"Color is my passion," says Sharon Alderman when talking about her weaving. "It's the first thing I notice and the last thing I forget."
But color is only one art element artists rely on. There are line, value, form, texture and plane.Although painter Mac Stevensen also loves color, he's fascinated with line as well. "Now you see it, now you don't" as he combines hard-edge watercolor techniques with soft focus.
Of course, ceramists Craig Haaser and Susan Harris concentrate on form. But Haaser also pursues interesting textures. And Harris says she is equally concerned about detail.
All four of these artists are exhibiting in galleries around town - Alderman and Harris at the Atrium Gallery; and Stevensen and Haaser at the Bountiful Davis Art Center.
Although each artist dips into these elements of visual art, each approaches the creative process quite differently.
Alderman's approach is careful and methodical. Although she goes through a number of steps, she begins with an idea.
"For over a dozen years," she says, "I have been exploring color by weaving cotton sewing threads together to document places I have seen, words I have read, music I have heard and things I have felt."
When documenting a place, she takes out sample color charts and matches swatches with the colors she sees. Upon returning to her studio, she selects spools of thread that correspond with the original colors. She puts them in a shallow box and frequently glances at them.
"Then I rearrange the colors, pulling some and adding others for a more pleasing combination," she explains.
When these colors have jelled in her mind, Alderman proceeds with the next step - wrapping thread on a warping board. This time-consuming job often takes more than 10 hours.
After that, she transfers the threads to her loom. "Each of the 2,500 to 3,500 threads has to be threaded into the loom separately."
Alderman's loom has 18 foot pedals. As she presses each one, the loom raises some threads and lowers others. This gives her up to 18 color variations.
Anyone who is familiar with Alderman's weaving knows she is a perfectionist. Her flawless weaving reflects her great love for her craft.
Many of the wall hangings at the Atrium Gallery contain subdued color. Sometimes she selects tints and shades from the entire color wheel, while other times she works with analogous colors. But no matter what color combination she uses, she always ends up with highly cohesive and often breathtaking pieces.
Whenever she has a new show, Alderman surprises the viewers with hints of an added direction, thus giving proof that her style does not remain dormant. In this exhibit, it's her "unfinished" pieces.
As she moves down the weaving (actually, it's up), Alderman stops weaving at different points, thus creating an uneven edge. Warp threads hang loose, adding variety to the entire composition.
Harris' ceramics add a 3-D element to the show. Her work reflects a fascination for the intricately ornate, ancient Chinese bronze ritual vessels. And she has been successful in finding a contemporary, personal interpretation through the medium of clay.
She relies heavily on "ding" and "fu" forms. The first is a style where pieces are three- or four-footed. The second is a covered box with sloping geometric sides.
As mentioned, form and detail are both extremely important in her work. Her details - carefully sculpted lobsters, crayfish, frogs, etc. - not only to add contrast to the forms but invite closer inspection. She seldom glazes outer surfaces "in order that all the lines and elements remain crisp and distinct after firing."
The two artists exhibiting at the Bountiful/Davis Art Center have several things in common. Stevensen and Haaser are art teachers at Ben Lomond High School in Ogden. And both have a lot of fun creating their work.
For many years, Stevensen painted traditionally with transparent watercolors. But recently, he has altered his style since watercolor techniques previously considered "no no" have become acceptable. For example, painters are combining the transparency of watercolors with the opaqueness of acrylics. This allows them to work from dark to light - as well as light to dark.
The artist is currently experimenting with this technique. But, of course, when one has fun experimenting, he's in danger of painting himself into a corner. And Stevensen does just that in some of his works. He has tried ways to get out of that corner, but some of them have been rather unsuccessful.
The most obvious problem he encounters is combining soft focus and hard edge techniques in his floral paintings, but with no transitional technique in between. I'm talking about flowers painted in soft-focus combined with hard-edged stems and leaves. The viewer has difficulty determining the center of interest.
In a few of these paintings, however, Stevensen has partially defined the flowers. This has helped considerably in resolving the problem.
Haaser's pottery is a perfect example of "less is more." His simple, non-utilitarian creations are visually delicious.
These pieces are a combination of wheel and hand-built techniques; and traditional and contemporary shapes. Their free-flowing handles and spouts have been added for aesthetic rather than utilitarian reasons.
Two finishes adorn his work - glazes made from Mount St. Helen's volcanic ash and from iron-saturated stains.
Each of the above artists has been selective in choosing the element or elements of visual arts on which to focus. As a result, their work becomes even more meaningful as well as individualized.
For more information about these shows, see Galleries in this section of the Deseret News.