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7 Artists Not to Miss at PDX Open Studios

Learning from Others

Portland Open Studios is a four day basically Christmas holiday for Portland artists. I’d meant to go for years and then had a taste last year. This year I did half. Next year I’m marking out the entire four days on my calendar to wander all over the city and meet the amazing artists taking part.

Artists are juried in and then they generously open their studios and their practice to the public. It really is an amazing opportunity to take a peek inside the lives of some of Portland’s best artists. Here’s a bit of what I learned: 

(Image below: Yesterday Today Tomorrow, Ruth Armitage)

Ruth Armitage:

I’ve loved Ruth Armitage’s work for years but it was only when the WSO show was held in Albany that I realized that she’s an Oregon artist. It was a kick to meet an artist I’ve for so long admired. She lives out in beautiful West Linn and at times I thought I was going to be wandering the wilderness forever (oh look at me, such a Portlander) but it was worth the extra driving. She has three dogs. The puppy is the softest dog you’ve ever petted, and as I talked to her about where I am in my career, she gave me some really good advice:

  1. Skip the small shows and work to get into the big ones. She said it took her many tried before she got into some of her big shows, but it was worth the wait. She suggested Art in the Pearl and the Salem Art Festival. I’ve never been to the latter, and her daughter (who is also really great) suggested I go next year and do reconnaissance.
  2. Before starting an abstract make some basic choices. Is this painting going to be warm or cool, colorful or neutral, busy or calm. She writes these choices down so that when she’s at decision junctures, she reminded of her original goals. This will help me a ton in both my abstract work but also my non abstract work.
  3. Armitage creates incredible abstracts and she said they are based on tangible things like memories. An in studio example she gave was of a walk she took one night as a child. The lines represent the path and there are elements in the painting that represent fronts and the night sky. This helps give her a guide.

(Image: Out In The Rain, Deborah Marble)

Deborah Marble

Watercolorist Deborah Marble was one of those experiences that remind me to slow down and make the extra stop. She was in my maybe category as there are so many great artists, you really do have to make choices on where you go.

I’m in love with Marble’s use of line. It’s incredible and watching her do a demo, she makes it look easy. She makes it look easy in a way that only 40 years or practice does. In her demo she showed how she used a squeeze bottle filled with watercolor paint to make some of her lines. This is one of those things that I’m going to try in my own paintings. I don’t normally do watercolor, but seeing her approach to line is worth playing around with it.


Randall David Tipton


Iron Mt. Fog 4, Randall David Tipton


One of the things I love about seeing art is that I’m reminded how every artist is different in their approach. Randall David Tipton, who I’ve been lucky enough interacted with before (but never met) through a Creative Catalyst interview long ago, is the nicest human being you’ve ever met. (Seriously, all of these artists were so incredibly nice.) Tipton is self taught and his painting style is intuitive. His whole attitude is intuitive. And it was a good reminder that I am too hard on myself. I think I need a button that says, “What would Randall David Tipton say?” I’d probably be a lot nicer to myself.


Beth Yazhari

Renewal Springs From Woman, Beth Yazhari

I didn’t get a chance to speak a whole lot to Beth Yazhari as hers was one of the fullest studios I visited. I was attracted to her work because I love pattern. I didn’t realize how many textile (<--- another thing I love) elements she used in her work. I am now an instant fan. Her work is super dimensional and while it looks beautiful in reproduction, there is a whole tactile element missing. From Yazhari I learned that fine art has a broad definition in the sense that any medium (or mediums) exquisitely done is fine art. I’ve been thinking about bringing textile elements into my work but have been hesitant. I’m still not there yet (in part due to a continually breaking sewing machine) but her work was a good reminder to not give up on that idea.


Erin Leichty

Shadow Boxer, Erin Leichty

Someone made the comment that Erin Leichty lives in a museum, and it might be true. She designed her own home in a way that only an artist could. She teaches classes in a giant living room with giant windows and a calming feel. She had a crowd of fans and many of them she knew, and so I didn’t gt a huge chance to talk with her, but I loved learning about her process, and on my Blick trip on the way home I bought some cold wax. I love encaustic, and I’m looking forward to seeing how a final layer of cold wax affects my work.

Mari Navarro

QPDX, Mari Navarro

What I love about Mari Navarro’s work is that 1. it has amazing line. I really do love line. I have no confidence in my own line, but I am often attracted to work that uses line. The second thing I love about Navarro’s work is its playfulness but in a really modern way. Or maybe it’s sophisticated playfulness. You can enjoy it and take it very seriously.

Calico Girl, Karen Wippich. (Is this not the coolest painting you've ever seen?!)

Calico Girl, Karen Wippich.

(Is this not the coolest painting you've ever seen?!

Karen Wippich

Karen Wippich is my favorite artist living or dead. Looking at her work makes me both incredibly excited but then also sometimes incredibly sad. Excited because, wow, it’s amazing. But then sad because I feel like the work has already been done. Wippich did it. Why even try? The answer to why even try is that I know I want to try and find something that evokes the same thing in me that Wippich’s work evokes in me. That’s a big goal, but it’s a good North star to have. This was just a small selection of the artists I visited. The weekend was exhausting and exhilarating, and I would highly highly recommend going to anyone who loves art.

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