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Cassie Loretta's brilliant view of the mountains
The Butte-based artist talks about embracing tedium, her love of Young Thug, and the realities of making a living from her art.
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Howdy, all, and happy Winter-in-November!
Rest assured, my friends, today’s newsletter takes us about as far from the mind-obliterating cyclone of the midterms as we can get. Seriously, we all deserve a break.
Today, we’re talking to Cassie Loretta, an incredibly gifted, and kind-hearted, artist living in Butte. Cassie’s landscapes paintings—typically consisting of intricate, patterned mountain ranges and vibrant, single-tone skies—unfailingly instill in me a sense of tranquility.
Cassie currently has a show on display at the Dram Shop in downtown Missoula, called “Gold.” It features works in her trademark style, but with the addition of imitation gold leaf; it lends them a mysterious and eye-catching shimmer.
Although I prepared for an interview with Cassie focused on the emotions she intends to convey in her art, the inspirations behind it, and other mushy stuff like that, our chat ended up taking us in an entirely different direction: Cassie walked me through the extensive—and tedious—process of creating these pieces. We discussed her collaborative relationship with her dad, who builds her canvasses. And, most importantly, she gave me a thoughtful and clear-eyed glimpse into the realities of making a living as an artist, here in the Treasure State, in 2022.
I hope you enjoy!
Max: I love that time lapse video on your website capturing your process. I’m still curious to get a sense of how your time shakes out—what's the most time-consuming part of your process?
Cassie Loretta: The outline is really generally pretty quick. I look at an image and then sketch the outline of the mountain range and then outline some tree or rock lines or something where there's a difference in color. And then from there, the patterns take up most of my time. That takes forever (laughs).
The general idea is to shade with pattern instead of just cross-hatching or blocks of color.
When you look at a mountain range, from a distance it kind of looks purple and then blue and green. So instead of doing purple, blue, green, I do a dark pattern, a medium grayish pattern and then a light pattern. That's the look that I'm going for. And the darker patterns always take me a lot longer. And they're all done with pen and ink.
Then the paint is the quickest [part]. The series up now at Dram Shop is the first I've done when I've used gold leaf. And that takes longer than painting, because I'm still learning how to do it.
Does the shading and filling process have a meditative quality to it?
Yeah, for sure. I really enjoy that part of each piece. I listen to a lot of podcasts and music; I'm just someone who likes doing puzzles and long distance running and things that are kind of tedious (laughs), but they have a little reward at the end, and I find them really relaxing. It's nice that that's my job right now.
That’s great. What've you enjoyed listening to recently?
I love Young Thug (laughs). I don't know why, but I go back to Young Thug a lot.
That's awesome. Okay, let’s circle back to the gold leaf. It looks so cool. How did it find its way into your work?
I've been using imitation gold leaf: it's actually copper and zinc. I put a sealant over it to make sure that it won't oxidize and make the copper turn green. But it has the same effect as gold leaf. Imitation is more affordable, and it’s less pressure if I goof up.
I know people like the ‘mountain and pattern thing’ I've got going on, and so I don't wanna stray too far from that because it's how I make my money right now. And it feels too scary to completely branch out and have a show of all different stuff.
So [for the current Dram Shop show], adding a new variable sounded interesting to me. And there's an artist in Butte named BT [Livermore], who makes really lovely work and they use a lot of gold leaf. And maybe just seeing that peripherally made me think that it was cool or something I would be interested in doing. And then I just kind of went for it.
I watched YouTube videos (laughs). That was really helpful. Between that and the directions on the package, I was able to figure it out.
Where do you find imitation gold leaf? The internet, I suppose?
Yeah, on blick.com. You can't buy a lot of things here in Butte, especially art supplies.
Beyond the gold leaf, I love that shade of green in some of the backgrounds. Can you describe that shade of green?
You know, I think that paint is called “Dark Green” (laughs). It’s kind of an emerald green. Maybe a little more toned down than that. It's kind of Hulk vibes green. They should call it “Hulk.”
There's two different shades of green. So there's “The Hulk” and then there's, maybe we'll call it “Baby Hulk,” where I put some white in there (laughs) and mix it around.
That green background makes me think of sunsets. Was that the intention?
Yeah, not really.
Sounds good (laughs).
When I started doing the mountain pattern thing and then painting the sky, I started with like a bright blue, like the color of the real sky. And it was fine, but it wasn't doing it for me for some reason. It just felt maybe childish or something like that. To me, there was something that didn't feel quite right.
All of my pieces are really inspired by interior design. I used a lot of green, yellow and orange for this past show. And those all feel like they would look really like cozy and calm in a house. I feel like the more muted colors are more of the design that I like to live with.
Nice! I love that. I read on your website that your dad made some of these canvases. Does that collaboration change the way you think about your work?
My dad's an amazing carpenter. He built houses when I was growing up and then had a number of odd jobs. He's definitely really handy. For my smaller pieces, I got some birch canvases from the bookstore at the university [in Missoula] and they worked fine. But my dad, you know, would look at my work and be like, ‘Oh, I, could make those, you know’ (laughs).
Then he just started making them, which is just so nice. I know it takes him so much work to do that.
You could just sell the canvasses, they're beautiful. He sands them; they're so soft. No one's ever gonna get a sliver. Hopefully I'll never get sued for a sliver (laughs).
I'm aware that I'm producing more things into this world that already has so many. I think about that a lot. And I really try not to overproduce things. I've been doing mostly originals [versus prints] and getting these canvases handmade makes them more special.
It feels more sustainable, just not having to ship big canvases.
For folks who enjoy your work, are there other artists you recommend they check out?
There's a lot of artists whose work I really love. Plaid Beaver Co. do really cool wood art. Some Montana artists that I really like are Stella Nall, she's in Missoula; Max Mahn, who does Twin Home Prints; BT Livermore, who's here in Butte and does all sorts of fun things.
That’s great, thank you! Before we wrap up, you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that when you were planning for the Dram Shop show, there was a question of whether you were going to show work in a new style. What other styles or mediums are you interested in?
Doing this as a job, I've realized how much I feel like I have to hone in on what I know will sell. It’s awesome that people are interested in what I do, and there are so many perks. But it’s also the thing that people warn you about: when you're doing what you love as your job it can also take away from the original desire.
I truly love what I do, but at the end of the day, I've used my hands all day and I don't feel like I can just draw for fun. I'm still learning how to run a business in a way that I could pay myself enough to have some time each week to try to experiment with other things.
But I have a sewing machine that I look at every day (laughs) and I have a lot of ideas for sewing projects. And I would love to work on my print-making skills. And experiment with drawing all sorts of other things I used to do, like some portraits and flowers. But right now I don't feel confident that I could do those things and sell them for enough to pay the bills each month.
I'm still definitely just figuring out how to run a business.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
You can learn more about Cassie’s work on her website. “Gold” runs through the end of the year at Dram Shop, in downtown Missoula.
Well, that’s all for today, folks. Thanks again for being here. I hope you’ll tune in next Wednesday for a chat with one of the most vocal—and arguably unexpected—proponents of psychedelic drug reform here in Montana.
In the meantime, you can always reach me via email, the comment section below, or on the Elon Machine, @SavageLevenson.
Be safe out there,