Simple and bold. That’s how artist Sunny Mullarkey McGowan interprets the natural world in her black-and-white linocut prints, mimicking her feelings about nature in her artwork. Simple, in that her inspiration may be sparked by a plant or a bird she spies during a walk in the woods with her husband and three children; bold, in the silhouette of mountain peaks inked in stark black-and-white relief; and delicate in the details, depicting the tiny scales on a moth’s wing or the feathers of a bird. “I’ve done many prints with scenes inside the wings of moths or beetles,” says Sunny. “That was an exploration of my appreciation for the grandeur of nature, recognizing and honoring the tiny details that are often overlooked.”
Carving her designs into blocks of linoleum and inking them with black oil-based ink, Sunny creates graphic black-and-white prints on fibrous Japanese Unryu paper, which she hand-pulls with the help of a disk-like tool called a baren. “I love the physical act of carving and the fact that I have to think in reverse,” she claims. “Every mark I make with my carving tool leaves a little bit of texture behind and creates an un-inked surface.”
The printmaker and painter comes by her artistic talent naturally. Her mother is a quilter, so Sunny grew up helping choose colors and fabrics for her mother’s quilts. In high school in Beaufort, South Carolina, the budding artist took every art class offered. Luckily, one of her teachers, Melba Cooper, recognized the teen’s talent and encouraged her to apply for the Governor’s School— then just a summer intensive course held at Furman University.
After high school, Sunny studied visual and media arts at Anderson College and the University of South Carolina respectively before taking a break from school as a fifth-year senior. “And I’m still on that break,” she declares, laughing.
Sunny finds her most rewarding artistic moment when she takes an idea from a drawing to a carved block to a final print, and then sees the design is exactly what she envisioned. Just as satisfying is sharing that joy with others, especially her children, all of whom are interested in art.
Case in point: during the last week of school this year Sunny’s youngest child came running out holding a piece of matte board on which she had painted a bright, beautiful explosion of color. She handed it to her mother and exclaimed: “Mom, it’s my passion!” as if she had actually brushed her passion onto the canvas. The artist was struck by her daughter’s ardor for art: “To be able to create something, and play, and express yourself in a way that words can’t is a wonderful gift to have as a family.”
You can see Sunny’s art at her new studio at 547 Perry Avenue in the Village of West Greenville on First Fridays and by appointment. If you’re driving past the Hammack Law Firm at 223 W Stone Avenue, look for the black-and-white mural Sunny designed and painted with the help of Furman students this summer. For more of Sunny’s work, visit sunnymullarkey.com.