Natural Forces

Environmental exploration through art

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Todd Horton isn’t a typical artist. He has a studio, but the Bow-based painter is just as likely to set up his canvas in his canoe or on a teeny-tiny island in the Samish River. He also has a “forest art studio kit” that folds up into a backpack and comes in handy when he’s collaborating with natural forces—including checking in on a drawing device attached to seven cedar trees that utilizes pulleys, windy weather and charred firewood to make drawings on wood panels.
CW: What was the inspiration for your recent out-of-the-box projects?

Todd Horton: It started with reading the book The Overstory by Richard Powers and that sparked ideas of the magic of tree communication. Back in January, I wanted to make some art that explored some of these ideas so l was micro-dosing mushrooms sitting in the forest rain and the idea just jumped out at me. This opened up the idea of collaborating with natural forces such as the wind on tree branches and the flowing of a tidal river or the tumbling of a mountain stream to activate some kooky device that makes these random pattern drawings.

The psilocybin really opened a window that I didn’t know was even there before, making creativity just flow and, maybe more importantly, giving me a feeling of being better connected to nature.

CW: Our current issue comes out on Earth Day. Any theories on what the Earth is trying to tell you based on your observations of the resulting works?

TH: What I’ve taken from this project of working with nature closely is that everything and everyone has a story and something to say and the resulting sprinkling of magic dust is always open to interpretation—and that is where poetry blossoms.

CW: Your “nocturnal wanderings” plein air series sees you setting up a canvas in the dark, outdoors. What are the joys of painting at night, and what are the challenges?

TH: I love painting at night in that glorious glimmering of darkness, sparking our creativity from betwixt the seen and unseen, the known and unknown, where all art germinates.

The biggest challenge is I can’t really see what I’m doing on the canvas and it’s always a surprise when I look at it the next day in the light. What I love about plein air painting at night is it forces one to look even harder at the subtle variations of color and forms and fill in the blanks.

CW: Even before the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders, it seems like you were spending a lot of your time on artistic endeavors where social distancing was already in play. What has the coronavirus changed about your creative workflow? What’s the same?

TH: Being an artist is a very solitary experience if one’s life and art are one. The biggest change for me is it’s allowed me to plunge even deeper into the creative well. In a way it’s set me even more free from thinking about making money and wondering what galleries want, and now just doing whatever I want artistically, which magically seems to be what my friends and neighbors want from art—which is about a sense of place and the connection one has to that place. It is resetting all our priorities of what is important and what is fluff.

CW: Do you think being so close to nature on a regular basis makes you respect it more?

TH: I spend a lot of time on the Samish River and it is hugely important in how I see the world and influencing my art. The main lesson I’ve taken to heart is that nature always has the final say.

CW: You’ve been making a daily series of affordable art for friends, neighbors and others. Would you recommend this as a practice for other artists as a way to help pay the bills during this non-gallery-going time?

TH: Yes! I’m basically selling a $400 painting for $80. It’s been the best thing I’ve done in years. I definitely recommend it for artists as not only a way to make it more like a good-paying job, but also as a way to spread the love.

What I’m doing is actually connecting to my community. I’ve always had a hard time with the crazy-high prices of art, and especially my art that my friends and neighbors can’t typically afford. I’m selling way more now on social media than I was before when I was locked into a gallery contract. This begs the question of the role of galleries in this new economy and what role will they have to adapt to to remain relevant.

CW: How can people who aren’t your friends or neighbors access or purchase your art?

TH: I’m making two paintings a day and posting one the next morning on Instagram and Facebook. It’s first-come, first-served. (My Instagram and Facebook are toddjhorton.)

CW: What other projects do you have lined up?

TH: I and the metal artist Aaron Loveitt are opening a gallery in Blanchard—a single room with a single work of art. The goal is to express its locational value and the importance of a physical venue in the era of digital experience. It’s a place where conversations between viewers and artists emerge through slow viewing.

Offered as an antidote to today’s overwhelming flood of images, a single work of art will offer a deeper understanding and closer relationship with the viewer as well as the essential pleasure of contemplating art.

And I’m busy with Aaron setting up the infrastructure of Topographia Index. Topo is Greek for “place” and graphia is Greek for “writing” so it’s an art project that is about “art from a sense of place.” The tree and tidal drawing devices are part of this. We hope to invite other artists to participate in the project.

We also hope to make Blanchard a new creative zone more focused on community and not only on the commercial, which hopefully will free it to some exciting inspirational art projects.

See what Todd Horton is up to at

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