Open Studios Art Tour: Where art takes form

The Open Studios Art Tour turns 15 this year, and over 60 new participants will help celebrate

slinn@thetribunenews.comOctober 4, 2013 

Sometimes it’s difficult to make friends.

That’s why the Open Studios Art Tour has been playing matchmaker for 15 years — pairing artists with art lovers in search of fresh, exciting finds.

Sponsored by Arts Obispo, the San Luis Obispo County Arts Council, the Open Studios Art Tour celebrates its 15th anniversary this month with more than 230 San Luis Obispo County artists working in a variety of media. That number includes nine participants who have taken part all 15 years and more than 60 who are opening their doors for the first time.

In honor of Open Studios’ landmark anniversary, we’ve profiled four studios: veterans EarthSea Pottery and Thiessen Design and first-time participants Holly Beals and Josh Talbott.

Holly Beals

1512 Tanglewood Drive, San Luis Obispo
949-233-7339 |

When mixed-media artist Holly Beals moved to San Luis Obispo just over a year ago, she said, “I started researching how I could get connected to the art community here.” Then an aunt told her about Open Studios.

Since signing up, Beals said, she’s been working full time to fill her portfolio, creating colorful mixed media pieces that blend linoleum block printing, photos and collage.

“It was good motivation,” she said.

Beals, who grew up in Orange County, graduated from Chico State University with a bachelor’s degree in communication.

After spending six years as a graphic designer in California and Colorado, “I wanted to get away from the computer for a little while … and do something more relational,” she said. “I thought it would be a good time for an adventure.”

Beals spent 14 months teaching conversational English to college students in China and Tibet.

The artist, who previously visited China in 2005 on a Chico State-sponsored educational trip, described the experience as “challenging but a lot of fun.” It also inspired her artistically.

Echoes of the ornate hand-painted patterns Beals saw in Tibet can be found in her work, which as well as images of animals, women in traditional dress and homey objects such as mountain cottages, tea kettles and sewing machines. She’s also drawn to the motif of trees.

“(A tree) means life. It means creation. It means being rooted in something deeper than yourself,” she said.

EarthSea Pottery

4070 Burton Drive, Cambria
927-8273 |

Ceramic artists Michael Miller and Peggy Vrana like to describe their workspace as “disorganized chaos.”

Their charming complex includes two small, free-standing studios, a kiln, and glazing and storage areas. Platters lean against tree trunks. Amphorae and other containers border garden beds and line wooden porches.

Miller and Vrana, who moved to Cambria in 1983, aren’t the only artists on the premises, either. Vrana’s mother, sculptor Margot Vrana, also lives and works there.

Miller launched his career in clay in 1967, studying art at Los Angeles Pierce College, Cal State Northridge and UC Santa Barbara. His wife, a Baywood Park native who attended Morro Bay High School and Cuesta College, has been making a living with pottery since age 17.

“I’ve been so busy with my art,” she explained, that she’s never had time to seek further schooling. (They co-own Amphora Gallery in Cambria with four other artists.)

Although the couple collaborates on projects half of the time, they take distinctly different approaches to their art.

Vrana, who is drawn to repetitive, geometric patterns, sketches her designs directly on bisque-fired forms, then paints them using wax resist and polychrome glaze inlay. (Miller makes all the glazes decorating their stoneware and porcelain pieces from raw materials.) She gets inspiration from ancient indigenous cultures as well as the natural beauty of her North Coast setting.

Miller, meanwhile, seeks out more fluid pieces with subtle color changes. “I’m really altering the shape and texture of raw pieces,” he said.

Josh Talbott

575 Ramona Ave., Los Osos
404-519-8957 |

Inspiration is everywhere in Josh Talbott’s tiny Los Osos shack — from the beheaded Barbie dolls, plastic dinosaurs and salvaged shoes decorating his bookshelves to the surfboards hanging overhead.

And then there’s the art, which ranges from playful portraits of Lego figurines to contemplative seascapes painted over antique sheet music and vintage snapshots. With canvases crowding every wall and corner, it’s hard to know where the studio ends and the home begins.

“Everything but the stove and my bed is pretty much workspace,” Talbott said. “My house is becoming increasingly a museum to my process.”

A self-taught artist, Talbott grew up in Georgia before moving to New Orleans to study scenic painting. There, he fell in with a group of artists he met selling paintings in front of St. Louis Cathedral.

“It was the best adventure I’ve had in years,” he said, but it ended when nine feet of water seeped into their studio during Hurricane Katrina.

Talbott found his way to New Mexico, then Los Angeles, before moving four years ago to Los Osos. Although he came to do carpentry, he stayed to create art.

Despite appearances, Talbott said his “toy paintings” are actually the most technically challenging. Take “Banana Boat,” which features a Lego monkey pirate on the high seas, or “Sticky Situation,” in which three plastic army men train their weapons on a smirking “honey bear” bottle.

With his ocean-themed paintings, he added, “I can just play. I use the way my hand makes a brushstroke to find the movement of the sea.”

Thiessen Design

200-G Suburban Road, San Luis Obispo

For Jeffrey Allen Thies, establishing a successful studio is a lot like crafting the perfect stainless steel railing — seemingly simple, yet surprisingly demanding.

“It’s educational and it’s challenging, but it’s satisfying when it’s finished,” said Thies, the founder and creative director of Thiessen Design.

A graduate of Arroyo Grande and Cuesta College, Thies started his studio in 1997 in his San Luis Obispo garage, where he crafted gothic-style lamps and candle holders from old car parts and other junk yard finds.

“I couldn’t make anything square because I didn’t have the (tools),” he quipped.

Looking to expand, he moved to a larger commercial space on Prado Road in 1999, before relocating to his current Suburban Road site.

In this unpretentious industrial setting, Thies and his four-member staff design, build and fabricate custom furnishings, corporate signage and public sculpture using materials including steel, wood, stone and glass.

“I never wanted to fit the mold of a typical starving artist,” Thies said. “I wanted to make a living at it (and) I knew I had to plunge into it.”

Visitors to Thiessen Design can see the evolution of Thies’ artistic process, ranging from 1997’s “The Dragon Slayer,” which features a metal spear and shards of broken glass resembling dragon scales, to 2010’s “Purged,” a sleek, geometric piece.

“Having a passion for well-built products is what drives me to create,” he said. “My philosophy is to move away from throw-away products and move back to quality products that can stand the test of time.”

If you go …

What: Open Studios Art Tour
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Days: Oct. 12, 13, 19 and 20
Where: San Luis Obispo County
Contact: Call 544-9251 or visit

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