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The method behind the medium

As printmaker Denise Kester rolls black ink over a large sheet of clear Plexiglass — the viscid ink creating layers of texture — she lets her heart take over her hands.

Never sure of the image that will emerge, she says she works the ink “until something shows up.” What generally shows up are animals of the Northwest: bears, rabbits, crows and salmon.

Kester’s Ashland studio on Helman Street is surrounded by nature, and her work reflects her relationship with it and “the state of the Earth,” she says.

Using a palette knife and Q-tips, she coaxes the imagery, adding additional color and texture in stages to create figurative story art.

“Pulling out the story from the ink is a bit like sculpting,” she says. “I let the piece tell the story. It’s all in the consistency of the ink. The finished print is a mystery, and that is the magic of the medium. It still surprises me.”

Kester’s studio is among 19 to be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13-14, as part of the fifth annual Ashland Open Studio Tour. The free self-guided tours will offer visitors opportunities to look behind-the scenes and learn more about Kester’s monotype viscosity printing.

“My medium guides me,” she says. “That is my joy.”

Tour maps are available at Ashland Gallery Association members’ galleries, or see ashlandost.com to download brochures and read about the participating artists.

The tour’s popularity is growing, says second-year coordinator and mixed-media artist Denise Souza Finney.

“It’s interesting to see the artists working in their element,” she says. “Visitors get to see their work from a different perspective.”

Finney, who has opened her studio every year since the event started, works out of a converted 100-year-old barn surrounded by lush gardens. Her acrylic paintings — typically figures, flamenco dancers and poppies — are colorful, gestural and semi-abstract.

“I love to play with the different qualities of acrylic paint,” Finney says. “You can make it as thin as watercolor or as thick as a bas relief.”

This year, 27 artists will share their creative processes for the event. Look for painting, drawing, sculpting, printing, glass blowing, ceramics and fiber arts. Visitors will see finished work on display as well as works in progress. The artists will be available to discuss their work.

Several artists will demonstrate the method behind their medium.

“These are instructional ... what you would expect if you paid for a class,” Finney says.

Demonstrations on Saturday include figure drawing by several artists from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Enclave Studios on Siskiyou Boulevard in Ashland; Sarah Burns will demonstrate oil painting at noon at Project Space on Talent Avenue in Talent; Finney will demonstrate acrylic painting at 2 p.m. in her Garden Studio on Ohio Street in Ashland; and Elaine Frenett will demonstrate “plein air,” or outdoor, watercolor painting at 3 p.m. at Aspen Light Studios on Lithia Way in Talent.

On Sunday, look for carving by sculptor Harriet Green from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Backroads Studios on Wagner Creek Road in Talent; sculpting by Inger Nova Jorgensen at noon at Enclave Studios; a metal art demonstration by Cheryl Kempner at 2 p.m. at her studio on Pape Street in Ashland; and ceramics by Julia Janeway at 3 p.m. at Pumphouse Studios on Ashland Mind Road.

Other artists on the tour include glassblowers Jeffery Addicott and Randall Perkins; painters Elin Babcock, Bruce Bayard, Anne DiSalvo, Shoshanah Dunblner, Dana Feagin, Janette Ervin Brown, Kirsten Gamble and Karen Staal; illustrator Paula Fong; photographer Pat Moore; fiber artist Claudia Law; mixed media artists Martin Goldman, Jay Gordon, Corey Kahn, Gabriel Lipper, Nicole Wasgett, Richard Newman and Rochelle Newman.

The tour’s itinerary is ambitious with so many artists and the variety of media represented, Finney says.

“But,” she adds, “it’s a lot of fun to witness the artists’ creative process in the studio and the whimsical things they do.”

Kester, for instance, will display what she calls “altered figurines,” porcelain pieces she inherited from her mother. Out of boredom this summer when the air was thick with smoke and the printing process stymied ... she switched their heads.

“I saved them from a boring life,” she says. “I repurposed them. They’ve taken over my studio and now have lives of their own.”

And, always the storyteller, she’s created little books for each of the figurines.

Tammy Asnicar is a freelance writer living in Grants Pass. Reach her at tammyasnicar@q.com.

Denise Kesters applies ink to a Plexiglass plate in her studio. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch