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Going with the Flow with Marbling Artist Shaine Drake

Going with the Flow with Marbling Artist Shaine Drake

Marble-artist Shaine Drake at her opening of Hot Springs in the Rare Device Gallery

Shaine Drake's newest collection of work is a reflection of shapes, patterns and textures of the natural world. Her show, Hot Springs, in the Rare Device gallery has many people fawning over the marbled swirls of color and movement that each piece captures perfectly within frame. We asked Shaine about her process, accepting and adapting to change, and what's coming up in 2024.

Marbling in progress by Shaine Drake

What is your art background? How did marbling become your medium of choice?

I don’t have any formal art training, but received a degree in Art History with a focus on modern and contemporary art. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved taking art workshops and classes taught through community art centers and independent spaces. Any knowledge I have is from those experiences and just immersing myself in art making and playing around.

In 2012, I was working in San Francisco at the local art supply store, Flax Art & Design, that had the most epic paper room with hundreds of types of paper. I found a small marbling kit in this room (because marbling is often associated with decorative book arts), and I decided to try it out. I knew of marbling from end papers in mostly old books, and the process seemed so interesting and not like anything else. This kit really didn’t give me the results I wanted, and I became obsessed with figuring it out. I tested out a ton of papers and paints, and learned about a different, non-chemical based, way of mixing the sizing. From then on I never really stopped marbling and worked out ways to carve out space for it (it can take up a lot) wherever I lived in the city. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of finding what materials work best for me and it’s made marbling feel really personal. And now I see marbling reflected everywhere!

Can you expand on how marbling and its spontaneity has become a “personal therapy” for you?

I think it’s definitely helped balance me out. I’m an over-thinker with anxiety, which feels like a lot to type out( haha!) so having an art practice that forces me to accept and adapt to changes that I can’t control in the materials has been really helpful and soothing. I can take that focus that might be directed towards over-thinking a situation and apply it to marbling and figuring out how to work with the way the sizing is behaving that day. It’s never completely the same one day to the next and the challenge of that keeps it exciting and really rewarding. I might go into the studio with an idea of what I’ll make and so often it will totally change very early on.

Shaine Drake's color palette

What inspires your choice of color for a project? How are the colors in Hot Springs representative of the themes of the show?

It really varies project to project. When I’m working in collaboration with someone, it’s one of the first conversations we have, and I mix colors that work for both of us. For personal work, like Hot Springs, I’m usually drawn to some kind of wonky mix of primary colors, when a shade of at least one is a little off. I love using around three colors when marbling so it works out that I end up being attracted to at least a red, a green, and a blue.  

In the case of the show, I was working with the idea of reimagining natural occurrences and the first piece I made is the one used for the poster. This became what the others had to work beside. I used a lighter and darker shade of my favorite red, green, and blue and that combination was really reminiscent to me of a natural spring where minerals are swirling around in the heat. It felt really active. With each piece, I wanted the chosen colors to hint at a subject but not be too literal so that it was still up to interpretation.

You mentioned that there is a lot of nostalgia represented in these pieces. What time periods or moments came up for you while you were creating the show?

SD: I have memories, and some photos, from places in and outside of the Bay Area like Black Sands Beach, Muir Woods, Point Reyes, Hazards near Morro Bay and Mono Lake at the edge of the Sierras, spanning over a decade that I referenced for the show.

I traveled to all of these places with my family and friends and they hold a lot of meaning and magic for me. I have a memory of visiting Mono Lake with my family when I was a teenager and thinking it was the most unreal, alien place I’d ever seen. That whole trip was really special and I hold it even closer since my dad passed away. He was someone who came alive in these expansive natural places and I know that’s part of the reason I’m drawn to them and everything is remembered so vividly. The piece “Tufas” is named after the tower-like formations, Tufas, found surrounding Mono lake, formed over 1 million years ago. The thing I love, though, and that I want to encourage, is for people to see “Tufas” differently than me. To see in it something else they’ve come across before.

Close-up of Tufas by Shaine Drake

Can you talk a bit about the process for each piece? How long do they take from start to finish, a step by step process?

The “sizing”, which is a natural base of carrageenan (an emulsifier made of red seaweed) and water, breaks down over time and this affects how the paint reacts on the surface. How and when the sizing breaks down isn’t always the same and I’ve grown to let this breaking down process go for as long as possible to play with the uncontrolled effects, like cracking, as much as I can. Another marbler I was talking to recently called this a “dirty size” and I love that. I definitely prefer a “dirty size.”

This means that one piece can come together after weeks and weeks of using the sizing for other work until it starts to more or less decompose. Then, which is the case for all the work in Hot Springs, one pass of paint was placed in the tray and left for at least a day. Then, I came back and added more paint and/or manipulated the paint already there to get the effect I wanted. In most cases, the prep is what takes much more time than the actual act of marbling. Each piece took at least two days plus the weeks allowing for the sizing to reach the ideal state and after the tester papers were marbled to figure out color combinations and if what’s in my head was actually possible.

 Marbles tests by Shaine Drake

You’ve worked with a number of artists familiar to the RD family (Hannah Emile, Yonder Shop, Mudwitch)! I’m interested in how collaborative works are done with marbling, and the process behind that. Can you share some interesting stories and collaborative projects you’ve worked on?

One thing that was really exciting about these collaborations is that there was something in each of them that I had never done before. They were all super fun challenges and I love what each of us brought to the final products. 

Each collaboration is truly so different. It’s really finding the right balance of both parties’ styles and how they can support each other. It usually begins either with someone already having an object to be marbled, or the idea to marble the raw material for a future object. If it’s the latter, depending on the material I can completely finish the project (like with Yonder’s leather) or the material is given to another person to complete. Last year, I marbled two weights of cotton canvas yardage for Plunge Towels which were then given to a local sewer who constructed them into tote bags and bucket hats.

I’ve been so lucky over the years to have met a lot of incredible makers and artists in the Bay Area that have become collaborators in some way. It’s definitely about patience but also advocating for yourself and your work and setting boundaries.  All of which can be hard in any relationship and I’m still figuring it out.  I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to adjust my expectations of the result and be content with the experience as a lesson for the future. It can be tough but insanely rewarding. One of the many beautiful things about marbling is how adaptive it is and my goal is to be the same. 

What is in the works for 2024 that you would like to share?

Oh man, to be completely honest I’m not totally sure! I think there’s going to be a lot of changes this year.  At the moment, I’m excited to be moving into the Tight Quarters studio space in the Inner Sunset and sharing it with the amazing artist Orlie Kapitulnik. We already have so many ideas for the space and keeping it open to the community with all kinds of events.

I also have some new collaborations in the works that will be released soon. One is with my favorite vintage resale shop, Body Philosophy Club, that I’m very excited about and has been in the works for a while. All of those updates and all the marbled things will be on my Instagram!

Hot Springs by Shaine Drake is in the Rare Device gallery and on our website until March 3rd. 


Interview by Jenn Zipp

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