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Olive Wicherski's Creature Comforts

Boise artist's intricate drawings combine natural elements

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At first glance, one of Olive Wicherski's drawings appears to be a furry, rock-studded fish. But a second look uncovers much more. The fish's eye resembles a frog's eye surrounded by a furry, humanoid eyelid. What could pass for fins are actually fungi--relics of time Wicherski spent on the East Coast in college. The cluster of rocks on the creature's back mimics the large rocks at her parents' house. And a finishing touch--a ram's horn--curls away from the creature's forehead.

The untitled drawing is what Wicherski calls a terrarium: two-dimensional dioramas that artfully combine different aspects of nature. Most of her pieces are in black and white, though some have been drawn over watercolor shapes.

Wicherski, 23, graduated from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 2011 with a bachelor's of science in studio art with a drawing concentration. While the East Coast left an impression that has since manifested in many of her terrariums, Wicherski missed her hometown of Boise.

"There's an evolution to how the drawings come about. I was super homesick my senior year of college; there's nature [in New York] but people don't go in it," she explained, while seated at A'Tavola, decked out in mustard yellow pants, a long scarf and multiple rings, earrings and bracelets.

The ram's horn terrarium drawing was one of the first pieces Wicherski did upon her return to Boise.

Her interest in art developed early on.

"My parents would give me art supplies and say, 'Make the most of this,'" she said. "I'm glad they did."

Wicherski also took community art lessons and gleaned inspiration from her aunt Natalie Miller--an interior designer--and her uncle Aaron Miller, an artist who worked at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery in New York City for 20 years.

She began drawing animals by looking at old pictures taken on hikes with her dad.

"They became blobs," she laughed.

Now they're blobs with hair. Wicherski painstakingly adorns many of her pieces with thousands of tiny hairs.

"Making all those little lines, it's like Zen," she explained. "I think of them as almost my little pets."

Zen is accessible to Wicherski whenever inspiration strikes. Her studio is her bedroom with a drawing board mounted to the wall.

"I'll wake up in the middle of the night with an idea. I'll have anxious or half-asleep thoughts, so it's nice to be next to my work space," she said.

One of Wicherski's all-time favorite pieces, "Thaw," is spring-themed.

"When the snow melts and there's the squished earth underneath, it's kind of the theme," she said. "There's a dead rat, flattened plants, fungi, snail shells, tree rings, frog eyes ... and a butterfly chrysalis to appease people."

While most envision spring as colorful, sunny and sprouting new life, Wicherski argues that it's darker than that. The earth must first work through what's been hiding underneath the snow and suppressed by the cold.

Angela Lindig, executive director of Idaho Parents Unlimited, recognized the essence of the local landscape in one of Wicherski's pieces.

"I looked at one of her pieces and said, 'It looks like Idaho!'" said Lindig. "Olive said it was inspired after taking a river rafting trip."

Wicherski's detail and patience compelled Lindig to invite her to be a master artist in IPUL's Master Apprentice Artist Program, which pairs artists across the state with artists with disabilities who hope to one day be employed in the arts.

Wicherski now works with apprentice Reid Warren at the Creative Access Art Center, IPUL's facility in downtown Boise.

"We had the apprentice first and knew what he wanted, so we explored somebody who was an illustrator," Lindig said. "Olive took [Warren] from pencil to explaining color and focusing in on details."

Warren's artistic interest lies in mythology and prehistoric worlds.

"He wants to illustrate books about dinosaurs and use them to educate kids in school," Wicherski said.

Lindig and the others involved at the CAAC have noticed Warren's progress since he began working with Wicherski.

"It has been our privilege to see him evolve in his work and his pride in his work," Lindig said.

Wicherski and Warren both have pieces on display in the Enable 3.0 showcase at the Creative Access Art Center.

When Wicherski isn't sharing her passion for illustration with Warren, she's busy holding down four other jobs. She works at the restaurant Bleubird, at an architecture firm, as a ski coach for Bogus Basin's Nordic Team, with woodworker John Studebaker--and, of course, as an artist.

"My job title is 'over-employed,'" Wicherski said with a smile.

Wicherski also creates jewelry and other silver works in her parents' garage, some of which she sells at Bricolage. Most of her jewelry is custom made and often Boise or Idaho themed, depending on the client. Wicherski's artwork recently caught the eye of RAW: Artists, where she exhibited her art in the December showcase at Powerhouse Event Center.

Wicherski's drawings encourage deep and imaginative examination. They demands a second look, an examination into the bizarre textures and elements that her imagination cobbles together.

"I love how her mind works. It comes through in the details," said Lindig. "You really do want to study it. Too often, we just blaze by art. Her work really does make you stop and study. It conjures up ideas."

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