Touring Santa’s Southern Workshop Outpost


Dear Santa: 

Let’s skip the mall and take in the Laguna Beach Artist Open Studio Tour instead. I hear there’s so much neat stuff there and no parking hassles and everyone is soo nice. 

Your friend, Virginia


Printmaker Sheryl Seltzer adds more texture to a seascape woodcut.

Sculptor Louis Longi handed a visitor a small rectangular, still-warm panel of wax. With their combined efforts, they twisted and pushed it into an intricately convoluted shape that is a trademark of his work. By the time they finished, the form suggested the motion of a modern dancer but was as rigid as a Prius’ bumper, and perhaps even more durable.

During last month’s Laguna Beach Artist Open Studio Tour, Longhi was at work on several maquettes, small versions of what might become monumental sized sculptures. “The best way to show people the process and materials I use in my work is to get them involved,” he said. That was how first-time studio tour visitors Tracy Brooks and Barbara Peacock of Long Beach learned about steps in the lost wax method of casting metal. “I paint abstract but I have no idea about metal sculpture,” said Peacock.

On Dec.1, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., visitors to the Artists Open Studio Tour can treat themselves to mixing with 33 artists in their studios and perhaps buying original, hand-made works of art for less than they would spend on mass-produced fare at the mall and bereft of sales pressure. There are no parking hassles as visitors can leave their rides at the ACT V parking lot and catch a free shuttle that runs from the first to last studio on Laguna Canyon Road.

The observant may have wondered about the origin of colorful ceramic tile works such as “Third Reef” at the Brooks Street beach access by local Marlo Bartels. He’s opening his studio for this month’s tour and guests will get a preview of a sculpture Bartels is working on for the city of Brea. If inspired, they can commission their own work of art.

Over-saturation tears a print, but Seltzer will use the remnant as note cards.

Jon Seeman, creator of the “Breached Whale” at home at Heisler Park, is also on the route.

Despite the roar of incessant traffic, tour takers enter often bucolic settings that play a strong role in the romantic lore surrounding Laguna artists. Those with some patience will get a chance to observe them at work. For example, painter-sculptor Deborah Paswaters will sketch from life models and allow visitors to handle palette knives and brushes. Wood carver Micha von Doring demonstrates intricate techniques in a studio that is, save for a canvas roof, al fresco but features its own small sawmill. Glass aficionados and those of wearable art will not disappointed either. Gavin Heath and Muffin Spencer-Devlin offer blown glass and Maggie Spencer kiln-fired glass. Olivia Batchelder’s elegant print silk garments and scarves and should be on anyone’s gift list.

Her glass table top serves as a painter’s palate.

Print maker Sheryl Seltzer enjoys getting visitors involved into her creative processes. She usually works on several prints at a time, allowing her to explain printmaking to novices. “People like getting involved with art; they buy work that they understand and perceive as sincere,” she said.

Wood cutting is but one of her print making techniques. While cutting into a panel of soft wood, she is able to show how a work of art, basically unchanged in technique for centuries, evolves. Carving slowly and methodically she shares her working mantra: “Buy good tools and materials. Use a lot of time; be patient with yourself.”

Laguna Canyon Artists, a complex housing Seltzer, painter and printmaker Hedy Buzan, several mixed-media artists, jewelers and also landscape painter Fred Hope, a former Disney executive turned full-time painter, is a high point of the tour.

Hope paints the rock formation and coastal caves of Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar. “I only paint places that mean something to me and I do not want anything to look typical but to have a slightly surreal look,” he said of his latest series of paintings.

For a list of participating artists go to  or call Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Manager Sian Poeschl at 949-497-0722×4.

Rollers rather then brushes layer ink across the woodcut.
A hand-cranked press propels high-grade paper across the inked woodcut.

Photos by Andrea Adelson

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