NW Art Beat: Opening doors to creativity

Skagit Artists

1500 E. College Way, Suite A PMB 550

Mount Vernon

Guests are always welcome at glass and mixed-media artist Melissa Ballenger’s studio off of Highway 9 near Big Lake, but if you’re the type who needs an invitation, look for the OPEN flag fluttering at the end of her driveway—or play it safe by making plans to attend the 16th annual NW Art Beat tour taking place July 20-21 at 15 venues throughout the Skagit Valley and into southwest Whatcom County.

Ballenger is one of 22 artists who’ll be opening a variety of studio doors in the name of creativity during the Skagit Artists event, and, per usual, she’s eager to share her space with visitors.

“Welcoming the public, friends and family to my workspace is always a pleasure,” Ballenger says, noting she’s participated in the free, self-guided tour for most of the 10 years she’s been a member of the longtime arts entity. It gives her the motivation to organize her studio, and she also looks forward to discussing how she fuses glass, and the color and texture inspirations she draws from living in the Pacific Northwest.

If you go, ask about the “crackle” technique Ballenger uses on some of her pieces that involve powdered glass, relief paper and hand manipulation. Examples can be seen in the small, four-inch structures she dubs “adora-bowls,” and if you want a closer look she’ll demonstrate the process at 3pm on the first day of the tour.

“I practice many techniques and express many moods,” Ballenger says. “I would like viewers to experience a bit of surprise as their eyes are drawn from one piece to the next.”

Silversmith Liane Redpath Worlund, who’ll be sharing space with oil painter Jennifer McGill at McGill’s Mount Vernon-based studio, also utilizes numerous methods and tools when it comes to crafting her wearable art jewelry. Torches, anvils and hammers help bring her one-of-a-kind pieces to life, and she hopes people attending the event have a better understanding about what’s involved in her craft after dropping by.

“All of my jewelry is fabricated from a sheet of sterling silver, by me,” Worlund says of the bracelets, rings, necklaces and more she bends, shapes, textures and polishes to perfection. “There are no elves in the back room or overseas. When I am able to share the construction process and my collection of tools, they gain a deeper appreciation for my work. They know it is not jewelry put together by purchasing components and piecing. It is art.”

Deeper understanding can also be found on Snee Oosh Road in La Conner, where mixed-media maven Sarah Dalton will invite tour-goers to take a look not only at her layered collages, but also beyond, to her studio’s jaw-dropping views of Similk Bay and Skagit Island—a place where she can hear the flapping of eagle’s wings. The sight is what inspires many of her works blending photography, painting and materials as varied as the inside of aluminum cans to wood and metal leaf.

Dalton notes the in-person conversations she has with those interacting with her work during the course of the weekend helps better inform her about how viewers receive her art in general. In other words, they’re not the only ones getting an education in the arts.

“I always learn so much in this type of environment,” she says. “Last year I put out four small bird vignettes made with sea glass. They all sold. I have continued to sell them at the Museum of Northwest Art store. I would have never tried that without the face-to-face interactions with the public.”

WHAT: 16th annual NW Art Beat
WHEN: 10am-6pm, July 20-21   
WHERE: Skagit County and beyond      
COST: Free        

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