Bobby Soto, Taylor Williams and Mark Slagle.

The Dare County Arts Council (DCAC) will feature four up-and-coming local
artists during its Swing! Gala at Pirate’s Cove Pavilion on Oct. 26. Launched
in 2017 and sponsored by TowneBank, the Emerging Artist Program seeks to foster
new relationships with younger artists across multiple disciplines.

This year’s Emerging Artists are guitarist Bobby Soto, who is a bass player and lead vocalist with The Ramble; oil painter Taylor Williams whose focus lies on seascapes and other local landscapes; jewelry artist Mark Slagle who’s made an art out of repurposing surfboard resin and driftwood; and photographer Caroline Jarvis, who documents weddings and other special moments in life.

Soto, Williams and Slagle all sat down for a conversation with the Voice about their lives and their art on Oct. 9. Jarvis spoke with the Voice in a later interview. The answers are edited for length.

Q: Could
you share a little bit of your life story and how you got your start?

Mark Slagle

Slagle: I’ve lived on the Outer Banks most of my life, almost thirty-three years. I live with my wife, Cyndi, and my son, Jake, in Kill Devil Hills. I used to weave hammocks for a long time, and I think that’s what kind of got me wanting to do things with my hands…The way I got into this is kind of interesting. I found a little heart-shaped piece of beach glass and I was being a cheap husband, so I wanted to give it to my wife. I wrapped that piece and then gave one to my mom. Then another lady saw one and wanted to buy it. So, it kind of just started out with wrapping beach glass.

Q: How
long ago was that?

Slagle: That was
2015. And then I used to do ding repair, repairing surf boards. I’d seen out
West where they made knife handles out of Levi’s and all kinds of cool stuff like
billboards and surfboard resin. So, one winter I kind of locked myself
downstairs and just messed with it and I’m still refining it.

I’m self-taught and wanted to learn more about metalsmithing, so I
enrolled in the professional jewelry program at the College of the Albemarle.
This past semester, we had to come up with a whole new cohesive body of work,
so I started doing resin pours with driftwood…The driftwood I’m using is really
hard driftwood….I cut that and then do a resin pour, so it’s almost like a
piece of art. Then I look for the cool shapes and the flows. As the resin is
hardening, I keep stirring it so it looks like the ocean. Then I cut it, add
natural oils to it, and then do different settings with it.

Williams: I’ve always been into art. I did it in high school and always loved all my art classes, but I never tried oil painting until 2017. As soon as I picked it up, I was in love with the way it felt because it doesn’t dry immediately. It’s really kind of fun to play with and blend. I just started that, and I kept with it. Since then, I haven’t done anything else since.

Q: Did
you go to school here?

Taylor Williams

Williams: I graduated from First Flight in 2014…and I
tried traditional school. I went to community college, but I only liked my art
classes. I just couldn’t get myself to focus on the other classes. I would take
my art projects home with me and just work on them the whole week.

I always knew I had an interest in art and when I stopped
going to school, I was just working at a coffee shop and was really yearning
for some kind of art outlet. I always saw oil painting online and that’s when I
decided to just pick it up and try it…I was self-taught through oil painting
tutorials on YouTube, but mostly it was just trial and error. I’d take photos
on the beach and try to replicate them completely, and I’d try to match the
colors in the photo.

Soto: I was born in California and raised in Northern
Virginia. I moved here in 2009. I’d been singing my whole life and started
taking guitar lessons when I was eleven at a place called the Drum and Guitar
Workshops in Virginia. I took about eight years of lessons, mainly blues stuff,
and taught for a couple years before I moved down here. I was in choir growing
up. I was fortunate that my high school teacher was a doctorate in musical
education, so in this random public high school we had a doctor that was a just
very intense dude, but super good teacher.

I think the first place I ever played on the beach was the
Taco Bar, which isn’t open anymore.  Gabe [the owner] was awesome…He
couldn’t really pay me, so he just paid me in tacos…I started playing in The
Ramble about two years ago now…Two years ago, we were doing five weeklies and
then trying to fill up our Friday and Saturday nights off as much as we could.
We ended up playing like thirteen or fourteen nights straight some weeks, so
this past year we kind of dialed it back a little…This time of year is a little
rough…Some musicians play year-round, but a lot of us are still working 9 to 5
at other places.

Jarvis: I’m from
Buxton originally. I went to college at ECU for fashion merchandising and
business marketing. I thought that is what I wanted to do, but my whole life
growing up I always was in love with the simplicity of life, like the beach,
dogs, family, emotion, sunrises and sunsets. And I always loved photos. I would
make the family sit down and look back on memories.

I moved to New York City for fashion merchandising. I
thought it was something I wanted to do, but when I got up there it was
everything I didn’t want to do. I moved back to Buxton. I was so happy to be
with my family and be able to ride on the beach and just hop in my car and
watch a gorgeous sunset. I fell in love with those things and started sharing
them through my photos.

I started doing wedding photograph and portrait photography and it blew up for me. That was five or six years ago. I flew to California to build my website and went to a photography conference in Arizona. I worked like crazy…I taught myself everything I knew to shoot manual with a camera. I got books and bought a photography course online. I pushed myself every single day.

Q: What drew you to your art?

Bobby Soto

Soto: My parents liked really good
music, so that helped a lot. I remember being really small in California and
the first CD I ever had was the Beach Boys Greatest Hits…Music is kind of one
of those things where it’s the best outlet that I have emotionally and just
physically. Whatever emotion I’m feeling too much of, I can sit down on a
guitar and kind of just get it out of my system and then go back on with my day,

Williams: Well, I feel like I’ve always been
interested in art. Growing up, I would not necessarily paint, but would make
stuff with my hands, and was always asking for little pottery [kits]. I just
liked colored pencils and drawing stuff. I’ve always been fascinated by artists
who could replicate a photo and make it look super real. And I feel like I’m
always trying my hardest on each painting, trying to make it as real as

I’ve always liked doing things with my hands. I think everybody’s an artist,
you know. It’s just something that kind of came out of me. I’ve dabbled in a
lot of different things. I love surfing, and I love doing the surfboards. And,
you know, making jewelry kind of fascinated me and I’m really involved now
where I’m actually forming metal. I think what kind of drew me to doing jewelry
and being a metalsmith is that there are really no boundaries to what you can

Jarvis: I’ve just always done it since I was a kid. My parents always had cameras. I remember when I was really young, I wanted a camera to take pictures of everything. So, my love for photography didn’t start after college and after New York, it’s been there my whole life. I always made little collages of pictures. I’ve always loved animals, the beach, and I guess the simplicity of it.

Q: Do you have a favorite artist?

His name is Matthew Cornell. He’s not local, but he does really, really
beautiful seascapes. They’re stunning and my inspiration.

Soto: I’ve
got a lot of them, but I’m thinking of John Frusciante…I’ll just leave it at
that. It’s been Frank Sinatra lately, but they kind of just come and go…you
pull inspiration from everybody. 

Slagle: As far as inspirations, Kathyrn Osgood. She’s my professor [at College of the Albemarle] and she’s amazing and one of the most humble people. She’s really inspired me.

Q: What
do you do to improve your art?

Caroline Jarvis

Jarvis: I’ve learned so much without realizing how much I am learning. The thing that I love most is that a photo can express so much without words. I like to feel like I can inspire other people with a positive feeling…I’m very good at talking behind my camera. My dad always said to me that I’m a lot like him because I can walk in a room and find a way to relate to any single person in that room.

Slagle: Stay awake at night thinking about it. You know, I’m content, but I don’t think I am ever satisfied. Because you are selling your work, you want it to be a quality piece and I am always trying to think of something different or something I can do in my creativity process. The thing that is hard sometimes as an artist is you can go to work, but not have that creative feeling and you’re spinning wheels. But I love it when you are in the zone.

With every painting, I just look at the details and see what I could have
changed in my last painting. I’m always experimenting with how I can achieve
the realness. I try to keep [my painting] very smooth and blended, but
sometimes leaving a little bit of a brush stroke, from far away, the white will
make it pop off more somewhere and make it look like a reflection. I like
experimenting…I try to work with my mood.

I feel like I have it easy because I can just play with different people during
open mics and other get togethers. Playing with somebody different makes you
see how they approach the instrument…There’s a wealth of information just
seeing even younger players and how their hand positioning is or some things
you just never think of, like even having a keyboard player behind me for the
first time. When I joined The Ramble, I started playing bass. I’ve been playing
guitar my whole life, but I’ve never played with a piano player, which lets you
hear other sounds going on and realize you don’t have to take up as much space.

Q: What do you do replenish your creative [energy]?

My boyfriend goes to UNC-Chapel Hill and there are so many art museums there…it
gets me inspired. Or I completely remove myself from the studio.

My fiancé is an artist, so sometimes I just walk around the house and look at
all the art. She paints, she does resins…As far as writing [music]…just
enjoying life and seeing other people enjoying life.

I like what you guys are saying about getting out of the studio. I try to start
my day out, this time of year especially, with walking the beach with my dog…I
love going over to the [COA] studio…I just hang out with other people and just
talk. When you are not actually doing the hands-on part, you are also being
inspired in different ways.

Jarvis: Inspiration comes to me in waves. It’s like I get a spark in my mind. I had a wedding, and the bride and groom were there for a week and a half after. I called the bride and asked if in two days, she’d go out and do a shoot in her dress. I just had a feeling about the time of year and the sunset. I looked at the tide and paid attention to the wind. And it was unbelievable.

Q: How does it
feel to be honored by the Dare County Arts Council as an emerging artist?

I’m excited and really grateful.

It feels great. I was in the middle of a workday and was actually on my way to
what I knew was going to be a really crappy work order when [DCAC Executive
Director Chris Sawin] called. And I thought, ‘Oh now I get to call my mom, I
get to call my fiancé, I get to call everyone, I get to be happy. I can muscle
through this crappy little work order.

Slagle: When
Chris called me, I was on my way to [Dowdy Park’s Farmers Market] and was so
stoked I didn’t even care if I even sold anything. With us being independent,
it’s not like you get a raise at work or something. But with places like the Arts
Council and Towne Bank acknowledging us – we live in a community where people
are stoked on artists and they are behind you, which means a whole lot.

Jarvis: I was
honored to be chosen for such a special award, and also to be alongside three
other extremely talented artists to represent our community.