AT Photo by: Claudia Pardo This month’s Art Throbs are Julie Dahl-Nicolle, Cathy Day Barroca and Michelle Osntot of ArtLab.

Art Throb

Creative in public, experimental art school and Jonny Blackburn

By Claudia Pardo 10/04/2012


Experimenting at ArtLab

Three professors went to work. Three professors lost their jobs. Three professors opened their own art studio. In a nutshell, this is how ArtLab came about. ArtLab is a brand-new art school in Ventura, run and operated by Julie Dahl-Nicolle, Cathy Day Barroca and Michelle Onstot — all former college professors in Ventura County. As the budget-cutting problems at the colleges intensified, the chronic fear of not getting a contract at the beginning of the semester became a reality for the three colleagues and friends, who strongly wanted to continue teaching. Ironically, this was the moment when their art backgrounds really paid off; they had to create a new situation for themselves. What they didn’t anticipate were the numerous benefits of being their own boss while still doing what they love.  With a fast-growing number of students of all ages, Onstot, Dahl-Nicolle and Barroca are able to bypass the bureaucracy of the educational system and accommodate the needs of their students in an environment completely designed and organized by them. There are plenty of perks for the students, too. With a very strong emphasis on figurative work, drawing and painting classes with tailored guidance to individual students and room for experimentation are offered. And there’s the thing about their printing press. Barroca uses a Whelan Press, an innovative etching press that is practical and portable. Barroca explains that this special tool, unlike most standard printing presses, is the catalyst for a new curriculum she will design for printmaking classes at ArtLab, something that most young children aren’t exposed to in school. The space itself is intimate, comfortable and multifunctional. Push this prop here, pull this cart there, set these easels here, remove that pedestal — the smooth orchestration of prop management is similar to behind-the-scenes of theatre. To learn more about ArtLab, visit or call 334-0086.


Heeere’s Jonny!

A Ventura native, Jonny Blackburn is an up-and-coming artist whose vibrant, pop-inspired works are making the scene around town. Most artists’ first creative memories may be drawing on the wall (and getting grounded for it) or finger painting in school. Blackburn’s introduction to art was permission to use his grandfather’s — who was the head point operator for missiles in Point Mugu — Microsoft Paint software on his personal computer. The impact of this experience is very much present in his work today. In a time when everything has gone digital, artists want to find a fit in the artworld. Am I a fine artist? Am I a commercial artist? What’s mixed media? Blackburn fits snugly in this gray area. Rather than get pigeonholed into one category, he wants to transcend boundaries. His rule-breaking, attractive works combine graphics, photography, Photoshop brush design, street art and painting. When he’s not creating art, Blackburn is making toys. Don’t let this paint the wrong picture. Blackburn works long and demanding hours designing and developing the packaging for international toys. “I translate abstract ideas into concrete imagery that sells a product, he says. “The challenge is to find the wow factor.” Needless to say, he gets great inspiration from his day at work, and applies it to his studio time. To see Blackburn’s wow-factor, visit


Come get your PDA

On Saturday, Oct. 6, the city of Ventura will give us a warm dose of PDA EM DASH HERE Public Displays of Art, that is.  “Art That Really Moves You” is a celebration and unveiling of the latest additions to the city’s Public Art Collection, which include custom-designed bike racks (yes, like the whimsical dragonfly on the Promenade) and the newly installed bus shelters. Public Arts Project Manager Tobie Roach, who six years ago created a bus shelter mural herself, balances the demands of her position, which requires a genuine love for the arts in this city and a great deal of patience, with the rewards of first-look at spanking-new public art pieces. The unveiling will take place at the California Street Park at Santa Clara and will include music, refreshments and artist recognition.

ArtThrob is a monthly column by artist Claudia Pardo, who is interested in what quickens an artist’s pulse and keeps him or her producing work despite less-than-ideal circumstances. If you’re a Ventura County artist, send her an e-mail and introduce yourself.



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