Los Angeles Times

Big creativity, small footprint

Read this story carefully; part of it could make its way into Bette McIntire's next work of art.

For the past seven years, the Laguna Beach artist has worked predominantly with pages of the Los Angeles Times. The language is "rich" and the font is eye-catching, McIntire said.

As soon as the paper lands on her driveway, she begins on the front page and meanders through news and sports, leaving the Calendar section — her favorite — for last. Words that pop out during her daily perusal go into a notebook.

As her ideas swirl, the writer-turned-artist offers positive missives through the "found poems" she constructs with words literally ripped from headlines. Photographs, stories and captions are also fair game.

McIntire's collages, which become part of her "Daily News" series, are then adorned with hand-drawn pictures, paints, stamps and scraps of junk mail.

"My philosophy is that you wake up with the ingredients of your day and how you put it together is kind of the day and life you will have," said McIntire, an avid reader.

McIntire, an exhibitor at the Sawdust Art Festival, prices her work between $15 for a "Moment," smaller versions of the "Daily News," and $325 for a large wood-mounted collage.

Her poems corresponding to each day of the calendar year have been compiled into one long poem, printed in a self-bound book — the exterior of which resembles newspapers that, during her childhood, were delivered wrapped in brown paper.

"I never meant to do every day of the year — I just became obsessive," McIntire said, adding that she was emboldened by the presence of words in her art.

Visitors flock to her booth as much for her press-themed pieces as her "Drawing Lines on Life" series, in which fragments of original verses skirt around sketchings of women, flowers and birds. Summer sales have been steady and on par with last year, but demand for her work has blossomed since she started at the festival in 2006.

The self-taught artist also admits that although she didn't intend to encourage recycling and reusing items, it is a happy byproduct that she wholeheartedly supports.


'Found object'

Shamus Koch's story is much the same.

Economics — not environmental awareness — guided him into his "found object" sculpture. The 63-year-old scavanges old farms, scrapyards and town dumps, oases where $10 provides him access to gears, chains, saws, mashed car bumpers, pitch forks and wrenches.

Spark plug fireflies are among his top-selling products, he said.

"I didn't ride on anybody's bandwagon or do it because it was popular," he said about his style, which he started 17 years ago, before catchphrases like repurposed and green art were hip. "I love what I'm able to create using junk."

Koch, pronounded "cook," was living in Newald, Wis., when he first heard about the Sawdust Festival in the early 1970s. With the image of a "sophisticated" artists' colony burned into his mind, he made Laguna Beach his home in 1983.

"When I first started, the public was not ready for it," he said. "They'd look at my work and go, 'You call this art?'"

Along with his evolution as an artist and welder, Koch credits Martha Stewart's suggestion to use "rusty sculptures" as garden art for elevating him from merely breaking even to becoming a Sawdust "destination."

His cave-like booth — which happens to be between "the ladies' johns and the mushrooms [stall]," he said with a laugh — is bedecked with metal metamorphosed into hearts, crosses, stars, birds and other shapes. The beachcomber, who has a cache of almost 20 tons of discarded items, also uses pieces of ocean-rolled rock to symbolize the focal point of many creations, which range from $15 to $5,000.

To Koch, art is also a mode of political and social commentary, evidenced by "Adam and Steve," "Madam and Eve" and "Adam and Eve" — metal wire sculptures depicting gay, lesbian and straight couples each next to an apple tree.

Other works supporting LGBT rights include "Politically Correct," combinations of the male and female symbols linked together, flanked by a card reading, "Yea!! Supreme Court finally got it right — June 26, '13."


Backward Prints

Brynne Cogorno's works also focus on messages, although the sentiments center on the positive.

A former Laguna Beach High School student, Cogorno got her first taste of Sawdust more than a decade ago, initially working at Deb's Deli and then at Ken's Jewelry Store. She spent her downtime sketching and drilling artists for information about inspiration and aesthetics.

Exposed to a "green" lifestyle while at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Cogorno, who loves being covered in stamp ink, established in 2008 Backward Prints, an eco-friendly stationary line. Her biodegradable and recyclable products, priced at $3.50 to $25, employ tree-free paper made from plant fibers and organic cotton.

The kicker? Each sheet is embedded with seeds and can, if planted and nourished with water and sunlight, sprout wildflowers.

Cogorno's booth is near the festival entrance, providing guests access to a recently unveiled playful and imaginative clothes line. Uplifting messages on the stall's chalkboard prompt purveyors to pause and chat.

"I hear sweet stories from customers who say, 'I gave a card to my dad and he passed away. When I found it, I planted it and now I think of him and you,'" she said. "It's really engaging for children and families and also has a sentimental value."

Cogorno, 30, said with downcast eyes that the business' name reflects how she has felt about herself at times: unable to fit in, a few steps behind and different because of her looks and name. Through her work, though, she has had a chance to embrace her quirks and be content.

Walking away from Cogorno's booth, Koch, dressed in overalls and a purple shirt with matching Converse shoes, waves to fellow exhibitors — Cogorno included — making his silver bracelets jingle. He knows everybody, he quips.

"Sawdust is my life," he said. "All my old, long-term friends have come through here. What I do now is not work."

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