STANWOOD — Of the nearly 100 paintings she’s made with resin, Michelle Downes has sold all but a few.
“I’ve had people stare at my art for half an hour,” said Downes, an artist who works out of My Tumbleweed Studio in Stanwood. “To see their reaction is just epic: ‘Wait a minute! What am I looking at? What did you make this with?’ That’s the funnest part for me.”
Her paintings are mesmerizing because the layering technique builds unexpected depth. Her works appear to be 3D. You can see the whole picture or focus on one layer at a time.
A self-taught artist, Downes, 54, has been specializing in abstract resin paintings since 2017.
She works with resin on canvas or wood, countertop or tabletop — basically, anywhere the art will stick.
Her studio — named after her Jeep Wrangler, Tumbleweed — is in the garage of her Stanwood home, as resin should only be used in a well-ventilated space. Like a scientist in a lab, Downes dons a respirator and gloves when she paints because resin fumes can be poisonous, and it irritates the skin.
After measuring and mixing the two-part epoxy resin, she’ll pour it over her canvas, tilting it here and there.
As the mixture slowly solidifies, her visions materialize: sinuous jellyfish, earthy peacock feathers, crashing waves and tranquil reefs. She’ll pop any bubbles with a heat gun for a mirror-like finish. Added embellishments like glitter, sand, beads, crystals and gold leaf make her art shine all the more.
‘All the rage’
If you’ve recently found yourself enamored with resin art, you’re not alone. Resin is all the rage right now.
While epoxy resin was patented by German chemist Paul Schlack in 1934, the artform didn’t really peak until 2020. It may have started as a quarantine hobby for some, but many artists, like Downes, were pouring before the pandemic.
Artists are creating paintings, jewelry, geodes and home decor using the scientific medium in record numbers. Just check TikTok and YouTube for proof.
“It’s having a moment, that’s for sure,” said Sally Pray, a fellow artist and director of the Stanwood Camano Arts Festivals. “There are so many resin artists out there, and there is so much you can do with resin. They’re doing kitchen countertops, lamps, charcuterie boards, jewelry — it’s exploding.”
When referring to art, resin is a class of liquid compounds that can, through a chemical reaction, be hardened, or cured, into a clear solid. It is chemistry and art rolled into one.
Four types of resin can be used to create art, but two-part epoxy resin is the most common. These thermosetting polymers can be combined with additives like ink, glitter and flowers to make each work unique.
Downes has shown her art at the Mother’s Day Art Festival and the Summer Solstice Art, Beer & Wine Festival on Camano Island and the Summer Arts Jam in Stanwood, as well as at Tabby’s Coffee in the Everett Public Library and the OddMall Emporium of the Weird in Monroe.
“You look at her art, and you kind of lose yourself in it,” said Pray, who was impressed by Downes’ artistry when she saw her work at the Stanwood Camano Arts Festivals. “I love her art. Her resin application really drew my eye to her art. Not only that, her presentation is really beautiful too.”
The chemical-based artform tests Downes’ restraint. Each painting has three to eight layers of resin, which need to cure for eight to 72 hours before she pours another. Layer after layer, she continues to work with it until she loves it.
“I’m attracted to the shininess and the brightness of it,” Downes said. “I literally just can’t get enough of it.”
‘My heart just sings’
A visual merchandiser for Target, Downes painted murals, rehabbed furniture and created metal and wood decorations before she turned to resin.
“I’m constantly surrounded by art and display and color and thought,” she said. “I do it at work, I do it at home, and never get sick of it.”
In 2012, one of her daughters received a jewelry-making kit for her 13th birthday. As she helped her daughter mix, pour and cast the jewelry, Downes suddenly recognized the medium.
“I was stoked,” she said. “I was like, ‘What is this? Oh, wait a minute, it’s freakin’ resin! I have always loved it and was fascinated by it.”
Downes was surrounded by resin growing up in California in the ‘70s — think surfboards, motorcycles and speedboats in Orange County.
When she found out that you can also paint with the medium, Downes fell in love with resin all over again. She taught herself how to paint with the polymer by watching YouTube videos and through lots of trial and error.
A humble Downes painted murals, furniture and decorations for herself. With her resin art, however, she needed to show it off. It was too exciting a medium not to share.
In 2017, she posted about her resin artwork on Facebook, just to see if it’d get a response. Her followers’ reaction was immediate: They loved her paintings so much that she sold out of 22 canvases almost immediately.
“I cried my eyes out because I couldn’t believe it,” said Downes. “The art itself brings me such joy. My heart just sings when I’m doing it.”
‘Back to my jam’
Just as resin art was trending, Downes hung up her respirator in 2020. Not only were art festivals canceled because of COVID-19, but she soon became a grandma three times over.
After three years focusing on her grandchildren, Downes is pouring some of her love back into resin.
“Being a grandma is bitchin’,” she said. “Within 18 months we had three grandchildren, two boys and one girl. I was still painting, just bird houses and coloring books, you know, because of the toddlers. Now that they’re 2 and 2½, I can get back to my jam.”
As she reaches that 100th painting mark, Downes’ dream is to see one of her original resin paintings hanging in a Snohomish County or Island County hotel, spa or restaurant.
That dream painting of hers? It will be one-of-a-kind, as resin has a mind of its own. The artform, by nature, is unique.
“Nothing looks the same,” Downes said. “I couldn’t recreate a piece to look exactly the same if I wanted to. Just not at all.”
Find out more about Michelle Downes’ art on Instagram @mytumbleweedstudio or by emailing her at email@example.com.
Sound & Summit
This article is featured in the fall issue of Sound & Summit, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $4.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $18 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to soundsummitmagazine.com for more information.