Melinda Laz shows that those who teach art can also create it

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You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

McMean Elementary School art teacher Melinda Laz is breaking back into the local art scene with an etching press, paper and ink -- oh, and a few watercolors, too. This is Laz's first year teaching, and it's been a big career change; she comes from the nonprofit sector, where she did grant writing, among other things, for arts organizations. With her daughter starting elementary school this year, though, Laz decided teaching was the next logical step. But she hasn't given up on creating her own art. "Art is definitely a hobby right now, but it's one I'm passionate about," she says.

See also: Natalia Musalem finds the right texture with watercolors and charcoal

Laz graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, where she had lived until she was six and her parents moved to upstate New York. Laz was glad to return to the Midwest for school, but she was also happy when her husband got a job teaching at the University of Denver in 2001. "We really like it here, and the art scene has really grown and changed," says Laz. When Laz first arrived in Denver, she showed in a couple of galleries, which closed during the recession. For a while, she was also involved with the Arts Students League of Denver. "I'm currently in the process of redefining what I want to be as an artist," Laz says. So she's been showing at smaller venues, where there isn't quite as much pressure. Her work is currently on display at Sojourners Coffee and Tea; she's also shown at Foothills Art Center, Racines and Hapa Sushi. This month, she also has a few pieces going up at 910Arts. Keep reading for more work from Melinda Laz. The display at Sojourners is a diverse selection of pieces that Laz has created over the past few years. Print has been her primary medium lately, though she's also incorporating collage and watercolor into her repertoire. Laz wanted to get away from having to put glass on everything, which can get costly for somebody who works on paper and necessitates selling pieces at higher prices. "So I took glass out of the picture and started mounting paper onto panels and then sealing it for protection," Laz explains. Laz's subject matter is organic and inspired by nature. She relies heavily on cellular-looking forms -- "inside the body kind of imagery," she calls it -- with lots of free-flowing swirls and circles. But she's also interested in typography. "I've always been a really color-focused artist, especially with my print-making, where inks can be so luxurious," Laz says. She uses an etching-press machine for the intaglio print-making process. "When you print something, you mix the ink, rub it on a plate, and then rub it off," she says. "During that process, the color changes -- It gets rubbed through the press and it gets transformed in some way." Laz likes how the final result is always one step removed from the original colors. "There's just this sort of magic that happens in the press," she says of the unexpected quality that draws her to printmaking. "Once you run it through the press, you're no longer in control." When it comes to watercolors, the artist certainly isn't a traditionalist. She likes to go around the city to different parks and the Denver Botanic Gardens and snap pictures of plant shadows. "I'm interested in the graphic quality of that and how I can create it using watercolor, which is so movement-oriented," she says. She always opts for thick, opaque colors over watery ones. For more information on the artist and her work, visit Laz's website.

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