Every now and then, one of the smaller 6x6" experimental paintings leads to further exploration on a small scale, and then inspires me to try the concept or idea on a larger scale. This is what happened with four of the experimental pieces (numbers 29, 30, 44 and 45, pictured above). These smaller pieces were inspired by subatomic particles. The theme or idea allowed me to play with several things - lots of color, lots of drawn marks, and the grid format which I tend to love. The large piece, 34x34", is entitled "Subatomic", 2014.
The Experimental Series - 6x6" encaustic paintings
I've been working on this series for a couple of years now, and have done over 50 of these small, 6x6" paintings on cradled panels. When I first began the series, I wanted to use this small format to try out ideas, techniques, new materials, etc. If there is a painting which really appeals to me, I may do a larger piece or work in a series to further explore these small scale ideas. Working small is a very different process technique-wise in this medium, so without the technical challenges of working on a larger work, I have the freedom to try just about anything.
Enamored with so many amazing colors of luscious melted wax, it is easy to become very familiar with certain colors and combinations which easily become "go to", "tried and true" or simply, "easy" and habitual shoulders to lean on. In my experimental series, rather than repeat myself with colors I know, I try and mix things up, trying odd, weird, crazy color combinations just for fun. What often happens is I create something that is not very well unified; perhaps there is a lot of discord due to colors that have nothing in common. This creates an interesting challenge or problem which of course requires a solution. I enjoy this process because it is fun to know multiple ways to solve color disharmonies; opacity, transparency, warm and cool; lots to play with here to find viable solutions.
Color is only one of the many design elements to experiment with. Texture in the encaustic (or any process) is important to me, and one I enjoy trying to discover new ways to achieve very smooth, or very rough, or somewhere in between, surfaces. When I work in mixed media, I often work with collage materials to create an activated ground; it is a satisfying way to begin a new painting, and by putting collage paper down first, it isn't quite so "white" or inhibiting/intimidating. In order to experiment with texture in the encaustic studio, it sometimes mean scouting around the house for an unusual tool or wire or really anything which, when pressed or scraped against the waxy surface, will result in a new mark. My "junk" pile is growing and consists of everything from watch bands to large metal springs and rods.
SIZE, SHAPE, LINE
Size, shape and line are an endless area to experiment with, and allow me to quickly change the composition. Line is often achieved through digging with a razor blade or pointed tool, but lines and marks can also be made by using Saral transfer papers.
What I enjoy about the encaustic medium is the ability to have many, many layers of wax which can, at any time, be scraped back to an earlier layer to reveal a great color or needed value, whether light or dark. Or, playing with glazes is a lot of fun, just seeing what happens to highly saturated colors when glazed over with a warm or cool is kind of mesmerizing, and yields subtle value changes.
Having played with metals a bit, I've often thought it would be interesting to find a way of combining encaustic with metals. Sometimes, I try various papers under the wax but for the most part, this has not been very satisfying. However, I have combined photography with encaustic and really liked some of the results, even though very little of the actual photograph was visible in the end result!
Here are just a few paintings from my ongoing (and never ending) experimental series.
RISK AND THE ARTISTIC PROCESS
It is always fun and challenging (and an honor) to work toward an exhibition. I was especially thankful to have the opportunity to show a large body of work recently at the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell, Montana in 2014. With a lot of space to fill with my abstract paintings, I was able to divide my work into two categories; the older, mixed media paintings in one gallery, and more current work consisting of encaustics in the other. Prior to the exhibition, though, there was a very emotional period in my life when my mother passed away from cancer. She had hoped to come to Montana and visit my exhibition, and I had hoped she would see the 400+ spring bulbs I planted the previous fall, but it wasn't to be. Faced with overwhelming emotions, I pushed myself to finish work already begun in the fall, in preparation for the soon approaching exhibition. Although I was happy with 95% of work I ended up showing, there were two paintings which, as time marched on, did not set well with. Pictured above on the left is "Turbulence", a 32x32" encaustic. There were some things I liked about this piece, but felt it was too common in composition and didn't have any magic with regard to color. As I took it out of its frame and carried the heavy piece into my studio, I knew painting over it would be a high risk situation. It could end up even worse. On the other hand, it could perhaps become a piece I could live with for a longer time. After a process of addition and subtraction, concealing and revealing, I feel I did bring the painting to a better conclusion. Pictured on the right is the new piece, which I have entitled, "Scratching the Surface". You can see the colors of the original piece showing through, in small amounts, and they feel more special because they stand out from a high contrast background.
I feel risk is key in the artistic process. I know many artists agree with me. Feeling happy or complacent with technique or process is rare, so rare that I'm not sure the last time I felt this way after a painting session. Rather, it is a sense of relief that I did something that captured my imagination, felt like me, and held my interest. These small victories are glimpses into what could be, or what may warrant further exploration. Risk for me means I should accept the possibility of losing something "good", to possibly achieve something better, and to realize that regardless of the outcome, I will learn something by taking a risk. Since it is the process which feeds my spirit rather than the end product, I am happy experimenting, and though feel sick to my stomach when I've lost special passages in works in progress, I strive to recapture a different magic through problem solving and not giving up until I achieve it. (Of course, that doesn't always happen ;)
What is your process? Do you invite risk into your studio? Are you happy with your work, or do you sometimes feel it doesn't stand the test of time? I'd love to know more, so please feel free to join the conversation about risk!
THE DRAGON IN MY STUDIO
I sometimes tell friends that going into the studio is like facing a dragon who is ready and waiting to challenge me while I paint.
This painting is a good example of the beast who was live and ticking throughout the process. This isn't a negative thing, but a positive thing. The "dragon" perhaps is my own subconscious telling me that something isn't right, and that I better fix it, or at least try. As I layer on color, scrape it back, add line, remove it, enhance it, step back and see what I've done, I realize the thrill of the process that I experience every time I paint. I have no blueprint or sketch to guide me, but rather rely on the inner voice which always has something to say. I often begin with unusual color combinations or textures that will lead to something new, something different, something I haven't experienced before. The more risky, the more I invite the dragon into my process. Of course, a new discovery can lead to a series of work that can be linked through a similar process, and I strive for that. But, when I am stuck and want something fresh and new, I invite the meanest dragon out there to say, "I dare you", and off I go in a new direction. It is true that although I may like a painting when it is finished, as time goes on I may no longer like it, or even detest it to the point I can no longer live with it. I have covered over paintings that once hung in museums to try and find a better solution, one that I can tolerate or even like, even if only for a short time. In my next post, I will show you what I mean.
I'm curious; is there a dragon in your studio? Does your inner voice sometimes feel like a beast? If so, how do you deal with it? Please post a comment and share your thoughts. We can all learn from each other.
Now that I've created a new website, it's time to get back in the studio! My encaustic studio is kind of cold as it is in an attached garage. Though renovated (wall cabinets removed to allow hanging space and more room in general to maneuver myself and the paintings around. It is still a tight space, but a large table on wheels is helpful. It gets a bit cold when the temperature drops below zero, but it is manageable and with the updated ventilation system, the bottle of ice no longer freezes!
Today, I will work on glazing to improve the overall unity and the design as well; color saturation and values need to be evaluated. I would like the piece to read well from a distance, as well as up close.
I am very excited for 2015. I spent New Year's eve making a new website (it's almost done), and over the last couple of months we've done some smallish renovations in the encaustic and framing studio which should be very helpful. Now, instead of a large box fan in the window when it's zero degrees, I can just turn on the large ventilation fan you see in the picture. I can still hear my music when it's on, and it moves along a track for a little flexibility. The original cabinets are now gone, which upon removal, revealed some interesting pack rat activity. Imagine our surprise when about 5 lbs of pet food fell out from behind the insulation when it was torn out. As much as I'd love to have our two dogs Cornelia and Vincent in the studio with me, there isn't enough room for them, and me, so they will stay in the house (and mope, sleep, eat, and wait) while I spend most of my time in this studio. Wishing all of you a very Happy New Year!