MAUDE TANSWAI

Organic Form + Ink

Three Words that describe you.

Simple, curious, grateful.

What type of artist you are? What is your message through creation?

I try to be as honest as possible when approaching my work. A lot of my process has to do with channeling or funneling my experience as a human being in this world. Using myself as a type of conduit for information, energies, experience. Trying to identify all the beauty & miraculous things that happen around us.

What medium & why?

Pen and ink predominantly. I work with different types of inks (like acrylic), as well as gouache.
Paper is very important to me: the way paper takes ink really resonates with me. To a certain extent I'm the one forming an image, but the paper also dictates the way ink is absorbed.

Since paper is so important: is there a specific paper you respond to most?

I find every type of paper is different in the way that I’m able to interact with it -- regardless of where it comes from, and who makes it. In that sense I try to never have expectations about what the outcome will be: it is a lot about process. Letting go enough to let that process unfold on its own, and letting the materials dictate what happens. I’m interested in working synergistically with the material.

When you sit down to make a piece, do you know what you’re gong to make? Or do you completely let materials dictate?

There’s always a spark – some sort of inspiration – but I never have a fully formed piece in mind that I’m going after. I have a concept (or a thought or words) in my mind that trigger the creative process. When I sit down to start working on it, it takes a life of its own. The very few times where I’ve had a very precise idea & know what I want to create, it has generally ended up being unsuccessful, or disastrous. Because that’s just not part of my process.
Right now for me it’s about learning & channeling; and really getting to know the materials that I work with in a way where it becomes integrated. A lot of my work has to do with the way the mind is connected to the body. So the physicality of that intense focus is very present. For instance: using a loupe to work on a microscopic level really demands physical attention, as well as mental focus. I’m just trying to respect that connection during the process.

You say that usually there’s a spark that initiates the process -- what makes you spark?

I get very inspired by texts – lots of types of texts: from a word definition in a medical dictionary, to a poem, or a particular line or word; or an experience I had being in the world.

Do you have to respond to it right away and put it down on paper? Or take time to sit with it before it translates?

That’s an interesting question, because one of the issues I’m working on and struggling with is memory & memory loss, and the way we experience and remember the world. If I experience the spark in a natural setting, and if I’m able to – without disturbing – take the leaf or rock, that usually serves as a great way to bring that into my studio as the source of inspiration. Generally though it's more a feeling, and I can sit with it for a while. Sometimes I’m drawn to start working immediately, other times it lives in the studio for some time until it feels right. A lot of pieces are from really beautiful writings that trigger a feeling, which I then translate into an image.

Your first artistic encounter?

It must have been in first grade during art class – being given the freedom to explore & realize an idea. We had to make a mosaic, and choose our first piece. I started with a broken piece shaped as a semi-circle, and I really wanted to make a sunset. It’s interesting thinking back on it, because it really just starts from that one piece, and then it goes out from there. And that’s generally how I work, to this day.

What is the first step in your creative process?

I’m at a stage where I’m trying to honor the part of me that appreciates processes that are controlled, but giving it room to evolve organically. Essentially I never want to be closed off to using various techniques or materials. I’m very careful about introducing new materials at the right juncture. For now, it's been a highly focused process which eventually evolves to the next step once it makes sense. For instance I did not use color for a very long time. I was using pen and ink. Then I started experimenting separately with color, before I introduced it. Now I’m moving to colors with painting, and letting the pieces evolve on their own in that way. I feel like the ink pieces I could continue to do for years and years and be perfectly happy with. But I want to challenge myself and be inspired by evolving approaches, different materials and dimensions.
As you can tell a lot of my work is on a small scale, which suits me just fine. Physically it's easier to manipulate and I can be mobile (portability is appealing), however I do feel a draw towards exploring differences in scale: combining, or working in a larger medium. There will always be an aspect in the work that I'll want to explore on a microscopic level. Because conceptually I’m really interested in how things are the way they are (where they’re from) – and yet not disturb the idea that there is mystery behind all these incredible structures. Scientifically, medically, physiologically: there are answers to a certain extent – and I’m really fascinated by the science behind a lot of things in the world. But I draw an equal amount of respect and inspiration from the inexplicable, the unexplained.

Do you feel that changing scale might affect how your work translates?

I feel like it might. There’s two things I’m working with: size and control/ letting go.  I think I have to be careful at the juncture. I think there will be a point where that comes together.

Tell me about the first piece you made?

This is the first piece that is related to the type of work I’m doing now. It was created in 2012, very late at night. And it really felt like I was channeling something – something from the ether – and it was just a process of letting the ink get on the paper. It feels like I’m compelled to let this thing grow, & to aid it in a way that allows it to come into being.

Maude Tanswai, Transference, 2012


When do you know a piece is done?

When I can’t move forward – there’s a usually a specific point where it feels almost impossible to move forward, or that I’ll do damage if I continue.

What are you working on at the moment? Any exciting projects?

Right now I'm working on a continued series I loosely call an "Autobiology." I've had to think of my own biology over the years, and it's a huge part of who I am. It combines a lot of medical history records, terminology that explains part of my experience. It's informed the way I see the world. It's a bit of a retrospective.

My work was recently published in a book pf poetry "Oxalis." Dropleaf Press' description of the work: "In her pen-and-ink drawings, Maude’s imaginative bodily structures are beautiful and haunting, invoking not only the miracles of the human body and  mind, but their wilderness as well. Woven throughout the magazine, these dense forests, limbic branches, and labyrinths of fibers and flora are echoed in the poems and stories in moving ways."

Your favorite work? Why?

I don’t have one yet.

Your fantasized collaboration (dead or alive)?

Daniel Zeller.  I'm not sure about a collaboration, as his process seems singular and quite intimate; however, I would be in complete awe and honored simply to witness him at work and to see how his intricacies and pulsing dynamism come into being.  Also, Zeller's process, strongly resonates in terms of how I feel about my own practice.

What would you imagine your last words to be?

Thank you.


Maude Tanswai is a visual artist based in Southern California

For more info: maudetanswai.com

Maude Tanswai, Channeling No. 2, 2015, Ink and gouache on paper

Maude Tanswai. Prescience Triptych, 2015, Ink on black board

Maude Tanswai, The Mind's Duration, 2014, Ink on Arche

Maude Tanswai, Synthesis, 2016, Ink, gouache and watercolor on Arches


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