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Interview: Innovative "swatch painter" Jennifer Lashbrook named featured artist for 2013 Arts Festival Oklahoma

by Brandy McDonnell Modified: August 30, 2013 at 2:55 pm •  Published: August 30, 2013
Dallas "swatch" painter Jennifer Lashbrook, the featured artist at the 2013 Arts Festival Oklahoma, creates her mixed-media paintings out of carefully cut out and arranged paint swatches.
Dallas "swatch" painter Jennifer Lashbrook, the featured artist at the 2013 Arts Festival Oklahoma, creates her mixed-media paintings out of carefully cut out and arranged paint swatches.

A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman. To read more about the 35th Annual Arts Festival Oklahoma, click here.

Arts Festival Oklahoma featured artist creates innovative swatch paintings
Dallas artist Jennifer Lashbrook collects, cuts out and glues down paint swatches into hyper-realistic celebrity likenesses, spot-on reproductions of famous works and illusion-inducing pixilated portraits.

A decade into developing her unique technique, Dallas artist Jennifer Lashbrook has discovered that she can make any face with 576 one-inch squares of colored card stock.

With her innovative “swatch paintings,” the ancient adage “the whole is more than the some of its parts” is proven true in eye-popping, illusion-inducing fashion.

“People do collage with different types of paper and things, but I’ve never seen anybody do it with the swatches before,” she said. “I like the idea that the viewer is able to go back and kind of piece together their own masterwork. If they go to Lowe’s, they go to Home Depot, they get the specific colors, they can kind of paint-by-number a masterpiece.”

While working on her fine arts degree at the University of North Texas, the Illinois native became fascinated with the rows of colorful paint swatches carefully displayed at the home improvement stores she frequented for supplies. She set aside her oil paints and began collecting, cataloging, arranging, cutting out and gluing the swatches into hyper-realistic celebrity portraits and spot-on reproductions of famous works, starting with her “DIY Mona Lisa.”

“It’s kind of trial and error. I find the right color and then try to get the shape cut the right way. It’s a lot of going back and forth. I mean, it takes like 10 times longer than a normal painting, but the end product is so unique it’s worth it,” she said.

“When you see them in person, they look even cooler than when you see it through a photograph just because the paintings have a really sculptural quality to them.”

Oklahoma art lovers will get the chance to see Lashbrook’s unique mixed-media paintings in person over Labor Day weekend, when she is the featured artist at the 35th Annual Arts Festival Oklahoma at Oklahoma City Community College.

“I feel like it’s totally different than what we’ve ever had before,” said OCCC spokeswoman Kim Holding.

Dallas "swatch" painter Jennifer Lashbrook, the featured artist at the 2013 Arts Festival Oklahoma, created her "DIY Mona Lisa" out of carefully cut out and arranged paint swatches.
Dallas "swatch" painter Jennifer Lashbrook, the featured artist at the 2013 Arts Festival Oklahoma, created her "DIY Mona Lisa" out of carefully cut out and arranged paint swatches.

Unique technique

The festival committee strives each year to find a featured artist who is working in an unusual style, Holding said. The chosen artist’s work is featured on the limited-edition poster and exhibited prominently at the free festival, which takes places annually Saturday through Monday of Labor Day weekend.

Although she started creating her swatch paintings 10 years ago, Lashbrook, 31, just started exhibiting her work in the past year. She was thrilled to be named Arts Festival Oklahoma’s featured artist for her first year at the event, which annually draws 25,000 festival-goers.

“I never felt like I had a big enough portfolio to step out there and be like ‘OK, this is my stuff,’ and then I buckled down. … It’s just been like the coolest year ever. It’s just snowballed,” said the Texan, who in April was named the best emerging artist at the massive Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival.

“Once I did the first one, the Mona Lisa, I loved the way that it looked so much, I just kind of like (thought) ‘You know what, I’ve never seen anybody do this, this is gonna be my thing, I’m only gonna paint this way from now on.”

Marilyn 24x24, 1/22/13, 6:03 PM,  8C, 9374x11520 (255+1140), 125%, Custom,  1/30 s, R87.5, G60.6, B73.5
Marilyn 24x24, 1/22/13, 6:03 PM, 8C, 9374x11520 (255+1140), 125%, Custom, 1/30 s, R87.5, G60.6, B73.5

Long process

After she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2004, Lashbrook spent nearly a decade creating swatch portraits and giving them away as gifts to friends and family to build up her portfolio and her confidence. With good reason: Each swatch painting takes hundreds of hours to create.

“When I say I spend six months on a painting, that’s just drawing, cutting and gluing. Because I’ve been collecting these swatches now for 10 years, and I’ve spent a lot of time like organizing and cataloging,” said Lashbrook, who started painting at the age of 10 when her parents enrolled her in a Bob Ross-style class.

She started out creating faithful likenesses of Marilyn Monroe and Bob Ross as well as true-to-life versions of classic works like Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies.”  The latter is featured on the Arts Festival Oklahoma 2013 poster.

“I kind of consider it the bridge to what I’m doing more recently, which are pixilated ‘swatch’ paintings, which are made up only of squares instead of cutting out shapes freehand,” she said. “When you see it in person, a lot of people can’t even tell that it’s faces, and then the further back you walk away from it or if you view it through a camera, then it looks exactly like the person. It’s the strangest thing.”

Whether she is creating her realistic or pixilated swatch paintings, she incorporates the fanciful names of the paint varieties into her final pieces.

“It was really intriguing to me, the name of each color and how that they can sometimes relate to the subject matter. Like the name of the Marilyn piece is ‘Red Hot Starry Eyed Cinema Star,’ which is all color names. … The tongue of Marilyn, the title of that color is Forbidden Red, so it’s just little things like that, I think it’s funny how they tie into the paintings,” Lashbrook said.

“It’s totally the challenge, and I’m always like ‘what can I do to make this even harder?’” she added with a laugh. “But then I know when I get done, it’s gonna be amazing.”

Dallas "swatch" painter Jennifer Lashbrook, the featured artist at the 2013 Arts Festival Oklahoma, created this pixilated self-portrait out of purple squares cut from paint swatches.
Dallas "swatch" painter Jennifer Lashbrook, the featured artist at the 2013 Arts Festival Oklahoma, created this pixilated self-portrait out of purple squares cut from paint swatches.

GOING ON

35th Annual Arts Festival Oklahoma

When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday.

Where: Oklahoma City Community College, SW 74 and May Ave.

Admission: Free.

Parking: $5 per car on OCCC campus.

Information: 682-7576 or www.occc.edu/AFO.

-BAM

by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1...
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