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Savina Mason

Coming from a graphic design and computer science background, Savina discovered a passion for analog art in encaustic paintings, installations, and sculptural works that challenge precision and complexity in her designs. Experimenting with colour, texture, and the demands of the encaustic process, she combines her years of design experience with the understanding that amongst careful planning and design, imperfection is still valuable. Discover her work at savinamason.com.

What do you enjoy about being in the Good Arts Building?

One of the great things that has come out of this is, honestly, friendships. I’m great friends with my next door neighbor Dara, and we both just happen to be encaustic artists, which is like, what are the odds of that? We are next door to each other. And we do share a power breaker, which is a problem because we both work hot (i.e., on a hotplate). But it’s really great to have someone who’s working in the same medium because encaustic is a special, special beast. You’re working with a natural material, it’s not always the same consistency. One batch of medium is going to be different from the next batch. It’s not like acrylic where it will take the tints. So seeing someone else and how they work with it, we exchange a lot of technical knowledge. And sometimes it’s just really good to have someone whose shoulder you can cry on when things go wrong.

I come from a graphic design background and so we work with color in different ways. We conceptualize mixed color in a different way. But I have been here since 2011, so almost seven years. So, you know, we’re kind of approaching and crisscrossing our experimentation and that wouldn’t happen if we weren’t next door to each other.

In general, just being in this building and seeing what everybody else is working with and coming up with is inspiring. Plus, there are a lot more shapes that you see and a lot more materials. I’ve never met a material that wasn’t interesting. So I will go over to the jewelry people and scope out their tools and I will think “Whoa, how can I use this?”. It’s just really cool to see people working in different media with completely different skill sets and tool sets and just see what they’re doing, see what they’re using. So I will squirrel things away for future use because when you work on an installation, you need to think about what’s at hand, and what makes sense for the space.

What is your artistic process?

My colors change depending on the season, and so I know they change depending on light. Being in a space that’s got a really high ceiling it’s open and I can’t imagine working with a lot of muddy colors in a space like this. I think that there’s a lot of interplay between what you see and how you feel and what actually ends up going down. The Pacific Northwest is definitely a special beast. Seeing all the mountains definitely has an impact on me. But I have also traveled a fair bit. And so a lot of times the colors are taken from where I’ve been. When I was in New Zealand we were kayaking down the dark river and it’s a glacier river and it’s summer over there. So there’s a ton of glacier melt coming down and it’s almost like celadon. It’s slightly green, not super transparent because of the glacial material, a little bit gray . . . just this incredible color. Right now I want to get as close to something which is solid and has real depth to it but feels like watercolor. That takes a lot of experimentation.

Sometimes you get something and you think “Oh, I know exactly what to do with this!”,  and sometimes you kind of wonder because it ends up not being a project for anything. You think to yourself – I just want to make this because I can. When I experienced things like that, there’s a lot of fun and play to those types of projects. I mean that’s kind of the goal for me in doing studio work versus previous work within graphic design. It’s an interesting edge to be on. Sometimes I get obsessed with just one color or I just want to draw lines. Like, “I’m sorry, I just feel like drawing lines for three weeks.”

How did you arrive at encaustic work?

I started taking art classes about eight years ago because I thought maybe it would help with my practice. It was in those classes that I realized I really liked making things with my hands. A lot of things that I had done before for work, there was a repetitive element oftentimes. If you do something on a computer it’s going to be perfect. Perfect. Every time. Whether you’re writing code to generate the image or whether you’re working in Photoshop, you can make sure everything’s spaced the same. But when you’re doing it by hand you can’t. And a lot of times you’ll see emergent things happen because of that. It was a very interesting thing to try to make a pattern as perfect as you can, but you’re still making it with your hands and so variations creep into it and change it. There is a kind of a quality of life, the magic of finding out what happens when imperfection creeps in. In a way there’s more of you in the work because you’re physically making it.

One of the last classes I took was an encaustic class and it was eight weeks long, mostly with retired ladies who just wanted a hobby. But it was such a magical moment for me where I felt, “Oh my God, I want to do this”. Within several weeks of that I was trying to work at home and I knew it wasn’t going to work. I knew I needed a studio if I was going to do it full time.

How does encaustic art work?

You work hot, basically your palette is on your hot plate, and your brush is melted. So you mix your color with the medium. Its a little bit different because of the nature of the material. Then once you have it on your brush you have about maybe 10 seconds of work time at which point, it’s going to go solid. So then you’re back to the hot plate. That’s one of the wonderful things about it is that it does cut down on your working time, but it means that you can work layer upon layer upon layer upon layer.

With encaustic, it blooms over time. So when you fuse it, you’re essentially forcing to pigment back into the layers of the caustic. So it will kind of pull the colors further away from you so it’s a little bit less bright. Over time, it takes about two years, the color will slowly swim back up to the surface. If you’ve managed to hold onto a painting for two years before you sell it, it looks awesome because it’s really bright: fresh and clean and shiny. So for the first two weeks it blooms constantly so there’s this white dust coating that develops. Once you clean it properly, you can get that candy shine.

What is your goal looking forward?

As an artist, you’re always learning and expanding. I think that’s my goal for everything I do. I don’t want it to be like something I’ve done in the past because why repeat things? I want to make sure that I benefit in terms of my practice, right? My goal is, you know, when I’m 80, I think at that point I might be able to do some really cool things.

Painting is a type of critical thinking. It’s a type of questioning: questioning your environment, responding to your environment. But it’s not simply making an image – it’s actually making the image that is going to clarify the idea in your head.  For me, it is so much about the process of making that happen.

Responses edited & condensed from comments made during an interview.

Lin-Lin Mao

Lin-Lin Mao works in 2-dimensional and multidimensional spaces and sees painting as the act of putting marks onto or into a space. A mark could be a strand of yarn, a loop of crochet, an origami crane, or a dirty plate from last night’s dinner. Lin-Lin’s art work invites a viewer to investigate and discover, and to interpret the work in their own way with what they bring to the conversation. Her multi-dimensional “paintings” use human scaled rooms so that viewers can move around to investigate the work from different perspectives. She received her MA in Fine Arts from Bath Spa University in the United Kingdom in 2017 and has since produced works within the UK and United States. You can find more of her work online at http://linlinmao.com/

What are your feelings towards the space here in the Good Arts Building?

When looking for a studio space, I received a notification from Space Finder and remembered it as one of the places I would love to have a studio house. When I saw there were 13 new spaces, I immediately emailed Jane and then I went in the next day. She showed me all the spaces and I was just super excited that there was a place that I would be able to have all my own. 

I just feel so fortunate. This space, it feels like a very safe place for artists. I think Jane has done a lot of that. I know she’s done a lot of work to make sure that it is a safe place because she’s an artist and understands and has experienced this thing. I feel she really has selected a good variety of different types of artists. When I was in art school around the other students, one thing I knew was if I didn’t have a studio among other artists, I would miss that type of interaction and learning to cross pollinate. Doing art can be very solitary, but to walk down the hall and pop in and see what people are working on –  there’s so much talent in the world, you know?

What relationship does your art have with the space here?

Jane knew that I had worked with installation before. This (above) was from my final thesis project. I had set up two installations and both of them used crocheted yarn. So when she mentioned to me that it would be nice to have something under the skylights on this floor as well as the stairwell, I was just so excited. This is one of the pieces I had made when I was in art school and it was one of my thesis project installations—but that piece was in a very small room. I hung yarn from it and that installation touched the floor. When I thought about it here, it would be very high up, but it’d be nice to resurrect it and see what it looks like in this space.

And so that’s what I did. And I was really pleased because I feel like having that piece now in a new space and not on the floor, I had to figure out, how am I going to hang this here where people could actually walk underneath, since it’s a hallway. I ended up rolling up the bottom threads to make them more even so that people could walk under it. If you’re walking under it and you look up, you see the art work in a different perspective. And I hadn’t even thought about that. Why I like to create art is when you try to adapt something for a different environment, I feel like many times I do learn something other than what I first intended. So with that piece, that was a learning experience thinking, “Oh my gosh, this art piece is still giving.” Because even last year when I first created it, it was actually the first installation I had ever done. Before that, I used to just paint. What I learned in art school was with contemporary art, it really is about materials and anything really goes. And so then I started to thinking about using yarn as art and that opened up a whole new world for me.

With the piece in the stairwell, that was another opportunity. I feel like as a creator, you’re always learning, you’re problem solving. When Jane had asked me to do an installation with that space, well, first of all, I started overthinking it, and then I realized, “Oh, I have a thousand cranes from last year when I was at art school.” The reason why I did the 1000 cranes is just, you know, the feeling that a lot of us have these days about how things are going the wrong direction in terms of the why. Why is there still a war or global warming? So the thousand cranes is a Japanese legend that if you make 1000 cranes and make a wish then your wish will come true. So that’s my motivation for folding the 1000 cranes – my wish for good things to start happening for the world.

What materials do you enjoy working with?

If I bring you back to my first memories as a child, my first memories were as a four year old looking at something that was this bag that I thought was fascinating. And then I learned later it was done by something called crochet: taking yarn or string and making this interesting bag. That’s how also I felt about origami. I was born in Taiwan and I was just fascinated that you could take a square sheet of paper and turn it into something just like yarn into a bag. So I had been crocheting since I was seven or eight years old, and my mother crocheted. So I just watched her and learned from her. The last year when I was in art school I learned that art is more than just painting or sculptures or drawings – now people use yarn. I immediately thought about crochet.  Another reason why I like crochet as opposed to knitting, is that these days with all the technology and everything – I really like the handmade. What I learned through my study and research in art school is that there are no crochet machines. There are knitting machines that can copy human knitting, but there is no machine that can copy hand crochet. So that’s another reason why I want to continue crocheting. Because for me it’s about the handmade, about knowing things, and making things with my hands.

What concepts are you currently exploring?

When I was younger I would illustrate stories I had in my head—it was a form of learning and exploring. Now as an adult I kind of take that further. When I worked on these two pieces—these are my sisters—I used paper plates as palettes. And when I was looking at these palettes, I thought, “I can’t discard them, these are beautiful.” So in this painting, I put them in here because I’m questioning both: What’s art? The intended, the sisters, or what’s in this plate? What is the conscious or superconscious here intending to do with this? And the subconscious is that I’m mixing the colors and making some decisions. But afterwards it’s really pretty. And so what I’m doing is I’m saving all my paper palettes from the last two years. And I realized the plates, some had plastic on them,  so you can pull it off and look at the reverse. I feel like I’m mining, I’m just discovering the beauty that is. 

Responses edited & condensed from comments made during an interview.




Liz Ewings

Liz Ewings creates semi abstract paintings of plankton collected from the sea photographed under a microscope in a science lab. She believes that art has the power to change how we see the world, and wants to inspire people to appreciate the 70% of it that’s covered by water. She is on a mission to show the beauty and diversity of the inhabitants of the ocean – both large and small! Liz has a love for whales, and after experiencing the ocean’s gentle giants in Australia, she was determined to learn more about them. She returned to Seattle to study natural science illustration and oceanography at the University of Washington and has since combined her love of art and love of science with her works. You can read more about her artistic adventures on http://www.lizewings.com/ and see her work in the Good Arts Gallery at Cherry Street Coffee House through April 2019.

How did you first get introduced to the studios for ’57 Biscayne?

I took classes from Jane at the Pratt Fine Arts Center. I then started coming to her life drawing group at 619 Western. When she moved into the Good Arts Building I took classes from her in her studio and kept coming her life drawing sessions. With the studio I’m in now I never saw anybody around it, so I just started to ask about the space. What’s, what’s been going with that studio? Is anybody in there? Is it just ghosts? I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some cool paint ghosts. There probably are some ghosts. Yes.

When the studio was available I wasn’t quite ready to commit just yet, so somebody else was in here for a year and then it came up again and I thought, “its mine!”, and I’ve been here ever sense. My studio space before was my kitchen. So it’s really nice because I can leave projects out, I can work on an entire painting at once.

Why does the ocean inspire you?

I’ve always enjoyed drawing and painting since I was young. When I was in school there were programs in fiber arts and I ended up transferring and getting a degree in apparel design and working in that industry for 18 years and then I changed directions because I sort of fell in love with whales. I came back to Seattle and worked with natural sciences, but I have always been interested in art, but I ended up in oceanography school with a second bachelor’s degree in oceanography. I eventually came to the conclusion that I would rather make art about plankton.  I just thought they were really interesting when I was looking at them in school. Some of them are really beautiful or weird. They’re microscopic organisms in the ocean and most people don’t even know what they look like or what they are. So it just seemed like it would be an interesting concept to explore, and it’s something that isn’t often brought to life through arts.


What is your current artistic process?

Right now, I am working with phytoplankton, in particular diatoms which are little single celled photosynthetic plankton that have of shells made out of glass. I want to paint them as though they were a flower portrait. So on land, totally out of context. I’ve been painting glasses to try and figure out how light reflects and how the shadows are cast. I’ve been thinking,  “how does that work?” It’s a living creature as well. They’re really tiny, so I want to do big paintings of these little tiny things. As I paint, I look at the different colors. How do these colors work together? Which composition do I like best? Do I like the idea or should I try something different? You know, every idea is not the best. You sort of have to let the bad ones out to get the good one.

To gather the plankton for my pieces, I used to volunteer and work with a group oceanography project.  I started doing this when I was in oceanography school and I’ve kept it up over the years. One of the things we do are plankton tows. So I take those plankton, while they’re still alive, to the UW School of Oceanography and photograph them under microscopes. The species change seasonally, or whether you’re close to fresh water or salt water. I really like going out in spring because that is when the big blooms are.

What is your dream project?

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple of years about how to make an installation of plankton. Perhaps a light installation controlled by a computer that changes with the tide. I think it would be cool to have a full room of plankton or have something representative of them. To imagine if you were a whale going through a school of plankton with krill all around, lit up and moving. I have seen videos of this and just thought “How cool is that”.  If you could walk through a room and the plankton or the lights are getting out of your way, as though you were a fish or a whale. I would love to bring that into the human experience.

What advice would you give artists that are currently looking to continue their craft?

Do it because you love it. It took a little while for me to get to the point where I felt comfortable doing exactly what I wanted to do. I spent so much time just doing things just because it was my job or because I needed to get paid. It’s really sort of freeing to do something weird and creative just because I want to do it.