Digital Studio Visit: Elaine Hanowell
Pacific Northwest artist Elaine Hanowell has been perfecting her lighted sculptures of fish since 1986. After a large commission in 1989 by Tom Douglas for his restaurant, the Dahlia Lounge, Hanowell’s lighted fish became a signature style of the restaurant and her work. 30 years later, her work is now in homes and public collections throughout the United States and has been featured many times in lifestyle and décor publications.
Hanowell begins a fish in clay, sculpting the shape and details that will become the foundation for a plaster reverse-mold. She then creates the fish by layering dozens of strips of paper and collage elements into the negative space of the two-piece mold.
“I often have an idea of colors or combinations of shapes I’d like to use in creating an illuminated sculpture. I pull out my paper drawers, a riot of color, and start laying out different patterns. It’s kind of an intuitive process. Since the paper is laid into a negative mold I won’t really be able to see how all the collage elements come together until it is pulled from the mold. The real magic happens with the light!“
The bases are created with slate tile, each selected by Hanowell for their beauty and variations in texture and color. Her bamboo poles are hand-wrapped with waxed linen thread and wired by Hanowell, who has worked extensively throughout the years to source the best materials for creating functional lighted pieces that still maintain the elegant simplicity of the sculptural form.
Always looking for new papers to incorporate into the work, Hanowell finds unusual, hand-made materials during her travels. She says some of her favorites have come from Bangkok and Laos, where people make paper along the river.
Twenty years ago while on a lay-over in Korea, she discovered some antique books that captured her imagination. Since then, through gifts and occasional antique shows she has continued to find these unique texts. “The books have been an inspiration and source of wonder for me.” Some of these books have been calligraphed by hand and many date back 150 years. “It’s a real joy to be able to reuse these pages so carefully crafted in the past.”
Hanowell also carves linoleum stamps and creates her own elements to mix into the layers of her work. Precious bits of gold leaf gathered from her travels and other beautiful ephemera are also collaged into the fish, layer by layer. Each fish sculpture is the result of weeks of work and Hanowell completes about 4 fish per month.
“It feels like it starts from a quiet place inside. A sort of listening. From this follows the work of bringing that subtle quality into form.”