Carol Fennell began her art career studying ceramic sculpture as an undergraduate where she first explored the use of bright glazes on three-dimensional sculpture. After graduation, a job with Columbia Pictures as a scenic artist for the motion picture “A League of Their Own”, inspired her to study painting. She went on to earn her MFA in painting at Northern Illinois University.
Fennell is prone to draw her inspiration from her surroundings. Lucky for Fennell and viewers of her work alike, she lives amongst the dramatic landscapes of Colorado. Fennell strives to capture the innocence of nature in her work. Her three-dimensional ceramic paintings stretch not only our view of our natural surroundings but also our ideas of how fine-art can be presented.
Through the use of bold color and effortless line work Fennell captures the whimsical essence of our environments. She brings her playful spirit to every piece, rather than depicting exact representations in the landscapes she creates. Fennell says, “With mountains, aspens, and pine in my constant view, I seek to use the strongest, yet simplest form to represent my subject. I never tire of drawing the elegant lines of aspen or the whimsical pines that fill my canvas. All these subjects have stories to tell and I try to bring a bit of the innocence and whimsy that I see in them into the piece.” As a result, Fennell’s combination of clay with her innocent outlook causes viewers of her work to smile endlessly as they are transported to a happy memory in the mountains.
Fennell’s work stems from the pure, trouble-free and serene moments one finds themselves experiencing while walking through an aspen grove, climbing a peak or discovering a new lake. When inspiration strikes while on a hike, she will either sketch the landscape en plein air or capture the scene on camera. The sketches and photos are transformed into more polished pencil drawings upon Fennell’s return to her studio. Quick and bright strokes of color are added to the drawings to further enhance the reference. The real work begins when Fennell pulls out slabs of clay and rolls them into canvas sized blocks. Lines forming rivers, lakes or mountains are carved into the surface of the wet slabs and her bas relief work has commenced. Through the incorporation of sculpted clay, layers of texture are added to the top of the initial block to provide dimension. From here, pines start twisting towards each other, seemingly lost in conversation. Knots are added to aspen trunks, resembling the eyes we swear we see on the stunning trees. Items found in nature, such as grass, leaves or bits of wood, are often pressed into the wet clay to leave the impression of their existence in the natural world.
Upon completing her process of carving and sculpting Fennell will allow her work to dry for several weeks. This allows moisture to evaporate from the once soft clay. Each piece is then carefully placed in a kiln and fired. The bas relief tiles come out of the kiln bisque ware, as a durable ceramic piece ready to be painted. Fennell’s use of acrylic paints pushes the limits of traditional ceramic work. This choice allows for vibrant colors, helping to enhance the happy, playful look Fennell is striving to create. She says, “I want the viewer to see what I see – a whimsical innocence of nature.”