So far my experience with higher education has been an excellent journey filled with inspiring works and even more inspiring professors. And now that I’m studying at the University of Washington, its nostalgic to look back at my time at Shoreline Community College where it all began. One of the first art classes on my transcript was 2-dimensional design with Tamblyn Gawley. If you’ve been reading my writing for the long haul you may remember a post on way, way back on Sunshine Press about critique.
In it you’ll find this picture of Tamblyn. Can you tell even despite the darkness that she was not on board for this photo?! Because she wasn’t, but I had to document this teacher who, like me, had an affinity for painting trees and taught me so much. Now, all these years later we have the pleasure of catching up and poking around her studio. Lucky us! Ladies and gentlemen, Meet: Tamblyn Gawley
State your name for the record, please.
What is your primary artform?
I spent a long time working almost exclusively with oil paint. But the last few years, I’ve focused mostly on drawing, gouache, and lithography.
I’ve also been working with egg tempera and watercolor, and etching and drypoint when I’ve had access to a print studio.
Where did you study and how does that affect your current practice?
I received my BFA in painting from Daemen College in Amherst, NY in 2009, and my MFA in drawing and painting from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA in 2012. I studied painting in Florence for a semester in 2008, and I received a Fulbright to study printmaking in New Zealand for a year in 2014. I’ve had many wonderful opportunities to study in different places, and each one has impacted my work. Daemen College helped me develop my skills and explore interdisciplinary concepts. The trees in Florence, especially in Boboli Garden, were the beginning of my study of tree roots and branches. At the University of Washington, I was able to delve deeper into my subject matter and explore alternative approaches. It was here that I took up drawing as a more serious medium and where I discovered printmaking. The work I am doing now comes directly out of what I was doing for my MFA thesis. The Fulbright grant was an invaluable opportunity for me to develop my art practice as an independent artist, rather than a student. I was also introduced to lithography, which became the medium for most of the work I created there. The New Zealand landscape was also a major influence in my work. While the huge driftwood of the Pacific Northwest coast inspired my high-key light-filled drawings of root structures, the majestic landscapes and skies of New Zealand inspired multi-panel works deconstructing trees and canopies.
Do you have a mentor? Or a mentee?
Throughout school, I’ve had several mentors and advisors. Most notable was my painting professor, Felice Koenig, at Daemen College. I still keep in touch with her, and turn to her with questions occasionally. My mom is another person I consistently turn to. She’s a watercolor painter and a retired middle school art teacher. We share our work and feedback with each other, and when I’m unsure of something, she’s my go-to. I also have a very good friend and fellow painter, Carly Helen Cummings, who I turn to when I’m trying to work something out.
Does your work have a goal?
On a broad level, I try to represent my experiences with the trees; what it is that I’m seeing or feeling. I generally want my pieces to be beautiful and lyrical and the show the viewer something they may not have seen if they looked directly at the source of the subject matter. Individually, each work tries to tackle and illustrate various things. Sometimes I want it to be about the contrast between two elements; sometimes it’s the light I’m interested in; other times I want to show you the color or the form.
Who are your top 5 most inspiring artists?
I have been looking at Sylvia Plymack Mangold’s work a lot lately. I love the way she handles edge quality and negative space. I always return to Jim Dine’s ability to activate the empty space of the image. The Group of Seven and Tom Thompson are also some of my favorites; you can feel their love of the wilderness. Other favorites are Cezanne, Sargent, and Whistler, and Van Gogh’s drawings.
Are you inspired more by pain or joy?
Neither. Inspiration usually comes to me from hiking or sifting through my photos of trees and one jumps out that I just have to work with. It could be the colors, the light, the composition, or a specific way a branch or root bends. It could be something I’ve overlooked for months or years, but suddenly it grips me. I am also inspired from looking at others’ work, whether in books, museums, or galleries. I see the wonderful and beautiful things people have created, and it drives me to create some of my own.
Give us a quick play-by-play of a studio day. Are you easily distracted or do you work in a more focused way?
It depends on the day. Some days, I find it very difficult to focus or get any work done. There are days when nothing works and I hate everything I make. And there are days when everything goes well, and I can work all day. I currently have a studio space in my apartment, which has its benefits and drawbacks. I see my work all the time, so I can analyze it, look for solutions, and add to it whenever I want. However, with a home studio also comes countless distractions: housework, pets, family. With my new studio arrangement and the fact that I work in mediums that can be set-up and cleaned up quickly, I work in smaller, but more frequent, chunks of time. I’ll spend parts of weekends, or a few hours in the evening after work. Sometimes, I spend just a few minutes if I see something I want to change. Countless times, I’ve been about to have dinner or leave the house, and I’ll see something and stop to add a branch or change a color or value.
I had the pleasure of learning about 2d design in your classroom. One of the main things I learned (and has really stuck with me) from your class was a strong attention to detail. Are there any areas that you wish you’d like to be more attentive to?
I’m not quite sure what you mean. In terms of my art, I would like to be more attentive to how the work is displayed after it’s finished. I tend to dive into the work without thinking about framing, mounting, matting, etc., which can create a huge impact on the work. Currently, this is something I usually think about as an afterthought.
What tips do you have for conquering artists’ block?
What helps me if I get stuck is to sift through my countless photos of trees taken on various camping trips, hikes, and travels. Something will always jump out asking to be made. Sometimes, I will approach things in the other direction, coming up with something I want to tackle in my art and then looking for a composition to use for it. I also find it very helpful to look at other artists’ work or talk to other artists.
How do you feel about Etsy, Society 6 and other internet artistic venues? Are they helping are hindering the modern artist?
I don’t have strong feelings either way about these sites. While it’s not what I’m looking for, I think they can be wonderful venues for some artists and artisans. Concerns about the security and logistics of selling fine art online have kept me away from using these services.
What, if any, lessons have you learned from your students?
I always learn from my students and from the act of teaching. Teaching foundation classes makes me reexamine the elements and principles of design and the “rules” of art. It’s easy to get caught up in what you’re doing and forget to think about things like color scheme. They are things I think about altogether when I am creating a composition, but I find it helpful when I slow down and reexamine them. With students of any age, I witness new approaches, styles, and perspectives. Everyone brings something different to the table, between their background, interests, and education. Everyone interprets projects, subjects, and materials differently. It can be very fulfilling to share these perspectives and experiences.
Are you still teaching at Shoreline?
I am not currently teaching. After returning to the US from my Fulbright grant, I moved to the Boston area.
How was your Fulbright experience?
My Fulbright experience was unbelievable. I worked at the University of Canterbury, studying printmaking and meeting with the post-graduate art students and faculty. On the weekends, I went hiking and “tramping” (backpacking) with the Canterbury University Tramping Club. I used these trips, and my other travels around the country, to obtain reference material for my art. My supervisor at UC introduced me to a process of lithography that uses Pronto paper (polyester litho plates). With pronto paper, you don’t need the giant litho stone, and you can use Sharpie, India ink, grease pencil, scratching, etc. to make marks. It gave me the ability to work on many plates at the same time, much quicker and easier than working on a traditional stone. I was also able to connect with the other Fulbright New Zealand fellows. It was a wonderful opportunity to share our stories with each other and watch as all of our very different projects grew and developed into really interesting things.
Do you have work showing anywhere currently and/or any upcoming shows?
My work is represented by Prographica Gallery in Seattle, WA and Market Street Art Center in Lockport, NY. I currently have work on exhibit at the Milton Art Center in Milton, MA.
Do you have a website we can link to and spread the word about?
Thank you soon much, Tamblyn, for sharing your skills with me in the classroom and your practice with us here at Wrays of Sunshine. It’s always a pleasure!
And thanks for checking in on our little corner of the internet. See you soon! Need more artist interviews now? Check out our last one, E. R. Saba or Dale Harkness. More still? See the archives!
Credits: All images courtesy of the artist. Gawley in New Zealand from Prographica. Final Critique Post from Sunshine Press: https://briannabrumfield.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/final-critique/