Main Street Gallery welcomes Craig nature artist

A watercolor and ink on panel titled "Cabbage Queen,” shows artist Cammie May's rendition of local skunk cabbage. Photo submitted by Cammie May

Craig artist Cammie May will open her exhibit, “Lucidity” at the Main Street Gallery next Friday evening.

May’s prints, drawings and paintings are inspired by her surroundings, she said in a recent phone interview.

“The show is mainly nature based,” she said. “I love drawing and painting animals — birds in particular.”

She added, “I really enjoy, mainly, the challenge in trying to represent the movement in the bird as I see them.”

Images of May’s art on her and Facebook Cambazam Art business pages feature sandhill cranes, hummingbirds and ravens, in addition to Craig’s iconic buildings and fishing vessels. There also are images of her highly detailed character portraits, including a stunningly detailed watercolor portrait of her grandfather Fred Hamilton Sr., titled “Oldest Living Haida.”

May’s work also can be viewed on Instagram by searching for @cambazam.

The detail in many of her works is an approach that May said she especially enjoys creating as she works to build her drawing skills.

“I like to use ink pens for that reason,” she said, as they allow for precision.

Speaking of the works she will have in her exhibit, she said, “every single piece will have a lot of details in it, which is part of my goal, to draw people in a little bit closer and to appreciate all the little marks that make up the larger scene.”

Another unique feature of many of May’s pieces is her use of mushroom spore prints.

“Part of why I was chosen for a show is, this last year I started experimenting with mushrooms — well, mushroom hunting, but with the end game to use the mushrooms for spore prints.”

Spore prints are made by placing a fresh mushroom cap gill side down on a surface and allowing the spores to release, creating a distinct pattern which allows for identification of the mushroom species, but also making dynamic images.

“There’s no crazy trick to it,” May said, “but half the fun is being out in nature looking for them, finding them and then seeing what kind of spore prints they’ll make — what patterns I can make with them and how I can incorporate them into my art.”

She said people often don’t even recognize the patterns in her finished pieces as mushroom spore prints, as they are incorporated seamlessly into the images she draws, prints or paints onto and around the prints.

Hunting for the mushrooms is just another part of the fun, she added.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “Once you start looking, it’s almost like you never go on another walk again where you’re not looking.”

Another wild plant she said she likes to incorporate into her pieces are ferns. She said she’s experimented with rolling ink onto the fronds, then pressing them onto the piece, or sometimes she simply uses them as models from which to draw.

May said that for this exhibit, she used either wood panels as bases for her works, or Ampersand brand “Claybord” panels.

The wood panels give her special joy, she said.

“I really loved that contrast of the natural wood color behind the black of the ink pen,” she said. “It’s really illustrative; almost gives it a graphics feel.”

She said she finds it especially interesting to paint with watercolors on the raw wood, as the paint will move around and soak into the wood grain in surprising ways.

“I work really intuitively,” she said, making the surprises enjoyable. “I don’t do any preliminary sketches. I just kind of keep working until it feels like it’s working out.”

The panels, she discovered, also are perfect for the spore prints, as they don’t warp like paper will when she spritzes water on the caps to encourage spore release.

May was born in Ketchikan, raised in Craig, and lived in Northern California while she earned a bachelor’s degree in art education and studio art from Humboldt State University, returning home to Craig during the summers.

She now works “85 percent” full time in her Cambazam Art business, adding in a few days here and there to work in her sister’s food truck, “Fish & Chicks,” where her best friend also works.

“It’s a good way to get out of my studio and get out of my head space to interact with people,” May said, adding that it’s a “joy” to work with her sister and best friend.

May officially started her Cambazam Art business in March 2018, and she said she’s been very busy since. She’s not only been hired for many commissioned works, but she also entered two works in the 2018 Southeast Alaska State Fair, hung an exhibit of her work in the Barnaby Brewery in Juneau earlier this month, and prepared works for her Main Street Gallery exhibition — all in addition to getting married in July.

She said working with determination has been “not only to expand my audience and get my name out there in Southeast a little more, but it’s always a goal, something to work hard for and feel accomplished about.”

May said she likes to push herself not only to improve her ink drawing skills, but also to try new mediums, methods and subjects.

In college, she focused completely on creating abstract works.

“I’ve really taken a different turn, but because of that there’s definitely — in certain pieces you can see that I enjoy a little bit of abstract, some looseness,” she said. “In certain pieces I really like to let that side of me flow and release a little bit of control.”

One thing she said she discovered in the journey away from abstract pieces is that it gives her a new way to connect to people through her art.

She realized when she started her business that many people crave something tangible in the works.

“There’s a big lack of understanding overall” with the objective pieces, she said. “That’s just how people’s minds work, so I get that.”

As she began to practice her more realistic images, she said she found herself enjoying the new approach.

“I realized I enjoyed that challenge as well,” she said, and also that she enjoyed not having to explain her work as much.

May said, of making her art, whether it is abstract or more realistic, “I love the process almost more than what comes out of it.”

She added that “I’m kind of all over the place with my methods. I just kind of do what feels right at the time.”

The evolution of the art piece is central to its meaning, May said.

“It’s a special thing,” she explained. “Because I feel like anyone who creates, they know it’s also an intimate thing because you’re the one who created all those in-between phases. I think maybe for that reason, that’s why it feels — not like, sacred — but the process is a huge part of it for me.”

May’s “Lucidity” opening event will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at the Main Street Gallery, at 330 Main Street. It will be available for viewing through Sept. 27.

May will give an artist presentation followed by a workshop from noon to 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 7 in the gallery. In the workshop, participants will be supplied with spore prints as well as materials to create art alongside May.

Of her Main Street Gallery exhibition, May said, “there’s going to be a lot of detail, a lot of color. I’m certainly inspired by color choices that I make — it will not be a boring show.”