Carly Jandl hunched over a mustard-colored desk.
A brush in hand, she painted a tree-lined highway stretching out beneath a mass of clouds dancing in a sky of navy, orange and yellow — all on a palette the width of a pop can.
The Duluth artist is attracted to working small.
Along with her tiny wood-slice paintings, Jandl creates graphic art, logo design, and brass and embroidery thread earrings — the latter of which was inspired by a woven wall hanging, she said.
“I always go back and forth: maybe, I should narrow it down. … I just decided, let’s do it all.”
Jandl got her start as a painting instructor at On the Rocks art studio, where she learned the business and was able to refine her techniques.
Five years ago, she launched Northern Exposure Art, which she runs out of the basement of her Lester Park home.
For her tiny paintings, Jandl (pronounced yan-dle) uses wood slices that are a quarter-inch thick and range from 1.5 to 6 inches wide; her average is around 3 inches, which is a little less than the length of a crayon.
The slices are harvested from fallen birch logs on her family’s property. She warms them up and dries them on her porch to avoid splitting them.
Then comes the sanding and a layer of painted gesso to smooth the surface. Next, she sketches her image with a pencil and paints it with acrylic using tiny brushes fit for working with model cars. She adds a clear matte varnish when it’s finished.
Her paintings are most often Northland scenes — the tip of a kayak moving through water, autumn leaves in the background; a bonfire burning among a woodland silhouette; a colorful sky behind the Aerial Lift Bridge — captured by area photographers, which she references with their consent.
Depending on the size and the scene, one painting can take six to 20 hours.
While she’s asked about it often, she hasn’t had to use a magnifying glass — yet.
“I’m expecting as time goes by, I will eventually need that, and to be honest, I could get one right now,” she said.
She likes to challenge herself, and she appreciates the responses she gets. When she was doing art sales, people would come up really close to the works to take it all in. Working with small canvases calls for patience, a steady hand and focus. Years of working as a painting instructor have taught her it's OK to make mistakes.
"Nature scenes are more forgiving," she said. "They don't need to look like the picture, and a tree is a tree."
Jandl’s use of color flows through her art forms. Teals and orange in her paintings; olive and brick in her graphic design; yellows, bright blues and reds in her jewelry.
“I really, really like the look of brass and gold,” she said.
Jandl sketches swirling and chunky designs on brass sheets, which she cuts out with metal shears and assembles for her earrings. Her rainbow embroidery thread earrings are made by wrapping embroidery floss over and over again. She’s drawn to colors and combinations that she’d like to wear herself. “Light jewelry with a bunch of color,” she said.
There’s a tiny drum set in the workspace/studio that Jandl shares with her husband and, sometimes, their 6-year-old son.
“We’ve got a good setup: comfy chair and TV adjacent to a toy room for him. We definitely can all work in that space,” she said.
There are string lights, some with Yoda heads on them, hanging from the wall along with paintings of the northern lights, a rocky shore and a lakeside sky that looks on fire.
Her mustard work table is from a thrift store. In its drawers are large and tiny tubes of paint and paint-splotted towels. On top are clean and painted wood slices, jars of brushes and a lamp made of the bouncy balls she collected as a kid, compliments of her dad and brother.
"I like random, funky things," she said.
Also: "That's Anakin Skywalker. My son bit his head off. … I have little, tiny Star Wars things everywhere."
Nearby is a shelf with many unused stretched canvases, bins of her jewelry and their materials. On the top shelf is a menagerie of goodies: A tiny framed note written in crayon from her best friend. A three-ring journal with a colorfully painted cover. A ceramic bowl full of rocks. A picture of her stepdad and mom’s wedding.
Jandl’s own wedding flowers. A curled sheet of birch bark. A blue and green “pimp chalice” made by a high school friend. A teapot that was her grandmother’s.
There's not a lot of space upstairs, so she uses the studio for much of her display pieces.
“I definitely take up more of the space,” Jandl said.
A couple years ago, Jandl’s husband redid their Lester Park basement, from which they both work. He is also a small business owner and entrepreneur. His desk is kitty-corner to hers.
As for the “Star Wars” artifacts, she said they’re both fans.
Jandl draws everything from her creative inspiration to the name of her business from her surroundings. "I live in the north, and I'm inspired by my exposure of the north,” she said.
For Jandl, art is more than an outlet or a way for expression. It's "freedom."
"Pretty much every day, there's way too much on my mind, so when I can find time to sit down here, it forces me to focus. … Everything is blocked out for just a while.”
ARTIST SPACES is a series featuring artists and where they live or work. If you are an artist or know an artist with a great space, send your info to Melinda Lavine at firstname.lastname@example.org.