“That’s it,” Abe Negaran thought in exasperation. “I’m never bringing an ostrich egg to an art show again.”
The artist’s meticulous and delicate ovum had been dropped by a guest, the most public of deaths for what amounted to intense hours and many days of creative effort.
Eventually, Negaran used the shards as a menagerie of a display that brought his tent a lot of foot traffic at his first local arts markets. The decision was born not out of some solipsistic hubris but from Negaran’s drive to continually improve, to refine.
Instead of leafing through classic art books or scrolling popular Instagram accounts, incremental advances are Negaran’s main motivation for making anything at all. An engineer’s answer if there ever was one when asked what inspires his unique artwork while nursing a large iced coffee at City Roots—the local shop he often sketches in as stress relief from his demanding environmental engineering career.
These sketches evolve into elaborate works of wildlife, sunburst crosses and more eggs, filled with detailed lines cut into paint with a toothpick.
“Even with the smallest brushes, you can still see the mark of the bristles,” Negaran says. “I needed something more intricate, and I thought of a toothpick being the perfect tool. I thought, ‘Why not?’”
Negaran first began putting fluid designs to paper while living in Egypt. The lush Nile Valley landscape, its people, and his immersion in the Arabic language—one of four the artist speaks fluently—sparked an unexpected attraction to drawing, an interest that has only intensified with his use of paint and toothpicks.
“I’m glad it’s an original idea, but honestly I didn’t mean for it to come this far,” he says.
At the time of our conversation, it’s five days until White Light Night, an unofficial start to holiday shopping and Negaran’s best chance to sell work all year. He’s been up late and early creating nearly 150 pieces for the market, the most inventory he’s ever had since selling his first piece, a vivid blue crane, in 2018. That bird is poised and angular, its feathered body rendered by casts of blue in Negaran’s collage of abstract shapes. One foot is lifted, as if making a small move forward.
“I start in one corner, and the toothpick goes wherever it wants to, where the next shape will interact with the previous one in a way that I like,” Negaran says. “It’s kind of one step at a time.”