Jaimé Bell’s professional background is in teaching, not in art. It’s part of why she is a little reluctant to flat out call herself an artist. But at a certain point, the stacks of canvases accumulating in her home made it undeniable that she had crossed the threshold from hobbyist to artist.
Bell’s preferred method is fluid art, which is the use of acrylics and other liquid substances to create abstract profusions of color. While Bell said she goes into the creative process with intentions, there’s only so much that can be controlled with fluid art. The result is that once the materials are laid out across a canvas there’s a period of studying the work and seeking to find meaning in the abstraction.
In some cases, the process of combining acrylic paint with things like glue, water or the paint additive Floetrol, can take hours. And then in an instant whatever vessel that holds them is overturned and Bell has to try and make sense of the result. In some cases, the mixtures can be directed using a hair dryer, or altered by pulling a string through them. The fluid art might be settled in as little as three minutes.
“There is an element to it that is very much, like, found out,” Bell said. “Mentally I do better when I say I just want to work with blues today, and then I do something like ‘wow, that’s awesome,’ because I didn’t come into it with a whole lot of expectation.”
That’s where Bell has added embellishments to her creations, in some cases painting small landscapes so that the liquid art above evokes a night sky. In other instances, Bell has layered tree trunks atop explosions of color that resemble fall foliage. Nature is central to her work and it inspires her to create art.
Bell has become so skilled with fluid art, that KALICO has decided to put her art on display and bring her on to teach classes. In teaching her classes at KALICO she’s had to try and find ways to articulate using “this much” of something. She said she often works by feel, much like she cooks. Upcoming classes are scheduled for May 18 and June 4, and people can register online at kalicoartcenter.org.
She said it’s the first time she’s ever had an art show of any kind. The exhibition is called Fluid Landscapes: Memories of the North and it went on display in early May. Bell grew up in Eagle River, Alaska, and has been living in Montana since 2012. That’s around the time she took time away from teaching to help raise her children.
Fluid art has a huge online following, and Bell said that in perfecting her processes she has watched videos and joined groups on social media that offer information on the topic. About eight years ago is when she first began creating fluid art. One of her first major projects was when her young daughter wanted a painting of a unicorn, a mermaid and a fairy in her room. Bell created each creature, and then used fluid art to set them upon uniquely radiant backgrounds across three different panels.
Bell keeps some notations about the exact mixtures she uses and the results and said that a person can go to great lengths to try and hone their methods. Temperature has an effect on fluid art, with high temperatures causing cracking across the surface. That’s why she works in a small, cool room in her house, where she can also control the humidity. She keeps the temperature at 68 degrees.
One of the first signs she got that there could be something more to her creations came when she put something for sale on Facebook Marketplace around Christmas of 2020.
She sold a piece of art for $30 in about 20 minutes. “My husband’s like, you should raise the price on that,” she said. She put another piece of art up for sale for $40, and again it was gone in 20 minutes. Her business Big Sky Fluid Art came into existence that same year, and in addition to selling online, she also sells at public events, like farmer’s markets.
“I hope even if I go back to teaching, which is pretty likely, I hope to continue to some degree, but you know, you go through seasons of life. This has been a great season of life for me.”
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