Guest Article by Madeline Sorenson, Chehalem Cultural Center Marketing Coordinator
How long have you been making art?
Dillow: Art is something I always have enjoyed. Anyone who has worked with me will tell you that during my lunch breaks I often will just be doodling away. The only way I was able to make it through lectures was if I was doodling in my notes, so I don’t have a way of really defining that. However, I started painting in early 2016 because my mom had a little daily watercolor calendar (with five colors) that you could try and emulate a little picture. I found that I was particularly good at matching the colors and I really enjoyed it. That sparked a curiosity as to whether I could actually do representational paintings so I just started painting birds from a calendar. The pictures were usually just about an inch by inch and a half and I would make them into little paintings that were like a 5 by 7. Then I stopped doing it for a long time (probably because I had my third child that November) and I didn’t really pick it back up again until late last year.
Did you study art in school?
Dillow:I did take several art classes in High School and College, mostly in ceramics really. I did take drawing as well in High School and I was in an advanced art studio class. I suppose my very first public showing was within that class but at that time I think I was experimenting with a bunch of different media (I did some wire sculpture drawings, I did some stamp and print making, I made paper and some other things I don’t really remember because it was 18 years ago).
Do you live in Newberg / What’s your connection to Newberg?
Dillow: I live and grew up in Newberg. I went to college at George Fox University. I have a Masters in Teaching from there as well. I also have worked in Newberg for most of my adult life.
How has your first exhibition experience been? How does it feel to share your work with others?
Dillow: I wish that I would have been able to have an event like first Friday to be able to observe people looking at it and talking about it; of course, that is one of the many luxuries that Covid has taken away. It was, however, really nice to have something I was working towards this year. I think my favorite moment was when my 7-year-old nephew said
“I didn’t know Aunt Lizzy’s work would be in a Museum.” That was pretty special. I have enjoyed working with the Cultural Center and trying to live into the idea that I am a “real” artist.
These paintings are extremely detailed. How long do you usually work on a single painting?
Dillow: It really depends on the painting. Some of them took me just a few hours and some took me an entire week. I have a tendency to work really fast when I am painting: I probably spend about half an hour doing a rough sketch and when I start diving into painting it, I try to go pretty fast. Partially that is because when I am going fast I am painting with more confidence and if I take too many breaks I can start to get real intimidated about not messing it up somehow. (I have three kids so breaks come whether or not I want them to). I never have actually taken a painting class so sometimes I am just trying out different techniques in order to get different textures.
Where do you make your art?
Dillow: At a little desk on the edge of my living room. Sometimes I am painting with the kids running all around. I like that.
What did working on this series teach you?
Dillow: Ultimately what it taught me is that I can do it. That my art is worth sharing. I think what I was most struck by when I saw it hanging in the Cultural Center was just how colorful and bright and joyful it was all together. I mean I of course had seen it all but mostly in a stack and not all at once. I have a lot of joy in my spirit and that honestly has struggled a bit this year and seeing it on the walls really was a visual representation to me that it still exists and is a part of me. I created all of those paintings this year and considering the year it has been, I was surprised by the amount of joy.
It seems like a lot of your inspiration (and materials) came to you at first. As your practice deepened, you began to reach out for more inspiration. Are you interested in continuing to explore painting birds? Is there anything else that you’ve come across lately that you think might inspire future works? New mediums or subject matter?
Dillow: I do really enjoy painting birds partially because every single one is different. And they also are in so many varying natural settings that I find fun to try to emulate. Sometimes I find it extremely challenging but I still enjoy it. I also just like the idea that you can be painting in the same subject area and be exploring the differences between an owl and a hummingbird. I just find that stuff interesting, I was a biology major so the natural world is pretty fascinating to me. I don’t know what my next subject matter will be, I don’t feel quite finished with birds, but it may morph into something else.
When I am just drawing for myself, I often do more of a Zentangle or just pattern driven drawings. I have done a mini art series for my church that focused on opening hands up to God. During the week of the Chehalem M fire, I had to evacuate from my house and I definitely had to do pattern doodling just to calm my nerves.
Tell me about the beautiful frames you made for your exhibit. How long have you been woodworking? The frames complement the paintings very well, were you planning to make frames when you first started painting?
Dillow: With the exception of when I made a book case with my dad when I was 18, I started woodworking this last April to make these frames.
The frames were really a project that my husband Jesse Dillow and I did together. We recently moved into our house (two summers ago) and we have been sort of starting to set up a hobby wood shop in our barn because that is something he is interested in doing. Also, we had inherited some table saws so he wanted to put them to use. The decision to make frames was more one of necessity. I was originally signed up to do a show in July but once sheltering in place became a thing it was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t sure how to navigate getting frames so I just thought making them might be easier and quicker (after having done them now I would say, no it is not easier or quicker, but it was a lot of fun). So Jesse and I split up the jobs of it. I did most of the cutting and some of the gluing, Jesse did the plugs in the corners and most of the sanding. We both did the routing and staining and varnishing. Some of the wood we purchased and a lot of it was remnants that I found in the barn just waiting to become something.
What are you working on right now?
Dillow: This art show is really my current work. I finished the last painting about three weeks before the show and the last frames the night before. As my show comes to an end I am planning on creating a website in order to allow people to view and buy my work. I am also looking into ways to reproduce them as prints. In terms of what my next projects may be I am not sure what will spark my interest next, but I do know I have a few more birds that are coming.
Do you have a favorite artist?
Dillow: Well I have always loved the impressionists, my favorite of which is probably Renoir because he really managed to capture the energy and life around him. But my very favorite painter was my grandpa who did oil paintings of scenes from his childhood or quails sitting on a log.
Come check out Liz’s show!
Brushstrokes of Birds by Liz Dillow
on view Oct 6 – Nov 28, 2020
Community Gallery at the Chehalem Cultural Center
415 E Sheridan St, Newberg, OR 97132
Free gallery admission. Gallery hours Tuesday – Saturday 9am – 6pm.
More info: https://www.chehalemculturalcenter.org/exhibitions/2020/10/6/watercolor-paintings-by-liz-dillow