Monthly Archives: December 2015

Kirsten Sparenborg Brinton: Streetscapes and Map-Drawings


Kirsten Sparenborg Brinton is an artist, an architect and an architectural historian. She received an architecture degree from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree  from the University of Virginia. Brinton has an expansive collection of map -drawings, streetscapes, cityscapes, temples, and other assorted wonders. She lives in Washington state.

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Tell us about your background and your art. I’m an architect by training and learned to draw while traveling Europe as an architectural student. Among the old stone hillside towns, I concocted a way of drawing that combined plan, section and elevation which suited my desire to express the feeling, the experience, of the place, not just to replicate what I saw in a single glance, like a photograph. I call this “experiential drawing.” I’d often walk through a place while sketching as my drawing sprawled over the pages. So, in all of my work since then, I’ve wanted to convey the experience of a place.

Following architecture school, I made a book about small towns comprised of my photographs and interviews of residents who’d seen boom and bust in their towns over the decades. I traveled all over Virginia and made photos with an SLR and medium format cameras, rolling and developing the film myself, just before everything turned to digital. This work was done in and through the Community Design Assistance Center at Virginia Tech, and the book was published by UVA Press in 2010. After the book work was complete, I worked as an architect and urban designer on some very interesting projects in and around Savannah GA, for seven years. I moved to Savannah before landing a job on the basis that I could really love drawing this historic city. And I did. I started my studio/shop, Turn-of-the-Centuries, there, beginning with greeting cards and postcards and expanding to handmade books and larger prints featuring my Architectural Map-drawings. Steeping in Savannah’s history, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in Architectural History at the University of Virginia and wrote a thesis on Maps of Savannah inspired by the research I did while working at Sottile & Sottile Urban Analysis & Design. My day job was rigorous and wonderful and exposed me to places, people and politics I would not have easily accessed alone. The experience was fuel for my own work in that I craved my own imprint and wanted to explore modes of representation that veered more toward art than was practical in the firm. My drawings of Savannah’s architecture helped me hone my experiential approach into something a little more comprehensible than exploding architectural sketches. I wanted to create works that embodied the spirit of treasured places and could be welcomed as souvenirs of such places.

How did your streetscapes series develop? I began drawing architectural streetscapes (continuous front elevations of city blocks) in Savannah and created books of the drawings that fold out, accordion style. I also created prints of single block streetscape drawings, including some in other cities like New Orleans and Philadelphia. I drew from photographs, free hand. These were my signature pieces for several years until I became pregnant and started to think about simplifying my work to be more efficient and more relaxing. It’s a challenge to draw the streetscapes! So, this year, with the birth of my son, I began drawing and painting city street and block maps. They’re a much more abstract representation of a place, a city. But, in the abstraction I think there is more room for conjuring one’s favorite thing about that place, the essence of it. The representation is fairly straightforward. I select the boundaries of the city that include its most beloved spots – this always includes the historic core. I draw the streets in black lines of various weights and darken/lighten some lines for emphasis. This is the City Streets Map. I use this underlay to create a map that shows only the city blocks, enlivened by watercolor. This is the Watercolor City Blocks Map. I select a color that seems fit for the way the city makes me feel — Or, as I paint all of these now as commissioned works, the buyer chooses the color! The result is stunning (I think) as it reveals the city’s geometry, different developments over time, converging grids that belie a historic shift in city planning or land ownership or folds in the landscape. This really excites the urban designer in me. You can talk about the city for a long time, even a lifetime, while looking at these maps.

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What has been the evolution with your temple images? I’ve long wanted to use my talents to express my beliefs, to praise, uplift, “build the Kingdom”. I love how Gladys Knight can do that – She’s amazing and I envy her ability and position. But I am no diva. A few years ago, spurred by a request from an acquaintance to draw the DC temple to frame on her wall, I embarked upon a quest to represent the most sacred buildings on earth in a manner befitting the eternal relationships for which they stand. My streetscapes line drawing style was too playful. I didn’t want to be cute; the temple is a sacred, and serious, place. I’d drawn the temple in pencil by commission earlier but didn’t feel gradations of graphite was my “voice.” Others do this so well! In the temple there is an absence of the clutter of the world, as if a pure white void we slip into with our change of clothing. Here, we connect with God and see His eternal plan in expansive ways. My drawings make the temple a pure white void on the paper as the parallel lines fill the space around. In the void we are filled. Our own personal feelings and memories about the temple that is beloved to us fill our minds as we gaze upon its abstracted representation.

What are you working on next? I plan to draw architecture again – including many more temples! In the next few months, I’ll be completing commissions for city map drawings. I feel like I’ve defined what I do – Architectural Map-drawings and Temple drawings – to a comfortable degree, and I am grateful to be able to make drawings that resonate with others’ sense of place. Not chasing fleeting inspirations at all hours of the day and night (done that) allows me to try to be a respectable wife and mother. So the current challenge is making time to work that works for my family. Creative work fuels me and makes me a better, happier person. Making things for others who desire to capture the essence of a favorite place is so satisfying to me. I do a fair amount of custom work as I am able, especially for weddings. So, as long as my eyes and hands work I am in it for the long haul. Perhaps my son will someday be by my side as a helper! What am I working on next? More city maps, more architecture, more temples – new drawings and new canvas prints. Also some fabric design, perhaps canvas tote bags, temple bags, anyone?

Visit Kirsten Sparenborg Brinton’s website.

Follow Kirsten Sparenborg Brinton on Instagram.


Joanna Cutri: From Bali to Biarritz

10 2015

Joanna Cutri is a globetrotting painter (and popular yoga instructor). She was born and raised in Pasadena, California to parents from Argentina who were both converts to the LDS church. At age six she moved back to Argentina and then back again to Pasadena. She studied art in Cleveland; Salt Lake City; Cortona, Italy; and received a BFA from the University of Georgia. She then lived in Bali for ten years and just recently moved to Biarritz in the south of France with her French fashion designer fiancée. These paintings are from her series of the Zhangjiajie Mountains in China.

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Tell us about your evolution as an artist. I’ve always been an artist. I was incredibly blessed and fortunate to have been able to attend the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. I owe that school EVERYTHING. It completely changed my life. And after having lived in Bali for over 10 years being fully immersed in the culture and religion, it became absolutely clearly obvious that this has been my spirit for many lifetimes. I’m playing out my pre-ordained destiny. My calling and purpose as an artist is simply a manifestation in THIS lifetime. The Balinese are all proud artists, it is a highly respected and honored position, which they value and cultivate. In Bali I discovered the strength of my artistic voice, my worth and how important -crucial!- it is for me, for all artists, to continue on this path. Bali is like the ultimate playground for an artist. I had tons of space and tons of time, so size and quantity was no object in terms of canvas. Now living in France I’ve had to scale down a lot, my canvases are smaller and when the house is literally stacked up with art, I have to set a limit.

Creating art has always been this intense cathartic process. I never plan anything; I have absolutely no idea what is going to come out. It simply just happens. And most of the time at the end of a collection, I’m surprised wondering where it all came from. Spirit moves though me. It’s never an intellectual endeavor either. The approach and technical style of my paintings are always similar starting with collage. I love working with paper. My earliest memory at six years old is of shredding a newspaper into a million pieces and collaging it back together into this snow scene of a snowman family. I have a HUGE box of paper that I have been lugging around the world for years. Then my paintings are layers upon layers of mixed mediums. I’m a bit of a rebel when it comes to “painting”. With so much choice in diverse materials, I can’t imagine just using one, so I use them all. It’s an exploration of materials all left to chance. The concept or imagery always changes with each series. It usually reflects where I’m at in my life. My paintings are “landscapes” of my whole life. What has changed or evolved is the sense of urgency I feel now that I didn’t feel at 20. I feel like I haven’t created enough and that time is running out. I’m acutely aware that the time is NOW…or never. I either need to paint faster or find a way to expand time.

You’ve done a fair bit of globetrotting. Tell us how these travels have shaped your art. Traveling around the world is simply the way I live. I can’t seem to stay in one place for too long. It took me five years to finish my BFA after having gone to six different schools to get thru it. I have to see the world and live in different countries soaking it all in and then go hide in my studio and let it all come out. Every country has impacted my art. Every place has something special that causes me see things differently back in the studio. I’m the ultimate observer of my immediate surroundings, I notice everything, the most mundane details that most walk by and don’t pay attention to- like the texture of patterns on certain buildings in Paris that remind me of curly pasta, or shadows being projected on the sand in Krabi, Thailand by people dancing in front of party lights. Those discoveries and experiences while traveling are the answers to the creative problem solving process in the studio. They become a catalyst for wanting to recreate a characteristic on the canvas whether it be how to create a translucency like the light in Rote Island which is so crisp and clear or wanting to mix a perfect earth color like the vibrant land in Western Australia. It’s like taking the best part of my travels and not wanting to forget them, immortalizing them on my canvas. It’ s never obvious or so literal to the viewer, but all my travels are in my paintings one way or another.

You once said, “As an artist I need inspiration. I need stimulation.” Explain. I paint in solitude and to really get into creation mode I have always chosen places quite far removed, the makings of my own little bubble. After high school the obvious and easiest choice would have been to study art in LA or NYC like every person I went to school with, but I ended up living in Cortona, Italy which is a tiny Tuscan hill town virtually detached from anything. When I needed stimulation- people, museums, energy and a sensory overload of distractions, I would go to Florence 90 minutes away. Yet when I lived in the center of Milan, I rarely painted. Painting is a very solitary activity and being alone too much in the middle of nowhere like Bali can make you a bit loopy and claustrophobic. Being so isolated and in a very different reality to the Western world I had to travel extensively to absorb as much as I could, to fill my well of creativity. Back in my studio, I’m forced to dig deep into my own reservoir of inspiration and not be distracted by my immediate surroundings or by what is happening in popular culture or trend. I’m a huge contradiction; I can’t be living in chaos and create, I want to be out, be social and doing everything I possibly can, all at once. Yet when I’m creating, my world stops and I have to be alone and as far away as possible from any temptations of worldly delight. I can be incredible focused or totally ADD. Life is about contrast though…

What’s up next for you? I am en route to Hong Kong to present my latest collection to the Nock Art Foundation. In 2016 I hope to travel to various Asian Art Museums globally to share this experience as a lecture series and to exhibit this body of work. The premier viewing will be a selection of paintings shown at the Musee Asiatica here in Biarritz on January 9th. This has been a very interesting year full of change. I ended a decade in Bali with an artist in residency program in Hong Kong. I was chosen to participate in this cultural exchange of four Western artists painting the Zhangjiajie Mountains (the floating mountains of the movie Avatar) in the Hunan Province in China. It was an amazing experience. I’m not a plein air landscape artist at all and I was completely thrown out of my comfort zone on every level. On my own, I would have never gone to China to paint the most impressive landscape eight hours a day for seven days straight. It was really quite special and interesting to push the boundaries of creating in a completely new way. I ended up developing the collection in the south of France in Biarritz the last 8-9 months. These last few months have forced me to reflect on the severe contrast of east and west and how it relates and transpires in my work and in my life.

Visit Joanna Cutri’s website.


Glen Nelson: A Mormon Art Juror


Guest Post: Glen Nelson, Mormon Artists Group

The 10th International Art Competition for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened recently with an exhibition in Salt Lake City. It is housed in the Church History Museum building, which has been renovated from top to bottom. The full exhibition is available for viewing online. You can vote for your favorites. Check it out. And if you are near Temple Square in the next year, go see it.

I was asked to serve as a juror for the competition. To be honest, I felt a little embarrassed to do it. I have a fine art bias, and I wasn’t entirely sure that the competition’s goals—which have historically leaned toward illustration—aligned with my expertise. But there were four other jurors, and I felt satisfied that together we could make it work.

Today, I’m not writing a behind-the-scenes account of the competition jury. However, I think it might be interesting for people to read about a few things that I learned from the experience.

Here’s a quick overview of the competition process. Artists were invited to create works. The May 2014 Ensign announced a call for entries, which would be accepted from November 3, 2014 to February 27, 2015. Participants had to be 18 or older, and the works had to be made in the last two years. As in the previous competitions, the artists were given a theme; this one: “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.”


The artists provided a digital image of the works they wanted to enter. They also wrote a short artist’s statement, particularly about how the work fit into the theme. All of these submissions were loaded into a database, and I was told to go through them and score them based on a rubric the museum and the jury created—the works’ excellence, innovation, and use of the theme.

When I worked my way through the images at my home computer, I was struck by a few things. First, the level of quality was all over the place—there were artists who exhibit regularly in important American galleries, artists whose work is very well known in Mormon circles but have little reputation elsewhere, artists who are skilled painters as well as quite a large number who are devoted hobbyists and have probably not exhibited anywhere before now. There were works that really spoke to me and moved me, and there were works that I looked at and wondered if the artist were taking it seriously at all.

Second, the artists were all wrestling with the theme. It looked to me like some of the artists had created submissions specifically aimed at entry into the competition; they saw the theme, “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus,” and then they started creating a piece. Others were shoe-horning existing work into it. They wanted to participate in the show but probably would have preferred not to be given specific and limiting directions.

Third, although I was not drawn to the majority of the submissions personally as fine art—they didn’t strike me as being extraordinary enough—I found it very moving to look at these works, nevertheless. They were made from a place of devotion. There’s nothing I love quite so much as artists who create things that are deeply personal, intimate, and meaningful to themselves. Everything deserved to be exhibited…somewhere, just maybe not at a museum.

And one last thing: the jury got along great. I hadn’t met any of the others before—from Australia, Singapore, Springville, Utah, and Salt Lake City, Utah—but I can’t say enough about how skilled and caring and smart (and sometimes tough) they were.

Condensing the jury process: I scored all the works at home initially by looking at digital scans. The pool of submissions was shrunk down. Then the Museum gathered the artworks that made it through the first round by having them shipped to Salt Lake City. (This was a tremendous effort that was beautifully and rapidly accomplished by museum personnel. Think of the logistics!) Jurors were also brought to Salt Lake City in mid-May. We spent time with all the works, we ranked them, winnowed them, and then talked about every work, as a jury panel. As you’d imagine, artworks had advocates and detractors. Finally, we came up with the works that are on display now. We are fully responsible for the selection of the exhibition. No other entities inside or outside the Museum weighed in on our choices. We were given no quotas on the number of works for the show or anything about content. Each of the jurors gave a merit award to an artist of their choosing, and the global arts curator for the Church made purchase awards, that is, she got to buy stuff. (Each artist had indicated a monetary value for their submission.)


So that’s the preamble. Let me discuss three lessons that the experience taught me. I hope you’ll find them interesting.

Mormon artists want to engage in creating imagery of the cross. For me, this was one of the biggest surprises of the competition experience. The New Testament theme was so broad, artists didn’t need to tackle the crucifixion, but many, many did—in paintings, photographs, and other works. We have been told, as members of the Church, that the crucifix is not a primary symbol of Mormonism, and indeed it is practically absent from our graphic identity.

When I first looked at these submitted images, I expected to see that they came from countries with predominantly Catholic populations. Perhaps that was a prejudiced idea. I know from my own experience living in Latin America, that such images are so common as to become a shared vocabulary. I thought that Latin and Filipino LDS artists, for example, might be more likely to create images of Jesus’ death than artists outside of that heritage. But I was mistaken. Crucifixion artworks seemed to be coming from everywhere. Why? Does the pain of the biblical experience speak to artists? And why now?

All of the jurors commented on this phenomenon. Artists appeared to be more comfortable showing their own pain, too, and I have to wonder whether the confessional nature of social media has broken down some of the traditional barriers regarding identity and given artists permission to be more intimate.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it felt a bit defiant, as well. They were submitting these works to an institution that has made it quite clear that their preferences for images of the Savior lie elsewhere. And yet, these are beautiful and powerful. They work. I didn’t find them, in any way, inappropriate because of their subject matter. I will be curious to see if this is a trend, and if so, how it spreads to other areas of Mormon character.

There is a battle within the Church regarding what Jesus should look like in its sanctioned art. During the time I was a juror, I had multiple meetings with people on temple art selection committees, curators, painters, and so on. A topic that arose in practically every gathering was the issue of getting an image of Jesus approved for public exhibition today. Who decides what the painting of the Savior displayed in your church building looks like? Or your temple? Or your Church magazine or website? I suspect that if every one of our 15 million members had a way to describe the image of Jesus they see in their mind’s eye, there would be no consensus. In fact, it would be the opposite of consensus. So how do you create a religious symbol for the entire Church? Tricky question, not a trick question.

Submissions to the 10th International Art Competition showed an expansive range of approaches to depicting Jesus, generally. This goes beyond boundaries such as race—in the exhibition, there’s a painting by a Cambodian artist of Jesus looking quite like Buddha, for example, just as there have been submissions in previous competitions from Latin America of Jesuses who look Hispanic, and for that matter, Jesuses who are so pale as to look practically Nordic.

I guess I’m more interested in a different aspect of His visage: what should be the tone of the artwork? Should it try to look like an Old Master? (Is it Carl Bloch or bust?) Is it ok to draw a cartoon with Jesus in it? Can Jesus be updated and depicted in modern dress? All of those issues, so common in any discussion of art as a tool to make itself relevant to contemporary viewers, are politically fraught with our artists and those tasked with displaying their work. Look through the exhibition and you’ll see how broad the range is.

One work that didn’t make it to the show was an image of a naked Jesus, looking somewhat like a watercolor of Egon Schiele—emaciated, slightly green, garish, tortured. I couldn’t tell whether the artist intended the reference to early twentieth century Austrian art, but personally, I was into it. Clearly, it would be a challenge to hang it near Temple Square, and if it had been painted a bit more skillfully, I might have tried to make a case for it.

Offense comes easily and disappointment, easier. I was keenly aware during my time on the jury that my views weren’t universal. Not with the jury and not with the potential viewers of the show, either. I took some solace, like a firing squad rifleman, that I could hide behind the blanks of other jurors. I joked with artists that if you liked anything in the show, I voted for it; and if your submission didn’t get in, I voted for it.

Artists who participate in juried competitions are well aware of the subjective quality of all this. But I worried/worry about those whose skins haven’t been toughened in that way. I hope that they realize how strongly I value them as artists, even if this experience didn’t work out exactly as they wished it might.

I saw the finished exhibition about a week ago. The Museum staff, again, did a terrific job hanging, lighting, describing, and protecting the works. Although we selected the works on exhibition, the success of it is almost equally on the shoulders of people who decide where works are hung, and by which other works. That is, they take the artworks and make a story of it. It’s a pretty interesting tale, if you ask me.

I wonder if anybody seeing the exhibition will be offended by what they see. I hope not; I don’t think they will be bothered. It would surprise me, but it’s possible. Maybe they might shrug. They might shake their heads. If they’re artists themselves who weren’t selected this time, they will likely think, My work was better than that. And they might be right. And if they didn’t submit artwork, I hope they’ll reconsider next time. The New York lotto says, “You have to be in it to win it.” Personally, I’m less interested in “winning,” but I would say this to LDS artists: “If you didn’t submit, you can’t whine about it.”

Glen Nelson is the creator and driving force behind the Mormon Artists Group. You can download his newly updated eBook The Glen and Marcia Nelson Collection of Mormon Art. Nelson, a writer, lives in New York City. The artwork above were all included in the competition (Michal Diane Onyon, Kathleen Peterson, and David Marshall Habben II). Images courtesy the respective artists and


Leslie O. Peterson: The Forgotten Wives


Leslie O. Peterson started painting three years ago at the age of 57. Her recent series of watercolors was profiled in The New York Times: Mormon Leader Joseph Smith’s 34 Wives Inspire Utah Artist. She explains, “At first, I was angry. Why the heck have I not known this? These women have become like ghosts in our history, and we don’t teach or talk about their lives. I just felt the need to get these women out of the closet and let people learn about them and celebrate them.” Peterson lives in Utah.


Tell us about how you got started with the project. I have always been interested in polygamy, and had read a little about Joseph Smiths’s polygamy, but because it was not talked about in Church I thought it might be anti-Mormon propaganda. After the Church released the essay about Joseph Smiths’s polygamy in 2014 and admitting he could have had as many as 40 wives and many young girls, I decided to do a little research on my own. Painting these women were my way of processing the new information. I fell in love with these woman and found their stories to be fascinating.

What has been the response to The New York Times article? We made a short film (6 minutes) about the project and entered it in the Radio West film competition at the Tower Theater in June of 2015, it won 2 of the 3 awards. A reporter from The New York Times saw it and wrote an article that came out Aug 18, 2015. We had a huge burst of sales and newspapers from around the world published articles about the project. I was surprised by the unexpected attention it received.


How did you start painting? My daughter offered to pay for a community education class if I would take her husband as a form of therapy for him—he had suffered a massive stroke while playing rugby. We painted together for a year until they adopted twins and he became a stay at home dad.

What are you working on next? I am now painting LDS women in a new series called Church Ladies. I want to honor and celebrate the diversity of women in the Church today. I am also doing small commissions and enjoying a wide range of topics and styles.

Visit Leslie O. Peterson’s website.


Images courtesy Leslie O. Peterson, The New York Times, and the St. George News.

Jena Schmidt: Fresh Perspective of Landscape

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Jena Schmidt is an abstract painter with a unique, organic style. Schmidt graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting. She lives in Utah.

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Tell us about your background and development as an artist. I’ve grown up with a love for art. My mom was an art major and designer so I was influenced by her and always had a desire to create, no matter the genre. I started taking art seriously when I started college at Utah Valley University. The summer after I graduated high school, I saw an exhibit at the UMFA of Hyunmee Lee’s big abstract paintings, which I was awe-struck about. I later found out she taught at UVU and ended up taking classes from her for two years which greatly influenced my decision to pursue an art career. I then moved on to BYU where I got my BFA in studio arts. The program and professors there encouraged us to really think conceptually about the art we were creating and I realized that all of my art was always coming out organically with ties to nature. From there, I kept working on the development of a fresh perspective of landscape. Because we have photography, the Internet, and a long history of landscape painting, this is an over-digested subject matter yet something so inherently rooted in my system that I can’t escape it. I have been painting this endless subject matter for five years since and the idea of searching for new and imagined landscapes keeps painting an outlet for this ever-unfolding exploration.

It was written about you, “Schmidt has come to recognize a symbiotic relationship with her surroundings, and her landscapes depict a particularly contemporary way of thinking.” Explain. Growing up in Utah has engrained the landscape in me. The Wasatch Mountains are right in your face every day, we drink the water that drain down the canyon streams. I constantly find myself zooming in on little pieces of land where the trees grow in a particularly interesting shape, or the snow has fallen to make negative space on the mountain. Spending a lot of time in a landscape like this has led me to ask a lot of questions about my relationship to it. How small am I compared to its grandiosity? What’s going on in the canyon when the clouds are laying low and I can’t see? Since the landscape is not flat, you can’t see for a distance, my mind wanders to question what’s on the other side; what new place is there for me to discover and paint? These curiosities are the driving force for my work, and as said before, I want to find a way to express this winding exploration in a contemporary way. I want to create the atmosphere that people can relate to without telling them the whole story.

I find your choice of colors particularly ethereal. What is your process for starting a new piece? I collect a lot of photos of landscapes I’ve traveled in and a lot I haven’t been to or that are on my list to travel to. I spend time looking researching on Google maps, and zooming in on places like Banff or the Black Forest in Germany that seem mysterious and beautiful to me and move my mouse around until I find a good composition. I make a lot of sketches that combine these images and play around with the shapes or insert lines to denote a journey. A lot of times I will make a small painting sketch on paper and then play around with it in Photoshop until I get the colors and shapes I want. Then I will translate that into a painting.

What are you working on next? Currently I am working on some small works for the Small Business Saturday at Utah Museum of Contemporary Art the weekend after Thanksgiving, the Honoring Utah Artists show at Alpine Art, and on a solo show in Telluride, CO in February. These will all be a continuation of my “Black North” landscape series. After that, and in the mean time, I am working on developing a more colorful, playful series based on the time I have been spending in Colombia.

Visit Jena Schmidt’s website.

Visit Jena Schmidt’s Etsy shop.