Making vivid paintings inspired by richness of fabric
Poppy Dodge is obsessed with paint.
“I am. I can’t quit it,” she recently said, as the Petaluma-based artist prepared to make available a new series of abstract paintings suggested by the ecstatic colors of classic beach blankets. Though deeply inspired by the richness of fabric — from the conjoined patchworks of quilts to coils of dyed yarn to thick blankets redolent of family vacations and rainy days by the fireplace — Dodge primarily expresses her love of fabric through the medium of acrylic paint.
Layers and layers of paint.
“People keep telling me, ’Come on,’ you have to get these onto actual textiles,’ and that is on my to-do list,” Dodge said, the faint glimmer of a genuine promise clinging to her words. “Because I do love the touch of fabric. When I lived in New Zealand with my husband and kids, surrounded by sheep and wool, I did start weaving. On a loom. And it was like painting with wool, and I did become completely obsessed.”
She would paint during the day and weave at night. In New Zealand, it seemed the right thing to do.
“But then, when we moved to Petaluma three years ago, I started focusing just on painting,” Dodge said, noting that the tangential exploration of weaving did have a permanent impact on her approach to her art. “I still follow weavers and quilters on Instagram, especially the improvisational quilters,” she continued. “They piece together random scraps, inventing the most perfectly imperfect patterns. But I love painting, so I eventually thought it would be fun to try to paint the way quilters quilt or weavers weave.”
Artists and other creatives often wait for those much-anticipated “ah ha” moments to come along. For Dodge, this was that moment.
“It was so exciting,” she said. “I created two different series of paintings, all of it inspired by improvisational quilting. For the series I’m about to release, I decided I would just keep learning and really just hone this. I’ve done painted quilts, and now I’m doing the family beach blanket.”
The beach blanket idea was a direct response to COVID-19, and the forced retreat that ended so many people’s summer travel plans.
“Here we were, summer canceled, nothing happening,” Dodge said. “We were all at home with our doors and windows closed to keep out the smoke from the fires, I have two boys, a husband and a black Labrador, and everyone was bouncing off the walls.”
As a way to cope, she began painting abstracts inspired in tone and color by different nostalgic moments from her life. Along with paintings intended to capture the energy of tide pools and beach grass, lollipops and candy necklaces, sailboats and ocean rocks, she created a pair of works inspired by an old family beach blanket she still remembers fondly.
“Who knows where it is now, but I can look at old family photos, and so many of them have that blanket,” she said. “So I did those two, and then, this year, when deciding what to do for my next series, I just knew that I had to keep on exploring that. What blankets symbolize to me are things like leisure, group togetherness, better days, but also a sense of warmth, and even protection.”
One of the ways Dodge approaches her art, when it comes to selling her pieces, is to hold off on releasing a new series until she has many paintings ready to sell, usually making them available to newsletter subscribers and past patrons. The 2021 Beach Blanket Series officially launches on Friday, May 28. Given the restrictions of the ongoing pandemic, the “opening” will take place through her website, PoppyDodge.com.
“I love these new paintings so much,” she said. “I’m really, really excited to share them.”
It would be easy to assume that Dodge has been an artist all of her life, but there was a long period when pursuing an artistic career was the furthest thing from her mind. She studied psychology and sociology in Tacoma, Washington, with an expectation of entering some sort of mental health field.
“I love stories, I love people, and I love helping them,” she said.
But a creative seed had been planted as a child, having grown up under the influence of a professional artist.
“My mom was an artist, so I guess art has always been a dominant part of my life,” says Dodge, who first grew up in Cincinnati before her family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, when she was 7. “There was a ceramic studio and a painting studio in our house, and I was always drawing and making stuff. My earliest memories, literally, are of being on the floor of my mom’s studio, working over old pieces of hers that she didn’t care about anymore. It was just a very creative household.”