This is What I See
Reno, NV 89501
Driving to work and wondering what the mountains would look like to a bird soaring above the peaks launched Carol Brown’s imagination three and a half years ago.
Brown had just moved to the area from Texas and had never seen the Sierra Nevada range from an aerial perspective.
“I didn’t believe in muses until then,” she says, unfurling a slight Southern accent. Her delicate hands move gracefully as she speaks. She’s petite, polite and articulate as she tries to find her footing in the Northern Nevada art scene.
The region’s unlimited space, wild seasons and an etching press sparked the idea of printing the textures of the landscape. She saw the etching press at Western Nevada Community College. For this work, she built images upon a collograph plate and created color prints for each season. Her idea required time and money. Time was easy—she quit her job. The money came courtesy of a Jackpot Grant from the Nevada Arts Council.
Soon enough, she was looking out the window of an airplane flying over the Sierra Nevada, sketching the topography below.
“I’m drawn to the vastness of the mountains,” she explains. “But then I want to sketch the details.”
She crammed three sketchbooks full of work prior to creating her first print.
From several feet away, her collographs look like colored 11 inch by 14 inch aerial maps. Up close, the details are amusing. She uses gauze and wrinkled tissue paper to imprint mountain ranges. Screen, sandpaper and coffeehouse cozies create fields and structures. Ribbons form rural roads. Matchsticks create power lines. Stencils form lakes. Elastic constructs a highway with button holes creating dividing white lines.
Art, according to Brown, is “about my perspective, about images and where I am.”
Luck also plays a part in the realization of her artistic vision. A conversation between Brown and a New York City artist turned to orchids. The artist described a New York City show, and Brown had to go. She saw the vibrant colors showing well in Japanese woodblock prints. The artist suggested she write a grant proposal to attend. Brown took her advice and once again the Nevada Arts Council obliged.
Brown flew to the New York City Botanical Gardens’ International Orchid Show in Rockefeller Center. Walking into the huge glass building with orchids everywhere was “breathtaking.” With so many people walking around, sketching proved impossible. Instead, she took digital photos. Once home, the sketching began.
Brown carves the images of delicate orchids into woodblocks, printing each color on each paper by hand, seeking to express each orchid’s essence. Her orchid prints are minimal, color rich and labor intensive.
Brown’s interest in Japanese woodblock printing peaked after watching a docent demonstrate this technique at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in the mid-'80s. Afterward, she began taking courses to earn a certificate in printmaking.
“It’s a simple process but difficult to master,” she says. A teacher once told her that art is about making decisions. Letting go of rigid thinking, following her imagination and finding ways to bring ideas to fruition are decisions that helped carve a life where she’s free to devote herself to her art.