Published on November 8th, 2012 | by Setsu Uzume0
Interview with Della Heywood of the Emerald Tablet
Della Heywood would have become a field zoologist had her inner artist not stood up and thrown off the lab coat. Originally from Vancouver, BC, she has studied painting, drawing, etching, printmaking, sculpture and photography. She has lived in Northern California since the 1980s, and once the kids were old enough she moved to the Bay Area, where she created Spectrafix, a non-toxic pastel fixative. The business became an international success, and when it started taking over her apartment, she knew it was time to expand into greater spheres.
The Emerald Tablet — a “creativity salon” in San Francisco that began in 2011 with her partner Lapo Guzzini — is Heywood’s newest project, aiming to bridge the gaps between artistic activities. The Emerald Tablet hosts everything from concerts and exhibits to crafts, DIY workshops and science classes — all in one open and welcoming space. Its name references the ancient alchemical text that, to Heywood, best describes the development of a holistic human being. The reference is subtle, yet completely representative of what goes on there.
Heywood hosts regular painting and drawing classes at the Emerald Tablet. Her own work evokes a unique connection between the scientific and creative, drawing on impressionism and the Japonsim movement. My favorite Heywood painting is “Return to the Beloved”, portraying a scene of the ocean flowing back to its source.
Heywood hopes to have the Emerald Tablet grow as a community center where there is no separation between science and art, learner and teacher. Art Animal had the pleasure of speaking with Heywood about her inspiration for the Emerald Tablet and her advice for artists who want to start something similar.
Art Animal: How did the Emerald Tablet begin?
Della Heywood: The Emerald Tablet was a gleam in my eye as a way to deal with the issue of having my bedroom closet bursting with bubble wrap and shipping materials. I thought the best way to approach that was to find a place where my friend Lapo and I could merge the business and also teach classes. So we downsized the living situation and upsized the work space.
AA: How did you choose the name the Emerald Tablet?
DH: The Emerald Tablet is probably the most ancient philosophical teaching on the development of the human soul. It encompasses all the endeavors of a completely developed human being. What we wanted to do was provide a touchstone for human development here that would be both right and left brain — all-encompassing and complete — to aid people in learning and growing. There is a principle in the Emerald Tablet that states, “as above so below, and so below as above.” In other words, whatever happens down here on earth will also affect what happens in other spheres; and what happens in higher spheres will affect what happens down here, below, in the human spheres. We wanted to hold that sign up. It works really well to have that balance between cause and effect, between right and left brain.
AA: It’s so neat that you offer such a variety of DIY classes that combine science and art; for example, your “How to make your own paint” workshop.
DH: Yes! If the opportunity came by for more DIY, I’d do it here. There haven’t been too many “left brain” projects yet. We’ve had “make your own paint” with Alex Warren from Sinopia. He runs a full-time pigment business. We’ve had hat making, sewing, manga figure sculpting. We do painting; we do drawing; we even have a documentary filmmaking class.
AA: Have you ever thought of working with the Mothership Hackermoms, a group who has created a similar space?
DH: Yeah, I know of them, but I haven’t been in touch with them yet. I’d love to do electronics here. I’ve taken a soldering class at Noisebridge, and I’m teaming up with another guy in the East Bay to do some major electronics projects to display here. I can’t let the cat out of the bag here, but you could call it “weird science.” These will be art installations, psionics and a meeting of science art and metaphysics. To me it’s perfectly normal [to combine science and art] but [for] most people it just wigs them out completely.
AA: Tell me more about your fixative and the kinds of chemistry that you incorporate into your paintings.
DH: My scientific background gave me this fearlessness about chemistry and all the rest of it. My paintings have a lot of pastel, watercolor and ink. My business that supports this place is for a spray-on fixative made from milk proteins. It’s an antique recipe that I use to make this fixative, and was used by the famous pastel artist Edgar Degas. His technique for holding pastel on was always wondered at by conservators and the like, and thanks to modern spectroscopy, they’ve discovered that there’s casein all over his works. It’s just a natural biopolymer, like what biodegradable bags are made of. When you cure and dry the milk protein it hardens and becomes quite rigid. They used to make buttons out of it back in the day.
AA: How is it extracted?
DH: You just use an acid on the milk and that makes the stuff clot up. Then you take those clots and you dissolve them using a base like borax or ammonia.
AA: Are there other food items that you manipulate chemically to use for painting?
DH: Egg tempera is another. Milk was used by ancient Egyptians to hold their tomb-paintings on, and here we are 9,000 years later and it holds up.
AA: You’ve hosted an incredibly wide range of performances at The Emerald Tablet, from poetry readings with Jack Hirschman, to a Dao ceremony to Euro-gypsy jazz concerts. How do you find artists to showcase?
DH: I just open my mouth to say “hi,” and happen upon these really great artists. I met a composer at the Meridian Gallery [in San Francisco] who was just stacking chairs. As far as the successes I think we’ve really been able to provide a home for the poets to come and read. During the International Poetry Festival we had hundreds of people come to see readings, with regulars like Aggie Falk and Jack Hirschman.
AA: Have there been any disasters or performers that were really challenging to host?
DH: I can’t really think of one that really bombed as such. They’ve all had success in their own right. One that was really challenging — but also really fun — was a comedy called Alice Down the Rwong Wrabbit Whole. It was challenging because we had to tear down and put up sets; they even had a swimming pool with water in it. We were packing the house on the weekends.
AA: How should someone contact you if they are interested in putting their work on display at the Emerald Tablet?
DH: E-mail me a sample. I think the only artwork I would refuse would be something that just — evokes misery. I love to see something innovative. I feel that the artist’s purpose is to bring something new into the world. Some of the work that I really loved was by Sandro Sardella because he’s not an artist -— he’s a poet. It was very much a visual representation of a poem that just continued to flow out of his hands and onto the paper. There was no attempt to make them formal. The pieces just never sat still; every time you looked at them they were fresh. I love that quality.
AA: Do you have any advice for people who want to open their own gallery, or artists who want to really make a living from it?
DH: Try not to go into debt; otherwise you begin to be driven by the need to make money and that’s really a problem when you’re trying to live artfully. It’s very important to keep the classes low or no cost, so be sure you can cover your expenses first.
I also think it’s difficult to open a gallery and have it be only a gallery. It needs to be a multi-purpose space for classes, etc. In the art world, everyone knows that the prices and relative values of things are completely arbitrary. Beautiful, wonderful artists go relatively undiscovered in favor of what’s trendy or what someone happened to market very successfully. Everyone paints the same thing because they want to be accepted and they want to sell. Instead, be driven by the wish to create community and culture. Civilization is actually culture, like yogurt. And culture is something that falls into an open dish and takes root there naturally -— like making kombucha.
Be sure to check out upcoming events on the Emerald Tablet’s website and Facebook page. If you are interested in volunteering or exhibiting at the Emerald Tablet, e-mail Della Heywood at email@example.com. You can also purchase her fixative at Spectrafix.com