I use all sorts of natural materials in my work – dirt and sand, seeds, sticks, fossils, shells, grass, and more. I gather from near my home and wherever I travel. Some of my most precious substances include green dirt from Southwestern Utah, gypsum from near Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle, and a jar full of the shells that cicadas shed each fall in Central Texas.
Sand is an especially important material. It provides a wonderfully uniform texture, can be easily mixed with anything, and is ideal for the spaces between seeds or rocks. My sand collection includes gypsum sand from near White Sands in New Mexico, purple-hued granite sand from near the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, and a supply of very fine beach sand from the Texas Coast.
Dirt and clay provide a large amount of the color for my pieces. Nature provides nearly every hue – the cool colors are rarely very intense, but they serve their purposes just as well as the rich, blood-reds that are so abundant across the Southwest.
Mountain laurel seeds have become a staple for one of my bodies of work. They range from dark red to light yellow, and maintain their color beautifully over time. They are native to the Central Texas area, and provide a rich tapestry of color and texture that begs to be touched.
I have always been attracted to sparkly things, especially those that are not man-made. Shiny rocks are amazing with their reflective surfaces and intricate forms, but do not risk becoming gaudy. Mica is plentiful, and comes in a startling array of colors from jet black to red, purple, and the more common silver. Quartz is even more abundant, and breaks into lovely prisms of white, rose, or yellow. Gypsum is most often white or clear. It is a softer stone, and can be found in long needles nestled together, or in a sugary array of crystals growing every which way.
I strongly prefer materials that I gather from nature, but occasionally purchase something that I have not found in my explorations. Currently, I buy colored micas, some from Canada and some from Brazil. One day I may find these lovely stones in my travels, but for now, I simply let myself indulge in them for special pieces.
I currently use two different methods to bind my materials to panels and canvases. In one I use a homemade mixture of linseed oil and wax medium, which when blended with sand and/or dirt creates a lovely, velvety texture. It is especially useful when I want to combine earth and traditional oil paints.
I also use clear acrylic medium, which binds most anything, including big chunks of dirt or rocks, into a concrete-like layer that is amazingly sturdy. It is also perfect for setting mountain laurel seeds. Each of these media is meant to fix my materials without becoming an obvious part of the work.