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Rachel Simpson
Alice in Wonderland Tea Cup Series I of II – Cheshire Cat

mixed media: found objects, paper craft, & textiles
12″ x 6″ x 6″

Rachel Simpson Art

Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor

Clara Lieu
Art Prof & Partner

Artist Statement
Rachel Simpson has been making art throughout her whole life. Both her parents were artists in music and visual art, while she’s also been influenced by the Pacific Northwest, and many books. In 2007, she went back to college to study the arts, and graduated from Western Washington University with Bachelors in Fine Arts and Arts Education degree in 2013.

Currently, she’s a teaching artist and a Board of Director at Allied Arts of Whatcom County, teaches Community Art Ed classes at Whatcom Community College, art workshops at various galleries and museums such as the Museum of Northwest Art, and kids art classes in after school art enrichment programs and summer art camps as a private business – Rachel’s Whimsical Arts.

“My creative process involves some art experimentation with trial and error, to experience all of the process, with expression, studying the subject, and imagination through my interpretation of the story behind the topic. I get inspiration from the environment, all of the children that I teach art to, stories shared, and my family. Having a strong passion is what drives my ambition to move forward into another chapter of my art. The inspiration for these pieces was about the Alice in Wonderland stories.”

Partial Video Transcript

“This mixed media piece ‘Tea Cups 1’ and ‘Tea Cups 2’ has such a wonderful, whimsical, playful, quality to it. I think what’s especially impressive is that the piece has so many different types of materials that are so incredibly different from each other, and yet the piece really reads very much as a whole.

There’s a sense of cohesion there, and that’s really difficult to do when you have materials that contrast against each other so much. I think one choice that was made that’s really helping with that sense of cohesion is the fact that the color of the roses is quite similar to the color of the pitcher. And so that cohesion really comes across really well.

But also there’s this transition from the roses that goes downwards through the pom poms, on top of the pitcher, and one of the reasons that that transition is working so well is that the pom poms really overlap the pitcher in a couple of  areas, and so that connection visually between the pom poms and the pitcher is really important in this piece.

One aspect of this piece that I think probably should be removed is the butterflies. I think the butterflies for me, there’s a couple things that are a little distracting about them. I think first of all these wires that they’re attached to feel somewhat awkward on top of the roses, like the pom poms at the bottom, the way that they fall downwards, there’s this sense of direction and gravity to them which is really effective.

Whereas the butterflies seem to be going in all different directions, and the thing is it’s not so chaotic that I accept it for that reason, but it also doesn’t seem like its going in a very specific direction.  I think another thing you could also think about with the butterflies is maybe to make the butterflies out of a different material because these seem like those pre-bought butterflies you can get the craft store. One of the reasons I really like the roses is that it’s clear that they were these sheets of music that were then burned and assembled and so what you’re doing there is you’re really manipulating the roses quite a bit, and the butterflies don’t look like that, they look just sort of stuck onto the piece. So I think that’s one area that you could probably get rid of.

‘Tea Cups 2’ is both very similar but also quite different from ‘Tea Cups 1.’ The structure of ‘Tea Cups 2’ is quite similar in that you have this group of roses at the top, you have these items that are suspended on the string moving downwards, which are the hearts, and then you have the tea cups down at the bottom, which structurally are quite similar to the pitcher in ‘Tea Cups 1.’

But I think one major difference i that in ‘Tea Cups 2,’ the theme of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a lot more prominent. And a big part of that is that a lot of the symbols are a lot more recognizable. For example, the hearts, the playing cards, the tea cups and the fact that there are several tea cups really shows that its a tea party. And in ‘Tea Cups’ 1 I’m not so sure I would make the connection with ‘Alice in Wonderland’ if I didn’t know about it in advance.

So I think ‘Tea Cups 2’ is more successful in that sense that it does communicate the story of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ One part of ‘Tea Cups 2’ that I really like a lot is the shift of scale in the scale in the tea cups. So you’ve got this very large tea cup at the bottom and then these four little tea cups that are laid on top of it, and I think that does a few things, I think visually it’s a lot more interesting.

Alos number 2, it does create a somewhat surrealistic quality to the piece, which for me really fits the theme of Alice in wonderland and so one thing you could do with this piece is to maybe play with scale in the other parts of the piece. So for example I think it would be really fun if the hearts were all different sizes so, you had some tiny ones, some really big ones.

And same thing with the playing cards, that maybe you’ve got a couple playing cards that are actually life sized, maybe you have some that are tiny, that would just really make that a little bit more consistent throughout the piece, and I think that would have some really nice effects.

I think in ‘Tea Cups 2,’ the roses are not as successful as they are in ‘Teacups 1.’ I think the fact that in ‘Tea Cups 1,’ the way that the roses are burned at the edges is really beautifully done theyre a really gorgeous range of different colors and tones of yellow. ‘Tea Cups 2,’ I think because the roses haven’t been altered and transformed as much, they reveal themselves a little bit too much.

So the thing is you’ve got these two flowers that have not been painted, there’s one at the top that has the red paint on to of it, and what I’d love to see is, have that red paint maybe layered throughout all of the roses so that maybe that’s something you do in advance before you actually put the roses together.

And then maybe if you take some matte medium so you can create some transparency with the red acrylic paint, I think that would really get these roses to be more cohesive. Because when I look at the roses all I really see is the music notes, and then it becomes very obvious that it’s an actual piece of music that’s been cut out. And that’s a quality that you avoid in ‘Tea Cups 1.’

I think in that one you don’t see the music notes right away, it’s like it takes a minute. And so when you do see them, it’s a really nice surprise that you’re not expecting to see. One thing that I would also consider just in terms of presentation is to make sure you shoot really excellent photographs of your work. 3-dimensional artwork is notoriously difficult to shoot well, but there are a couple simple things you can do without a lot of fancy camera equipment.

For one thing instead of using fabric as a backdrop, I would just get a nice, really clean sheet of white paper because some of the wrinkles are a little bit distracting. I would also say in ‘Tea Cups 1,’ that the color of the lighting is quite inconsistent because at the top you have these bluish tones, and then towards the bottom, you have a yellowish tone and so what that says to me is that you probably had conflicting light sources.

Maybe you had an artificial light on top of the bottom area and then maybe the top area was fluorescent which is a very cool, bluish light. My suggestion would be to get a window that has a very diffused, sort of like on a cloudy day, that type of soft natural light, and that I think would create much better shadows, and it would really just highlight parts of the piece.

I think in ‘Tea Cups 2,’ the lighting is a little bit dark, a little bit dim, and so you don’t get the shadows and 3 dimensional of the piece doesn’t come across so well, because these are such great, whimsical, playful pieces. I think that the presentation of them, if that was improved, I think that they would really come alive on the surface of the image. But, really wonderful effort here, I can tell that you’re really being so experimental in the materials and that’s really exciting to see.”

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