English artist’s meticulous work branches out to Bainbridge

Indianola by way of England artist Elizabeth Reed Smith works with some of the most formidable symbols on Earth. Yet her style is so delicate that she counts a magnifying glass as just another piece of equipment. With magnifier in one hand, crow quill ink pen in the other, she endeavors a visual celebration of nature, one stroke at a time, through painstaking sketches of some of the planet’s most magnificent plant life — trees.

  • Monday, June 9, 2008 11:51pm
  • Life

Above: Elizabeth Reed Smith at work magnifying glass in one hand

New works from local pen-and-inkstress Elizabeth Reed Smith to hang through June.

Indianola by way of England artist Elizabeth Reed Smith works with some of the most formidable symbols on Earth.

Yet her style is so delicate that she counts a magnifying glass as just another piece of equipment. With magnifier in one hand, crow quill ink pen in the other, she endeavors a visual celebration of nature, one stroke at a time, through painstaking sketches of some of the planet’s most magnificent plant life — trees.

It seems simple, even commonplace at face value —  an art exhibit of trees in the Northwest — but, there’s a strong undertow of intricacy, stylistically and intellectually, in Smith’s show “Ring of Life,” on display at the Gallery at Grace Episcopal Church through June.

“In my work I try to convey the clarity, beauty and simple majesty of the commonplace, otherwise so easily taken for granted,” Smith said in her artist statement.

Keep in mind throughout, there’s no erasing with pen and ink. No stroke is taken for granted.

In this solo show, Smith examines the majesty of the commonplace through five different artistic mediums — a series of her forte, pen and ink on one wall, dry point engraving on another and mixed media color works on another, along with a few linocut prints across the room from an interesting new technique she’s recently added to her repertoire — the old world art form of silverpoint.

Silverpoint is a method of drawing that predates graphite — the ancestor of the modern pencil, it’s been called. It’s an art form associated with artists of the Renaissance like Rembrandt, Da Vinci and Raphael. In the process, the canvas is treated with a special coating which allows a silver-tipped utensil to leave silver-colored marks, Smith said, like a pen with no need for ink.

Four of Smith’s silverpoint trees on small boxed canvases greet the viewer right inside the doors of the Gallery at Grace.

Surveying and standing next to that section of the show, Smith said, “everyone can relate to trees in some way or another.”

As for herself, she’s been enamored by nature’s giants since she was a child. She’s been sketching trees for decades, initially influenced by the Victorian-era British book illustrator Arthur Rackham, who’s famed for his woodland-fairy-centric and fairy tale drawings accompanying children’s stories like “The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm,” “Rip Van Winkle” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

Smith grew up reading those stories and feasting on those images underneath the broadleaf elms and beeches of Devon, England. Later into adulthood, she followed love and her husband to the enormous eaves of evergreen in the Pacific Northwest. Even as her surroundings changed, her pen-and-inked trees remained.

“Of course it was great to be among the trees, but it was still a big transition to come and find the evergreen trees when I was always so used to the broadleaf trees,” Smith recounted her feelings upon arrival in the Northwest a little more than 10 years ago.

The trees that she puts on paper, Smith said, are a fusion of “every tree I’ve ever seen, every book I’ve read and every picture I’ve looked at.”

So in effect these trees are ultimately creatures of the artist’s imagination, but they are incredibly realistic, taking form from the troves of trees she’s drawn and/or admired throughout her life.

Looking to bring something a “little bit different,” for this show at Grace, she came upon the combination of her beloved trees with another of life’s most powerful symbol — circles.

Thus, the “Ring of Life.”

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