Studio Views: Ria Brodell

The artist Ria Brodell takes great care to research and create intimate gouache paintings with historical significance. Let’s take a peek at her studio and working process.

I’ve been working on my series “Butch Heroes” for about two years now. I’m looking for butch, queer women or female-to-male transgendered individuals from history and painting their portraits.

I work on one painting at a time. They’re 11 x 7 inches, gouache on paper, and are scaled up and styled after the Catholic prayer cards or Holy Cards I grew up with. Just as those cards referenced details of the saint’s or martyr’s life, I try to include subtle symbols that will give the viewer a hint of the time, place or circumstances of the person I’m trying to represent.

Each portrait involves quite a bit of research. First, finding pre-twentieth century individuals and verifying aspects of their lives, then looking at the time period and place that they were from, things such as clothing, artifacts, interiors, landscape or architecture, all help me to make a more accurate depiction.

I collect source material from various museum collections, newspaper archives, books or scholarly journals and make sketches. The actual painting itself often takes less time than the preparation. With each portrait there is new research. Currently I’m looking at Victorian era San Francisco, before that it was the Sápmi region of Sweden, it keeps the process exciting.

Image credit: All images courtesy of Ria Brodell. From top to bottom:
Image 1: Ria Brodell’s studio, with a bird-feeder outside the window so that Ria can watch the birds while painting. Very important.
Image 2: Detail of stuff
Image 3 and 4: James How aka Mary East & Mrs. How in progress
Image 5: James How aka Mary East & Mrs. How finished
Image 6: Carl Lapp in progress, working on the border
Image 7: D. Catalina “Antonio” de Erauso in progress
Image 8: Hanging them up for a group view

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