Paint Studio at the Denver Art Museum

Paint Studio Demo Artist Derek Cadena

Derek Cadena will be in the Paint Studio on February 20 & 21.

Originally an oil painter, Derek Cadena has been in a decade long collaboration with Brent Rogers in their Denver-based art studio Two Little Fruits, which specializes in mixed media and gel transfer prints. “Whether inspiration comes from forests, old toys, tools, bicycle parts, varmints, outer space, or science documentaries,” states their website, “they have fun exploring themes in a variety of mediums, but mostly mixed-media collages of digitally illustrated images.” We sat down with Derek to learn more about the artistic processes at Two Little Fruits and to ask about his plans for his Paint Studio demonstration.

Hilary Gibson: Gel transfer medium is pretty unusual! What can you tell us about the process?

Derek Cadena: So the way that gel medium works is as a collage. After you have all the illustrations and elements you’re going to use, you spread gel on to them. Some people have described it like making a big sticker. Then the different layers of gel are applied to blocks of wood. It creates sort of an encaustic look—there is a sense of depth in the translucent layers of gel. Experimenting with the medium is part of what makes our process unique. There are all sorts of things that can happen. There’s a haphazardness to it and lots of happy mistakes happen. A piece of hair or debris can make or break a piece.

HG: What do you think your demonstration will look like? Before you started working with the gel medium, you were mostly an oil painter, right?

DC: Yes, I still am an oil painter actually! I just finished a commissioned portrait for a friend, in fact. I’ve also been playing with the idea of mixing digital backgrounds with gel transfer and then bringing oil figures into the environment. I think that will likely factor into my demonstration. I want to bring in different examples of each step of the process—the gesso transferred background, the gel transfer, the collaging and illustrating, and painting. I would really like to make it a group collage, with the audience helping me to create something.

HG: Where do you go to find inspiration?

DC: I have no problem, just walking right out into my yard and photographing the chives or moss or rocks or bugs or an apple growing on a tree branch. But then I also like going into downtown Denver and photographing interesting industrial elements like fire hydrants and knobs. I probably have about 900 pictures from the Denver Zoo, from which I’ve done lots of illustrations of animals, like Mimi the Elephant.

HG: What are you up to when you’re not making art?

DC: I cook a lot—I love cooking and messing around in the yard, entertaining as well. I like having friends over. We go kayaking whenever we can. Around Gross Reservoir and in Coal Creek Canyon—nice flat water, nothing with rapids.

Walk the Line elephant color print
Walk the Line-Elephant color print. Courtesy and copyright Derek Cadena.

Hilary Gibson is an intern with the studio and artists programs in the department of learning and engagement. Her favorite section of the DAM to wander around in is the exhibition of western American art in the Hamilton Building. When not at the museum, Hilary spends an inordinate amount of time eating green chili and driving between Denver and her home in Pueblo, Colorado.