorite topics — art — but through it I have the pleasure of acquainting you with a completely unique artist on the verge of becoming a national presence!
Let me introduce you to the work of…
(All studio pictures of Wendy are by Anthony Pagani.)
She also happens to be from my home village in New Hampshire!!!!!
I first became acquainted with Wendy’s work when I began decorating for a local client who had commissioned two of her pieces. Her art made me feel similarly to the way I did when I first saw Georgia O’Keeffe’s early expressionist work…
… except that I couldn’t believe that Wendy could achieve such intensity of color, sense of motion, and joy using watercolors.
all via Instagram
I love her work’s dynamism and life.
Wendy calls her pieces “watermarks” and creates them using a dip dye process she developed during her MFA studies, submerging sheets of paper into color baths.
Here’s a fun little video to help better illustrate:
Even though we live in a pretty small town — 5,000 people small — and have a number of mutual acquaintances, Wendy and I had never connected. (That’s what can happen when your kids are 10 years apart and you aren’t going to the same baseball games!) But, luckily, in a pretty small town, it’s easy to arrange an introduction!
Wendy began her artistic life as a graphic designer for U.S. Lacrosse‘s magazine and print marketing materials. As they do to many a young person, marriage and babies came along, and she and her young family moved to New Hampshire, where she continued doing graphic design independently — logos for small businesses, birth announcements, and the like.
However, as computer design programs became more and more sophisticated, she found graphic design increasingly restricting, rather than freeing.
“I found the whole trajectory toward being able to be more and more exact — How tight can I make this? How many pixels? — the whole process seemed to reinforce parts of my personality that I didn’t like. In a strange way, design got stressful. I purposely started to back away from the commercial aspect of it, but I didn’t yet see myself as an artist.”
Eventually, Wendy enrolled in the MFA in Graphic Design from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, completing her degree in 2015 at the “ripe” age of 48.
You have to understand New England, but in Vermont, if you’re 48, you’re still a young whippersnapper. Anywho!
She chose the Vermont’s program in particular because of it’s self-directed nature.
“It was there that I found the freedom to explore working with my hands while engaging with the fundamentals of design. My watermarks evolved as a reaction against the sterile environment of the computer screen and the expectations of perfection that are a part of creating with today’s technology. I needed a more sensual process of working—one that connected my heart, head, and hands, while also serving as a method for expressing my lived experience.
But how in the world did she stumble upon her particular process for self-reflection and discovery?
“One Easter Sunday I was dipping eggs, and I started putting strip of paper into the dye. And then I tried more paper, bigger paper. I explored stitching thread through the designs. It was a very unpredictable process, which was very appealing.”
“Prior to beginning my MFA, I had begun a process of self-study I call shwuf (show what u feel) — a visual language to help us connect with ourselves and with others by showing what we feel in a new way. It began as a way for me to become more familiar and comfortable with myself and my emotions and to ‘see’ my patterns of behavior so that I could understand them better.
“My watermarks are a more loose, less literal interpretation of that language. For example, I might pull one piece out of the container of water (I sometimes allow them to saturate up to 5 days) and think, ‘How do I now respond to this? What does this need?’
“But isn’t that how we have to move through life? Lines that are left on the paper are due to saturation and the effect of the water over a space time — hard lines, soft lines, deep and dark colors, vibrant or dull, shallow or dynamic. You can’t always force things….my hand is guiding and allowing, but it’s the water that leaves the mark.”
Smalls on display at London’s Brick Lane Gallery.
My client had chosen to commission two very special pieces from Wendy — her family gathered water from their beloved Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire for Wendy to use. They now have pieces in their home that have been marked by those cherished waters just as their lives have been.
Until recently, most of Wendy’s pieces have been small-to-medium in size, restricted by the size of her water containers. I joked with her that she needed a kiddie pool. I must be psychic, because she laughed and then sent me this image:
“I got myself a splash pool…. This one is 38 x 50!”
Wendy’s work is sold by Libby Silvia Artstyle in the Boston area and by Kristen Coates in Rhode Island.
And now, get this — Wendy is one of the newest artists to be featured on Chairish’s Artist Collective . (Chairish’s Artist Collective is one of my favorite sources for original art.)
She has about 10 pieces uploaded, with another 10+ in the coming days.
Anne West, longtime Rhode Island School of Design professor and author, says this: “Wendy is our custodian of openness. The saturated, whole body vibrance of her watercolors teach us the power of another logic – a poetic water logic that requires receptivity to unintended results. Through sweeping fields of color, often with intricate shifts among layering, we become soaked in surprise. As a designer of the expanded expressive filed, Wendy bleeds her fields of color into our world, awakening us to the dynamic emotional intelligence that lives just below the surface of our awareness. We need color to feel our fullness.”
Well, I’m not an artist or art critic. But I like happy, character-filled homes full of color, and vibrance, and individuality … art not excepted or as an afterthought. Anyone else moved by Wendy’s work?
See you next Saturday!
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4 thoughts on “Art Class: The Watermark Art of Wendy Briggs Powell”
I LOVE everything you have listed here!! Thank you for introducing me to her work as I’m now following her on Chairish… Btw, your She She’d continues to inspire me as I’m planning my own home office/studio space. 🙂 Have a glorious weekend!
*shed – silly autocorrect! Glad it wasn’t anything worse!! HA!!
Haha. Happens to me ALL the time when I comment on others’ posts! I’m so glad you’re following Wendy. I can’t wait to use more of her work in client projects. And I’m thrilled the She Shed has inspired you. Send me pics of your office when you’re through! Have a sunny Saturday!
This comment is by David, who had some trouble with the comment form. Sorry, David! But thanks for your feedback! :
What marvelous colors, so marvelously put forth. The watermarks sometimes have smooth endings, and sometimes they have sharp endings but always wonderfully fitting endings. Her work is elegant and it would be the correct choice for just about any spot. It is easy to imagine one’s self resting in a comfy chair looking at one of her pieces and feeling the damn world wonderfully slipping away.
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