A Groundbreaking Artist’s Influence - More on Dawn Emerson at Winsor A Groundbreaking Artist’s Influence - More on Dawn Emerson at Winsor

Sara Macaulay, Visual Arts Faculty
In this post, the second of two on our collaborative work with pastel artist Dawn Emerson, you'll learn about her deep-reaching impact on Winsor's Visual Arts program and our students. Earlier this winter, I initially shared some of the takeaways from my summer trip with colleague Julia Harrison to Dawn's Oregon studio and Dawn's subsequent visit to Winsor in October 2018.

Here, you'll see fresh examples of student work that show how we incorporate many of Dawn’s more experimental approaches to drawing, underpainting, printmaking, and non-traditional materials.  Most of our classes have been fortunate enough to benefit, even our youngest students. Singlehandedly, Dawn's influence is revolutionizing our program. 
Dawn calls it “redefining drawing” – drawing to her includes all types of mark-making.  Class II students created frottage landscapes. Frottage comes from the French word frotter to rub.  Many people are familiar with gravestone rubbings.  Frottage is the technique of creating a design by rubbing (in our case, with litho crayons) over an object placed underneath the paper to form the basis of a work of art. Students in Class II went on a scavenger hunt around the school searching for and making sample rubbings of found objects to create a texture library which they then used to represent foreground, middleground and background in landscapes. 

Although it works particularly well for landscapes, this approach can also be applied to a variety of other subject matter. Students in Class V and VII created frottage drawings, placing different textures from Home Depot and the hardware store under their paper to build images by layering different rubbed patterns.

Using printmaking brayers as a mark-making tool, students “painted” landscapes.  This really fun and quick method of “painting” (no brushes involved) yields loose and expressive landscapes as art students in Classes VI and VII discovered at the beginning of the year

Based on the first demonstration piece that Dawn created during her visit to Winsor,
students in the intensive Drawing and Painting class were inspired  to make their own clayboard and sumi ink portraits based on the work of 19th century adventurer and photographer, Edward Curtis, who devoted decades of his life to traveling and living among Native tribes, photographing and documenting Native peoples.
In this subtractive technique, after scratching and abrading the surface of the clayboard with tools, sumi ink is laid down with a large brush over most of the surface. The image starts to emerge as ink is scraped and wiped away using steel wool, sandpaper, razor blades and other tools.
Dawn has been doing groundbreaking and nationally recognized work with non-traditional materials.  She introduced us to an amazing high tech “paper” called Evolon, a new generation of non-woven microfiber paper made from polyester and nylon.  It is tearproof and lint-free, and it is the perfect surface for inks, paint and printmaking.

Inspired by Dawn’s large scale animals on Evolon in mixed media, students in the Advanced Painting and Color course used charcoal, Artgraf water soluble graphite and pan pastel to render their own large scale animals on Evolon.
After observing one of Dawn’s demos at Winsor  Abbigale Shi ‘19 and Hannah Park ’19 were moved to apply her loose pastel and sumi ink technique to a series of landscapes. Watching Dawn draw and paint is like watching someone dance; she makes big sweeping gestures using her whole body like a dancer. She also starts quite loosely and abstractly laying down large areas of color, light and dark with pastel and sumi ink working both wet and dry. Just like with the clayboard technique, the image starts to emerge as each layer brings more clarity and focus. 
I could not possibly express this process more eloquently than Kaylee Chang ‘19 in one of her college essays: “Dawn Emerson was alone before us…after she started the powerful piano music, she’d close her eyes, let her body sway to the music, and move her arms as if to feel the energy above the canvas. Then, occasionally peeking at her reference photo of horses galloping left and diagonally down a page, she began layering expressive, broad strokes of color in both the direction of the horses and an opposing angle.”

Trained as a printmaker, the work that Dawn does with monotype, and using the monotype as an underpainting particularly resonated with me.  Monotypes are single prints taken from drawings, paintings or designs created in paint or printing ink on (in our case,) Plexiglas plates.

The foundations-level Drawing and Painting class did a transfer monotype where a piece of paper is placed on top of a fully inked plate; the student artists then drew a still life of bricks on the paper. Any area that is touched or receives pressure will transfer ink to the paper.  When finished, you lift the paper and see what has transferred to the paper. These are fun to do, and always a surprise to see what has transferred when you lift the paper. There is only one print, thus monotype. For this project, students also ran their plates through the printing press to get a second or ghost print  and then used it as an underpainting by working on top of it in pastel.