Artist Interview: Michelle Zacharias

Michelle is a Canadian painter and printmaker. In this interview Michelle talks about her quest to make handmade, natural pigments from dust. Be sure to read to the end where Michelle makes requests for more dust!

How long have you been working in the medium used for
your work for In The Details?

A little more than a year in my spare time while I also
work in other media, such as coloured pencil.

What do you like about this medium and what are its

What do I like about dust? Or should I say, what do I
like about working with natural pigments? Since it is an
easily obtained natural pigment, it is free. The other
things I need to work with it are also affordable. I also
like that each sample is different. Every location has
variations in the factors that affect the colour, and that is

The processing and the concept are not necessarily
something I like. Why not? I started using filtered dust
as a natural pigment because of my personal
connection to it. I seem to have a sensitivity, a kind of
allergy for an easily understood comparison, to aeolian
dust from China and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in
our polluted air. And, yes, working with loose dust is
probably not good for my health.

Other challenges? I make something that looks like
paint, but it does not act like paint or ink. It does not
dissolve or flow like you think it should. Particles are not
always the same size, and tiny wool or acrylic fibres are
almost impossible to filter out. It clumps. Layers?
Possible but also likely to erase the underlying layers
despite extra sizing on the paper. The colour is pale
and delicate, and that frustrates my love of bold line
and colour. It is tricky. On top of that, it might be free but
getting it from other locations can be difficult. Some
people are disgusted by the idea; some are intrigued.

You never know which group a person will fall in. I have
learned that the housekeeping department at a hotel
can be an asset.

Could you talk about your creative process for responding to
the theme of In The Details? Did your idea come to you
right away? Did you have to experiment a lot?

Since I was a printmaker, I tend to do detailed work
regardless of a show’s theme. I have been working on
these studies or experiments for a while. I wanted to
show the wind flows all over the world and indicate how
the aeolian (yellow) dust from China arrives in Japan. In
some seasons, the winds that deliver the dust are much
stronger and larger, resembling a monster in shape and
in character. I have been doing lots of experiments with
medium and with design. I still am.

Sometimes inspiration strikes and everything comes
together just as imagined and other times inspiration is just
a starting place. How close is your finished piece to what
you first imagined?

Usually quite different. An idea is exactly that. It is an
idea for where I can start. After that, each piece
organically moves in its own direction. If I try too hard to
stick with my original idea, I end up forcing it and the
result will be stiff, drained of energy.

What would you like people to know about your work?
* A common, organic energy is in all my work regardless of the medium I use be it etching, coloured pencil, pastel, or powdered pigments (natural or artificial) and regardless of the genre. This should hopefully identify the work as being made by Michelle Zacharias.
* Yes, it really is dust. I filtered out the hair, fibres, popcorn, staples, and so on. I probably lose lots to the environment since I do not work in a lab but I still get quite a lot. After that, I zap it in the microwave to kill any germs and so on.
* I do not usually work on such small pieces of art!
* I am still exploring. I have ideas for both abstract and figurative work.
Yes, I accept bags of dust. I would prefer if it came with a snapshot of the donor(s) wearing surgical masks for a project I have started in which I want to do portraits of people with paint made from the dust or natural pigments from their house. No, I do not want lint from your dryer. That is not dust!
* I am hoping to do a solo show of anti-pollution work in various styles and media in the future. If anyone know the owner of Duskin, let me know. Maybe we can arrange a sponsorship. If anyone knows of someone who works in a lab where they analyze air or dirt for pollutants, please let me know.