Local artist uses Chinese technique to create paintings of underwater sea life

Painter Patti Hutchens Jouppi has decided to brighten up these dark winter days with her First Friday exhibit “Unfathomable.” In this series of paintings featuring sea life, she mimics what it is like to be underwater by attaching LED strip lights behind the canvas and turning other lights off inside the Juneau Arts & Culture Gallery.


“I think it adds to the effect. When you’re in the water, the light filters down,” she said.

She would know. She’s spent a fair amount of time scuba diving in Hawaii while teaching geography and volcano studies at the university level. Most of the sea life in the paintings are based off of her own reference photos.

Hutchens Jouppi stumbled across the illumination effect when doing a workshop for the Juneau-Douglas City Museum’s 12x12 show on Chinese watercolor. She’d made a series of paintings, and on an impulse, fit the five pieces together into a cube. She then placed an LED candle at the center before shutting off the lights.

“It completely changed the colors of the paintings and it very much made it look like when you’re under the water, under low light or in the evening. … It was amazing. I ran around to everybody saying ‘Look at this. Look at this,’ and we shut off the lights and everyone said ‘that’s really cool,’” she said.

The paintings themselves were already unique. Hutchens Jouppi created “Unfathomable” through a Chinese watercolor technique that involves pouring and blowing paint. She learned it several years ago from painter Lian Zhen. It’s done on rice or watercolor paper with special paints.

To create the images, Hutchens Jouppi first sketches what she wants. Then she applies masks so certain parts aren’t colored when she paints. She gets creative when trying to get the paint to go where she wants, tilting the canvas, or using a blow dryer or straw. It’s not as precise as using a brush, a tool she uses for her landscape oil paintings. Instead, you’ve got to embrace the spontaneity of the form, she said.

“You have to accept (mistakes). …I taught a Chinese watercolor workshop once and it was very hard for people, which I found surprising, (wanting) to control everything about the color. That’s inherent with watercolor, but it’s especially inherent with Chinese watercolor. Sometimes you’ve got to let it go, and sometimes what comes out of it is really beautiful,” she said.

The JACC gallery will be all lit up on First Friday and for the remainder of the month. Some of her other work, like sculptures, can be found on display throughout the year. Her work is also at the Discovery Southeast bookstore inside the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, as well as her studio.

Upcoming for Hutchens Jouppi is a series of coastal landscape oil paintings of Alaskans by the water. Painting people is still a new experience for her. She began painting seriously as a wildlife artist, then slowly began integrating landscapes into her work. She received a grant to go study the human form for art in Seattle recently, and also spends time working on portraits at MK MacNaughton’s studio, Sketch. While now she is retired and a full-time artist, she wishes she had let herself pursue it sooner.

“Keep at it. I tell young artists that, because I loved art from the time I was little… A lot of people say that, but by the time I got to college, yeah I still took a little bit of art but it wasn’t considered a real job occupation, which was something you could pursue, pursue your passion type of thing; you had to get a normal job to support yourself. I tell people if you want to be an artist at any age, just go for it. Keep pursuing it. Don’t quit. Don’t listen to other people like I did. It set me back decades from where I want to be. I’m 65 so I have to make up for decades of lost time, and learn and grow and paint with as much and as good as I can get.”

Her studio and gallery is at 4521 Glacier Spur Rd. She accepts visits by appointment and has a Facebook page as well as a website at: http://jouppi-art.blogspot.com.

• Clara Miller is the staff writer for the Capital City Weekly.


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