Capturing the Ordinary Layer by LayerBarbara Jaquish
Laura Terry lives and paints on a wooded hillside in the Ozarks. Just half an hour away at the University of Arkansas, she introduces architecture students to the art of developing and conveying their design ideas through hand rendering. Before students learn to communicate design concepts via computer, they learn “to use drawing as a way of thinking,” a skill that she is convinced makes them better designers.
“I absolutely believe that when a student is able to capture things like material quality, texture, light, weathering, time, shadow, then they have a better understanding of the building,” Terry said. “And they are better able to make smart design decisions.”
Once students have learned “to trust what they are seeing and to trust their ability to put it on paper,” Terry said, they are freed to use the computer as simply a tool.
Back in her own studio, Terry says her work “borrows structure from my study of architecture.” The way she paints is akin to an architectural process, “an additive and subtractive way of working that is something we encourage with our students.” After one layer of paint dries, she adds another and later another. Then, using a palm sander, she removes layers to expose previous layers. By this method, the first layer may become prominent in the final work.
In an essay in Overland Review, The Journal of the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies, she described her process as one that creates a residue of evidence of the artist’s struggle:
“The paint preserves information that is unique to each layer applied, and those layers build to create a textured surface, filled with mistakes, chances and edits. The resolution of the surface is unpredictable – it is not planned from the inception, rather revealed through layering and removing.”
As a landscape painter, Terry tries to “capture things that are so ordinary that they often are overlooked.” Her rural home offers a window on the cycle of nature. During the summer, she watches butterflies swarm the purple thistles that line her lane. In winter, the thistle seeds sustain birds. Often, the thistles and the fields of swaying golden grasses are the only realistic elements in otherwise abstract work that explores the horizontal and vertical lines of the landscape.
Just as Terry asks her students to break away from the comfortable, familiar world of computers, she asks herself to break away from familiar patterns in her own painting:
“Some things become a habit. I’ve been working almost exclusively in a square format. I realized that’s gotten a bit easy, and I’m using the same tricks to create the composition. So for my next series of paintings I’m moving to a rectangular format. I don’t want the shape to be a crutch. I want to use a square composition because it needs to be square, not because it’s what I’m used to. These are the ways we remain critical of our own work.”