Artists Jeff Lavinsky and Jeff Nadler both put conservation front and center with their animal-centric artwork.
By Ashley Ryan
Charting the Path
When strolling through the aisles at Sawdust Art Festival, few things are more eye-catching than Jeff Lavinsky’s paintings: His realistic depictions of wildlife are crafted not on a standard canvas, but on top of vintage nautical charts.
The inspiration for his unique pieces came when building his booth for the Sawdust’s Winter Fantasy show nearly a decade ago. After working under another artist, Lavinsky took a leap, putting together a collection of his own that was accepted into the seasonal showcase.
“My friend who’s a furniture designer helped me build a booth from scratch. After working really hard on everything, I was just like, ‘Man, it feels like a little boat.’ So I went to a yacht surplus store in Newport Beach and I got … a captain’s wheel and a bell and I had a port window on the front of the booth.”
Here, he also found old nautical charts and purchased one of San Diego’s Coronado Island, upon which he painted a pelican. A librarian from Laguna College of Art & Design saw his creation at the Sawdust festival and told him about a stack of charts that were recently donated to the school when a local sailor passed away. Lavinsky swooped them up and still paints on the collection (which he stores in a trunk in his booth) today.
Sometimes Lavinsky researches animals indigenous to the chart before deciding on a subject while, other times, the wildlife guides the project. “I just try to capture the animal in its environment,” he explains. “… I try to focus on their essence and the joy it brings to me.”
His process, especially for commissioned pieces (such as a chart from Texas showcasing a fish that his client caught in the nearby waters), includes creating a digital layout in Photoshop. Then, he sketches the animal in ink on top of the chart before using acrylic paint. Before all that, he makes his own wooden frames by cutting the lumber, routering the edges and mounting the chart onto the structure with wood glue. Along with originals, Lavinsky produces giclee reproductions of his artwork, too.
“I feel like, as I grow, my art grows along with me,” Lavinsky says. “… [I love] being able to enrich the lives of other people and children, and being able to bring about consciousness of the environment and how fragile our ecosystem is and [the importance of] taking care of the planet.”
Over the years, he has begun to add more whimsical touches to his pieces, which typically consist of sea turtles, seals, birds, bison, whales, butterflies and more. His newest creations incorporate characters he has dreamt up, including Oliver the Flying Pig, Susan the Scuba Monkey, Davey Quokka, Duke the Surfing Peace Bear and others. Lavinsky has plans to release a children’s book, which he is writing and illustrating himself based on these characters, that teaches kids about conservation.
In addition, Lavinsky was awarded a grant this year from the city of Laguna Beach to paint vintage globes, a project that he has fit to his style by painting animals, birds, butterflies, flowers and, finally, hummingbirds over the areas where they can be found.
In the future, he hopes to create more children’s books and also dreams of opening his own gallery here in town.
For now, you can find the Laguna local at the Sawdust festivals (both summer and winter), where he is often painting in his booth for guests to see. Whether you’d like to design a commissioned piece of your own or simply want to check out the unique characters Lavinsky has developed, visit his website to learn more.
Painting a Picture
Looking at Jeff Nadler’s wildlife photography, it’s hard to tell if you’re looking at a picture or a painting. But that’s the intent. “As my focus is fine art, I often edit my images to create a painting look or feel—sometimes very subtle, sometimes quite obvious,” he explains. “I’ve found that when viewers aren’t sure if the image is a painting or a photograph, they are much more intrigued.”
His pictures often capture creatures in the wild, ranging from wild horses in France and giant pandas in China to jaguars in Brazil, bison at Yellowstone National Park plus tons of African animals. Some are on archival photo paper, but Nadler prefers to print his images on canvas, as it adds “dimension and depth” that can’t be replicated on paper.
As a child, Nadler was fascinated by movies depicting the African jungle, but his work led him to a lengthy career with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. When he was given the opportunity to go on safari in 2001 in Botswana, his passion for wild animals and the African landscape was reignited.
“I try to make viewers feel what the animals are feeling and thinking,” Nadler notes. “My hope is that, by creating that connection, people will think, ‘That animal is a sentient creature just like me. It deserves a place in this world, to be protected.’ My ultimate goal is to turn people into activists for wildlife protection and preservation, to speak up to save wild places and wild creatures as one of our highest priorities.”
As he also creates nature photography, Nadler says that the two vary quite a bit, as landscape imagery can be planned out ahead of time as far as lighting and composition go. With wildlife photography, he says you have to be quick enough to capture the action with the camera and wait until later on to see what you have captured and what you have to work with. It’s then that his editing process begins.
“The creativity in the editing process often ends up with results that surprise me,” Nadler says. While he sees a vision right away for how to enhance some of his photos, still others can take him months or years to determine how best to “paint” it.
In an edit he did for his photograph “Horses of the Sea,” depicting an ancient breed of wild horses near France’s Rhône River, the animals are neck-deep in the Mediterranean. “I decided to make the water the primary emphasis and began editing the photo to enhance the feeling of the water’s movement. As I did so, the horses merged into waves,” Nadler explains. “Not only did this further enhance the feeling of movement and emphasize the confusion, it created a feeling of the horses being magically formed from the water. Suddenly, the legend that Neptune had made these horses came to life. … I felt chills running up and down my spine as I realized what had happened.”
Although Nadler lives in Oceanside, his work can be found locally at the Hugo Rivera Gallery; he was also an exhibitor at Laguna Art-A-Fair over the summer, where he has been showing since 2014.
Jeff Nadler Wildlife Photography
Reach the artist: 949-842-3416
Following the selection of Julie Perlin Lee as Laguna Art Museum’s newest executive director in the spring, the beloved cultural institution is making another big move with the addition of Victoria Zagarino Gerard in a brand-new role. In early September, Gerard became the museum’s deputy director, a position that will allow her to assist with the museum’s strategic goals and plan of action, strengthen the relationship between the organization and the public, and enhance financial security with the creation and management of new revenue sources. Over the last 15 years, Gerard has played an important role in the arts world, having worked in museum management, research and program/exhibition development. She comes to Laguna from Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, where she held six different positions throughout the last decade; prior to that, Gerard also worked at Independence National Historical Park and Villanova University, both in Pennsylvania, as well as artist Tony DeLap’s studio in Corona del Mar. Gerard also has a master’s degree in arts management from Claremont Graduate University and a bachelor’s degree in history, public history and political science from Villanova. (lagunaartmuseum.org) —Ashley Ryan
En Plein Air
Laguna Plein Air Painters Association has been a huge part of the artistic fabric of Laguna for some time, turning our quaint beach town into an outdoor art studio each fall during the group’s annual invitational. Returning Oct. 2-10, the event, which is in its 23rd year, is bringing back many events, from panel discussions and a “quick draw” painting competition to the collectors’ gala and fine art show. But this year, LPAPA has an extra reason to celebrate: a permanent gallery space in north Laguna. Following a ribbon cutting ceremony in mid-August, the gallery played host to an inaugural exhibit honoring the group’s founding members, Ken Auster, Jacobus Baas, Cynthia Britain, Saim Caglayan and John Cosby. For years, the organization has had hopes of opening a gallery space in town and, now, locals and visitors can view artwork created en plein air all year-round. (lpapa.org) —A.R.
Artist Eye Gallery
September’s featured artist, highlighted in the front of the gallery, is Duncan Asper, who produces mixed media paintings with materials such as oil and acrylic paint, latex silicone and gold, silver or copper metal leafing. In August, the gallery hung a piece from Asper titled “Event Horizon,” a colorful mixed media piece filled with texture. (949-497-5898; artisteyegallerylaguna.com)
Avran Fine Art
Following an opening reception Sept. 11, the gallery is presenting “Touch Sculpture Again” through early October. Featuring works by artist T Barny, the exhibit showcases a new series of 3D stone and bronze sculptures that are meant to be experienced through the sense of touch. The project was dreamed up in response to the COVID-19 quarantine. (949-494-0900; avranart.com)
The Laguna Beach Community & Susi Q Senior Center’s Gallery Q will host its first in-person exhibition of the year with “Harmonious Diversity,” a show that focuses on the beauty of artistic imagination and creativity. The exhibit is viewable during the week through Oct. 13, and will feature a range of mediums that could include everything from paintings and drawings to collage, jewelry, mosaic and more. (949-715-8106; galleryq.org)
JoAnne Artman Gallery
Beginning Oct. 14, catch “Reflection,” a solo show by Brooke Shaden. The fine art photographer has mastered her own style, incorporating elements of both fantasy and reality to add character to her images. Her main subject is herself, with self-portraits that put her imagination on full display. Along with the exhibit, Shaden’s debut art catalogue of the same name is also being released. (949-510-5481; joanneartmangallery.com)
Kelsey Michaels Fine Art
Geoff Mitchell is the main focus of “Mermaids & Dolphins,” a special solo storytelling exhibit that is inspired by fairy tales and features both paintings and sculptures. After an opening reception at the beginning of September, the event will hang in the gallery through the end of September or beginning of October. (949-922-5250; kelseymichaelsfineart.com)
Laguna Beach City Hall
Organized by the city of Laguna Beach, the “2021 Juried Fine Art Exhibition” offers cash prizes to the top three artists. Newer pieces (crafted within the last two years) from Orange County creatives will be on display beginning Oct. 4, with a special reception Nov. 4 to name the winners. The artwork will be on display through mid-November. (949-497-0722; lagunabeachcity.net)
Las Laguna Art Gallery
Art is out in full force at Las Laguna Art Gallery, which is presenting “Icons” through Sept. 30. This current show highlights pop culture figures, ranging from musicians and movie stars to athletes or iconic names throughout history. Then, from Oct. 1-31, online exhibition “The Forgetting Room” explores memory and time while a show with an open theme will be both online and in the gallery from Oct. 7-30. (949-505-0950; laslagunagallery.com)
“The Art of Nellie Gail Moulton” will be on full display this October at the downtown LCAD Gallery. Following an opening reception Oct. 7, guests can visit through late November to view colorful plein air paintings of beautiful local scenery by an artist who helped shape the artist fabric of Laguna Beach, along with names like William Wendt, Anna Hills and Edgar Payne. (949-376-6000; lcad.edu)
Sawdust Art Festival Grounds
Laguna Outreach for Community Arts is hosting its fall brunch, open to members as well as visitors, at the Sawdust grounds Sept. 26. The artistic event will feature a lesson in printmaking from Carla Meberg, Joy Vansell and Vinita Voogd, who are all LOCA board members. Learn to identify monotypes, etchings, woodcuts and more. (949-363-4700; locaarts.org)
Vanessa Rothe Fine Art
For the second time, this small downtown gallery is presenting a horse-themed exhibition. “Horse and Hound” will be on display through Sept. 25, with historic pieces depicting thoroughbred racing dating back to the late 1800s. Some artists that are being featured include Sam Robinson, Deborah Newman and watercolorist Daniel Marshall. (949-280-1555; vanessarothefineart.com)