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Stephen M Doherty
American Artist
January, 2010

Draw the ephemeral qualities of real Phenomena.

Katina Huston responded to her fascination with cast shadows by creating a series of drawings on Mylar using mixtures of ink and acrylic medium.

Among the powers that artwork can exert is its ability to provoke ideas about the nature of reality, of visual perceptions, and of the ephemeral quality of concrete objects. All those ideas, and more, are revealed in the series of drawings that California Artist Katina Huston created on sheets of frosted Mylar. Using various mixtures of India ink and acrylic medium, Huston recorded the shadows cast on the Mylar when the plastic is laid on the ground under strong sunlight or in a studio where shadows can be created by strong lights directed toward objects.

The series began outdoors when Huston saw the shadows of plants cast on the ground. “I focused just on the shadows of grasses and weeds, and in the drawings these familiar objects became unrecognizable, moving forms from some other world,” she explains. “The shapes shifted and compressed. As the sum rose and moved across the sky, my subject shifted, so I had to chase the image across the page giving the drawings a jittery, repetitive quality. My reactions ranged from curiosity to panic as they appeared and disappeared with the changing light as I saw it recorded on the two-dimensional surface.

It took Huston two years of experimentation to discover compelling new subjects and to invent methods for recording the shadows. She arrived at a process of laying sheets of frosted Mylar on top of white paper or cloth and placing those where she could create shadows from bicycles and wheels held in various positions. “Once I got the wheels propped up in a stationary position, I used a size 0 brush loaded with India ink and Walnut brown ink to draw the darkest lines,” she explains. “Then I mixed acrylic medium with the ink to make very light washes that would stick to the surface of the Mylar (since water would reduce the density of the ink and therefore prevent it from adhering to the plastic)

“As I worked, things started to change,” Huston says.

“Obviously the shadows would move and become more or less intense and the ink would cook in the hot sun and become so thick that it would crack after drying on the flexible Mylar. I had to make adjustments in the drawings and the consistency of the in order to record subtle effects that began to emerge with close observation. I also found that when the ink would migrate depending on the tilt of the Mylar. When medium was mixed with the ink it had such great density that it would push darker inks aside creating a new, unexpected effect like bleach in a vat of dye. The unintended variations added to the sense of uncertainty and mystery to the finished drawings.

“The resulting drawings use 20 shades of ink on Mylar and focus on mechanical elements repeated from several angles to create a complex and mysterious whole, “ Huston has written about her artwork. “Thus six-foot drawings of shadows of bicycles made from ink puddled, poured, and drawn into familiar yet elusive forms create images that speak of geological experience. Liquid ink evaporates, leaves rings like a drying lakebed.  Multiple inks create an unexpected moment of physics where heavy ink pushes light back, bleaching the pool white. In other instances, puddles flow to low ground creating random moments of darkness. The fineness of the drawing shows the push and pull between precision and chance.

The artist also learned from her optometrist that the glaring sunlight bouncing off the white drawing surface was damaging her eyes, creating internal scarring and making it harder to focus on the lines she wanted to draw. She decided to move into her studio and create shadow by aiming a strong incandescent light at the bicycle wheels. Sometimes the shadows would extend more than six or eight feet and reach beyond the width of the available sheets of Mylar, so Huston laid two sheet together and created larger drawings of the extended shadows.

Observers often wonder why Huston focuses on bicycle wheels, and they sometimes come to the false conclusion that her drawings offer a comment about cycling. “The drawings have everything and nothing to do with the function of the wheels,“ she explains. “Bicycles offer a complex and elegant form that evokes a range of ideas and emotional responses. Almost everyone has childhood identifications with bicycles and those may well continue into adulthood. All those associations give immediate initial appeal. That attraction allows the viewer into the work to see other, more complex ideas unfold. The bicycles and wheels are machines that bring these references to the work. As I draw shadows on top of shadows, the forms pile up in the drawing and become increasingly complex.

“You can’t look at shadows for long before you come upon the bicycle,” Huston recently wrote. “Wheels piled on gears piled on a stem bound with chain. This chaos of random relationships fused into a single form become the shadow of the machine that does not work. …Certain angles suggest speed, wind, the open tilt of a bike slanted into a curve. These shadow drawings captured the experience more than illustrated the object.”

In a world where the small and fragile are often inconsequential and sometimes squashed, I can record their passing, eliminating all others,” Huston continued. “These quiet and intimate moments serve also as a metaphor for psychological life. There is an external world of what matters that is often in variance from a world of internal values. These appear on the page as shadows made permanent.”

About the Artist

Katina Huston earned a B.A. in art history from New York University, in New York City, and an M.F.A. from Mills College in Oakland, California, and she studied drawing and sculpture at the Art Students League of New York, in New York City. Her articles and reviews have been published in Artweek, New Art Examiner, Ceramics Monthly and other publications. She received the third prize in the mixed-media category of the 2009 American Art/Utrecht art contest. For more information, visit her website at

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