Dawn Emerson Inspires Student Work

The moment Dawn Emerson began to rapidly scratch the surface of the claybord and dust gently floated through the air, I knew I wanted to tackle the medium. I watched as she gracefully moved to music; it was if the notes and chords built up inside of her until the emotion swelled over and pushed her to spontaneously lay sumi ink across the board. She was uninhibited yet obviously well practiced. She felt the energy of subjects, invisible to the rest of us, and knew how to respond with long sweeping gestures to bring them to life. It was inspiring to watch her work; the bold, inky black powerfully contrasted the white claybord in long diagonal strokes and ran off the page. From the marks and abstract figures emerged a piece that radiated energy and life in less than 30 minutes. 

It was the intersection of the freedom of the media and the homage to traditional media, such as oil painting and drawing, that appealed to me. As I experimented with the technique, I found that claybord and sumi ink allowed me to let go of tight, controlled marks I had used in other classes such as Figure or Painting Studio and embrace the natural chaotic nature of the medium. At the same time, however, I used skills developed in previous classes and compositional elements in order to create convincing pieces.

Within the medium itself, there are many opportunities for variation. While I was initially inspired by the amazing work of Dawn Emerson, my continued exploration allowed me to make artistic breakthroughs of my own. I explored with both subtractive and additive techniques and utilized both in my images of horses. I learned to intentionally allow my brushes to congeal with ink overnight to create texture and add volume in the bristles for the next class. 

My biggest breakthrough, however, was when I was working alone in the studio after school and suddenly remembered the existence of patterned textured metal sheets I had previously used. I searched the studio, found the textured metal, and spontaneously laid sumi ink on top of sheet to create a pattern of ink. This impromptu action evolved into a way to allude to shadow, create certain patterns on the horse, and muddle the stark distinction between the white claybord and dark body of the horse. 

After solely working with claybord for about 9 months now, I can attest that this is the most freeing, forgiving, and unconventional medium I have encountered so far. It pushes artists to work into an abstract mass of dark black and shape their own creation from the depths of their imagination. Nothing is off the table or discouraging with this medium; oil, pan, and soft pastel are all readily accepted by the claybord. I have transitioned from horses, and I’m now exploring crows and ravens. Sumi ink and claybord is fantastic for these subjects as well, and I’m excited to see where continued exploration of this amazing technique will take me.

Michelle P.