Story By Jenn Gidman
Images By Lisa Garness Mallory
Cutting-Edge Creations with Lisa Garness Mallory
Lisa Garness Mallory takes photos with her Tamron SP 150-600mm VC G2 lens, then turns them into 3D art with her engraving tools.
Both of Lisa Garness Mallory’s parents were artists. So, it’s no surprise she ended up immersed in the world of fine art as well. But the Aurora, Colorado, photographer has since forged her own path, and with a rather unique art form: hand-engraved images, using fine-art photos as her base.
“There are so many photographers to compete with in Colorado, especially in the nature and wildlife fields,” she says. “Then, in 2009, it came to me one night. I could combine my love of photography with my love of fine art by directly manipulating the physical photo.”
Before she begins her engraving process, Lisa takes her pictures with the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC G2 ultra-telephoto zoom lens. “This lens is like an extra appendage for me,” she says. “It’s been an absolute game-changer, especially for my bird photography. I hadn’t really taken many pictures of birds until this past summer, after I got the 150-600. What I also love about this lens is that I’m able to take close-up photos of flowers and plants with it. I live near Cherry Creek State Park, and I’ve taken some wonderful foliage shots, as well as some amazing photos of milkweed. The lens is very versatile, and so sharp.”
When Lisa first hit upon the concept she calls hand etching—“etching” typically refers to using chemicals to “burn” designs or pictures into the medium of choice; Lisa doesn’t use chemicals—she started out with sewing needles. “I would put balled-up Kleenex on the end of the needles I was holding so I wouldn’t impale my hands while pushing down,” she says. “Then I discovered I could use woodcarving tools to chunk out larger pieces of the photo—meaning not just the ink, but also the first layer of paper to give the image even more depth and make it pop. My work is known for looking three-dimensional.”
Then a problem cropped up. With all the pushing she was doing, Lisa’s doctor told her she would likely develop carpal tunnel syndrome. “It was getting painful,” she says. “So I had to figure out how to make the etching process easier. I finally came up with getting an engraver, like the kind you see used on jewelry. That has saved my hands big time. I was very determined—nothing was going to stop me from doing my art.”
How she decides which parts of the photo to etch is a fluid, organic process. “I never have any specific idea of what I’m going to do when I start out with a photo,” she says. “I just get to work and let my imagination take me wherever it wants to. As long as I make the photo look as 3D as possible, with a concentration on depth, texture, and color, I’ve accomplished my goal.”
Lisa etches on photo paper, canvas, metal, and even wood. She spends anywhere from a couple of hours on an etching to a week for a larger, more involved sample. “I simply can’t sit and do it all day long, even with the engraver,” she says. “It’s very labor intensive, so I have to take my time with each piece.”
A decade ago, Lisa’s work was temporarily interrupted when she was diagnosed with two life-threatening illnesses that led to a slight brain injury, which effectively erased her memory on how to do the engraving process. “When I started recovering in 2011, however, I was determined to continue my artist’s journey,” she says. “I took out my old work and retaught myself everything. I’d look at the previous images I had created and then try to apply that to new photos. That summer was when my work ended up being selected to appear in two international photography exhibitions. I don’t want to say my illnesses were a blessing, but the blessing was my determination and will to fight to continue this process. My doctor even said that to me: ‘Your art saved your life.’”
Lisa is looking forward to exploring the Colorado plains even more in the coming months, seeking out new subjects to pose in front of her camera and her 150-600mm. “I plan on heading out to Barr Lake to check out the wildlife,” she says. “I’m hoping to take photos of elk and antelope, which I’ve taken pictures of before, but not with this lens. It’ll be fantastic for that, and as subjects for my etchings.”