Bubbly Patterns Ripple Across This Denver Painter’s Compositions

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Shaylen Amanda Broughton paints on a large canvas in her art studio Within her 1930s warehouse studio in Denver’s RiNo Art District, Shaylen Amanda Broughton pours acrylics of varying viscosities to create the washes of color and cell-like shapes that have come to define her work. Photo: Jimena Peck

It was while vacationing in Venice, Italy, in 2013 that Shaylen Amanda Broughton first dipped her brush into the canal to use for a watercolor painting. What began as a lark prompted a shift in materials and concept. “Water is considered the source of life, and that sparked something,” the artist explains. “I started bringing back naturally found water to incorporate its energy in my works.” These liquid souvenirs are the latest expression of a personal practice that began in childhood, when she learned the fundamentals of watercolor and oil painting from her grandmother, Grace.

an artist adding white paint from a needle nose applicator to an abstract canvas

As part of her process, the artist uses a needle-tip applicator to drop a lighter-weight medium into acrylic paint, thinning its viscosity and increasing its flow.

an artist pouring navy paint in swirls over a canvas lying atop paint splattered floors

“I’ll grab a piece of cardboard and move the paint around, or use big palette knives as if I’m icing a cake,” the artist explains.

an artist's abstract painting in white and blue acrylics with cell-like patterns

“It happened by accident at first,” Broughton describes of the bubbly, cell-like patterns that appear in her works. “It took research to recreate it.”

an artist canvas covered in blue acrylics and evoking a cellular pattern

The clusters that appear in Broughton's works might resemble repeating rounds of honeycomb or a turtle shell.

bucket of teal paint with lid off, set of small paint brushes and spray paint cans

The artist is often drawn to watery hues and incorporates liquid collected from streams, rivers and oceans into her creations.

close up of an artist's canvas covered in pink and purple acrylic paint, with cell-like patterns

“It’s about a feeling,” Broughton says of her pieces. “I’m never very literal with my work.”

A degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design translated into an initial career as an interior designer. But for Broughton, creative satisfaction proved elusive in this field. Inspired by artist friends, she returned to painting; her landscapes soon garnered a dedicated following on social media, leading to mural commissions.

However, with success came anxiety. “That’s when I started letting loose and doing abstract watercolors more as mediation,” she shares. “It feels like my truest expression.” From there, she moved to acrylics, a medium that allows her to mix in collected H2O and work at a larger scale—but also gives her the freedom to change her mind. “If I don’t like a composition I can just pour it again,” she notes.

Broughton now creates massive abstract canvases that evoke the ripples and currents of the world. “It’s about a feeling,” she says of her pieces. “I’m never very literal with my work.” In a contemplative process, she uses a large brush to sketch shapes. She then pours thinned acrylic from a cup, letting the colors rise and swirl. “I’ll grab a piece of cardboard and move the paint around, or use big palette knives as if I’m icing a cake,” she explains. 

While the surface is wet, the artist uses a needle-tip applicator to drop a lighter-weight medium into acrylic paint, thinning its viscosity and increasing its flow. When poured, it creates clusters on impact akin to the repeating rounds of honeycomb or a turtle shell. “It happened by accident at first,” Broughton describes of the bubbly, cell-like patterns. “It took research to recreate it.”

As she looks ahead to a new body of work, the artist feels that her “liquid language” is best summed up in the famous words of Georgia O’Keeffe: “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say in any other way—things that I had no words for.