Nature as Medium: Stephanie Paige Introduces Zen Garden Series

  • by Kelly Skeen
  • March 25th, 2015
Stephanie Paige in her studio

Stephanie Paige in her studio

“All art is but imitation of nature.”

This phrase, coined by ancient Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca, perfectly describes the artistic approach of mixed-media painter Stephanie Paige. Her contemporary paintings are abstract landscapes pared down to simplistic compositions, which are anything but simple to construct. Large-scale panels balanced around stark horizon lines are created through a mixture of pigment and marble-dust plaster, a tricky medium that Paige discovered as a muralist painting frescos and Venetian plasters in southern California.

“It appeals to me because of how different it is,” explains Paige. “More than just the way it looks, I love the way it feels and what it can do.”

Santa Ana Winds and Letting Go by Stephanie Paige at Pippin Contemporary

Santa Ana Winds, 36×36″ (left) and Letting Go, 24×24″ (right) by Stephanie Paige, Abstract Mixed Media Collection

Paige began this abstract mixed-media style in 2008 after a search for peace and balance in her life and a consequent discovery of Buddhism. This tranquility is reflected on her panels, with symmetry and balance playing a large role in the compositions. Nature is the inspiration and motivation for Paige’s art, and she creates each piece in honor of Mother Earth.

“In my work, I see rich textured soil, clear blue water, spacious open sky, or a soft breeze,” says Paige. “In my pieces, you can see the contemporary feel mixed with a rustic earthiness, two complete opposites that dance well together.”

Stephanie Paige work in progressNot only does nature inspire Paige’s work, it also dictates the physical outcome of each piece. Plaster is sensitive to weather conditions and temperature, a quality that Paige sometimes takes advantage of to create texture. A piece with wet paint and plaster placed outside on a dry day opens up with cracks and peels, adding unique textural details to its surface.

This spring, Paige’s paintings are forging an even closer relationship to the natural world with the start of her Zen Garden Series, which she will introduce at Pippin Contemporary in June. Paige started experimenting with leaves in her work several years ago, creating impressions within layers of plaster. Now that it’s evolving, Paige is dedicating an entire series to this once experimental technique. Using natural materials from a grove of eucalyptus trees in her yard, Paige creates a dark base on the panel with leaves pressed into the plaster. She then removes them and sands the plaster back, adds color and repeats. She finishes with a watercolor wash on the surface, which brings out the leaf impressions from underneath and creates a soft blend of color in either calm blue and grey hues, or energetic oranges and reds.

Stephanie Paige in the studio
This technique is also dependent on weather elements; the paintings in the series can only be created during this time of year. The moisture in the spring air keeps the leaves strong, while the dry summer season causes them to crack and break, unable to make a solid impression on the plaster. In addition to leaves, Paige also makes impressions with grass strips, vines, and weeds. Occasionally a leaf or other natural material will remain in the plaster, becoming a part of the completed piece.

Eden’s Love by Stephanie Paige, 60×30″ mixed-media, Zen Garden Series.


Paige has to cut back her beloved eucalyptus trees for fire precautions this time of year, and the Zen Garden Series is a way she reuses that material in a creative way.

“It bothers me that I have to trim them back and take nature out of my garden,” says Paige. “This way I can still honor that nature with art.”

Paige will show work from her Zen Garden Series this June at Pippin Contemporary for the Art and Soul of Color, a collaborative exhibition as part of Santa Fe’s Summer of Color. View more of Stephanie’s meditative abstractions on her artist page of our website.