Mixed Media Alchemy: Interview with Stephanie Dalton Cowan

Stephanie Dalton Cowan was interviewed by Lisa L. Cyr.

This month’s Mixed Media Alchemy column presents an exciting interview with artist Stephanie Dalton Cowan, one of the featured artists from my mixed-media bestseller Art Revolution. She shares her unique insight as a multimedia artist and illustrator in this highly informative dialogue. Her innovative use of materials, surfaces and tools is inspiring!

Free From the Past
30” x 40” mixed media with photo on leather book cover, vintage papers, debossing and oils. © 2007 SDC

Q: Your mixed-media work is so wonderfully tactile with lots of debossing and textural collage. Can you tell us a bit about some of the unique tools and materials you use in your work? Where do you find such wonderful treasures?

A: I have collected all sorts of printmaking materials over the years. I haunt boutique shops and flea markets to find unique items such as hand-carved Indian and African woodblocks and vintage papers. More recently, I have been drawn to some of the simpler household tools such as scrub brushes, wisk brooms and paint scrapers to create linear scores and random textures into my surfaces. I have also started working predominately in cold wax, oils and dried pigments. The cold wax is soft enough to make impressions into the surface when first applied, and dries to a rich lustrous surface that is similar to encaustic. I like the luminous, ethereal quality these materials offer, which is why I moved away from using gel mediums and acrylics that seemed to have more of a plastic finish. Although, I have discovered that by adding marble dust (calcium carbonate) to these manufactured mediums I can achieve an organic chalky finish that is similar to the feeling of the powdered pigments and cold wax.

Latitude of Absolute
36” x 48” mixed media, book covers, etchings, cold wax, pigments and oils. © 2012 SDC

Q: Do you work in a sketchbook to develop your ideas? Please detail your conceptual approach to picture making.

A: I always have a sketchbook within reach, several scattered about my home and studio. I also keep a small journal by my bed. It seems that a lot of my ideas come to me in the evening, as I’m winding down from the day. These ideas bubble up from many sources, such as poetry books, art books, magazines and even my Pinterest boards. So, I often sit in bed and sketch out thumbnail ideas. I also have a lot of inspiration posted on the walls in my painting studio. As I begin to produce the actual work, it takes on a life of it’s own. It may take me weeks or even months to finish a piece because of the multi-layered nature of my work. I begin by laying down a background of textures and a few layers of paint, then I let them dry. A few days later, I will come back and work into these layers by subtracting and adding texture and more paint. This process continues until I feel I have achieved the right amount of texture and depth. In the end, the final work is really about the history that has been created over time. It is an expression of my interaction with the surface and materials. The initial sketches serve more as a catalyst to begin the process of creating.

Singular Points
18” x 18” mixed media encaustic with photo emulsion lift and transfer. © 2007 SDC

Q: In addition to very tactile traditional media, you also employ photography and digital media in your work. Can you talk about how you intermix such polar approaches?

A:  In the past, my fine art pieces have combined digital media such as photography with painted works. But more recently, I have separated the two and created different series. The first series encompasses photo encaustic works that employ digital photographs that had been modified in Photoshop and painted on top with oils and wax. I start by mounting an archival print onto a wood panel, then I apply layers of oil paint to the surface. Afterwards, I apply a few layers of hot beeswax and damar to seal the print which adds dimension to the photo imagery.

The second series I created consists of abstract works that employ no digital media at all. I work in a collage style, weaving cloth, vintage papers and various elements onto the panels. What I have discovered along the way is that I am really drawn to color fields and the physical process of painting and combining elements to create rich surfaces of color and texture. So you might say my creative path has diverged a bit from my earlier works where I brought together both the analog and digital worlds on paper and panel. I am still working in a collage environment but with different elements and approaches.

Cerulean Presence
30” x 30” mixed media, buckram, papers, cold wax, pigments and oils. © 2012 SDC

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your approach to storytelling through the layers of mixed media and collage you employ?

A: There is a natural inclination for me to incorporate some sort of narrative in my illustration works, which combine both painting as well as digital media. Most of my illustrations have a figurative focus that guides the viewer along the storyline I am asked to create by my clients. The narratives in my paintings are much more subtle and ethereal, whether they are photo encaustic or abstract. I rely more on color, form and surface to express myself in my personal work.

In the Mist
18” x 48” photo encaustic – poured beeswax over archival photo montage © 2011 SDC

Q: You are drawn to dimensional surfaces as well as unique framing elements. Can you tell us more about this aspect of your work?

A:  It’s true. I do like dimension in my surfaces and texture is very important to me. I plan to create some dimensional assemblages with primitive wood carved pieces I have collected over the years. I also have a collection of vintage frames that have been refurbished and rebuilt by my husband, Robert. Sometimes these frame patterns act as an inspiration for some of the mark making on my pieces.

Myopic Vision
26” x 22” mixed media and photo transfer on paper, antique book pages, beeswax and oils in refurbished vintage frame.© 2006 SDC

Q: Describe your artistic working environment and how it helps support your distinctive process and approach.

A: I have two studios on the lower level of our house that are both quite large and light filled. The digital area contains a fireplace, sitting area, bookshelves and a parsons table that houses my computer, scanner and printers. I have a second studio that contains a large Epson 7600 printer, gallery lighting and open wall space that holds up to five 48” square paintings on one wall. The open painting space helps me immensely because I work both horizontally and vertically. I generally start working on my pieces flat to lay down the first layers, then I move the pieces to a vertical position on the wall to study them from a distance and to allow for more layering and drying time.

Adjoining these two large studios is a third space with a full bath that gives me storage room for my finished panels and vintage frames. There is also a workshop area for Robert who creates all my wood panels and frames. Lastly, there is direct access from both studios to a large backyard that is nicely landscaped and serves as a quiet sanctuary and retreat from my workspaces.

Inside the studio, summer of 2012.

Q: What are your artistic influences and where do you look for inspiration.

A: Inspiration comes to me in many forms. I enjoy music, literature, poetry and being in nature. I oftentimes find myself inspired after reading or sketching in my journals late at night, which inevitably lands me in my studio in my PJs’ laying down a layer or two of paint on a panel. My artistic influences are primarily the Modernists and contemporary painters. Some of my favorite historical figures include; Matisse, Picasso, Georges Braque, Paul Klee, Georgia O’Keeffe, William Turner, Rothko, Barnet Newman, Jasper Johns, Antoni Tápies and  Robert Motherwell. That is a very short list. There are really too many to name. Additional contemporaries that influence me are artists such as Diebenkorn, Marcia Myers, Robert Ryman, Julian Schnabel, Ernesto Berra, and Ciao Fonseca. I also like many of the contemporary illustrators that cross over into fine art, several of which were featured in your book Art Revolution.

20” x 30” photo encaustic paper on panel , commissioned for the Ritz Carlton, Atlanta, Ga. ©2012 SDC

Q: What do you see yourself incorporating in your work as your mixed-media vision evolves?

A: I see myself incorporating more architectural elements into my work. I like assemblage and I enjoy incorporating elements such as fabric, vintage book covers and found architectural wood objects into my panels. I am currently sketching out some ideas for my panels that will hold custom wood carvings that are imports from Bali and India. My vision is to create a custom inset within these panels that will be surrounded by layers of color and cloth to achieve the look and feel of a very aged architectural wall or doorway.

36” x48” mixed media, paper, book covers, cloth, house paint, pigment and cold wax © 2012 SDC

Q: What are your future aspirations creatively?

A: I truly enjoy the illustration world and I have been exposed to many exciting projects since I began working with Gerald + Cullen Rapp in 2006. I will continue on the illustration path and I will also continue to produce personal work, expanding my gallery representation. My goal is to find a happy balance between the two worlds, and so far it’s working pretty well. There is no conflict creatively in switching from digital illustration to physical painting. I am actually fueled by working in the two different environments. It seems to suit my metabolism and my interests. The biggest challenge is time, which seems to be true for many artists.

48” x 48” book covers, vintage papers, cold wax, pigments and oils. © 2012 SDC

Artist Bio:

Widely published in the commercial world, Stephanie’s work has appeared in publications such as: The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, the LA Times and Harvard Business Review. She regularly produces magazine covers for higher education as well as book jackets, and artwork for opera and theatre posters.

In addition to her illustration work, Stephanie’s paintings and photomontages have appeared in several major motion pictures including: Failure To Launch, The Inside Man, I Am Legend, The Happening, Enchanted, Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Law Abiding Citizen and Welcome to People.

One of her photomontages created for the Shakespeare play Macbeth is part of the permanent illustration collection at the Guanshanyue Museum in Shenzhen, China. She also participated in exhibits with Museums in New York and Israel.

Stephanie has been published in three books: Dialogue, The Fine Art of Conversation by Mark Murphy, Art Revolution by Lisa L. Cyr and Masters Collage, Major Works by Leading Artists by Randel Plowman.

Her paintings have been placed in numerous public and private collections, as well as hotels and corporate settings internationally. Her paintings hang in the Ritz Carlton, Atlanta, Lowes Hotel, Atlanta, and Madera Hotel in Washington DC.

Stephanie works from her home studio in Metro Atlanta. She is assisted by her four legged studio companions Emily and Linus and her husband Robert Cowan, a talented woodworker who creates custom wood panels and handmade frames. Illustration Representation: www.rappart.com and Fine Art: www.daltonprojects.com

Muybridge on Linen
11” x 14” photo encaustic printed on linen with poured beeswax. © 2011 SDC

To see more work and a step-by-step demo by Stephanie Dalton Cowan, check out Art Revolution, a mixed-media book that is the forefront in exploring alternative, innovative ways of conceptualizing and creating art that is on the cutting-edge. Throughout the highly visual book, insightful and thought-provoking profiles of leading artists and illustrators accompany stellar, multi-media work. The book also provides insight into the historical influences behind contemporary thinking and approaches, investigating the origins of alternative, unconventional picture making throughout the decades. In addition, exciting splash spreads featuring demonstrations and behind-the-scene looks at groundbreaking artists at work help shed light on signature processes and techniques. There is a rich amalgam of media available to creatives today, offering a wide range of possibilities for exploration and experimentation. Art Revolution reveals how alternative, mixed media aesthetics is uniting the disciplines of two-dimensional, three-dimensional, digital and new media art in inventive combinations. For those wanting to venture outside the norm, the book includes a directory of the manufacturers and suppliers used by the featured artists so that sources for materials, access to health and safety procedures and additional information on unconventional techniques and approaches are easily accessible. For artists that are looking for an edge, wanting to push their work further, this book is a valuable asset and ongoing source for inspiration.

Artists featured include: Marshall Arisman, Brad Holland, Dave McKean, Barron Storey, David Mack, Kazuhiko Sano, Fred Otnes, Michael Mew, Kathleen Conover, Rudy Gutierrez, Lynne Foster, Lisa L. Cyr, Cynthia von Buhler, Robert Maloney, Susan Leopold, AE Ryan, Matt Manley, Stephanie Dalton Cowan, Richard Tuschman, Dorothy Simpson Krause and Camille Utterback.

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