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Tacoma artist makes magical worlds in miniature

Russell Barnes combines handcrafted art and nature photography to build lighthearted scenes. #k5evening

TACOMA, Wash. — There are some artists who look up to the heavens for inspiration. Russell Barnes looks in the other direction.

"I'm looking for the small details that most people overlook," Barnes said. "I'm taking my time and I walk in the woods like I lost my keys."

We're walking on Snake Lake Trail in Tacoma, where Barnes finds just the place for a handmade musical skeleton to perch, a mossy branch in dappled light.

"I don't want it to look photo-shopped," Barnes said, as he fastened the artwork to the branch. "So I try to mess things around it a little bit."

For this shot, Barnes dips a paint brush in flour.

"A relic of my old painting days," he said.

When it's time to take the shot he whips the brush like a wand. Flour particles float down from the sky

Credit: KING 5
Artist Russell Barnes prepares to shoot his musical skeleton in a Tacoma park.

"Oh yeah!" he said, when he sees the results. "I think this is the shot. See that sun beam coming down? It'll be easy to remove those wires there and just make it look as immersive as possible."

"I'm really trying to find a median between imagination and reality," he said. "I try to bring them as close together as possible."

For 15 years this self-taught artist painted on canvases. The last painting Russell sold took eight years to complete.

"It's something that I'm incredibly proud of but I knew it wasn't a sustainable thing as far as my creativity goes," he said.

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Then one day on his Instagram page "chromatic.habitat"  he posted a brand new work.

"I had this idea to cut out a drawing of this little dog that I used to have," Barnes said. "I popped it in my hand and it outperformed paintings that I spent countless hours on." 

Barnes hasn't looked back.

"I didn't even know how do use a camera when I started doing this or how to edit photos," Barnes said. "So this was all a process of self discovery and hands-on experience."

Credit: chromatic.habitat
Robot Riding a Rhino by Russell Barnes.

He has thousands of followers on Instagram. Russell hopes to inspire the artist inside everyone.

"I think everyone has an inherent creative nature," he said. "It's just that some people lose touch with it as we get older. I think that's pretty sad, so I'm trying to bring people back to that world and get people in touch with their inner child." 

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Take it from Russell Barnes, the inner child enjoys a good time.

"Every day I come out to photograph my artwork it feels like I'm like playing with toys or something," he laughed. "I just get to draw anything from my imagination and bring it to life. It's really like a dream come true."

Russell Barnes has started a second project to get kids involved in art. Using the same process, he takes children's art and immerses them in real world photographs.

KING 5's Evening celebrates the Northwest. Contact us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Email.

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