Featured Artist Interview – Karen Carlo Salinger

Karen Carlo SalingerKaren Carlo Salinger
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Tell us about your artwork, medium, style, subject matter, etc.
I have always been drawn to creating what I call orgomorphic art – imaginary biology and fantastical creatures that come to life in my head and are brought to reality through my artwork. They have their basis in my fascination with biology, botany and the other sciences, and in my brain the thoughts and ideas that I latch onto combine with memories and imagination and obsessions and emotions and they morph into these strange organisms with very active lives and sometimes very dark feelings in disturbing situations that they find themselves in.  These are my creatures and as I imagine them and flesh them out they quickly take on a life of their own.  I start with quick pen and ink sketches to develop my ideas, then I figure out how to best create these creatures from a variety of materials that I experiment with.  I often work with wrapped steel wire combined with unusual materials such as silkworm cocoons, urethane rubber, thermoplastic, recycled fur, glass, wool, precious metals, fabric, and most recently 3D printed objects to create shapes that could be either some sort of alien plant life, undersea creature, imaginary insect, or whatever other strange creation that my imagination invents.  If I don’t have the right material to create what I want, I’ll find a new material or repurpose some sort of object to get the effect that I need.  I recently acquired a large number of used steel barrel rings that I am currently using to base some wall sculptures on, the rings serve as petri dishes for various organisms to grow within and escape from.  My latest experiment is with 3D printing organic shapes to be primed and painted with oil paints, which is providing me with a whole new host of options for my creatures, and I am very eager to explore the possibilities that this opens up.

Karen Carlo Salinger

What are your biggest challenges in creating art?
My biggest challenges would have to be parenting and working past my often uncooperative brain and body.  Due to some lifelong health challenges, I often find it difficult to focus or think clearly, and have some persistent joint problems that affect my hands.  I usually manage to either work around or through those difficulties, but it definitely gets in the way.  Parenting poses its own challenges, which have shifted over the years. I do most of my creating during the morning and afternoon while my kids are in school, once they are home if I am finishing a sculpture it is with frequent interruptions for homework help, bickering, or other various tween/teen angst.  I’ve also become an expert in theater prop creation for our local theater group that my daughter is involved in, which while interesting, can also be a huge time suck that takes me away from my own endeavors while I am meeting deadlines.  The upside is that I’ve discovered some new materials and ways of working through building some of the more extravagant props, such as several different types of thermoplastics which have some great possibilities for future larger works.

Karen Carlo Salinger

What is a day of working like in your studio/creative space?  Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
After I drop off kids at school, I take my coffee into my studio and get to work.  I have converted our garage into my studio – having a completely separate space helps me to detach from everyday life so that I can focus.  Our dog Rey has become my studio buddy, so she will hang out with me while I work.  My creative time is mostly split between two phases – drawing, thinking, and brainstorming, and then the physical creation of my sculptures.  When I am thinking and drawing, I need to have things quiet – no music, tv, or distractions.  I’ll grab the nearest sketchbook and start putting ideas to paper, and I will browse through books and images to spark my imagination.  Sometimes I’ll hang out outside for this if the weather cooperates.  Once I’m ready to start making a sculpture, I switch into production mode which is very different.  I’ll usually put on the tv to keep my mind busy while I do busywork with my hands and tools, since that is the time when my mind will start spinning in circles and obsessing on all sorts of regular life stuff, not always a good place for me to be mentally.  I’ll usually start by putting together parts of the sculptures since often I work with multiples of various components, once I have enough of the parts, I’ll start assembling them together or attaching them to a central piece to create a larger sculpture.  After that I do any fine tuning and detail work that needs to be done to finish the piece.  The sculptures can take anywhere from a few days to multiple weeks to complete, depending on the size and complexity.

Karen Carlo Salinger

When you are in need of inspiration are there particular things you read, listen to, look at or do to help find that idea or fuel your work?
When I need inspiration there are several things I will do to get ideas.  Walking outside and spending time in nature is really important for me, we live up in the rural mountains and driving distance from the ocean, so there are plenty of opportunities to explore nature which is both relaxing and inspiring for me.  I will also seek out books, articles, and online images of all manner of scientific oddities and organisms. Pinterest is a bit of an addiction of mine, I have collected a huge board with images of plants, insects, biology, fungus, microscopic life, etc.  Usually a few minutes of looking through images will spark my imagination and will start some ideas brewing.

Karen Carlo Salinger

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
The chaotic and constant stream of thoughts that run through my head, every minute of every day.  I am not a very verbal person, I am fairly quiet, calm, and shy when you talk to me, and I often have trouble adequately expressing myself when I talk.  My brain is constantly spinning though, which is sometimes good, and sometimes very bad, and always extremely distracting.  I am not a good conversationalist, and I often have trouble getting my opinions and thoughts out clearly, they often remain locked inside my head. And sometimes the thoughts and ideas in my head can make it very hard to follow a conversation – If I ask you to repeat yourself, or look a little lost, likely I’ve lost my train of thought and it might take me a moment or two to regain it, please bear with me.  Usually I can hide it well, but not always.

Karen Carlo Salinger

What advice would you give to others just beginning their creative careers?
Follow your own path, and don’t let your ideas about what others want or expect sway you from your authenticity.  If you stay true to yourself, those that appreciate your vision and what you have to offer will find you and your work.  You will always do your best when you follow your own path.

Karen Carlo Salinger

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We were so lucky to have Karen and another artist, Tammy Caldwell, visit our classroom and tell us about their artistic process. Invite artists into your classroom! You won’t be sorry!