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.