Laurel Henn - "Along the Trail"
In late 2019 I was awarded a commission to create a piece for a giant utility box in Maple Valley Washington. The process and joy of this commission became overshadowed by the global pandemic. My blooming art career was thrown into new directions where I've been learning to reassess, reevaluate and redirect myself as an artist.
Maple Valley is a beautiful town just off Hwy 18, Southeast of Seattle. The parks and trails are a source of pride for the town, and I had the pleasure of exploring them in the autumn of 2019. The utility box that my piece was intended to cover was large; seventeen feet long, six feet tall, and three feet wide. The utility box lives in Summit Park which has playgrounds, trails, and sports fields galore! The park itself, and the fact that I've never been to a PNW town that doesn't dote on its landscape, was inspiration enough for the piece I would create. I was quite excited to start the process.
I had to plan carefully for this piece, and plan is what I did. I flattened the dimensions and created a piece that would wrap around the whole box and come back together seamlessly. With a little bit of math, and a lot of trial and error, I finally settled on creating two blocks I could print side by side, measuring 32 inches long by 6 inches tall. It's a very long and skinny piece, probably the oddest shaped piece I've ever created.
Once I had my drawing fine tuned I carefully transferred it to the blocks and began carving. This was the last bit of carving I did in a quiet house while the kid was at school. I listened to audio books from Libby, nay, I tore through audio books! The carving took me a total of 15+ hours and I finished it toward the end of February 2020. I then printed the block on my baby press and proceeded to wait three weeks for the ink to fully cure so I could paint the prints with watercolors.
While I waited for my ink to cure, I was finalizing my Cloud block, which was scheduled to be the cover art for Olympia Art Walk Spring 2020. I was also furiously cleaning my studio to prepare for an interview with the City of Olympia. All the while my ear was to the news, I was guessing that things were going to come to a screeching halt soon, that all the prep work for Art Walk was possibly in vain. When I finally came back to paint the Maple Valley prints, sure enough, the world had gotten a lot more complicated, and my premonitions about things shutting down became reality. But painting the prints was a task I would have done from home no matter what. I painted a couple versions, and let council members in Maple Valley choose their favorite via the wonderful world of email.
The final piece was installed in Maple Valley August 2020, about the same time I was moving into my newly built studio. It was a sweet feeling to have such a large installation completed that summer, but it was accompanied by the looming uncertainty of the pandemic. The momentum I had behind my artwork prior to COVID had been building for quite some time, and was monumental for me. The Maple Valley commission and the Arts Walk piece were just my latest big achievements, and produced a feeling of great pride in my work. Along with these commissions, my artwork was being well received at Splash Gallery with growing sales. I had a series on my workbench that I was very excited about, and had been attending Artist Trust classes in Seattle, as I was diving deeper into the business side of my work. I was happily moving my art career forward with the hard earned extra time I had won that year, with getting my kid to the kindergarten starting line.
Like so many small art businesses, COVID derailed me. But I found immediate use for this sudden down time, and I built a new studio. It was already in the works, but when I saw COVID coming, I finalized my building plans with haste. I ordered the material and lumber and we set to work building my backyard studio, as the world was juggling school and business closures, and a ton of uncertainty. When I say we, I mean my husband and I with our kindergarten 'helper'. Together, we built a 200sf studio in a few months time. When August rolled around, and I was micro organizing my new space, that's when I got the news that the Maple Valley piece had been installed. Even in the time of so many unknowns, it was overall a good feeling and gave me hope for more opportunities to create big works in my new studio.
The new series I had on my workbench has been waylaid for now. I'll return to it at some point. Kindergarten zoom turned into 1st grade zoom, and a portion of my new studio got taken over as a school zone. I now carve and print, while keeping one ear on the schoolwork, instead of listening to audio books. My work is still well received down at Splash, and somehow I've even managed to produce new work now and then. I'm still exploring ways to view the world with my art, and new ways to show the world my art, all with the challenge of navigating the ever-changing landscape.