The Nomadic Artist: Week 2


Pictured Above: Hiking in Medicine Bow, WY for creative inspiration. And yes, I found it.

It goes without question that a retreat-like experience like Brush Creek’s artist-in-residency program rejuvenates the mind, body and soul. Each day starts bright and early and doesn’t quiet down until the sun sets at 9:30pm, occasionally concluding with conversations around the fire as each artist shares, refines and contemplates goals for tomorrow. Then some of us (myself included) retreat back to the studio to work through the night, until the wee hours of the morning in a flowing, creative trance. This makes time slow down and enables the fusion of head, heart, and hand to synchronize for creative endeavors.

This is my fifth art residency experience here in the United States. It is evident that with each program, you need to find a balance between working in solitude in the studio and absorbing the culture and scenery of place. I am balancing both introversion and extroversion, gaining new insights from private contemplation in the studio while venturing out on hikes, a rodeo, and social gatherings with artists. It is clear that my fellow artists here feel a need to be highly productive while simultaneously absorbing the culture, to revitalize their work and broaden their perspective to share with others.

The rare scholars who are nomads-by-choice are essential to the intellectual welfare of the settled disciplines.
— Benoit Mandlebrot

I am making significant progress on two projects right now and am hopeful to tackle a third piece before this program concludes. The first project is a web puzzle containing 1,000+ illustrations of plants, animals, and terrain of Wyoming. The final piece will most likely culminate into a large-scale installation, where each small painting is scattered on the wall leaving a linear web formation visible within the negative space. This project is process-based and directly derives from scenes witnessed here on the ranch, requiring hundreds of photographs and found species for documentation.

Project 1: Wyoming “Web of Life” Puzzle

To begin this project, I made a collage/sketch of the concept to visualize its visual properties. Then, I designed a vector file of the web to be cut on a laser cutter, forming a large-scale web puzzle cut from birch plywood.

Conception and layout designs.


Once cut, I gessoed and sanded the surface of each piece and used watercolor to loosely mark the design of each piece, referencing my own photos from hikes and other found objects (feathers, insects, rocks, plants, etc.) collected on the ranch. To refine the miniature paintings, I layer ink and colored pencil.

This web puzzle is the most complex puzzle I have made yet. I was initially challenged to find and illustrate 1000+ species on the ranch, but realize that it is possible. This project makes me more attentive to finding living systems, from galloping horses to a tiny aphid on a leaf. I perceive my environment in a very attentive way, noticing the big and small. This process of intensive looking places me in the present moment, attuned to the complex biodiversity of the surroundings.

As this project develops, fellow artists on the ranch are now contributing photos of various organisms for the project. This combined effort is a beautiful example of crowd-sourcing content for a depiction of place. Content includes rainbow trout, tadpoles, garter snakes, daisies, aspen trees, lady bugs, thistle, blue bonnets, flies, tiger swallowtail butterflies, hummingbirds, deer, and hundreds more!

Project 2: Social Media Cloud Sculpture

The second project is fairly spontaneous and originated from the discovery of a hidden material (dozens of pastel wires within large electrical cables) and a Facebook notification. This week, I received a posting on Facebook congratulating me on reaching “2000 Facebook Friends.” This is a surprising update and I feel excited yet perplexed. Considering 2,000 friends is practically the population of my hometown in Idyllwild, CA, I am astonished by what this means in terms of networks, relationships, and connectivity.

I frantically reached for my sketchbook, scribbling a cloud of pastel lines with clusters of dots on the surface: an idea sparks! I will construct a large-scale networked cloud and digitally print and laminate 2,000 portraits of my Facebook friends that will dangle on keychain rings in various clusters on the sculpture. By organizing clusters of faces (FB profile photos) based on region and frequency of contact, this sculpture will visualize the data of my connectivity. It will also marvel at the absurdity, comfort, questions, and meaning behind having 2,000 friends. What does 2,0oo friends symbolize? What does it look like?

Map of Facebook friends using contact mapping generator.

The first thing that comes to mind is The Rule of 150, coined by British Anthropologist, Robin Dunbar. This rule states that there is a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. Thus, numbers larger than 150 relationships require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. In summary, having more than 150 relationships is nearly impossible to sustain!

To aid this research, I am reading Resilience by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy to contemplate networks within systems, people, and communities, especially during challenges and disruptions. This book is incredibly informative and eye-opening as problem solving and predictions can be detected within systems to sustain and revive them. Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of this book and other literature on systems theory, ecology, and networks is the language used. Phrases and terms to describe systems directly correlate to the weaving process and networks such as weak and strong ties, social fabric, and network weaving. These terms and network principles are now being enacted in this “cloud” of contacts with “tagged faces,” inspired by being “wired” to digital, social connections.

Time-lapse video of the woven cloud.

Time to get back to the studio, I have one more week to make significant progress on these artworks to exhibit at Open Studios at the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts on July 12th!

Follow along! | FB: Richelle Gribble : Art | @richellegribble
Idyllwild Arts Academy, Visual Arts Major, Class of ’09