Tag Archives: Acrylic Painting

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Cherry Rahn: Stalking the Wild Still Life

I have lived in Geneva, NY since 1981, but I’ve spent time in many other places, including the UK, and many years in Canada.  My first solo show was at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 1989, after taking some studio courses there.  I made sculpture for the next 20 years.

My medium, subject matter and style varied a lot.  I made bronze figures and portraits, a multi-media installation, a series in Hydrocal about technology, and social-satirical “men in suits” figures.  I’ve also done set design and theater pieces for schools and community theater, and for my daughter’s circus production company.  I’ve been concentrating on painting since 2008, using gouache and then acrylic on canvas.

In my studio.  Photo: E. Kenas

In my studio. Photo: E. Kenas

Wild still life:  since it is now socially acceptable to use a cell phone to take photos  in all public situations, a vast opportunity has opened up.  In a cafe, restaurant or tea room, I can hunt around the room or the table top with my phone camera.  I use the low or peculiar lighting conditions and the chance encounters with objects and colors to collect raw visual material (I have never set up a still life.)  I then edit and re-compose an image and work from that photo.

The cafe paintings began in 2012 with views of the room, people, windows, inside and outside.  Now I have zoomed in to the more micro scene.

raw material

raw material

painting: Pair of Glasses

painting: Pair of Glasses

I love to play around on the cusp of abstraction and representation.  It’s tempting to go with the sheer colors and shapes, yet I can’t quite bear to “let go of that adorable salt shaker”, or whatever it may be.

Once again, I have shifted my subject matter.  I’m going more micro and working at the place where the water meets the land.  Here I am stalking the pebbles and lake grass.

at work.  photo: S. Lee

at work. photo: S. Lee

In my paintings, I want to present things that are there, but which we don’t usually see without a deliberate act of looking.

Stop by Main Street Arts to see Cherry Rahn’s paintings in our current exhibition “Setting the Table” (runs through November 25th). You can see more of Cherry’s work online at www.cherryrahn.com.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by printmaker Heather Swenson.

Meet the Artist in Residence: Cathryn Leyland

Cathryn Leyland is an artist in residence at Main Street Arts! She’s working in one of our two studio spaces during the months of September–October 2016 (you can stop by the gallery to see her studio and work in progress). We asked Cathryn a few questions about her artwork, life, and more:

Artist in Residence Cathryn Leyland in her Main Street Arts studio

Artist in Residence Cathryn Leyland in her Main Street Arts studio

Q: Tell us about your background.

A: I grew up in the house of an artist and a paper engineer, so materials were always accessible and projects abundant.



After starting another career path, I headed back into art through an interest in scientific textbook authoring and illustration. Upon finishing an MFA, I found myself teaching computer graphics amid courses in professional and technical communications.

Photos (c)CRLeylandI owe my teaching pathway to  printmaker Eric Bellmann, who was art chair for the evening division at RIT. He entrusted me with teaching so early in my working years. And Tom Moran, my chair during the evolving years of computer graphics.

Teaching led me into writing and illustrating online course materials, and developing new courses. It took me  a while to realize that curriculum design was essentially book publishing, with a smaller audience and immediate feedback. I suppose one could conclude, “You can always do science for a hobby.”

This fall my courses are online, which frees me to settle into Clifton Springs for this great opportunity at Main Street Arts. It will be refreshing to produce art there, meet people,  and see what emerges from workshops.


CRLeyland Abstract

Q: How would you describe your work?

A: Everyone sets their balance between order and chaos, dealing with what arrives. Life brings disarray, and we scramble to pack it into order. Often the interruption is order; we just haven’t recognized patterns yet. My artwork respects chaos, and the order that can be formed from it.


I pursue ideas that I’d like to teach others, or find adventures in trying new tools.

I can’t resist sandboxing fabric ideas at Spoonflower.com, and have hidden vices where print-on-demand services wrap my images on new products.

(c) CRLeyland on Spoonflower

For  short time, I designed surface pattern for fashion and fabric through an agent. Seamless pattern design could be an interesting topic for a gallery workshop.

I’ve sold ceramic sculpture to people carrying it through a crowded festival; painted public art while onlookers shouted from their cars; designed promotional materials, to find that different opinions make us such snowflakes.

In artistic expression we tell our individual stories, and should expect others’ to be different. Then we are delighted when  ideas connect, when visual communicators seem to understand how we were thinking.

Q: What is the most useful tool in your studio?

A: Scissors beat paper and rock. Vital tools are bitmap software, MS Notepad, small graphics tablet, phone camera– to jot down ideas or carry out a full vision.


Acrylic paint on board conveys what’s on my mind most effectively.


Q: What is your process for creating a work of art?

A: Projects often start with curiosity about materials, combining things in unexpected ways. I see what I already have to work with, and build on that. My pewter phase began with videos of survivalists melting cans and pouring molten metal on garage floors. Who can resist.

In approaching a project, I pick up peripheral information. Learn everything, then narrow to how I’d like to carry it out. Art-making is about choices, and is not necessarily an additive process. Try removing as fast as you add.


Q: What are your goals for this residency?

A: Work will emerge in both pewter jewelry, and acrylic abstracts.

In preparation, I cast pewter into organic and geologic forms, and will combine these with semi-precious stones, amber, freshwater pearls, a little sterling and other metals. Shapes were melted ahead of time, to keep the gallery off speed dial to Clifton Springs FD.


(c)2016 CRLeylandI have small paintings to finish, which will gradually appear outside my second floor studio.


During the residency, you will see the progression of a painted series, on Finger Lakes waterways. The depth of Seneca Lake, winding of Flint Creek, elevations, watersheds, and glacial structures… I would like to highlight fluidity, sprawl, and vulnerability in upstate waters.

And oh! I look forward to offering workshops, seeing what each person brings in experience and insight.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Two upcoming juried exhibits here, I’d like to submit work to– Small Works 2016 and The Cup, The Mug.

I expect to carry the pewter idea further, into art jewelry exhibits. Pewter is malleable and melts at low temperatures, so it’s wonderful to work with, and opens up many possibilities. I had the opportunity to wax-cast silver when I was young, and am building that experience into the way I cast pewter.


I continue to teach, freelance, write, take on other work… and am always eager to explore new opportunities.

Q: Where else can we find you?

A: Saatchi ArtFine Art AmericaLinkedIn, and Spoonflower — A great place for trying new ideas for seamless repeats–and connecting with thoughtful, creative people.

(c) 2014-16 CRLeyland fabric

Q: Do you collect artwork?

A: I have stoneware and abstracts that harmonize with life. Art might arrive through connection with an artist, friend or relative, or a discovery I can’t pass up.

(c) CRLeyland

Are you an artist looking for new opportunities? Apply for a residency at Main Street Arts! Artists in residence will have 24-hour access to a large studio on our second floor (with great natural light), the option to show work in the gallery, and the opportunity to teach paid workshops. Submissions are reviewed and awarded on an ongoing basis.

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Denton Crawford

Most of my family is from the Southeastern U.S. My father was in the military so we moved around a lot when I was a kid. By the time I was 18 I’d spent half my life over seas. I received my BFA from the University of South Florida in 2007, and my MFA from the University of Georgia in 2011. I currently teach drawing and new media classes at RIT, in Rochester, NY.

mixed media collage on mounted paper

End of the Road mixed media collage on mounted paper

I got into drawing in my early teens, which was more of a hobby up until I started school. I was an english major before I switched to the visual arts, and I still have a real affinity for narrative art and story telling. I think of my own work as snapshots from a larger personal narrative. I got my BFA at the University of South Florida, where I stuck mostly to painting that incorporated my surroundings in terms of color palette and subject matter. I wanted to create portraits that evoked empathy, humility and humor. Painting has always been about materiality, surface and color for me. When I went to graduate school I wanted to make big changes to the way I worked. I started painting larger, more abstractly and on various surfaces, incorporating the space around and in front of the paintings, using sculpture and the wall itself. This led to a series of works that engaged a larger space and allowed me to explore my ideas in other ways, and with different materials, where drawing also started to play a big roll. 

Our Church acrylic, gouache and spray paint on pvc

Our Church
acrylic, gouache and spray paint on pvc

Most of the work is driven by conflicting ideologies about various subjects – religion, utopian ideals, the loss of innocence, and metaphysical experience.  A good majority of the source imagery comes from personal adventures, travels, places I’ve lived or visited. It’s a kind of personal narrative played out through my interaction with the landscape and a sense of place. I also like to incorporate what might be considered trite or cliche imagery, like skulls. Attempting to elevate or reinvest something with new or different meaning is always interesting. I like to think of these as moments from a utopian downfall, a perfection not quite attainable, enticing the viewer with color and tactile surface.

Daydreams acrylic, gouache and spray paint on panel

acrylic, gouache and spray paint on panel

I like to keep things playful and responsive in the studio. I’ll usually start with a general idea or plan of attack, often referencing previous works and incorporating things from them that I really like or find successful. I get a lot of ideas while I’m working, so I keep a sketchbook of notes and drawings handy to reference and jot things down. Paintings often start with drawings from the sketchbook or personal photos. I get all of my best ideas from reading, whether fiction or philosophy, novels or poems. Daydreams is based on some of the themes and iconography from Lord of the Flies, which I had only recently read for the first time. It’s so fantastic as an analysis of human nature, a lot of those themes were already present in my work. As form materials and process, I use a lot of tape, stencils, and mediums, there’s a lot of masking and layering.

studio shot 1

For a recent solo show at Joy Gallery in Rochester, NY titled You’re Not Here, I chose to focus more on sculpture and installation. I am always thinking about objects and space in relation to the drawings, paintings and collages that I make, as well as the ideas that inform them. It’s an attempt to create a memorable experience for the viewer, I want to give them a moment that they will not forget. For this exhibition I took the opportunity to make a small installation titled My Disembodied Sermon in room at the back of the gallery.

install shot disembodied 2

This allowed me to incorporate a lot of the things I had been thinking about doing for some time – using a playful approach to material, aesthetic and conceptual concerns, and thinking about religious iconography and experience in relation to objects, space, and what one might consider religious experience. It’s a sort of reliquary.

skull detail

I spent a lot of time in the studio working with a variety of materials including insulation foam, cast foam and plastic, fabricated and found objects, and thinking of ways to combine painting, installation and these 3D forms. I really enjoy working this way and bringing these materials together.

cross home

cross 6

cross 7

neon 2

For more information on Denton Crawford you can visit his website at www.dentoncrawford.com. Feel free to contact the artist via the email on his site. Or stop by the gallery to see his work in our current exhibition, The Assembled Image.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by fabric collage artist Lynne Feldman.

Inside the Artist’s Studio With Trina May Smith: Chasing the Work


I grew up in Missoula Montana, a liberal arts college town nestled in the Rocky Mountains. As a kid I wanted to be a writer and was always writing stories and poems. In seventh grade I wrote and typed a 15 page single spaced story for fun. I read constantly, and just knew that writing was my thing.

I had a free elective my freshman year of high school and decided to take an art course. Taking that art class had a profound effect on me. I gave up writing and have been an artist ever since. I completed my undergraduate work at the University of Washington in Seattle and then ran an art program in a middle school for five years. After five years of asking students to reach for their potential I felt that I needed to walk the talk and go to graduate school. I was accepted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and had an amazing three years of developing my work and gaining an understanding for more seriously pursuing a professional practice. Upon graduating in 2012 I became a lecturer of art at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, teaching painting and Drawing. I plan on continuing to teach at the college level and to persist with my desire to chase the ever-elusive carrot as I pursue my artistic intensions.

The Studio:


The studio is a very complex space. It functions as a physical place as well as an emotional and intellectual space. I have had a variety of studios over the years but have currently converted half of my large living room in my house into my painting studio. I have always been interested in minimizing the separation between everyday life and the work. I am guessing that it is not coincidence that once I established my studio in my living space, the work began to get more personal. In the past when I went to my rented studio space I was essentially “going to work” and when I left the studio there would be a distance between my art making and the rest of my life. Now when I come home I am also in the studio and am always aware of the work regardless of if I am actively painting or not.



In my undergraduate studies I had a professor that suggested that you should be in your studio at least 6 hours a day. That you should live with the work, look at it, exist with it in order to develop it. At the time I thought this was a bit idealistic and reflective of his own process but not particularly relevant to my work. Now I understand what he was trying to say. Making paintings is more then putting paint onto a surface, it is understanding WHY you are putting paint on a surface. It is wanting something from the work that has little to do with the pictorial subject and more to do with the process of making itself. The more paintings I make, the more I want from them, and the more of my own history goes into them.

The Work:

Fire 2  Oil on Panel 6x9" 2014

Fire 2 Oil on Panel 6×9″ 2014

The series of Fire paintings played an interesting role in my practice this past year. They acted as a sort of bridge between the work that I have been producing for the past 3 years and my current work that is based on my personal ideas and experiences.

In Graduate school I began a series examining industrial decline and urban decay. This series stemmed from having grown up in Montana where every industry is declining. I took multiple trips to Montana as well as through the rust belt cities such as Detroit, Gary, Pittsburgh, and St Louis.

Stripped. Oil on Panel. 7x10" 2012

Stripped. Oil on Panel. 7×10″ 2012

I documented the urban settings that had the mark of degrading industry and invested in the duality that these spaces represented. They simultaneously signified progress and failure, growth and loss, change and nostalgia, and spoke not only of large companies but also of people’s lives. The abandoned houses became particularly important to me. Growing up working class in Montana with a logger Grandfather I know well of the stress of seasonal work and the complexities of how industries surge and cycle. I was compelled to capture these abandoned houses as a mark of time, a portrait of circumstance, and a narrative of lost hope and change. The paintings’ small size and careful application fell in line with the importance of remembering. They took on a precious, jewel-like, quality and had a specificity that felt intimate yet spoke of a broad idea.

Forced. Acrylic and Oil on Panel. 6x30". 2012

Forced. Acrylic and Oil on Panel. 6×30″. 2012

When in St Louis I noticed a particularly large number of houses that had been burned. I was lucky to have a friend whose mother lived and grew up in St Louis. She agreed to come with me one day as I took pictures and gave me a great deal of insight. She said that neighbors would purposefully burn the houses to deter people from squatting in them. It was used as a strategy to keep neighborhoods in decline as safe as possible. I then watched a documentary called Burn about the fires of Detroit. The statistics of how many fires were set to abandoned structures was startling. In the documentary they talk about how setting abandoned houses on fire became a sort of past time within certain subsets of the population. There were so many fires that the fire fighters had to pick and choose which fires to fight at all. Whether the house had been abandoned, or caught fire while inhabited, the sight of a burning house evokes an emotional response. It asks you to question your own security and circumstance in a much more immediate way then the abandoned houses did. Fire is simultaneously beautiful and alluring, yet scary and dangerous.

Burned House in St Louis

Burned House in St Louis


As I painted the series of houses on fire, I began to look at them more and more as abstractions. The repetition of the fire from piece to piece began to interest me and I began to look for other visual elements that intrigued me. I started looking at the plywood on boarded windows as both a signifier of abandonment and beauty of nature. I saw traffic cones as urban guides to navigate and wanted to place them in forest scenes as imposters. I am interested in the tension of not wanting the cones to be in the natural setting and enjoying the visual experience of them. They are both misplaced and desperately trying to “belong” or “fit in”.

Imposters. Oil on Panel 6x10". 2014

Imposters. Oil on Panel 6×10″. 2014

Imposters 2. Oil on Panel. 16x20" 2014

Imposters 2. Oil on Panel. 16×20″ 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 27x58". 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 27×58″. 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 36x36". 2014

Boarded 4. Oil on Panel. 36×36″. 2014

I feel like these plywood paintings and traffic cone paintings speak of the industrial decline tensions and urban circumstance but also have my own translation or spin. They open up the possibility for humor and for a more playful or painterly approach. The plywood paintings also allow me to revel in the things that I love about the process of painting, which is mixing paint, thinking about color, and the simple pleasure of putting paint on a surface. I am excited to open up the possibilities and continue to bring my own desires into the work in addition to thinking about the social and natural environment that we live within.

Boarded 5 (Detail)

Boarded 5 (Detail)

Trina has three Fire paintings in Main Street Arts’ Small Works exhibition, and won Best in Show for her unique and thought-provoking paintings. Stop by the gallery by December 29, 2014 to see Trina’s art in person.

Check out our last Inside the Artist’s Studio post, by watercolor jewelry artist Alicia McGloon.

Interview From The Studio with Karen Sardisco

Karen Sardisco

Tell us a little bit about yourself. You are a professor at MCC, an exhibiting artist, guest curator of various exhibitions, how do all of these things relate?

My teaching and my work as a practicing artist have always been intertwined. I am a full time faculty at Monroe Community College in the Visual and Performing Arts Department. I teach Painting, Drawing and Design. The work that I do in the studio/classroom is an extension of the explorations in my own studio. It is a symbiotic relationship… I pass on what I have learned as an artist to my students and my students inspire me with their interest and enthusiasm. Being in the studio/classroom everyday feels like home… the ongoing desire to communicate and create is infectious, and it is wonderful to see it in the students. As a teaching artist I get to be involved with art at all levels and my work as a curator feeds into that. Conceptualizing and organizing exhibitions is a way to continue the dialog as an artist. I am able to see other artist’s work and have the opportunity to put artists together in a way that allows for interesting interactions between the works. It is a different kind of creative effort that is equally as satisfying. The exhibitions that are a result shed new light on artist’s work, and I am able to be a part of that artistic process.

Karen Sardisco's paintings on paper

Karen Sardisco’s paintings on paper

Give us a little formal information on your paintings. What media do you use? Why have you preferred paper over canvas?

I began working on paper when finding time to work became a challenge. I was teaching, had a small child and was working very consistently in the studio. I began using acrylic paint when I was pregnant with my son because I didn’t want to deal with some of the toxic materials that were part of the oil painting process. I discovered then that my natural approach to technique was very spontaneous and the fast drying time of acrylics just seemed to work for me. The more rigid surface of the paper that was tacked up to a board had just the right give for me. I could develop layers and work very quickly. I began to manage the transparency of the paint and also worked with an interaction of forms within the layers that created the spatial effect that is typical in my work.

Karen Sardisco's studio

Karen Sardisco’s studio

You mentioned before that you were thinking of making a move back to working on canvas, what prompted that?

Well, I do miss the character of oil paint… the surfaces that have a more tactile quality. The feel of the paint on the brush and the way the paint engages with the canvas is an aspect of the process that is very seductive. It takes much more time, but it may be workable again. I am also finding that the scale and the difficulty of moving my works on paper around is getting to be an issue… not to mention the cost of framing such large-scale work.

One of Karen Sardisco's framed paintings

One of Karen Sardisco’s framed paintings

Tell me about the prints you have been making. How do you see them in regards to your paintings?

When my husband passed away suddenly, I stopped making work for a while. I knew that I needed to try to find a way to get back into the studio and had been thinking about the monoprinting process. I found a technique that was very direct using water-based inks, and that was that. I spent a whole winter making prints without the thought of showing them… I really just wanted to explore and work through some of the emotions that I was experiencing without thinking about how what I was doing related to my other work. I realize now that they had a very direct relationship, and the paintings that I am doing now come partly from the place that I got to making those prints. I can see myself devoting more time to that process, but when I began painting again the decision always is…what do I do first, and it comes back down to getting the paints out and jumping in.

Karen Sardisco, "Shadow", detail

Karen Sardisco, “Shadow”, detail

Can you talk a bit about the symbolism in your work? What themes seem to materialize? Do you notice a trend in your work over the years?

For me, the ambiguous space of the imagery eliminates a specific place or time. Forms like knots and branches, or anatomical references for example, are pulled from a visual lexicon of forms that speak to me. They suggest something… they allude to aspects of my experience and become a shorthand that encapsulates thoughts and feelings, and arranges them together in ways that I may not have envisioned. I feel as if I am tapping into a collective database that, when shaken up a bit, sheds new light on my personal experiences. It may also relate to the experiences of others, and I rely on that connection to draw viewers into my work.

Karen's reference materials. Many aspects of her paintings and prints are drawn from natural elements.

Karen’s reference materials. Many aspects of her paintings and prints are drawn from natural elements.

Nature is typically a source for me because I can use forms that seem familiar, something that one might see in the natural world. When those forms are paired with invented forms, or maybe more man-made forms, the relationships are questioned, and, as I mention in my artist statement, those new configurations challenge preconceived notions of function and meaning.

Karen Sardisco's reference materials

Karen Sardisco’s reference materials

If there is a thread that works its way through my work I would have to say that I do rely on forced relationships between forms, and tend to create an ambiguous spatial field for them to exist in. It is not a representational environment in any sense, because I feel that moving out of a comfort zone allows one to experience the way being open and aware can lead to new realizations about themselves, the world… the human potential for discovery. Since I never have a plan for what will happen when I approach a new work I have to trust my instincts and accept what comes. When I am totally immersed in my work, and, on a good day, I can experience a connection to the world that is totally satisfying. I hope that happens for my viewers.

Karen's reference materials

Karen’s reference materials

What will you be working on next?

That is a good question. I never make plans in regard to my work, at least not specifically. I may work on canvas again. I will probably make more monoprints. I will continue my process until I discover that there may be another approach that serves me just as well.

Karen Sardisco, "Game", detail

Karen Sardisco, “Game”, detail

You can see more of Karen’s work on her website: www.karensardisco.com

Four of Karen’s paintings are on display in Main Street Arts’ current group show, The Opposite of Concrete: An Exhibition of Abstract Painting and Photography. Stop by this Saturday (September 6th) from 4-7pm for the opening reception!

Check out our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio post, by painter Sarah Sutton.