Monthly Archives: June 2016

Nick Bontorno: Painted Portraits


Nick Bontorno is a talented painter with a distinctive style and original compositions. He received a BFA from Brigham Young Univerity-Idaho and an MFA from BYU. Bontorno is from New York state and lives in Jackson, Wyoming.

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You once spoke about your ‘ability to relate to others’ through your art and specifically your figures. How does art help us communicate? Well art helps us see what we might not on our own. So portraiture is great in that it introduces us to someone via the artist. It’s hard to do commissions for me because I paint people the way I feel about them, which is not always how another would feel. Anyway, we all walk around summing up each other, sometimes too quickly, sometimes too forcefully, and we are efficient at it. If we like someone we are much more generous. I like everyone I paint, even if I don’t know them. It’s like saying “here’s what I think of this person. What do you think?” To connect in this very basic humane way is important for our spirits. A lot of people go days without real interactions, no eye contact, no connections. I want my pictures to be able to be connected to. People need people. I make sure my portraits are looking at you, so that there is an almost real exchange happening. I have a hard time making eye contact with people, so this is kind of a crutch for me too.

What has changed with your approach to your art? I think my color usage has improved in the last few years. Looking at Whistler has taught me that you cannot just use any old neutral or grey arbitrarily; there are functional neutrals. I’ve been looking into what colors work with what greys… its interesting. Also I am less afraid of bright colors. But I am just getting started with this.

How do you feel about the Mormon art community? What would you like to see going forward? The Mormon art community is hard to define. We love trend, as everyone does. We are an interesting micro market. I love the old school Mormon illustrators Anderson and Freiburg. They brought seriousness to their faith. The cute, quirky, or fantastical trends today are hard to relate to for me. As for the fine art side of things, I think there are some great LDS artists. The thing we struggle with is following trends as religiously as we follow our faith. There’s also been all this ‘alternative’ Mormon art going on trying to look intellectual. Being in dissent is not that interesting. Our art should not grovel in politics. Besides all that I am excited for Mormon art. I hope people make their own. I hope it stays colloquial. The quilt show in Springville—that might be my favorite Mormon art. The main thing is that the gospel expands our minds and hearts, and art can assist in that.

What’s next for you? Well I am working in a studio in Provo and doing a lot of side jobs/projects. Having to make money is always the other side of things. As Wallace Shawn says “When I was young all I had was money and all I thought about was art. Now all I have is art and all I think about is money”. I don’t know what is next for me but I am happy to have this experience as an artist and laborer at the same time. I need a life to make art about.

Visit Nick Bontorno’s website.

Follow Nick Bontorno on Instagram.


Jed Wells: Me


Jed Wells is a freelance filmmaker and photographer with an amazing series entitled Me. He graduated from the photography program at BYU. He was profiled previously on The Krakens for his series Peru. Wells lives in Utah.

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Tell us about your creative career. Like a proper history, or an impression of what my career is? Because in many ways, it’s a total mess. When people ask me what I am or what I do, I’m not sure from week to week how to answer. I usually settle on “Photographer” as the 1st level, asked and answered, put a label on it response. If anyone asks beyond that, it gets fuzzy pretty quick. I graduated from BYU with a BFA in photography. The kind of photography where the images don’t move. I was interested in motion picture, not just in the cinematography, but in direction and storytelling in general. I had acted through high school (had an agent, walked away from a college theater scholarship after my mission) and the notion of marrying those worlds– of seeing my pictures move, of developing and framing a story, using music and props and wardrobe– was totally enchanting to me. So I got involved in that stuff my junior year at BYU. Shot some shorts, did a crash course in independent film studies of my own invention, and wound up shooting and directing a feature film the spring after my senior year. That project kept me in Provo that last year instead of venturing out to New York or LA to do a traditional photo internship.

I had determined early on that I wasn’t a weddings and families photographer. Just isn’t my nature and I’m not sure I’m very good at it. So living in Provo with a wife and kids, wishing I was making movies, not taking weddings… the only thing left for me to do was become a graphic designer. I got a couple of in-house jobs, designed a lot of web banners and album covers, and slowly worked my way into the local music scene shooting bands and making music videos. The advent of DSLR video, specifically the Canon 5D MkII, was my ticket to ride. One tool that could get me two jobs. I started doing that and bit by bit, good word of mouth, loyal clients and the right connections got me on my feet (did I mention I got fired from my design job in 2009, effectively knocking me off my feet?) and I’ve been juggling a career ever since that lives somewhere between, and often, combines still and motion picture in a variety of assignments around the world. It most ways it’s a dream come true. Sometimes, especially when someone asks, “So what do you do for a living?” I’d love to be able to say, “I’m a photographer. I do this one thing, and that’s it.” But it’s not exactly true.

Talk about your series Me. The Me series is a compilation of self-portraits taken over a couple of years when I was involved in a beard and moustache-growing community. It was pre-Instagram, pre-most of social media landscape that exists now. We were a fraternity of like-minded creatives across the country who liked cultivating our facial hair, taking pictures of it on a daily basis, and getting feedback from our fraternity of like-minded creatives across the country. I took the task pretty seriously and got more elaborate with my portraits than my wife thought was prudent at the time. I was between jobs (polite way of saying I had just been fired) and had a lot of spare time, so I used the time to exercise my camera, explore storytelling, and admire my own visage for hours every day. To my wife’s credit, she rolled her eyes when I was setting up and shooting these images, but she never stopped me from doing them, and the resulting series has landed me more work that almost anything else in my portfolio.

Visit Jed Wells’ website.

Follow Jed Wells on Instagram. His work Instagram is here.


Shae Warnick: Naturalist


Shae Warnick is a painter, birder, and naturalist. She explains, “I draw inspiration from the nature that extends to our doorstep, not a ‘place where we go’ but ‘the place where we live.'” Warnick attended Brigham Young University-Idaho and lives in Indiana.

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Tell us how your art career evolved. And how this interest in all in things avian began. Several years ago I finished my first semester in a college BFA program and had a body of work that I wasn’t very passionate about. Most of my images were landscape or portrait based. After a tough evaluation with an astute BFA committee (and my own bit of soul-searching), I decided to scrap everything and start fresh. Up to that point, my art had been battling for attention with the time I spent outdoors. My twin sister and I had been avid birders since grade school, and in college I spent every summer morning exploring nearby trails, watching birds, identifying flowers, trees, and bugs. I realized that nature and art don’t have to be two separate entities in my life. I went back to my BFA committee with some images based on natural history, and everything took off from there. Since then, I’ve been flooded with energy and new ideas.

You have written that finding intaglio printmaking was a turning point in your development as an artist. Explain. In intaglio printmaking, you spend hours subjecting a copper plate to different processes and chemicals to create an image that can be transferred to paper. You might begin with a clear image/end in mind, but for a beginning printmaker, it’s highly unlikely you’ll succeed in recreating it. At best, your final print will be somewhat related to your original idea. But this isn’t a bad thing. The nuances and mutations that can happen in printmaking may elevate your image, giving it a higher level of sophistication than you’re actually capable of. I learned to love this process. Up to that point, my art education had revolved around mastery and control of a medium, or domination you could say. In printmaking I learned a new way of artmaking, not domination but mediation, where a final image is poised somewhere between chance and your own coaxing. It’s an exciting process. I’ve learned to recreate that process with the other mediums I use.

You’re still early in your art career, but what do you wish you had learned in school about the business of art? I wish I had learned earlier to really hone in on what subject matter and methods I resonate with. I wish I had learned to couple art with whatever else I was passionate about instead of trying to keep them separate for so long. I wish I had paid more attention to not only what I want to paint, but how I want to paint. I didn’t realize that methods and process are just as important as subject matter in the satisfaction an artist feels with their work.

What’s next? Lately, I’ve been working closely with natural history museums and herbariums. Most of my images come from the specimens I observe in their research collections, and I’ve arranged to work with some new museums in the next few months. New collections will mean new ideas! On top of that, I’ll be headed to graduate school later this year, so lots of exciting things ahead!

Visit Shae Warnick’s website.

Follow Shae Warnick on Instagram.


See another interview with Shae Warnick by Bryony Angell.

Janis Mars Wunderlich: Two Dimensional


Janis Mars Wunderlich is a contemporary ceramic master. She was born in Akron, Ohio and received her BFA from Brigham Young University and an MFA from The Ohio State University. She was profiled previously on The Krakens for her ceramic work. She is spending the summer in Dresden, Germany on a residency studying modern and historic techniques of porcelain figurine manufacturing at the Meissen Factory in Meissen, Germany. Wunderlich lives in Ohio.

Wunderlich writes of her work, “A significant part of my life has been dedicated to the role of nurturer and protector – instinctive duties that are equally sustaining and consuming. I symbolize this dichotomy in my art through the representation of a central mother figure that is often overlaid with layers of small child-like and anthropomorphic figures. The interactions between the mother figure and her living appendages provide social narratives depicting the joys and struggles of family life. The burdens of domestic duties and parental responsibilities result in satisfying pleasure and excruciating pain, both of which ultimately strengthen our character. “


How did your career develop? What worked and what didn’t? What is your work like today? I went to graduate school when I only had one child, because I knew life was not likely going to get easier. I wanted to get as much education in ceramics as I could, as there is so much technical and material information to learn in the field! After grad school, I voraciously sought after any opportunity to teach and exhibit my art, filling every spare minute of my time with art. For 25 years, I have balanced full-time art making with being a full-time mother. I found the best way to balance teaching was to seek short-term teaching opportunities, such as visiting artist/ lecturer events, or to teach short-term workshops at art schools. I had my studio at home so I could work on art while taking care of meals, laundry, and all of the crazy events of daily life. My kids would work on their own projects along side me in the studio. They grew up doing art regularly in their corner of my studio.

As my kids have gotten older, I am able now to teach more, and recently took over the Ceramics area at a university in Ohio. The only unfortunate part of all of this is that despite my 20 years of teaching as a visiting artist, it’s not considered ‘official’ college teaching experience. So, as I go back in to teaching at the university level, I am starting from scratch as an adjunct instructor. I am in a transitional period in my art (and in my personal life!) where I am experimenting, pushing boundaries, and forcing myself to get uncomfortable in the art making process. I am forcing myself to draw and paint, and explore mixed media. We will see where I end up!

Visit Janis Mars Wunderlich’s website.

Follow Janis Mars Wunderlich on Instagram.