Finding Grace in gourds

Grace Swanson’s Palm Leaf banner is on display at the corner of Coast Highway 101 at I Street. Photo courtesy of Stephen Whalen Photography

Leucadia artist Grace Swanson has once again created an exceptional banner for the Arts Alive exhibit, currently on display in front of St. Germain’s Bistro and Café in Encinitas. A masterful painter of botanical themes, her stunning banner portrays the patterns of light and shadow of a single elegant palm leaf.A virtuoso of color and design, Swanson’s ingenious compositions are evidence of her facility in creating visual impact perfected during her career as art director and production manager with ad agencies and public relation firms.

Swanson explains that designing a visually successful banner is similar to designing a printed advertisement in that it needs to be easy to “read” quickly by being simple, large enough to recognize from a distance and with strong contrast between lights and darks to make interpretation easy for the viewer. Using this underlying concept, her artwork is consistently appealing.

With many years as an accomplished watercolorist, the long time member of the San Dieguito Art Guild has won numerous awards in local galleries including the Off Track, COAL, and Del Mar Art Center. Several years ago she was ready for a new challenge, and so began exploring a variety of means to express her creativity.

During a gourd art workshop at the San Diego Botanic Gardens in 2009, the scent of burning gourds took Swanson back to her childhood in northeastern Nigeria as the daughter of missionaries. Gourds served functional purposes integral to the culture of her African homeland. Once again experiencing their tactile quality, an enthusiasm was ignited for using their natural forms as her new creative focus.

Having spent her entire childhood in Nigeria, at age 16 Swanson accompanied her parents to America. She says of the culture shock, “I had no idea of current fashion, current music, or how to fit in to a large high school.” Her Nigerian high school class had consisted of only 50 students.

Swanson moved to the San Diego area in 1970 to attend San Diego State University (then San Diego State College) where she majored in graphic arts. Upon advent of computers in the graphics industry, she continued her design education at Platt College.

After 25 years in graphic design and advertising, retirement has allowed Swanson to focus on exploring her personal creativity. She says of her latest endeavors, “My artwork is about producing something that is natural and different. I think that in this age where most of what we use is mass-produced and perfect, people crave hand-made, and therefore imperfect things.”

In working with the irregularly shaped gourds, she allows enough inconsistencies to convey that they are made individually by hand. She says, “I always hope that I achieve a balance between control and freedom.”

Swanson recommends to artists in need of revitalizing their creativity: “Do what you love. If you tire of one medium, try something new… If you are in an artistic slump — change direction. Take a class or workshop and discover something new.”

With this in mind she has initiated a new kind of workshop through the San Dieguito Art Guild called, “Try It, You’ll Like It.” For a nominal fee a registrant can try out a new medium without having to purchase expensive startup materials. Participants receive instruction with supplied materials, which they are encouraged to take home for continued use.

Several of Swanson’s imaginative gourds are currently on exhibit in the lobby of the Encinitas Library through April 21, as well as at the Off Track Gallery in the Lumberyard Shopping Center in Encinitas.

Swanson’s Arts Alive banner is on display in front of St. Germain’s Bistro and Café, at the corner of S. Coast Hwy 101 and I Street, and is available for bidding by phone at (760) 436-2320 and at the live auction May 26 in the Cardiff Town Center Courtyard.

For more information about Grace Swanson and her artwork visit



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