How This Whidbey Island Artist Amplifies Nature Through Her Mazes


Leslie Stoner in her studio.

Artist Leslie Stoner crafts work in her Whidbey Island studio.

Leslie Stoner used to cover up the grain of her birch panels with primer in preparation for creating her paintings. But now the artist’s process celebrates the wood’s natural swirls and undulations, which are an integral component in a series of pieces she refers to as “maze paintings.” “I work within the parameters of what this tree has spent years making,” explains Stoner, whose work is represented at Seattle Art Source as well as Sun Valley Contemporary Gallery in Ketchum. “It feels fitting that I place my own representation of a journey—a pathway— over the top of that beautiful surface.”

The artist uses hand-cut forms in her work.

For some of her works, Stoner uses hand-cut forms to plan out the composition.

A close-up of one of Stoner's paintings.

Mazes are the focus of pieces such as Under.Foot.

A close-up of the artist's work.

Wood grain and mazes are the central elements of the artist's work.

part of studio with Black Lives Matter poster

Stoner’s studio is filled with found items and personal mementos that serve as inspiration for her maze paintings.

Felt tip pens are the artist's main too.

Felt-tip pens are Stoner's essential tools.

Many artworks in Stoner's studio

Stoner adorns her studio with a number of her artworks.

Armed with an array of archival pens with tips ranging from hair thin to very thick, Stoner delineates and emphasizes sections of the grain until it assumes the graphic appearance of faux bois. Next, she embarks on the process of what she has dubbed “mazing.” With hyperfocused concentration, Stoner draws an intricate serpentine labyrinth that spreads across the panel like a thin black veil—the patterns of wood and maze playing off one another in an organic call-and-response.

Stoner, who received her Bachelor of Arts in painting and photography from Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, also layers in elements that reflect the beauty of her natural surroundings on Whidbey Island. Cutting out free-form shapes inspired by the landscape—leaves, flowers, the distinctive bull kelp that washes up on the beach—she places pieces on her compositions as guides to maze around, then fills some in with metallic gold or black paint.

Upon completion, each artwork is bestowed a two-word title—Ebb.Flow, Waking.Dreams, Under.Foot, to name a few—with one word written at the entrance and the other at the finish. While all her mazes have a working path, nobody has yet claimed to have made it all the way through.

Although Stoner previously worked on encaustic paintings, mazing has always been in her blood. “I was a doodler—it calmed my anxiety to fill pages with repetitive patterns. When a middle school teacher showed me how to draw a brain maze, it just blew my mind,” recalls the artist, who used to adorn her friends’ jeans with hand-drawn mazes.

Decades later, the process still has a meditative effect. “Mazing brings me peace,” Stoner says. “It slows my thoughts and allows me to sink deeper into my mind. And I think it does the same for the viewer. It’s a bit of calm in a world filled with constant stimuli.”

Photography: Chona Kasinger