A decade ago an American artist walked along the canal-lined streets of Venice, paused to scoop up some salt water, and tucked it away for later. That artist is Shaylen Broughton, who used the canal water to create a series of abstract paintings, imparting the magic of Venice into the cold-pressed paper. “I loved the idea of physically taking a piece of the experience and putting it into my expression on paper,” says Shaylen, whose oceanic work encapsulates the phrase, “Go with the flow.”
That simple act all those years ago became the catalyst for Shaylen’s painting practice, which now incorporates natural water from all over the world. “Each painting is created with a small amount of water gathered from the Earth's oceans, rivers, and lakes,” she says. “The concept of adding water from natural sources to each piece is to add the energy of life to the work.” Using a unique formula of natural water, cool acrylics, and clear glaze, Shaylen creates distinct biomorphic patterns that mimic underlying structures in the natural world. “[The patterns are] a representation of natural forms that repeat in nature, and the connection between all life,” she says.
Seeking creative flow and a common kinship with nature, Shaylen bolsters her painting practice with meditation, breath work, yoga, and dance. “[Movement] helps me get into flow and stir up whatever energy—or emotion—that wants to be expressed,” she says. Trusting her intuition, Shaylen works without a set plan to capture the essence of Earth’s most precious resource. Whether sourced from the briny Atlantic, scooped from the James River, or ferreted away from tepid Roman Baths, the water in Shaylen’s work acts as a universal symbol for rebirth, resilience, power, chaos, wisdom, and grace. Works like “Riptide” transport viewers to the gravity-guided waters of the Pacific Ocean, while “Glacial” submerges onlookers in icy undertows.
Shaylen compares her “go with the flow” philosophy to a surfer catching a wave on a windy day: “A surfer wouldn’t get on their surfboard and try to surf in the opposite direction of the waves—it doesn’t work,” she says. “They ride the waves as they are flowing!” To Shaylen, flow simply means that she allows the “energy, emotion, and vibes to lead the way.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Shaylen Broughton discusses her love of binaural beats, the soothing qualities of cool colors, and her favorite ways to connect with nature.
What’s playing in your studio right now?
Shaylen Broughton: Oh gosh, I listen to a wide variety of music; it just really depends on my mood. One thing I always go back to is binaural beats, especially if I feel like I can’t really get into my flow state. It always helps bring me there.
What’s your favorite color combination right now?
SB: My favorite color combo will probably always be blues and greens, although I definitely have moments where I explore other palettes. The blues are very comforting for me—it’s like a visual hug. Besides blue I always love greens and purple/magenta palettes as well. I think it’s the cool tones; for me it’s very soothing, and reminds me of being in the ocean or river.
Who’s your favorite abstract expressionist?
SB: Helen Frankenthaler is the first that comes to mind. I love her spontaneous style and love for nature.
What’s your favorite form of self-care?
SB: Getting out into nature and turning off my phone!
What’s been your favorite project to date?
SB: I did a month-long residency in Australia. I was in Gold Coast for two weeks and Sydney for two weeks. I did a show in each location with work I had made during my visit. I only did small scale watercolors for this project, but I was actually able to go out and be in nature, on the beach while creating, and it was an incredible experience!
How do you connect with nature?
SB: Currently, my favorite ways to connect with nature is hiking or snowboarding, but I also love kayaking, SUP (any water-related activity), and biking!
What part of being an artist brings you joy? What is the most challenging part?
SB: I think the most joyful part of being an artist is when you share a very vulnerable feeling, when you truly make the art that is an authentic expression of you, and other people connect with it. It is one of the deepest human desires to be seen and understood. Sharing my art with others does this for me and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. The most challenging part is accepting that not everyone will get you, and that’s OK. Rejection is tough to deal with regularly, but it is part of life as an artist.
What do you keep in your studio that might surprise us?
SB: A box of nail polish. I went through a phase of making art with nail polish. It’s been years since I have used it and I’m sure it’s all dried out, but I still have the box.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist. Photo credit: Prism Creative Social Media Management and Strategy; featured photo: Kate Rolston.
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