Creative Forces gallery is one of those places where you spot something new every time you visit. Handmade iridescent jewelry shimmers on shelves highlighted by sunlight that pours in from expansive windows, and massive portraits pull you in from the lobby of Hotel Murano in Tacoma. The modest space is maximized from floor to ceiling, showcasing more than 60 local vendors — having grown dramatically from the original 12 when it opened five years ago.
Behind the white front counter is Carolyn Osborne, owner of the gallery. She wore a flowy wrap, silhouetting her petite frame, that nearly grazed the floor as she chatted casually with visitors. The people who wander into her shop are one of the reasons she loves being there — it draws so many personalities. For Osborne, the 12-foot-by-26-foot inset encapsulates what she’s wanted to do since she was a kid.
Osborne sees the world a little differently, a little more vibrantly, and her inspiration changes moment to moment.
“I might see a little kid and I’m not thinking, ‘Oh that’s a cute little kid;’ I think, ‘Oh he’d be a really pretty watercolor,’” she said. “A woman came in here the other day with a really amazing outfit on and I thought, ‘I need to paint more glasses,’ because it reminded me of the ocean.”
The Tacoma native has hosted art shows in her home twice a year since she was in seventh grade — people still ask when she’ll host another. But since she moved into the space, the gallery has become her home show, and it features several of her own pieces — fused glass jewelry, watercolor paintings, and more. But it’s taken her almost 30 years to get to this point.
“I might see a little kid and I’m not thinking, ‘Oh that’s a cute little kid;’ I think, ‘Oh he’d be a really pretty watercolor.
In her 20s, Osborne wanted to help people, so she went to school to become a corrections officer. For 12 years she did that work, but it was wearing her down, and she got to the point of hating being there.
“It got so negative, and I’m not a negative person,” she said. “Even though I thought I kept home and work very separate, when I left, my daughter — she was 4 — my daughter said, ‘Mommy, you’re so much nicer now that you’re not there.’ And I’ve always been a very strict mother. It’s just not a nice environment.”
Osborne left corrections in 1994 and joined a print shop for a time being before branching out on her own in 1997. She ran a print shop out of her home and curated custom gift baskets for several years on top of creating her own art. She started out doing charcoal and watercolor paintings, mostly portraits, and then when she got tired of seeing the same jewelry she owned adorned on other women, she started making her own. Then she bought a kiln and taught herself how to work with glass.
She’s spent her life surrounded by art. Her mom put together the Chi Omega art shows at University of Puget Sound, and she likened meeting one of her mom’s art friends to “meeting a movie star.”
“I was a painfully shy kid, so I really preferred to not be around people,” she said. “I just wanted to be in my room doing my art, and please leave me alone.”
A few years back, she created Sacred Embers, after her brother passed away from cancer in 2008. The pieces look like vibrant glass stones infused with layers of color that shift in the light. Each one is unique and is crafted from conversations she has with clients. During the summer, she created a Sacred Ember for customers in California, whose dog passed away.
It’s difficult for her to pick a medium of art she loves the most, but if she had to choose just one, Sacred Embers would probably be it.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, watching someone heal in front of you,” she said.
One of her favorite pieces of art, though, is a delicate watercolor of a baby boy with bronzed skin and soft curly hair. She painted it 10 years before her daughter was born, but people have said it looks like Anjelica when she was about 10 months old. It’s the only painting she’ll never sell, she said.
Operating the gallery and running a household by herself has occasionally taken time away from her own artwork, and she notices definite mood changes when she doesn’t get to use that artistic outlet.
“It’s just part of me, so it’s kind of something I have to do,” she said. “Like people who are runners, and if they don’t get to run they get snarky. … Sometimes I don’t get time to do my art, and I see myself being short with people.”
If you haven’t dropped by Creative Forces, you must, if anything just to experience the joy of beautiful art. Within the last few months, Osborne started doing art and wine nights every third Thursday of the month. Chat with some of the featured artists, sip half-priced wine, and elevate your ordinarily blah Thursday night.