June Studio Update

June Studio Update

While summer weather may not actually arrive here in England this year, there's plenty of daylight for long hours in the studio this time of year. Good thing, since there are lots of exciting things underway.

April Studio Update

April Studio Update

The easterly winds from Siberia have finally stopped blowing here and sweet Spring is for real, it seems. All the more reason to embrace good things happening in the studio, including new work and a minor studio accident!

March Studio Update

March Studio Update

March roared in with a heavy workload and travel-wrecking winds, but that didn't thwart efforts to finish and ship eighteen pieces of original artwork, introduce a new series, and participate in a one-week residency in Germany. Read on for all the details. "Out like a lamb" feels elusive but I'm optimistic!

February Studio Update

February Studio Update

If you can believe it, the light is already rising here in the UK with afternoons growing a tiny bit longer each day before it gets dark. I am always heartened by this, even in gloomy February. It reminds me that Spring is coming with the darkest days behind us.

Which was the theme for my installation at last month'sBlue Monday exhibition at 44AD Gallery in Bath, shown above. 

In the meantime, things are humming in the studio where we're working on 15 pieces for three separate projects that all will be finished before it's officially Spring next month. For a peek behind the scenes and more, read on!

December Studio Update: A Year to Remember

As 2017 winds down, I am grateful. While it has been the hardest year of my life (one reason I am thankful it is over), it has also been one of unexpected opportunity, growth, and new beginnings.

Hand-embellished Prints

I am very excited about a new project underway—and while I can't reveal many details (yet), I can start to share the process of creating something brand new. The challenge is to come up with a solution to use a large amount of my work in a cost-effective way. Original artwork is beyond the scope of the budget, yet we want to create something more unique and special than limited edition prints of the same piece.

Enter hand-embellished prints. They sit between original artwork and a straightforward reproduction, such as giclées (fine art digital prints). Using a reproduction print as the base, the work is then added-to or worked-into with techniques such as touches or washes of paint, spots of clear acrylic to create highlights or other mark-making on top of the print.

Laser cut tests at Bristol Design Forge. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Laser cut tests at Bristol Design Forge. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

In the case of my burnt paper series, I have been testing ways to efficiently burn back into the paper print of an original, as well as create satisfying gilding effects that are cost-effective. Bristol Design Forge has been helping figure out how to use laser cutting to create a range of effects, from clean cuts that barely appear to be touched by heat, to heavier edges with a crispy effect (the latter being much to the owner's dismay, I think, as they pride themselves on getting as clean a cut as possible!).

Testing the possible range of laser cut effects for my burnt paper series, "Playing With Fire" at Bristol Design Forge, Bristol, UK. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

The samples are off to the client next week, and with a little luck, I'll be sharing more on this project in the near future.

Two New Commissions Going to Hong Kong

Two new pieces are winging their way this week to take up residence in a Mt. Nicholson Show Flat in Hong Kong.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 67 . Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 67. Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

These pieces are inspired directly from my very first and third works in this series, back in 2013. There was something very simple and innocent about Playing With Fire No. 1 and No. 3 that I enjoyed returning to in these two latest versions.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 68 . Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 68. Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

These new pieces are another example of scaling up and referencing earlier work. Clients often come to me with images of my former pieces, asking me if I can do something "similar to this one, only in these dimensions."

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 67 . Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 67. Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

At first, I resisted the idea of just re-producing work to spec­―is that really fine art? What I've learned is that they're all original! With flame and paper as the mediums, there is no way any two pieces will ever be identical.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 67 . Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 67. Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

As with any work in a series, there are subtle differences to be explored­―the drip and flow of Chinese ink, a variation on gold leaf, what fire does to paper. So no matter the original model, this work truly has a mind of its own.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 68 . Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 68. Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire Nos. 67  and  68 . Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches each. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire Nos. 67 and 68. Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 40 x 28 x 1 inches each. ©2017. Commissioned for Mt. Nicholson Show Flat, Hong Kong.

A big thank you to the team at James Robertson Art Consultants for the opportunity! And to Zed Al-Gafoor at Imagecentre in Bath for the beautiful images.

New Commission: Scaling Up

A recently completed commission afforded me the opportunity to play with scale, materials and process. The client, a fine art consulting firm, wanted a larger version of a piece they had already placed in another project. I'd not "replicated" my burned paper pieces yet, thinking there was little I could do to control the effects of fire on paper and therefore produce a similar result. Let the challenge begin!

The original: Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 31 . Paper, gold leaf, flame. 40 x 28 x .25 inches. ©2016.

The original: Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 31. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 40 x 28 x .25 inches. ©2016.

Earlier this year, I developed a technique to help me accurately translate my sketches to scale. It involves using oversized prints of my sketches, which I then slice into pieces and use as templates for re-drawing the layers at the correct size. It worked well for a Connecticut coastline-inspired piece, so why not use the same process using my own work as the original drawing?

Template for a project underway inspired by Frankfurt. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Template for a project underway inspired by Frankfurt. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

The approach worked nicely and helped to expedite an otherwise traditional, yet time-consuming way to scale-up using a grid system to transfer an image. But what I'm particularly pleased about is that, despite an accurate rendering of the original design, the new version is entirely unique and different from the first. There is happily still not much you can do to control the outcome when taking blowtorch to paper, or when working with materials that are 300% larger than the first time around.

Flattening rolled watercolor paper in my studio. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Flattening rolled watercolor paper in my studio. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

There are several challenges when working at a larger size, in this case 72 x 48 inches. First is workspace. My workbench isn't large enough, so I had to improvise by using the floor and a temporary workshop set up in our dining room (not ideal). The other issue is my Burning Shed, an unfinished outbuilding where I do the things that can't otherwise be done indoors (burning, spray paint, etc.). The Burning Shed was maxed out at this size, so for larger projects, I'll have to find another solution.

Materials take on a mind of their own at this size, especially paper. As much as I flattened the rolled watercolor paper, once you hit it with the blowtorch, it curls and warps as the fibers respond to the heat. I'll continue to explore solutions to this effect, or just work with it - which is what materials are teaching me anyway. 

Who doesn't like a little bling? Gilding with variegated leaf. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Who doesn't like a little bling? Gilding with variegated leaf. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Speaking of learning, this is the first project where I used variegated gold leaf for the gilding. Variegated leaf is a metal leaf that has been heat-treated, chemically-treated or both to develop patinas and unique discoloration. In this case, I love how the subtle coppers, blues, reds and greens add interest to veins of gold that would otherwise be too monochrome and flat for a design of this size.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 60  (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 72 x 48 x .65 inches (unframed). ©2017. 

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 60 (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 72 x 48 x .65 inches (unframed). ©2017. 

Overall, I'm pleased with the outcome on this project, with clear ideas on how to continue refining the work, especially at larger sizes - which I hope to do more of!

New Commission: Inspired by the Coastline

When a private collector came to me wanting one of my Playing With Fire pieces for her home on the water, I was excited to see where coastal inspiration took us. I presented three sketches, all slightly different takes on her theme.

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #1 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #1 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #2 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #2 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #3 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #3 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

The client and her husband selected sketch #1. This one was actually my favorite, inspired directly by the topography of where their home is located in Connecticut on the Long Island Sound. Place and homeland have featured prominently in my work since moving overseas from the US in 2011, but not necessarily in my Playing With Fire series. Here was an opportunity to marry the two – my more abstract work with themes and inspiration that are close to home.

This has been one of my larger burned paper pieces to date, so safety was paramount in what I fondly call The Burning Shed. I use an unfinished stone out-building on our property to do this kind of work, complete with stainless steel workbench, certified respirator, fireproof jumpsuit, fire blanket, fire extinguisher and ventilation fans. Action video below!

And the finished framed piece:

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 40 . Paper, gold leaf, flame. 52 x 47 x 2 inches. ©2017. Private commission.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 40. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 52 x 47 x 2 inches. ©2017. Private commission.

Something that excites me about this piece is that the work is becoming more object-like and sculptural. By floating the artwork inside a larger frame, all sides of the piece come into play. In this case, the object's irregular shape was informed by the state of Connecticut, but the float allows me to be otherwise unconstrained by the rectangular shape of a frame. Stay tuned on this idea!

The path from sketches to finished product was a bit more complicated for this commission. The size of the piece presented some framing challenges, mainly due to color restrictions for the larger mount board (matting) on which the artwork floats. The client's interior designer specified Pantone colors for my framer to match, which meant the board had to be painted. The UK uses a different color system, so we had to visually match Pantone paint sample cards to the RAL system here. All very geeky and boring if this isn't your thing! Luckily, it is mine, and we got it right in the end, thanks to the patience and professionalism of my framer, Ian Pittman and his team at The Framing Workshop in Bath.

Frame check for  Playing With Fire No. 40 . Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Frame check for Playing With Fire No. 40. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Another challenge was creating something interesting and layered without making the final framed work too deep, as the artwork hangs on a wall over which a large flatscreen TV glides up and down. Instead of simplifying the design, I found ways to retain the layering while staying within the client's design specs.

Overall, I'm really pleased with how this piece turned out. Many thanks to the team at The Framing Workshop in Bath, to HMC Logistics for the TLC of their art handlers and expertise to get the final product safely into the client's hands, and a huge thank you to this collector for the opportunity to create something special for their home.

New Commission + New Toy: Dubai Hotel project

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 25  and  No. 26 . Paper, gold leaf, flame. 35.5 x 29 x 2.65 inches each. ©2016. Commissioned for The Address Boulevard Dubai. Images: Z. Al-Gafoor, Image Centre

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 25 and No. 26. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 35.5 x 29 x 2.65 inches each. ©2016. Commissioned for The Address Boulevard Dubai. Images: Z. Al-Gafoor, Image Centre

What happens when you take a blowtorch to paper? All kinds of toasty, crispy, singed wonderfulness! These two recent commissions for The Address Boulevard Dubai are evidence that you can do so without burning down the studio.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 26 (detail) . Paper, gold leaf, flame. 35.5 x 29 x 2.65 inches. ©2016. Commissioned for The Address Boulevard Dubai. Image: Z. Al-Gafoor, Image Centre

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 26 (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 35.5 x 29 x 2.65 inches. ©2016. Commissioned for The Address Boulevard Dubai. Image: Z. Al-Gafoor, Image Centre

Contrary to what I thought would happen, taking torch to paper allows for a range of effects. From subtle surface browning - kind of like toasting a marshmallow - to complete combustion, the possibilities are surprising. As I work more with a torch, I'm eager to see how the work evolves.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 25 (detail) . Paper, gold leaf, flame. 35.5 x 29 x 2.65 inches. ©2016. Commissioned for The Address Boulevard Dubai Image: Z. Al-Gafoor, Image Centre

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 25 (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 35.5 x 29 x 2.65 inches. ©2016. Commissioned for The Address Boulevard Dubai Image: Z. Al-Gafoor, Image Centre

I'm very pleased for this work to be landing in a completely different part of the world, and grateful for the continued support for my work by the team at Soho Myriad Fine Art Consultants.

New Commission: Ithaca Marriott Downtown Hotel

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 27 . Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 49 x 35 x 1.25 inches. ©2016. Commissioned for Ithaca Marriott Downtown on the Commons Hotel.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 27. Paper, gold leaf, ink, flame. 49 x 35 x 1.25 inches. ©2016. Commissioned for Ithaca Marriott Downtown on the Commons Hotel.

Playing With Fire, No. 27 and No. 28 have just headed out the door, bound for the brand new Ithaca Marriott Downtown on the Commons Hotel near Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The pieces will be 52 x 38 inches framed and will hang in public spaces.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 28 . Paper, gold leaf, flame. 49 x 35 x 1.25 inches. ©2016. Commissioned for Ithaca Marriott Downtown on the Commons Hotel.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 28. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 49 x 35 x 1.25 inches. ©2016. Commissioned for Ithaca Marriott Downtown on the Commons Hotel.

I'm particularly pleased with these pieces because the client asked for a finished product that is shallower in depth, yet still sculptural enough to create interest. By switching to a thinner backing material for the paper and designing in fewer layers, we achieved our goal. The end result allows for more cost-effective framing options without compromising the work.

Thank you again to Soho Myriad Fine Art Consultants for placing these pieces and continuing to support my work!

New Commission: Paper Wall Panels for Norwegian Cruise Lines

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 22 , detail. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 32 x 32 x 2.65 inches. ©2016.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 22, detail. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 32 x 32 x 2.65 inches. ©2016.

This new commission for Norwegian Cruise Lines recently shipped out for framing, once again through the capable hands of the fine art consultants at Soho Myriad. This is our third custom project together (and nine total pieces) since September and it feels like we're starting to get it down to a system. I really appreciate Soho Myriad's experience in the business of commissioned commercial art—and am happy that I tend to be a quick study!

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 21 and 22 . Paper, gold leaf, flame. 32 x 32 x 2.65 inches. ©2016.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 21 and 22. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 32 x 32 x 2.65 inches. ©2016.

The two pieces we're creating for NCL will go on their Hawaiian cruise ship, Pride of America, in dry dock for refurbishment through mid-March. They were originally to hang in the revamped Mandara Spa, but once they were finished, we realized that their depth might require them to be placed elsewhere.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 21 , detail. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 32 x 32 x 2.65 inches. ©2016.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 21, detail. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 32 x 32 x 2.65 inches. ©2016.

With these pieces under my belt, I am itching to try some new ideas for this series. We have another commission in the pipeline, so it might be an opportunity to play with fire even more.

New Commission: 5-Piece 2D Paper Sculpture for Hotel

The second commission for the Franklin Marriott Hotel and Conference Center shipped to Atlanta recently. The Soho Myriad framers are hard at work constructing box frames before sending the work on to Nashville for final installation.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 16 - 20 , work in progress. Paper, gold leaf, flame. Dimensions variable. ©2015.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 16 - 20, work in progress. Paper, gold leaf, flame. Dimensions variable. ©2015.

These pieces are different from the first commission of two circular forms. For this second project, the client wanted straight, angled pieces to hang as a group of five—an interesting challenge because the individual pieces have to relate to one another once they are installed on a large wall. Wide matting is being added to expand the framed sizes. This will further change the relationship of the pieces to one another, so I had to allow for "give" in the design.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 17 - 20 , work in progress. Paper, gold leaf, flame. Dimensions variable. ©2015.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 17 - 20, work in progress. Paper, gold leaf, flame. Dimensions variable. ©2015.

The individual pieces range from 20”h x 27.5”w (38”h x 46”w framed) to 24h" x 30w" (46”h x 57”w framed), and are ten layers deep. So the finished box frames are approximately 4" deep.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 19 , work in progress. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches. ©2015.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 19, work in progress. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches. ©2015.

Speaking of framing, it's a key part of the process. I wanted a more open feel to the work, so the layers progress large to small, bottom to top. This makes for very tricky work to stabilize and mask the edges for a clean look. I'm grateful that Andrea Emmons and her framing team at Soho Myriad have the experience and confidence to handle this.

When I get images of the framed, hung work installed on location, I'll share them here.

New commission: "Playing With Fire"

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 14  (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches. ©2015.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 14 (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches. ©2015.

I'm very pleased to share that I just completed two commissioned pieces for the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Franklin, Tennessee. They are larger versions of the Playing With Fire work that I did in 2013 to exhibit as part of Marseille-Provence Culture Capital 2013 programming.

The two commissioned pieces are much larger (30 x 24 inches) and will be matted and mounted in 3-inch deep box frames to become 72 x 54 inches. They will hang on opposite walls in a corridor at the conference center. I'm very eager to see final installation photos!

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 14  and  No. 15 . Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches each. ©2015.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 14 and No. 15. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches each. ©2015.

Scaling up to the larger size was a challenge. Not only are the materials trickier to work with, but there's a lot of smoke involved. Because the work is created by burning the paper, I couldn't do it in my studio indoors. We have an semi-finished stone outbuilding on our property that I converted to a temporary studio. It's dry and clean enough, after some elbow grease, to be suitable for this paradoxically messy yet pristine kind of work.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 14  (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches. ©2015.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 14 (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches. ©2015.

Playing With Fire explores the tension between control and letting go. Fire as a medium forces me to let go – it is unpredictable, and simultaneously destructive and creative in how it interacts with paper. Fire also represents a fine line that fascinates me about what we allow ourselves to have in life. How can we have light, heat, spark and glow without self-destructing? As black and white as this work appears, for me it's all about finding a happy medium.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 14  (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches. ©2015.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 14 (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches. ©2015.

As I entrusted the carefully packaged work to the nice FedEx International shipping men yesterday, I said a silent prayer to Hermes that they arrive in good shape to the framers in Atlanta before their final journey to Nashville. Special thanks to Shannon Douglas at Soho Myriad, the fine art consulting firm who brokered the project. I look forward to doing more!

Both pieces ready for packaging (and tail end of my studio assistant, Astro, left). Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 14  and  No. 15 . Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches each. ©2015.

Both pieces ready for packaging (and tail end of my studio assistant, Astro, left). Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 14 and No. 15. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 30 x 24 inches each. ©2015.