Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Bailey Constas

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about each artist and their work. In this post, we are featuring Bailey Constas (she/her).

Trigger warning: This piece discusses sexual assault.

Bailey uses recycled materials and found materials to bring her works to life.

A black and white photo of the artist, Bailey Constas, wearing statement earrings. The artist works with watercolor, clay, and recycled-media. 

She uses art to heal herself and address mental health - art for mental health.

In Bailey’s words:

“I’m watercolor and recycled-media artist, Bailey Constas. I’m using art to heal myself, the land, and to build safe spaces. I make largescale watercolors with intricate ink linework, ethically forage and process my own clay, and build humane + ecological designs out of recycled waste/material.

Community recycling, composting, gardening, dreams for sustainable Earthship architecture—I aspire to develop safe, beautiful community scapes.”

Bailey was also recently featured in the New York Times (!!) for a eco-focused project using Fresh Direct bags.

Bailey did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about her art:

What first led you to art?

I’ve always been an artist, but my medium has always changed. I was a serious ballet dancer for most of my life, but after hip surgery at 15, I found fashion design and construction. Later on, I discovered photography and writing. But after a traumatic sexual assault when I lived in New York City, it was watercolor that allowed me to express my emotions in ways that words could not. 

I could pull apart the different mental struggles I faced through visual art. The painting would ease my anxiety and depression, and the ink tracing would comfort my constant OCD and ADD brain. I’ve found that allowing myself to use elements from nature by foraging for pigments and clay has connected me to the earth in a way I only felt as a child.

 *OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder

Aino, a piece by Bailey Constas with ink and watercolor.

Mental health and the arts. Art for mental health. Art heals. Representative of southwest art.
Bailey Constas, Aino. Watercolor on paper. 2019.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I’d say my work falls into abstract expressionism more than landscape. My art means to reveal our inner worlds and express the natural patterns happening around us in an emotional and untethered way.

Colorful watercolor of a woman and a shark by Bailey Constas. Art for mental health - mental health and the arts.
Bailey Constas, i married a shark. Watercolor on paper. 2021.

What are your favorite materials and mediums with which to work?

I absolutely love water and clay, especially how they interact with each other. Water always wants to elude and erode, and I’ve found this lack of control on my part is extremely therapeutic. Gravity is also a powerful medium in my work, as I trace the drying patterns of the water with ink. The way gravity pulls the pigments to the paper, mixes the colors, and suspends them in time. That’s why I trace them with ink–to bring our attention to the small miracles happening under our noses all the time.

Clay art. Finding mental health through the arts. By Bailey Constas. Support mental health, survival of sexual assault, living with PTSD.
Bailey Constas, clay settles. Clay on paper. 2021.

You mention you use recycled media. What kind of materials have you worked with recently?

Paper waste, cardboard, Fresh Direct bags! I’ll take paper and cardboard and turn them into paper pulp. I’ll then add cement and create papercrete sculptures. I’ll also just take that paper waste and develop my own paper. I’ll put that paper to use by creating journals out of Fresh Direct bags (or those plastic reusable grocery store bags). The idea behind those is to create reusable journals with 100% waste. That way, there’s no guilt involved when I need to spew my thoughts out.

Pastel watercolor. Mental health for the arts.
Bailey Constas, spirits of light. Watercolor and ink on paper. 2015.

You have an attractive eye for color – do you approach color in a particular way or more freeform?

Thank you! I owe my color inspiration to the Southwest. Growing up in Colorado and loving New Mexico—I’m constantly striving to replicate the patterns and colors of sunsets, geologic formations, and the land. I’ve also started foraging and making my own paint. In some ways, this makes it easier for me to find those perfect colors, but it adds many more steps to painting a piece! I find myself always adding steps to create a more pure piece of work. I also think this has to do with my OCD and PTSD—obsessively collecting colors but also feeling immense shame and guilt when I throw things away. 

You process your own clay!! What is that like?

Hard and messy work! On hikes and in the backyards of my family, I’ll look for clay-rich soil—the type of dirt that is colored so beautifully you want to eat it. I’ll then go through several steps of adding water and filtering any debris or extra water out of the clay. After a few days, I’ll knead the clay and begin hand-building! I prefer to fire my pieces in a wood-burning fire just like our ancestors have done for thousands of years.

You also pursue photography. What is your favorite part about it? What kind of topics inspire you?

I am a journalist at heart (it’s what I got my degree in), and much like my obsession with collecting colors and pigments, I love collecting and documenting moments. I’ve found that I perceive the world around me much differently than others. When I found the confidence to allow myself to believe this was a good thing, I found it much easier to look for those unique angles and throw myself on the ground to get that shot. Sacred geometry in nature is endlessly inspiring to me. I think that’s why I find beauty in a perfectly mirrored sunset in a car window, the erosion lines on a sand dune, or the texture of a leaf. Small things other people might take for granted, and I love highlighting those things. 

Other things on my mind: 

More recently, I’ve realized I make the best work when I’m happy, full of wonder, and awe. When I was younger, I believed that being “sick” or “tortured” made me more exciting and a better artist, but it was only when I started looking deeper inside myself and going to therapy that I found the most inspiration. Getting better and getting help is never something to be ashamed of. 

Icon of the artist, Bailey Constas. Created by the artist. Colorful art.

The Layered Onion supports artists with mental health challenges.

Help can be hard to ask for, but it is something we all need. We’re here for you in this community.

Want to see and hear more from Bailey? Check out her website here. Want to bring one home?  Check out here or here. A spot of color really cheers me up.

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Ashley Showalter’s And Yet We Rise

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art to music and more!

Today, Ashley Showalter (she/her) will be sharing her mural “And Yet We Rise.” 

Ashley is an self-taught artist and peer mental health advocate with lived experience with mental illness. She began creating artwork as a survival tool for her own mental health and now uses her creative abilities to start conversations about the topic of mental health. Ashley is currently living in Oklahoma City. She hopes by sharing her work, someone might find hope and confidence in their path, feeling less isolated while managing or processing mental health struggles.

In February Ashley participated in the Recovery Mural Project community art program in coordination with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The goal is to spread the message of recovery through the visual impact of art. The murals promote recovery, reduce stigma and bring awareness to mental health and substance abuse services within reach. And who doesn’t love outdoor art?!

Ashley Showalter, “And Yet We Rise.” Posca paint pens on board, February 2022.

Ashley Showalter is the first local artist to contribute to the project. Her mural, “And Yet We Rise,” was installed Thursday, Feb. 24, at HOPE Community Services, Inc., 6100 S. Walker Ave., in Oklahoma City.

“I wanted this mural to be a realistic depiction of having hope in recovery,” said Showalter.

“Throughout my healing journey, I have had many difficult seasons where emotions were not fun to feel that were followed by periods of joy. I think we can all relate to having different experiences of feeling in life.”

“Recovery isn’t linear,” she added. “My goal is for this mural to serve as a reminder that hope is always there, even when we don’t think it’s possible in the present moment.”

The excerpt above comes from the full press release here.

Ashley also took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion:

What influenced your choice of color for the piece? I find it bright and inspiring. The face is so expressive of the struggle but also positivity and hope.

I usually don’t draw smiling faces but they wanted the piece to be positive and represent Hope in recovery. The face reminds of a smile where you are faking it til you make it – which seems fitting as sometimes you have to work through difficult times in recovery and fake your smile. My art style is always bright colors with bold black lines so of course I went for a bright look for the mural as well! 

What medium did you use?

I drew the original painting with posca paint pens on a board. Then, it was photographed, turned into a large vector that was printed on vinyl and installed onto a surface called “Alupanel” that was screwed into the wall. 

How did you decide to break up space in the piece?

I drew the sun first since it was the center piece of the mural then the other sections behind. I wanted to break the background into different patterns representing different aspects of mental health recovery. The rain represents “stormy” or difficult times which lead to the flowers for “growth” or times of posting change. The black and white stripes represent the challenge of black and white thinking in recovery and the clouds represent how our judgement can be clouded sometimes. 

Any other info you would like to share about how the project came about?

I was sitting on a mental health recovery coalition when a state mental health department representative mentioned the idea of starting a recovery mural project. I’m known for my art and doodling during meetings and trainings. I reached out and got an interview for the mural. The partner organization loved my art and recovery story and I was hired for the project! 

As a neat addition, you can watch a short video of Ashley creating “And Yet We Rise” here which gives you unique insight into the process.

You can check out more of Ashley’s work on her website and her Instagram – @ur.fav.trash.

Thanks, Ashley, for sharing this inspiring mural! No matter where we are at, we have the power within us to rise.