Get ready to step into a creative wonderland of art, artists and the stories behind their creations. It's time for the 21st Annual Studio Waltz.
Twelve artists from Clearwater to Palm Harbor will welcome the public into their studios, and Jenna Star Friedman, a plein air artist, will paint outdoors at one of the studios. Their works vary from print collages and etchings to silver and copper jewelry, from tile mosaics and fiber art to wood turning and lampworking, and from pastels and realistic paintings to ceramics and fiber art.
Denis Gaston, whose art is in private and public collections throughout the United States, created Studio Waltz 21 years ago. The idea came to him about the same time gallery walks were popping up in St. Petersburg and Tampa.
"I thought it would be interesting to make an all-day event for people to go straight to studios, see artists working and purchase art straight from the artist," said Gaston, of Clearwater. "I made it so there were usually 12 artists mostly from north county so people could go in one day to see them all. I came up with the idea, but an idea isn't any good unless others partake in it, and the artists thought it was a good idea."
Ask Gaston why he thinks it's important for people to see artists at work and he has an answer.
"I found over the years people love to hear a story concerning art," he said. "When they go to a gallery or art museum, they have questions. Oftentimes, the gallery person doesn't know those answers.
"Talking to the artist, they hear a story about how the artist works or what inspired a piece," he said. "That makes the experience and buying art more interesting to the buyer. Studio Waltz wasn't created just for entertainment but as a way for artists to sell their work."
Gaston says his art "speaks" about the unconscious and the universal questions of who are we and where are we going. But he doesn't pretend to have answers.
"People bring their own experiences to my art," he said. "I really don't know what I'm doing when I paint. I don't paint consensual reality. I go for things that come out of my imagination."
Ernest C. Simmons of Dunedin does paint reality — Florida wildlife, birds in particular — and has for more than 35 years. The Clearwater High graduate uses vibrant colors and attention to the smallest detail to capture the looks, the poses and the spirits of roseate spoonbills, blue herons, American ibis and other birds and animals in swamps and mangroves.
Simmons is an outdoorsman with a gift that bursts to life when he picks up a paintbrush. Working from his own photographs and sketches, he paints in a studio directly behind his house. His original works of art start at $1,800. He has eight original pieces of various sizes and prices ready to sell.
Ask Simmons why he paints birds and he says it's important to paint your passion. From an early age he was introduced to Florida birds and wildlife by his father. He began sketching birds and by his teens was an avid outdoorsman, capturing Florida wildlife through sketches, photographs and paintings.
"Back then I had no idea I'd make a career out of this," he said.
Among other awards and honors, in 1999 and 2000 Simmons was commissioned to paint the Everglades and Dry Tortugas by the Florida National Parks and Monuments Association.
"The greatest thing an artist can accomplish is having their work recognized by its subject matter or by the brush strokes, their style," Simmons said.
He used to exhibit in more than 20 art shows a year. Now he shows in around five, "and Studio Waltz is one of them. I've been in it for six or seven years. It's important because people get a deeper insight into what and where the artist creates."
Joyce Curvin's art includes animals, too — bright, colorful, whimsical ones. "Fine art with a nutty and colorful twist," her website calls it.
Her papier-mache art is inspired by Florida wildlife. She uses new and recycled materials to produce cats, dogs, alligators, fish and other smile-producing creations.
"I think people are way too serious," said Curvin of Palm Harbor. "I really like teaching papier-mache classes. It's fun. People probably did it in first grade. It's not intimidating, and I tell people the biggest mistake they can make is putting glue down the sink."
Curvin has been creating her menagerie of dogs and cats for 20 years. But she has always been an artist. Her parents encouraged her in the arts, and she took her first ceramics class in downtown St. Petersburg when she was 12.
Now Curvin creates and teaches art. She thinks people discount their creativity and likes to help them discover their creative side by teaching papier-mache classes. She inspires smiles through her own art and her dogs and cats.
"We have such a deep connection to our pets," she said. "The relationship people have with their dogs and cats especially is so dear. I hope my dogs and cats capture what we all find when we look at our pets — that happiness. My art is designed to be fun, to make people laugh, to make people happy."