Monthly Archives: January 2016

Joshua Baird: Field Studies


Joshua Baird is an oil painter whose primary subjects are the animals and landscape of the Southwestern United States. Baird is a former high school teacher and he  holds two degrees from Southern Oregon University. He was profiled previously on The Krakens for his inventive series Animal Facetime. He lives with his family in Southern Utah.


You like to paint landscapes. How does your art connect you to Mother Nature? Making art is my way of studying and processing my interaction with the natural world.  When I was growing up I went through phases where I would become obsessed by natural phenomena. I would draw dinosaurs repetitively, and then I’d move to whales, then birds of prey, then volcanoes, and so on.

I’ve been living in the Colorado Plateau and studying it through my art for many years. This place is so beautiful it’s overwhelming! It’s beyond description with awe-inspiring colors, curious geologic formations and spacious vistas. Sublime is the best word for such a place!  The process of geologic creation is evident everywhere you go. The landscape changes with each season and time of day and best of all there is a constantly changing skyscape.  This place is endlessly inspiring and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface with my artistic exploration.

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You taught art to high school students. How has the role as teacher changed you as an artist?  Currently I’m a full-time artist, but previously I taught art for nine years at Kanab High school. I probably learned more from my students than they learned from me. I learned a lot about communication, patience, managing expectations, organization and most important that we have a lot more in common as humans than we think. It was also very interesting to see how my students reacted to pre-modern, modern and post modern artwork. The most significant thing I learned in my time teaching was the importance of clarity. There is a learning theory that states, that anything can be understood as long as it is presented in a clear and logical sequence. Art relies on clarity as much as a room full of teenagers! Clarity of intent and clarity of vision are as important to an artists career as visual clarity is to the image.

Visit Joshua Baird’s website.

Follow Joshua Baird on Instagram.

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Lane Bennion: Seeing the World with New Eyes


Lane Bennion is an incredibly talented painter and medical illustator. He has a new show called Inner Space opening at the Terzian Galleries in Park City, Utah on February 12, 2016. Bennion received degrees in medical illustration from the University of Utah and the Medical College of Georgia. He explains about his work, “I am often attracted to busy, chaotic subject matter and the irony that is present in them. I’m especially drawn to the visual noise found in retail stores, malls, and amusement parks. Often there is so much going on in these commercial environments, that it becomes an “attack” on our senses. This sensory overload seems to cause our minds to block out much of the visual noise, so that what was meant to be an attention grabbing seductive scene has the opposite effect.” Bennion lives in Utah.

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Tell us about your evolution as an artist. I grew up with a desire to draw and doodle, but I my family wasn’t an “artsy” one, so I was never exposed to quality art as a kid. I was also interested in anatomy and medicine so when it came time to decide on a career I chose Medical Illustration. In order to get in to an accredited Medical Illustration graduate program, an individual needs to take a lot of life drawing and pre-med courses.

The first real instructive drawing class I took was at Salt Lake Community College from Rick Graham. He taught triangulation as a method of measuring and drawing accurately. That method of drawing really gave me confidence that I could become a skilled draftsman. Later I transferred to the University of Utah and was taught more about triangulation from Paul Davis, the master that is credited with teaching many Utah artists how to draw the figure so well. Paul Davis and Rick Graham taught me how to become a respectable draftsman, but it was David Dornan that helped me develop my artistic eye.

I remember Dave talking about objectivity and subjectivity. I hadn’t really ever heard those words when I was in my early 20’s and what he was saying seemed so new and deep to me. To this day I don’t know exactly what he said in his objective vs. subjective speech, but I do remember that he stressed that an artist needed to see the world “as naively as possible”.

I remember being taught to see the world as if I arrived here from another planet or dimension and everything I saw I would be seeing for the first time. Simple objects or scenes that a person would normally take for granted and consider mundane or boring suddenly have the same weight or impact on ones mind. The light refracted through a cube of green Jell-O on to a white plate becomes as fascinating as a sunset. Seeing the world that way can give a painter the courage and ability to give special attention and focus on those mundane things that most people ignore or take for granted.

I learned that a good way to develop a personal style or vision was to focus on painting simple subjects. Don’t worry about tackling something to compete with the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel right out of the gate. Focus on learning how to paint and tackle simple visual problems through setting up simple still lives. Eventually through working with simple objects a painter often starts to find symbolism, either personal or universal, in those everyday objects. Eventually more complex compositions can be set up or discovered and interesting relationships can be found in how the various elements in a composition “interact”.

Your style is so unique. Talk a little about how it evolved. In the process of developing my technical craft as a painter by setting up and painting still life after still life, I decided to tackle something a little more ambitious. One day my wife told me she was tired of storing all of our boys cheap Happy Meal toys they had accumulated over the years and that she was going to throw them out. There was a large grey Tupperware bin full of them. As I gazed in to the sea of toys that was about to go away forever I said, “Wait, I want to paint these first.” I took the bin in to my studio and painted the contents of the bin in one big chaotic composition. I then mixed up the toys and did it again. Then I took out all of the toys and left only the red ones. Within the red toys I placed a plastic blue shark and created my first still life narrative. From there I arranged the sea of toys in different ways and found ways to suggest subtle narratives or relationships that I thought might add a little psychological weight and room for the viewer to play or dream within the composition.


I prefer an open-ended composition. I like stories, films, music and paintings that are open to personal interpretation. I like it when three people can look at one of my paintings and find their own unique “meaning”, if there is one to be discovered. I think it goes back to the idea of seeing things objectively and presenting the viewer with a new world where they can let their own subjectivity add to the work. One of the joys for me in making art, is in enticing the viewer to participate in completing the painting and perhaps seeing the world with new eyes.

The other subjects I paint, like the carnivals, storefronts or other interiors often start as a result of the search for the routine overlooked things around me. There is a lot of visual noise aimed at consumers upon entering a shopping mall. It seems like each store is visually yelling, “come here, look at me” through elaborate displays, bright lights and shiny floors. These visually chaotic scenes seem to take on a quality of white noise and often our brain copes with the sensory overload by suppressing or ignoring much of it. I see the chaotic mess of a tub of happy meal toys much like these shopping mall scenes. It’s fun to paint them and find or suggest a little order or narrative in them.

You once wrote, “I like the challenge of finding beauty or poetry in the most mundane of objects, situations, or scenes.” What are you working on next? The paintings I’m working on now aren’t too much different from last year or the year before. However, there are a few things I’ve wanted to try, to shake things up. I have always been interested in the “Space Age”, “Atomic Age” or images that are called “Retro Future”, I believe. I was born in 1969 so I caught the end of the space race. I remember there was still a little promise of flying cars, jetpacks and vacations to the moon, when I was a child. I like looking at illustrations and sci-fi pulp artwork from the 1950’s and 60’s that show the world that I was hoping to live in by now. I’ve been trying to find ways to assimilate that imagery in to my work.

Visit Lane Bennion’s website.

Follow Lane Bennion on Instagram.

Lane Bennion

Laura Erekson Atkinson: Builders


Laura Erekson Atkinson is a talented artist with a new project called Builders. She received a BFA at Brigham Young University and focused on drawing, painting, printmaking, and sculpture. She was profiled previously on The Krakens for her series Spontaneity of Trees. Atkinson lives with her family in Utah.

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Tell us about the Builders series. When I got married, a friend (who knew me well) gave me a Home Depot gift card. Inside was a note: “Build a beautiful life together.” As cheesy as that may seem, that phrase stuck with me. The Builders series is about just that–building. Each title was taken from the scriptures in order to lead the viewer to a consideration of all levels of building–building ourselves, building each other, building our relationships with others, and with God.

What is your process? My process is generally very intuitive, and I work with the things that I love (in this case, tools!). I spent the most time with each piece deciding on the initial tools and how they should lie in the space. Then I layered the canvas with gesso and pressed the tools into their positions. I sometimes used ink, and sometimes left the piece raw, with only the rust or residue of the tools adding color to the piece. Color can either make or break a piece. Adding color was possibly the most difficult decision I had to make with each one. I loved the purity of the white with rust residue and was hesitant to add any color at all. Then I reminded myself that I had the freedom to experiment! And so I did. Creating should be fresh and fun, and the only one putting limitations on my work was me. I ended up feeling really happy with the results.

So much of Mormon art is traditional or realistic. What would you like to see from Mormon artists in the future? I wanted to present a body of work that was personal and spoke to important religious themes while allowing room for the viewer to interpret the piece (even if they aren’t religious). I thrive on creating abstract art and hope that it creates a more personal experience for the viewer, giving them space to apply meanings that are important to them. I know that abstract work often heightens my own experience and inspires me. I look forward to seeing more Mormon art that breaks through traditional barriers.

Visit Laura Erekson Atkinson’s website.

Follow Laura Erekson Atkinson on Instagram.


Alex Warnick: Crested, Spotted, and Gilded


Alex Warnick is a self-described ‘natural history artist’ with a beautiful portfolio of acrylic and oil paintings. She graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a BA in integrated studio art. As she writes, “I hope my artwork will introduce many others to the significance and beauty of birds so that birds can benefit the lives of people, and in turn, people can benefit the lives of birds.”

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Tell us about your development as an artist. As early as my memories go, I remember painting and drawing. My biggest inspiration as a kid was a catalog of wildlife paintings my parents brought home from a used bookstore when I was seven. Some of my earliest drawings were wonky master copies of foxes, coyotes, and fish from that book. I used to sit next to my older brothers as they drew pictures on poster boards for school reports and copy every pencil stroke. Under their tutelage I learned to draw cardinals, giant squid, turtles, etc. Being an artist was always the plan. For most of my college career I focused on landscape painting and portraiture before returning to my passion for wildlife painting after I graduated.

Your profile says you paint, ‘all things crested, spotted, and gilded’. Tell us more about your subject matter. ‘Crested, spotted, and gilded’ is a reference to words commonly found in bird nomenclature (i.e. Crested Caracara, Spotted Towhee, Gilded Flicker, etc.) Birds have always been my mild obsession. In 5th grade, I delivered my career project on ornithology sitting in a giant nest I’d built from willow sticks. I held a pair of binoculars in my sixth grade yearbook picture. When I finally turned to birds as the subject matter for my paintings, my inspiration and motivation gained major momentum. Painting birds feels authentic to me. Because I’ve spent so much time studying them, I feel like they’re mine to portray (as I’m sure all avian artists feel). My artwork is a way to gather or collect things that can’t otherwise be gathered or collected. With my art I’m able to bring birds inside and surround myself with the things that fascinate me.

You must have some favorites? Favorites are tough. Almost all of my artwork is inspired by a lifetime of personal encounters with birds. Birds have brought me on many aesthetic adventures from hunting for Red-faced Warblers in ponderosa forests to searching for Snowy Owls on Chicago piers. The inspiration I can derive from birds is endless. Usually a combination of colors seen in the field first inspires a painting. Like Rothko and Whistler who are interested in tones and colors, birds are the vehicle I use to explore and express color relationships and pattern. With a natural history format for my paintings, I can edit out extraneous form and other elements that distract from the color relationships I’m trying to convey. My paintings are less about a bird’s scientific interaction with an environment as they are about its aesthetic interaction with an environment.

What’s next for your career? I’m constantly trying to better express my own personal “internal aesthetics”. What makes painting exciting is that I don’t fully know what that aesthetic message is yet. As for the immediate future, I plan on spending a lot more time sketching and painting in the field. I also have plans for artist residencies and applications for endowments and grants that will allow me to travel and experience more birds in their natural habitats. This last year of painting birds has been better than I ever could have hoped for, and I’m excited for what the future holds!

Visit Alex Warnick’s website.

Follow Alex Warnick on Instagram.


Nathan Florence: Textile Paintings


Nathan Florence has a beautiful series of oil paintings on textiles instead of canvas. As he explains, “I prefer to paint on a surface that has some challenges to it. I saw a documentary where Jack White said he played guitars with problems because he wanted playing ‘to be a fight’ and I immediately identified with that.” Florence received a BA from Swarthmore College and studied at the International School of Art in Todi, Umbria, Italy. He lives with his family in Utah.

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You often paint on textiles, You once said, “I love the symbolism of the patterns that underlie our lives and I love the way I can hide or reveal the fabric as I want to.” The paintings on fabric have been a really exciting series of experiments. It’s a new set of challenges. Like the abstract underpaintings, the fabrics work with and against me.

Tell us about your evolution as an artist. I should start answering that by saying that it took me a long time to accept for myself that being an artist was an acceptable profession. I have some sort of Puritan, maybe Mormon-Puritan work ethic that blanched at the idea that one’s job could be fun! Aren’t you supposed to hate your job? Plus it didn’t seem to fit easily into this other part of what I wanted, which was to do something that made the world better–and by this I mean like Doctors without Borders or similarly dramatic contributions. I wasn’t putting art on that same level of “contributing”. I had some excellent mentors who helped me get past this idea and dropped my pre-med/engineering studies to get an art degree. I was drawn to oil painting because it is so low tech. It fit in with my early romanticism of art, in which it was mostly about beauty. Artist as activist and social observer developed as I studied and realized how I could wrap them together.

I’ve always loved drawing and painting people, so they continue to dominate my subject matter. I can easily get caught up in detail so it became important for my process early on to introduce challenges. This has included brushes way too big for the subject, Egbert brushes that have really long, unwieldy bristles, really cheap brushes, it’s a long list. It’s also part of what interested me in preparing my surfaces differently so I started building up layers of abstract texture and color on panels and canvases before I painted on them. The unpredictability of the surface is amazing. I could then leave areas of the abstract untouched in the final process or sand/scrape down to layers underneath. This is what eventually led me to one of my current processes with patterned cloth. My early questions about finding balance as an artist and making a contribution to society have kept me involved in social causes and community activism and led to one of my current projects directing a documentary about a group of Mormon artists. You can see more about that on my website for the film.

Your parents were photographers. Do you see their creative approach in your own work? My sense of light and composition definitely comes from them. I grew up with great photography books around the house and looking at slide shows of their work. Both were amateur photographers but we had a darkroom in the house and I got to spend time in there with them watching that alchemy.

What’s next for you? I can’t sit still. I have a show of paintings up at Modern West Fine Art in Salt Lake that runs through mid-January and a couple of portrait commissions on my plate right now. My main focus is getting the documentary finished. It is a long process and we’ve got great momentum right now. Geralyn Dreyfous, Academy Award winning director/producer, just joined as one of our executive producers and we are in post-production. I’m wearing my producer hat most of the time right now, in that I’m mostly fundraising! It’s an important and compelling story right now in our national and Mormon history. How do we balance our art/passion with our faith? Trevor Southey, one of the artists in the film, was gay and it was through the support of his Mormon artist community that he came out. It’s a complicated, beautiful story.

Visit Nathan Florence’s website.

Follow Nathan Florence on Instagram.


Images courtesy Nathan Florence and Modern West Fine Art.