I can’t believe it’s already…September!” is a multimedia exhibit by Lorna “Bee” Branzuela on display at Fireweed Gallery, the artist’s celebration of this transitional time of year.
“Autumn has always been my favorite season in Alaska,” Branzuela said. “Although it may be short, the changes to mountains, plants and animals are fun to watch. From the blueberries along the Denali Highway to fungi and dew-covered dandelion puffs, I’m always impressed and many times surprised with what I see.”
In this exhibit, Branzuela showcases 24 pieces, including paintings, photographs and dish flower art, along with prints and cards.
In her painting, “Spirits of the Fallen,” a dark brown tree stump rests in the foreground, while green, white and orange shapes appear like whimsical trees in the background.
“I started with the background, painting green, orange and black in watercolor, let it dry and then looked at it for six months before I finally figured out what I wanted to do next, which was to paint a dark tree trunk in acrylic so that the bright background contrasted with the dark foreground,” she said. “I showed it to a friend and she said it looks like there are spirits moving through it, so that’s how I came up with the name.”
Born and raised in Anchorage and a Homer resident for the past three years, Branzuela began painting after high school, taking an acrylic class to learn techniques for mixing colors, which inspired her to buy her own paints and play with watercolor and acrylics on paper. With basic techniques down, she started watching artist Bob Ross’s instructional TV show and experimented with mixing acrylic and watercolor paints together, something she continues to do today. Inspired by other local artists, Branzuela has taken classes from Sharlene Cline, among others.
“I like to learn from other artists to get their input and feedback and then come back to my studio and play,” she said. “There are so many different artists practicing so many different art forms here, it’s very unique and I appreciate that they are willing to share what they know.”
Branzuela enjoys painting landscapes and most often paints from memory.
“Once my brush touches the canvas, something happens and I just go with it, with whatever it looks like,” she said. “I like to just let my creativity flow.”
In addition to the paintings themselves, another aspect of Branzuela’s creativity is how she displays her work. “Spirits of the Fallen” is painted on canvas with a contrasting-colored felt along the edge of the canvas. Incorporating an eco-friendly approach to framing her work, she reuses mats and frames she finds at thrift stores.
“My art is the art and the presentation of the art,” she said.
Branzuela utilizes this reuse-and-recycle approach to matting and framing her photography, another one of her creative passions, which has evolved since purchasing her first camera — a used Pentax 35mm. As a young girl, she taught herself about exposures and F stops, took photography classes in high school, and learned as she practiced shooting.
In 1993, while in she was in her 30s, Branzuela’s photograph of a forget-me-not flower took first place at the Alaska State Fair in the Adult division for amateurs. It was her first time submitting her work into a competition, inspiring her to approach her photography more seriously.
“I took the photo in my backyard, with the forget-me-nots in the foreground and a basket of marigolds in the background,” she said. “The depth of field was really cool and as soon as I saw the image, I was so excited about it.”
While Branzuela prefers to paint landscapes, she enjoys photographing wildlife and nature. In this current exhibit, “Blueberries” showcases large berries on red- and orange-leafed stems, slightly blurred to give a dreamy quality and was photographed along the Denali Highway. Another image, shot while walking the trail behind the Pratt Museum & Park showcases the autumn transition of a Devil’s Club plant, its formerly bright green leaves fading to yellow and orange.
Since Branzuela won her first award in 1993, her photography continues to win awards at the Alaska State Fair. Locally, she has exhibited at pop-up vendor fairs at Grace Ridge Brewing, Homer Council on the Arts and previously and now at Fireweed Gallery where she also works part time.
Operating her art business as Barnhart Productions, Branzuela published a coffee table book of her favorite and award-winning images and is planning to publish a second version of her newer work.
Alongside her paintings and photography currently on display, Branzuela showcases one of her other avenues of creativity — dish flower art, where glass or ceramic dishes are glued together with details added. “Blueberry” is a small blueberry plate glued to a white ceramic dish on which she incorporated blue glass to depict blueberries.
“I saw someone doing these and tried it and liked it,” she said. “It’s pretty fun, like glass and ceramic sculptures.”
With a degree in computer programming and operations, Branzuela worked on the North Slope for 16 years before retiring and moving to Homer. After work, she would grab her camera and photograph her surroundings, a contrast of beauty amongst the oil field camps, including lakes, birds and wildlife.
While up north, she also learned how to make soap and her Bunny Tail Soaps, fragrance-free soft soaps made from soybean, coconut and olive oil, are available year round at Fireweed Gallery.
Whether she is inspired to paint, mat and frame her photographs, assemble flower art or make soap, Branzuela does it all from the comfort of her home, with flat surfaces stacked with paintings, prints, canvas, mats and frames, and her kitchen doubles as her soap-making studio.
Quiet and introverted, Branzuela’s creativity is extremely important to her and she said stemmed from her childhood, where she learned to be quiet and invisible, aspects of her personality she carries with her today, whether she has a camera or a paintbrush in her hand.
“My creativity is a safe and comforting activity and being in nature is meditative and a source of inspiration,” she said. “When I go for a hike and paint a scene from what I saw or get excited about a photo I took along the way, that’s the positive feedback that makes me want to continue creating.”
Branzuela’s exhibit, “I can’t believe it’s already…September!” is on display at Fireweed Gallery through September. Her prints, cards and soap are available at the gallery year round. You can also find her on Facebook, Lorna Branzuela.