Lots of dots.
Lots of dots on the rocks.
What initially looks like a mission for kindergarteners is an elaborate art form and enterprise for Renee Boyce. The Freeland resident is known for creating intricate and colorful mandalas drawn on flat rocks. Using the tiniest of fine brushes and metal dotting tools, she paints hundreds and thousands of dots in designs that she conjures up on the spot, so to speak. No patterns, no stencils, no copies.
His images are in the pattern of a mandala, circular with a radiating central starting point. The designs are complex and delicate, symmetrical but without rotation. Some look like sea urchins. Others appear as shiny beaded jewelry from a distance.
But these are just points. Thick, tactile spots of dots.
“Colors are determined by my mood every time I paint,” Boyce explains, gently covering a series of dots with another layer of blue, by far his favorite color.
Layer upon layer of acrylic paint and contrasting hues give the stone a three-dimensional effect. Resin seals the design for added shine and protection. The pattern appears and the stone seems to swirl hypnotically on itself.
“For me, it’s like an emotional process of doing a mandala,” Boyce, 35, said. “You enter the zone and everything goes away.”
Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle”. In recent years, this spiritual and ritual symbol of Hinduism and Buddhism has begun to appear on clothing, in adult coloring books, and on pieces of hard earth.
Boyce is a hit on Etsy, where there is no shortage of amazing mandala stones for sale from around the world. She has thousands of followers on Instagram and Facebook, where she posts under her trade name, Freeland Art Shack.
Boyce was selling successfully at a now-closed Whidbey Island artist consignment store. Plans to sell his creations at numerous regional festivals and art exhibitions have also evaporated with the pandemic.
“For almost three consecutive years, I lived almost entirely from my art. I was making a substantial contribution to household finances,” said Boyce, who lives with her fiancé and son.
Last year, Boyce sold at the Cultus Bay Gardens Summer Arts and Crafts Market, where she had previously exhibited her art and artistry.
“People always love to see her demonstrate her work at her table,” said Cultus Bay Gardens owner Mary Fisher. “After meeting Renee, I was captivated by her presence and how she uses her painting as a meditation and calming centering practice to deal with life in general.”
Pursuing a “kind of experiment” away from previous artistic pursuits, Boyce dove into the endless arts and crafts offerings of the internet right after the birth of her first child.
She came across a global community of precision artists who call themselves “dotters” and willingly share the tricks of their sharp craft.
“I’ve always been really good at looking at something and figuring out how to do it myself,” Boyce said. “I never took an art class. I like to test by fire.
She spent a year practicing this art form. She would put the baby to bed and paint until the wee hours of the morning, trying to figure it out.
As time went on, she said, “I guess it just clicked.”
Elspeth McLean, an Australian artist and art therapist now living in British Columbia, is credited with pioneering what she calls “dotillism”. It differs from pointillism, which uses tiny dots of different colors mixed together to form an image and trick the eye.
Dot paintings have long been associated with the art of Australian Aborigines, whose paintings are said to be drawn to conceal sacred meanings and stories.
Although similar, the two art forms are very different, said Jessica Dalgleish, an Australian artist who befriended Boyce after admiring his work online. Dalgleish, whose dot art includes coasters, tiles, prints and paintings, is called JessyD Designs.
“Dot mandala art does not tell stories like Aboriginal art does,” Dalgleish wrote in an email. “Both are equally beautiful.”
Dalgleish said she was a fan of the small stone earring and pendant mandala jewelry that Boyce perfected at the start of the pandemic. They became his bestsellers.
Pat Sasson can’t get enough of it. She is a board member of Meerkerk Gardens, a non-profit 53-acre woodland garden on Whidbey’s Island that attracts thousands of rhododendron enthusiasts each year.
Sasson first fell in love with Boyce’s flat mandala stones at a craft show four years ago, then with her rock jewelry, then with the artist herself after Boyce generously donated of 10 pieces to the annual Meerkerk Gardens fundraiser.
“She makes these beautiful pendants that I give as Christmas gifts,” Sasson said. “She’s just a nice, generous young woman and she’s so talented. I just love her. And her prices are affordable.
Prices range from $22 to $200 for her mandala stones, jewelry, and small murals; large sizes range from $300 to $1,500, depending on how many hours she puts in each piece. She has also digitized and professionally printed some of her greatest works in prints, stickers and bookmarks.
Small boulders shining with their own natural beauty are also popular with Boyce’s customers. The smooth shine of the beach stones fades far too soon. They dry out, they dull, as any rock hound knows.
Boyce found a way to preserve the wet, detailed look – by turning the tidal offerings into simple jewelry. She rubs the small stones with water and vinegar, lets them dry indoors for weeks, coats them with layers of resin and hangs them from sterling silver necklace chains.
“When you resin them, it brings out that detail,” she says. These sell for $18.
A native of South Carolina, Boyce said she’s unlikely to have much success selling her new art form in the land of slick beaches and Charleston sensibilities.
She is grateful to be on Whidbey Island. Here, locals paint rocks, they hide rocks, they find rocks. The beaches are nothing but rock. Whidbey’s nickname is The Rock.
“I had no idea Whidbey Island Rocks was a thing until I moved here,” Boyce said.
Whidbey Island Rocks, one of hundreds of global bands connected to the Kindness Rocks project, has 27,500 fans on its community Facebook page.
Boyce sometimes joins in the joy of setting off and finding unexpected treasures by placing some of his glowing stones in hidden crevices, under trees, and along paths.
“Or I leave them on the playgrounds for the kids,” she said. “So sometimes I hide behind a tree and wait for someone to find one. It’s so much fun.
For more information on Renee Boyce’s art, visit these sites:
E-mail: [email protected]
North Shore Washington Magazine
This article is featured in the spring issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement to the Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue costs $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or visit www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.