2009 Open Studios Art Tour: Where ideas become art

Jackie Hickman is on the open studios tour. The Paso Robles artist works in her garage.
Venice Italy is the subject of the painting behind her.
Jackie Hickman is on the open studios tour. The Paso Robles artist works in her garage. Venice Italy is the subject of the painting behind her.

Jackie Hickman’s dream studio would be a loft in New York or San Francisco.

The loft would have a mini-bar, a good sound system and a bed.

“But right now I’m a garage person,” she said.

Her studio in the garage of her Paso Robles home has limitations. For one thing, it shares space with cars and tools. Also, it gets really hot in the daytime, forcing Hickman to work mostly at night.

“I love to paint when it’s cold,” she said. “I love to paint on rainy days.”

While some artists on the Open Studios Art Tour have large workspaces devoted only to art, most simply create space where it’s available — be it a former workout room, a shed or patio.

The desk where Aileen Parmenter works is smack in the middle of her living room. Spread out nearby are plastic containers containing rocks, wires and tools she uses to make jewelry.

Her ideal studio would be big enough to allow her to store her supplies in a way that she could see them.

“I have my beads all in containers, and I can’t see them all,” said Parmenter, of Atascadero.

Erin Perry’s supplies are very neatly categorized and stored — but in several places throughout her Morro Bay home. She can find things in her sun room, living room and garage. Recently, her supplies even spilled out into the bedroom and bathroom.

“If space was no object, it would be great to have everything in one area,” she said.

The Open Studios tour opens studios to the public, giving local artists needed exposure in a tough economy. Meanwhile, sales of the tour catalog represent a major fundraiser for Arts Obispo, the local art advocacy organization that puts on the tour. This year, once again, more than 200 artists are participating in the event, which takes place over three weekends.

We recently spoke to three artists — all new to the tour — about their art, inspirations and workspaces.

Erin Perry, altered books

It’s entirely appropriate that Erin Perry stores her rubber stamps in an old library card catalogue she found online. Perry has been a librarian for the past 19 years.

In fact, she was working at the Cambria library about five years ago when she found her medium. A patron had returned a book on altered books, “The Decorated Page” by Gwen Diehn, and Perry looked at it herself.

As someone with more than 30 years of journals, the idea of creating art out of books fascinated her. So she soon began collecting old books and an assortment of interesting items to create assembly pieces — art made from found objects.

While it may seem odd for a librarian to alter books, Perry doesn’t have a problem with it.

“Most of these books have a fairly short shelf life,” she said.

By turning books into art, she said, they actually last longer.

After earning a music degree, Perry wound up teaching music to school kids in Watts. But after getting shot at and having her hair lit on fire, she quit teaching and moved to Pozo. The former semiprofessional opera singer wound up becoming a librarian, which gave her the perfect organizational skills to be an altered-book artist.

While her house is filled with numerous boxes, suitcases and cigar boxes crammed with found objects, they’re all neatly categorized.

“It helps me remember what’s in some of those boxes,” she said.

That way, when she has an idea, she merely shops her stash.

She finds interesting objects— old postcards, foreign money, old photos and more — just about anywhere: online, in thrift stores. Sometimes while walking she’ll find a piece of wire on the side of a road that she can use.

“It’s one of those art forms where there are no rules,” she said.

Once she’s ready to work on a project, she’ll light some incense and queue up music by Jack Johnson or Norah Jones (sometimes even the “Mamma Mia!” soundtrack) and get started.

Often she’ll work on a book—many of which are displayed on a book shelf in her home—but she also works on mesh and boxes.

While her work space is constantly growing, don’t expect Perry to scale back any time soon.

“It’s almost like you have to save everything because you don’t know what you might need,” she said.

Aileen Parmenter, jewelry

Aileen Parmenter’s desk is situated right in front of a television set. That way she can watch old movies while she works.

“I like to look at what they’re wearing in those old movies,” she said. “It kind of gives me ideas.”

As a child, Parmenter used to fix her friends’ broken jewelry. Years later, an accident motivated her to make her own.

“When I was injured at work, I was put on bed rest for six weeks,” she said.

A former nurse’s aide, Parmenter said she was injured by a patient while trying to transfer him from a wheelchair to a bed. While recovering, she started working with stones, decorating them with wire.

“It’s very therapeutic,” said Parmenter, who also makes wire trees.

Before long, she had sold her first 20 pieces.

The desk where she works is in the center of the small cottage where she lives. Her tools include small hammers, more than a dozen different pliers, pieces of wire and tubs filled with stones and beads.

With those supplies and tools she makes necklaces, bracelets and rings. But how she actually works the wire depends on what she’s working with.

“It’s the stone,” she said. “I can’t tell you exactly how it’s going to look when I first start out. I have a general idea. But as I’m working with it, I just think about what I’m going to do with it.”

Jackie Hickman, painting

Having been to as many as 500 concerts over the years, you’d think Jackie Hickman would have plenty of inspiration for creating musician portraits. But Hickman takes her time when pondering a project.

“I usually walk around with a concept for weeks,” she said. “That’s where my art starts — in my head. Then I walk around and think about it and think about it. And when I get tired of thinking about it, I force myself to put it on canvas.”

Hickman began painting after taking a class in 1978. But soon after she learned to paint, she began having children, leaving little time for art. More recently, with her kids grown, she dramatically picked up the pace.

While she started out doing plein air paintings, she has been working on a series of musician portraits, which includes paintings of Kurt Cobain, bluesman Robert Johnson and Keith Richards.

“How could you not love Keith Richard’s face?” she said. “He just exudes character.”

She recently started a portrait of Jimi Hendrix, but hasn’t been able to finish. Hendrix was a favorite of her brother, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1982.

“I started doing him, and I sort of hit this wall,” she said.

While the tragedy caused Hickman’s art to become dark for a period, she has since moved to more colorful pieces, including bright scenes of the canals of Venice.

Her art space is pretty bare. Beside her easel sits a folding table with brushes, a basket of rags and paint tubes. A photo of her brother is nearby, not far from a fan and a radio.

While Hickman has seen mostly rock concerts — the Rolling Stones, R.E.M. and the Grateful Dead, among others — she primarily listens to country music while painting. Too much grooving, after all, would be distracting. And Hickman likes to dive into her work.

“When you get in the zone, you hate to leave,” she said.