Intimate and detailed, small-scale artwork begs a closer look, demands more attention and invites viewers into a unique art experience.
By Jennifer Pappas Yennie
One Man’s Trash
Carolyn Machado is a collector, an unassuming historian of lost things. The Dana Point artist creates small-scale mixed media and mosaic assemblages, repurposing items from an extensive personal collection that she has amassed and organized over many years.
A fixture at Festival of Arts for three decades, Machado got her start in ceramics. While she enjoyed crafting hand-built things, it felt that something was missing. So, she enrolled in a mosaic and assemblage class at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. This was the class that put her on her current track, and she never looked back. That was 20 years ago.
Since then, the work has evolved into what can best be described as a strange memoir, unstuck in time. Sourcing materials such as combs, compacts, jewelry, frames, rosaries, tiles and more from flea markets, estate sales and sometimes even by dumpster diving, Machado breathes new life into them one item at a time. “None of these things would have been relatable, one to the other, wherever they existed in their lifetimes,” Machado explains. “Except now, … I’ve kind of given them all a new life with things that they never would have been partnered with [otherwise].”
When setting down to create a new assemblage, Machado doesn’t plan it out or draw a sketch. Instead, she peruses her many shelves of materials and lets inspiration come knocking. She starts by selecting the base piece, typically a tile, canvas or wooden tray, then moves on to the focal piece that draws the viewer’s eye in.
Next, Machado selects an item to enhance the focal piece—for example, the thermometer that appears behind a Madonna statue in “Washboard Madonna.” She works it out from there, adding details and mosaic tiles as established by the color palette. Machado lays everything out first, never adhering anything until she’s able to come back, reassess and move things around. When it feels right, she’s done.
While Machado relies heavily on tiles and broken pottery or vases for her Zen-like pieces, some of the more unusual items she’s worked with recently include a small, 19th century wooden camera and a leather-bound diary from the 1900s (which she hesitated to use, but ultimately selected as a base piece).
“I love putting on a different hat for every piece,” Machado says. “Because no … [two pieces] could ever be the same; the materials wouldn’t allow for that.”
Machado will be teaching two classes at her Dana Point home studio in March and April. Each two-session class will meet outdoors and participants will leave with a completed piece.
Poetry in Motion
Michelle S. Burt must have tremendous energy: She paints both large and small-scale works, teaches both online and in-person, and volunteers on four different Sawdust Art Festival committees. But she does it all with joy and positivity—which also happens to be at the very center of her artwork. Focusing her artistic lens on ocean waves, sunsets, storms, seascapes, musicians and dancers, she is a master at arresting motion and capturing fluidity.
A graduate of Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising as well as California State University, Long Beach, Burt got her start as an interior designer at an architectural firm. Shortly after, she started taking plein air and studio art classes, working with watercolor and oil paint. “This was a passion of mine,” she recalls. “I had wanted to get a master’s [degree] in art, but that was not in the cards. … These classes became my respite and rejuvenation.”
Heavily influenced by the landscapes she grew up around, Burt credits “the local light, peace [and] beauty, capturing a moment in time and the feeling of hope or serenity” as her central sources of inspiration. “I’m delighted by the motion and movement of the water, the light in the sky and dancers,” she says. “Capturing the feeling of the moment is what I am striving to share.”
Working primarily in oil—“I love the buttery texture and playing with glazing techniques to get the painting to vibrate and shimmer,” she notes. Burt fluctuates easily between large- and small-scale works. But once a new series begins, she does not deviate from it until it reaches completion. “Once I am in a zone, what’s in front of me is my focus,” Burt explains. “I pour myself into the painting I’m doing. I’m not thinking about the other pieces.”
Burt loves “painting small” for a few key reasons. First, for the sheer force of feeling the small canvases can evoke. “I just completed a new series launch of florals,” Burt says. “These mini art delights radiate so much joy.” Second, canvases that are 4-inch or 6-inch squares enable her to make original art available to the masses. “I’ve met so many new collectors who have never been able to acquire an original piece of art because it was priced out of their reach. I feel so pleased to be able to gift them the opportunity to acquire these smaller pieces,” she shares.
Burt says that small works of art can be just as impactful, if not more so, than their larger counterparts. “I had a couple acquire one of my minis one year. They lived back east in the snow and dreamed of moving here,” she explains. “The gentleman put my mini painting next to his computer at work. He said it gave him something to focus on, to escape to when things got hard. Two years later, they came to visit me at Sawdust. He told me they had just moved here and that my painting was just the inspiration he needed to make it happen. That is so amazing to me—that my art, no matter the size, touches people in a powerful way. I am blessed by each connection I make.”
View Burt’s artwork at the Sawdust Spring Fling from March 26-27 and April 2-3 as well as at the festival’s summer show; her pieces are also displayed at Studio 7 Gallery in north Laguna.
Michelle S. Burt
For more mini masterpieces, visit the
“Art That’s Small at City Hall” exhibit through
April 16 at Laguna Beach City Hall, 505 Forest Ave. (lagunabeachcity.net)
Artist Eye Gallery
The featured artist of the month for March, Terri Sopp Rae, offers paintings on canvas using oil, acrylic or even watercolor paint. Her subjects typically include beach and coastal scenes, though groves of trees, valleys covered in flowers and mountain peaks also make regular appearances in her scenic landscapes, and a new abstract series reminiscent of the ocean is currently on display within the gallery. (949-497-5898; artisteyegallerylaguna.com)
Mixed media artist Kate Cohen will serve as the moderator for an April 7 event at the gallery, leading a discussion with painters Lyn Hiner and Dagmar Chaplin about their artwork. In addition, a solo exhibit featuring pieces by Chaplin is on view through April 15 in Active Culture’s display area. Titled “Artifacts and Fiction,” the show includes portrait paintings inspired by world travels. (949-497-6582; foapom.com)
JoAnne Artman Gallery
“Unframed” by America Martin will debut April 6, in the Laguna Beach gallery, blending both new works and retrospective pieces that aim to reveal the human experience, push the boundaries and showcase themes of transcendence and the exploration of oneself. As the title implies, all of her colorful works for this show are unframed. (949-510-5481; joanneartmangallery.com)
Las Laguna Art Gallery
Lighting is often an important part of art, as it has the ability to instantly change the perspective of the piece. In “Light & Shade,” which runs from April 7-30, juried artists explore lightness, shadows, blackness and luminescence, either in the literal sense or the philosophical. Works may be in black and white or color. (949-505-0950; laslagunaartgallery.com)
Each year, “Color It Orange” supports art crafted by local Orange County high school students, providing a substantial platform for young artists to showcase their work. The show, which has now been taking place for an impressive 47 years, runs from April 7-24 with a special reception on opening night from 6-9 p.m. (949-376-6000; lcad.edu)
The “Making a Splash with Acrylics & Watercolors” exhibition at this north Laguna gallery will open April 7 with a reception to take place during First Thursdays Art Walk. An accompanying class will be held April 12-13, with acrylic artist Rick J. Delanty and watercolor painter Shuang Li teaching two mediums in one workshop. (949-376-3635; lpapa.org)
Neighborhood Congregational Church
After the downtown Wells Fargo branch removed The CAP Gallery’s “Piece-ful Protest” exhibit from its building’s art display area, the 36 quilts handcrafted by artistic seamstress Allyson Allen were installed in Bridge Hall at Neighborhood Congregational Church instead. The quilts incorporate messages on the current political climate and racial tensions in the U.S. They will be displayed Thursday through Sunday afternoons until April 24, and Allen will be on-site for discussions of the quilts March 26 and April 9. (949-494-8061; ncclaguna.org)
Pacific Edge Gallery
A solo exhibit by Sandra Jones Campbell titled “Sea La Vie” opens March 19, with new pieces on display. Her whimsical, voyeuristic portraits offer a look at a specific moment in time, typically featuring mildly provocative or unrestrained settings and situations. The showcase will conclude April 8. (949-494-0491; pacificedgegallery.com)
The Art Star Awards, presented by the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance, makes its return this spring, recognizing the 2020 honorees. Awards, which will be given out April 24, will highlight contributions to the art world in Laguna Beach in categories ranging from Individual Arts Patron of the Year to Outstanding Arts Collaboration. (lagunabeacharts.org)
Vanessa Rothe Fine Art
Locals wishing to travel and create as part of Vanessa Rothe’s Americans in Paris program can sign up to visit Provence, France, for an artist retreat taking place in a castle. Running April 26 through May 5, participants will enjoy workshops in everything from portraits and figures to landscapes while discussing literature and art history along the way. (949-280-1555; vanessarothefineart.com)