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Jan. 22, 2021

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Learn and shop during Washougal’s second Studio Artists Tour

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
8 Photos
Many colorful mixtures of encaustic (beeswax) and dammar resin sit Tracy Simpson’s home studio in Washougal, ready to go; all she has to do is melt them, or make some more, to start adding colors to her works in progress.
Many colorful mixtures of encaustic (beeswax) and dammar resin sit Tracy Simpson’s home studio in Washougal, ready to go; all she has to do is melt them, or make some more, to start adding colors to her works in progress. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

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

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:

Her paintings are thick, solid and shiny because she builds them with encaustic, that is, beeswax. To make one of her abstracted “fluid figures,” Simpson melts a colorful wax base or adds her own resins and pigments to a neutral one; she overlays line sketches and works with more encaustic, paints, glassine (a glossy, water-resistant paper) and clay modeling tools to build up and trim back fields of color “with a little dimension to them,” she said; she fires up a blowtorch for a quick, gentle glazing; and finally she installs crisp black lines to set those color fields apart, increasing the overall sense of order and design.

Those lines are real horse hairs that Simpson presses into the wax, but only after the blowtorch glazing is done — otherwise the hairs would burn, she said. She has worked without those sharp lines, but the final result is simply less pleasing to her.

“That’s the design nerd in me,” Simpson said.