WASHOUGAL — The question that painter Tracy Simpson gets asked most often is simply: “How do you do it?”
It’s a basic question, born of amazement at Simpson’s richly colorful, slightly surreal artworks. Some are street scenes and at-risk older homes that Simpson feels urgency about documenting before they disappear from her native Portland; some are color-saturated abstractions of horses, dogs and human figures; and some are detailed studies of the rusty beauty Simpson finds in industrial leftovers like shot-out car doors and disused metal pipes. One of her personal favorites blends water valves with a historical map of the whole Portland water system.
Simpson grew up “Daddy’s little gearhead,” she said, disassembling engines at her father’s side when little, riding her own motorcycle when she grew up.
“We used to wrench on this ’61 Falcon small block,” Simpson said of good times with Dad, sounding not at all like a typical artist. She sure wasn’t typical while earning her industrial-design degree at the Cleveland Institute of Art and then going to work designing car interiors in Detroit and then truck interiors for Daimler after moving back to Portland to be near family.
“I was the only woman doing industrial design in my graduating class, and the only woman in my design group. You’ve got to have thick skin, or you’ll be in litigation the rest of your life,” Simpson said of sex discrimination and just-plain-bad behavior in the very male auto industry. “It’s a tightrope, but you just focus on the work. Maybe that makes me not a very good feminist, but that’s what I did.”
Until, she said, she started devoting herself full time to art. Simpson and her husband, who eventually moved to a Washougal hillside directly adjacent to Simpson’s relocated parents, discussed the idea at length and “made some sacrifices” so she could take the total plunge; over the last few years, she said, she’s discovered how tough it can be to market your own artworks — so she’s grateful to be included in this weekend’s Washougal Studio Artists Tour.
Second time around
The tour is a two-day opportunity to meet 19 working artists, explore their environs and witness their creative magic — in all sorts of media, from pen-and-ink and paintings through clay and ceramics, woodwork and glasswork, textiles, metalwork and jewelry. Studios will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 11 and 12; since this is a self-guided outing, you can pick and choose the artistic creations that appeal to you by exploring the previews and links posted at https://www.washougalstudioartists.org.
Or, earn bragging rights by visiting all 19 artists included in this year’s second Washougal Studio Artists Tour.
“We were delighted with the success of our first tour last year,” said Angela Ridgway, event coordinator and participating mixed-media metal artist. “We received great interest and support from the local community and welcomed many visitors from the Portland area and beyond. Some on the tour were discovering Washougal for the first time,” and enjoyed exploring the greenery and the Columbia riverside in addition to artists’ studios.
Horse hair design
Visit Simpson’s studio to see how she does it.
If You Go
What: Washougal Studio Artists Tour, featuring 19 artists in 11 locations.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 11-12.
On the web: www.washougalstudioartists.org