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How artist Whitney Stoddard uses tea-stained paper to create a vintage yet modern look

How artist Whitney Stoddard uses tea-stained paper to create a vintage yet modern look
March 2021

Learn why she uses bold but minimal brushstrokes

Artist Whitney Stoddard is known for using tea-stained paper (she uses tea from Charleston Tea Garden on Wadmalaw Island) and bold, yet minimal, brushstrokes.

Known for her unique tea-stained paintings of abstract women, Whitney Stoddard is a modern artist with a vintage aesthetic. From her sepia-toned paper to her jet-black contemporary botanicals, these forces mingle and contrast alluringly in her work, creating something that simultaneously feels new and recalls the past. She works in both black and color, with minimal brushstrokes and a focus on what’s absent from—as much as what is present on—the canvas: an eye, the line of a face, a nose, a mouth. “I love creating art that evokes memory, that creates memory,” she says.

Stoddard graduated from Furman University in Greenville as a communications studies major and began painting regularly after moving to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she created pieces for herself and friends. It wasn’t until 2006 when she moved to Nashville, Tennessee, that she decided to pursue art professionally, studying fine art at The Watkins College of Art, Design, & Film, now Belmont University.

Since then, the Charleston Artist Collective member has made a name for herself with not only collectors, but interior designers, who often purchase her pieces for clients’ homes. In fact, it was a conversation with an interior designer friend that spurred her to explore the tea-staining process that has become one of her trademarks. Today, Stoddard works from Studio Shoppe, a shared space in Mount Pleasant with many of the creatives who formerly were part of The Vault on King. Here, the mother of a four-year-old who is expecting another baby this spring, shares how she developed her creative process.

The beginning: I started both selling art professionally and tea-staining in 2016. I was making art for myself at the time, and I sent a picture of a piece I’d done for our house to a dear friend, who’s an amazing interior designer in Raleigh, North Carolina, to get her feedback on where it should go. She suggested it needed some kind of vintage feel to it and asked if I had considered staining the paper with tea to give it a sepia look. I love how the tea gives a vintage, weathered, Old World feel to my pieces.       

On her process: I use tea from the Charleston Tea Garden, and it’s a long, self-taught process. It’s organic, but intentional, so it can take up to a month to get it saturated or patterned the way I want it for a piece. That’s one reason my tea-stained releases are not as frequent as the others—because of the amount of time it takes to get the look just right.  

Black botanicals: I do love putting a modern feel on a botanical by using an all-black palette. I started painting ferns a long time ago, just one single stalk at a time. I love how painting a fern in black gives my kind of weird little spin on things. 

Going big: I was commissioned to paint a custom wallpaper mural for the Emeline hotel on Church Street. It’s really large-scale, and I was asked to create the piece using botanicals that are all native to Charleston with a moody, unexpected vibe that would work in that beautiful modern, mid-century-inspired space. 

Abstract ladies: There’s something about being able to create a full picture without providing all the information. Sometimes my ladies are missing an eye, missing noses. It’s really interesting to me to create something that’s totally recognizable with say, only hair and a mouth. A lot of my collectors will say, “This looks just like my grandmother—she always wore her hair that way,” or “This looks like a woman from the 1920s.” I love that that last step resides with the viewer. Everyone sees something totally different.