My deepest apologies in not paying you more visits. I see that last time I wrote to you was March of last year. I really have no excuses! I have been working very hard in the studio preparing for the exhibition which is currently showing (Simply Not, in Helena, Montana). and, Here is a video taken at the end of my artist talk. You see, I have not been sitting idly, and hope to return soon with more to tell you!
During the month of March, I had a lot of fun experimenting with mark making in the studio, using cold wax and oils on paper. Although I usually use silicone tools which have a flat edge when I'm working in this medium, it's also fun to see what kind of marks you can make with brushes (even though they are harder to clean!). Freeform, automatic drawing and painting like this serves as a great warm up and start for the day, gets the blood flowing and can be quite effortless and fun. Some may call this "scribbling", but it's invigorating to just get started with arm movements, body movements, paint, and paper. Here are some starts using a brush on Arches Oil Paper - a favorite surface of mine!
Using thick and thin brushes, as well as various kinds of dry media (graphite, charcoal pencils, etc - even erasers!) - I've drawn or painted lots of marks on large sheets of paper (22x30in).
Once the cold wax/oil paint is dry (just a couple of days), I sometimes will work with the drawings by cutting them up and rearranging them - this can be a fun design exercise as well as creating a new underlying surface on which to continue painting.
I carefully choose which sections of the previous painting starts that I like, and cut them out. In this case, I cut out squares or other geometric shapes to contrast with the curvilinear marks. I looked for large, thick opaque black areas, as well as thin and drybrush textures to create the "new" recombinant drawing. After the pieces were marked and cut out, I placed them on a new sheet of Arches oil paper, marked where I wanted them, cut out the matching sized holes, and on the backside spread Elmer's glue with a silicone tool. I attached this new sheet to a cradled wooden panel (Baltic Birch). Each piece was carefully glued down into its appropriate place. Above right, I like to clean my oil brushes in citrus oil - and there's nothing like an upside down cat food can in a jar to to allow the bristles to come clean in relatively clear liquid; the sediment settles on the bottom.
Once the glue is dry, I can continue to work on this new "recombinant" surface! I find this a fun way to start a new painting and other times, this recombinant process can lead to a finished work without any additional painting!
One of the things I love about the painting process is how each phase can assert itself and satisfy my experimental tendencies. In this painting, there were several layers applied with acrylic paint which helped me play, loosen up, create texture, and just get something going (sometimes this is the hardest part - the blank panel!). After several painting sessions, I put away my acrylics and started working over the underpainting with cold wax and oil paint. I mixed galkyd gel (G Gel) with the cold wax (1:3) to strengthen the final wax surface (the G Gel has resin in it), and this mixture was then blended with the oil paint in an approximately 1:1 ratio. The consistency is soft and easy to apply with silicone brushes. I have found that I can work quite solvent free by thinning this mixture and cleaning my brushes and tools with pure citrus oil.
One of the things I really enjoy in the cold wax/oil process is the ability to use lots of different drawing tools (graphite, carbon pencils, Saral transfer paper, etc.) on the surface of the work. This painting is about small bits of color, directional line and texture. The large shape in the upper left corner was achieved using a yellowish glaze.
I'd love to hear from you! Please share your experiences working with cold wax and feel free to ask questions about this technique or share your variations! I'm trying a new commenting system (Disqus) and your comments on this blog will help me determine if this is a user friendly system!
(PS - I will be teaching a cold wax/oil workshop in Mineral Point, Wisconsin "OIL AND WAX: PERSONAL COLOR AND POWERFUL DESIGN", June 9-12, 2016. Click here for more information!
Winter is such a perfect time to stay inside where it's warm and cozy. In past years, I spent most of the winter in our cold garage heating up encaustic paint and wearing a nice warm coat. Since taking over half the living room, I've been able to utilize the walls and floor. Actually, I didn't realize how much I'd prefer working on the floor but kneeling in front of a board has become a favorite way to paint (much facilitated by the fact that even if I wanted to stand up after kneeling, it's getting harder--might as well stay crouched on the floor!
So drats; I see I didn't post anything in November. It must have been the turkey, stuffing, two pies, etc. I love keeping up with my blog as it's kind of like a journal and a way for me to look back and see what I've been up to. As always, I really like to hear from anyone who reads these posts - what kind of art do you do? How long have you been making art? What are your challenges and triumphs? I'm all ears! (actually, not as much after I eat all the Christmas goodies but that's probably more suitable for another type of blog).
Here are some process photos of a work in progress - the last image shows the work resting in temporary silence. This just means it is not screaming for attention like its fellow blank boards and for now, I've tucked it away until all 12 panels are at the same stage. If you are new to this blog, I am working with Nicholas Wilton as my mentor for seven months. During this mentorship, I will be working on about 10-12 paintings all of the same size (36x36in). So far, through phone conversations (2/month), Nick has helped me adjust my thinking process when it comes to just getting started (among other things). I am learning to be a little easier on myself. Whereas before I would be thinking about what show I have coming up, what space I need to fill, deadlines, applications, proposals and how many paintings I would need to create at what size, I now realize these things exist way outside the core of creativity. Create first, and everything else will fall into place, but don't rush the most important part - the process itself. Nothing good can come from shortchanging this stage; or rather, perhaps something better can happen if you stay a while longer in this contemplative, explorative, mindful and right side of the brain stage. The purpose of this mentorship is for each mentee to find their personal voice and focus on making the work stronger to convey that voice. I can already see changes in my work and, as things progress, I hope to share with you what I discover about art, and myself!
July 3 Nov 17 Nov 18
Nov 22 - Evan helps in the process Nov 24 Dec 8
Here are some images from the well attended opening of "Mined" last Friday, Aug 21 at Turman Larison Contemporary Gallery in Helena, Montana. I have about 30 encaustic pieces on wood and on paper and Noah has absolutely gorgeous contemporary ceramics! The exhibition runs through September 19th. Please email me if you would like a document with images/prices of all the work I have available in this show.
Not too long ago, while pondering what to do with all the excess encaustic wax that was scraped away from my paintings on panel, I came across a wonderful DVD by Paula Roland, entitled, "ENCAUSTIC MONOTYPES - Painterly Prints with Heat and Wax". Of course, I had known about Paula Roland for a long time as a pioneer of the encaustic monotype, but decided it was time to watch her DVD and expand my awareness of what can be done with this technique. This 2.5 hour long DVD is phenomenal on so many levels and I highly recommend it. Paula is a gifted artist and instructor of all things encaustic, and in her DVD, she holds nothing back with regard to helping you learn how to make encaustic monotypes by using hot wax and a heated palette. (If you are interested in ordering her DVD or hotbox(es), be sure to visit HERE!)
It is important to understand that, unlike other printmaking methods, the encaustic monotype is "one of a kind", and is a process which creates an original work of art. It cannot be duplicated in any way, since the monotype is made by laying a thin piece of paper on hot wax. Once the paper is put down and pressed into the wax, the wax soaks into the paper, the exact design and thickness of wax never to be repeated again.
I started with a pretty small hotplate which I had been using for a long time, to experiment and see what this technique was all about. Pictured above, on the left, are just a few of the many tools you can use for this technique - drawing tools, an infrared thermometer to check the temperature of your hotplate, silicone tools, and a traditional hake brush. On the right are my handmade monotype waxes, which are very heavily pigmented.
Above, you can see residual wax left behind on the hotplate after paper is removed from the hot wax - the residual wax can lead to lovely "ghost prints", similar to traditional printmaking. On the right is the opposite - thick, juicy hot wax ready to be transferred to a thin sheet of Japanese paper. I really like the Thai Kozo paper but have tried many other types of paper as well (and will continue to do so!).
While it is true that space is always hard to come by in any artist's studio, I decided to order Paula's Pro Hotbox set up because not only could I work larger with the encaustic monotypes, but it also serves as a fantastic palette for mixing encaustic paint. I also have used it to clean off my taped edges on larger work on wooden panels - always ready with thin Kozo paper to make use of the residual wax.
Monastery, encaustic monotype diptych on Thai Kozo paper, each panel is 47x13in (119x33cm); 2015.
I thought I had finished this painting back in December, 2014. I posted it on Facebook at the time, feeling it was done and it has hung in my studio ever since. Although there were many opportunities to show this painting, it somehow never made the "final cut". I made a mental note that something more needed to be done. I am getting used to this, of course, as any reader of my previous blog posts will know. I do have a habit of falling in love with details and this one had some areas and marks I really liked, but the piece as a whole looked weaker as time went on. I know some people may love this encaustic as it is, but I'm not happy with the surface quality or composition. Since I don't feel happy with it the way it is, it's worth the risk to lose it.
Today, this piece went under the "chopping block". The first thing I did was apply a coat of semi-transparent white encaustic wax. Next, I textured the surface with a lot of different tools. Although I have an idea in my mind of what I'd like to do with it, the painting is already beginning to take on a life of its own, and the idea I had may fall by the wayside. I need to remain flexible, observant, and ready to seize an opportunity if it presents itself, i.e., listen to what the painting is telling me to do. Here are some process photos of some of the many changes this painting is quickly undergoing. I will keep adding images as things progress so if you're already horrified, just wait! It could get a lot worse (and probably will, before it gets better!).
After the semi-transparent white layer was applied, fused (heated) and scraped, I used various texture tools to achieve the lines and gouges. Next, I chose graphite grey pigment stick and rubbed it over the entire surface and then used a razor blade to scrape some of the graphite grey away. It is important to remove the majority of the pigment stick paint, since it contains a high concentration of oil paint which is not compatible with future layers of wax. After the pigment is scraped, a paper towel with vegetable oil is used to remove even more pigment. The surface is then ready to be fused once again.
End of day one of "redo". As you can see, a bit of warmth from the original painting is showing through. Time for a break - what's next?
Only time will tell-- stay tuned :). I welcome your feedback so feel free to post comments and/or questions!
Day 2 of Re-do: I spent a lot of time staring at this painting today. There was a lot of texture, but so far, no real design so I needed to ask myself the best way to proceed given the majority of thin, curvilinear lines and warm tones showing from beneath the overall cool white semi-transparent glaze. In order to end up with a stronger painting than the original painting beneath the surface, I wanted to use mostly encaustic paint, some graphite transfer paper, some R&F pigment sticks for glazing, but minimal pastel. The pastels are nice and compatible with the encaustic, but in the previous painting they looked weak and dull. I also wanted to focus on a majority of grayed hues, with minimal color saturation. Given the surface was high key, I slowly proceeded to play with the pigment sticks and some graphite powder to put in my darks and mid tones. Here are several photos which show the decisions I made. I think it's almost there.
Upper Left: Indigo blue encaustic paint, graphite lines, and a bit of alizarin orange pigment stick.
Upper Right: With the ventilation going, I used a bit of Gamblin solvent to remove a bit of the white, revealing a bit of what was below. One of the last things I did here was take a sharp, curved tool to gouge out the circles which are over the mid-tone grey area. The mid-tone grey is graphite grey pigment stick.
Lower Left: I had originally used graphite grey pigment stick over the white after it was highly textured to enhance all the marks. The majority was removed, but the haze was still there but it's very light so the overall value is still very light. Nonetheless, when scraping, the thin grey is removed revealing the brighter white beneath. I tried to use this effect strategically as I added various darks and opaque and transparent glazes.
Lower Right: At first, I wasn't thrilled with the yellow and greenish grey shapes, but after rubbing a bit more graphite grey over the top and removing it, I added the dark vertical dark, and later, the bit of red, which can be seen a little better in the whole painting.
At the end of the Day 2 Re-do, here is where it's at. I'm feeling pretty good and think it is fairly close to being finished. You may wonder why I like this version better than the original, or have many other questions about what I am aiming for or thinking about. You may even question whether I am thinking at all. Obviously, I'm not after perfection, beauty, or anything highly rendered but rather, emotion, sensitivity, push and pull, and evidence of the artist's hand. Basically, I want to FEEL something when I look at my work, and I hope the viewer will feel something as well. I want the painting to stand from a distance, but create a lot of interest up close as well. Repetition is what brings unity to any painting; here, I've used line throughout: thick, thin, curved, straight, dark, light, etc. The painting is now predominantly cool, with a bit of warmth for contrast. Small details permeate throughout the work and are personal to me. I love circles and dots, so in this painting there are large loops, dark solid circles, and incomplete circles. I would say there is more opacity than transparency, and I held back with highly saturated colors until the end. Can you tell what I used? Cadmium red, of course! This is one of my favorite colors but it is only used to draw the eye toward the area of most interest, which is where the lightest light is next to the darkest dark, which is further strengthened by bits of detail in this area, i.e. the tornado graphite line, checkerboard, and vertical line of subdued dots. The palette is simple and minimal. The "bones" of the painting are now in place; I don't think anything major is needed, just some fine tuning. What do you think? I welcome your feedback and comments.
Here are several stages of a painting which I will always remember because the whole process evolved over many weeks and exemplifies a great struggle. A good month went by between the many stages shown here and the final image (at the very bottom of this post), which I must admit may not be done yet. What made me very happy about the whole process is that I did indeed feel very uncomfortable, in an excruciating way, during many risky stages. This happens when I am pushing new boundaries and telling myself "like" just isn't good enough and if I've done it before, it's not innovative enough. The longer I paint, the more "like", "ok", "good" are not acceptable. Yes, I probably could stop at an earlier point and call it a day, but if I haven't felt the pain of loss then I likely haven't pushed myself hard enough. In a strange way, I strive rather to push myself into difficult, almost disastrous territory because that is where the pain is, the risk, the fear of loss; but at the same time, this is where new things are discovered through resolution or failure. I just know that "good" and "safe" will not last long, maybe not even until the end of the day, and most certainly not by the next morning. Due to the nature of the encaustic medium, it is easy to make changes, but not as easy to reverse them. Notice that in the early stage the painting rotates and there is no "top" or "bottom" until much later.
EARLY STAGES - Looks like a battleground
FAVORITE AREAS - Keep, Diminish or Lose?
It never ceases to amaze me how every time I pick up a brush, regardless of the medium, I begin to fall in love with certain areas of a painting in the early stages that are very difficult to let go of. This painting is a good example. Because I attempt to be bold early on, there are many areas that look like "keepers" early on. However, as a whole, sometimes the areas I fall in love with don't contribute well to the "whole", and I have to begin letting go of individual areas, even the areas I "love". This is excruciating, because I tend to be very detail oriented and even a small triumphant area is tempting to keep. This is when I need to step away and let time pass until the level of discontentment with the whole can reach a breaking point, the "what have I got to lose--it's not working anyway" point. It is this high level of discontentment which gives me the courage to "risk it all", cover up the areas I love, in pursuit of a painting which has a better design, one which will stand the test of time over the long haul, not just for the next few minutes, days or weeks.
THE PAINTING PROCESS: SCRAPE - ADD - SUBTRACT - repeat, repeat, repeat
Encaustic is a difficult medium, but it has many wonderful properties which I am striving to learn more about. One of the many things which makes this medium challenging is that each layer is not crystal clear, but a little hazy because beeswax is not completely transparent. Even darks become murky as you add more layers. The four images above show the stages of trying to push the number of layers further, which meant many of the darks I put down early on lost much of their vitality as I added more wax. This was necessary, though, to dumb down the wild circus which had my eye moving everywhere. Again, there were a lot of small areas I liked, but by manipulating the levels of transparency and opacity, I tried to achieve lost and found edges (particularly evident with the large black figure "8-like" mark), which ended up under a "veil" of wax, which I liked because it created a "lost and found" effect, something I always tried to achieve a long time ago when I did watercolor.
I don't know if this painting is finished. Most likely I will do some more refining. But for now, I just wanted to post this to show some of the history that is behind the painting process. If there are significant changes, I will post them. Thanks for visiting! I welcome your feedback. Lost and Found, Encaustic, Mixed Media, 24x24in
No matter how long I paint or create art, I will always feel I am a student of Art; the more I know the more I feel I don't know. I like it this way and know my passion and energy for art come from being dissatisfied and bored with creating something I've done before. This is probably why I am always seeking new ways and mediums to express myself. It's not that I've mastered anything, but rather, moving from one medium to the next informs all the others.
I recently had the opportunity to learn a new medium, cold wax and oils, with Lisa Pressman and twelve other awesome people. I only scratched the surface (literally and metaphorically speaking), but here are some pieces that evolved over the last week (most still in progress). One of the appeals of this medium for me, as opposed to encaustic and mixed media, is that it doesn't require heat and to my great surprise and relief can really be done with little solvent. Working on a larger scale is something I'd like to pursue; issues are space, mainly, but also the maneuverability and ventilation needs, drying time, size of tools (must be scaled up), etc. However, in the meantime, I am enjoying working on smaller sizes, working on oil paper, and just exploring the possibilities. I love the juicy and thick surface quality.
Last night, I had the privilige and honor of giving a slide presentation at the Radius Gallery (Missoula, MT) about my 30+ year journey as an "artist". I was elated (and relieved) to see so many familiar faces of artists, friends, and even strangers. It was a beautiful evening, sunny and warm after a long cold winter. I was thankful that these kind souls somehow felt moved to come hear what I had to say about "The Dragon in my Studio, and the Importance of Risk".
As I explained at the beginning of my talk, I am still a little squeamish when people ask me what I "do" for a living. After I manage to sheepishly say "I'm an artist", I brace myself for the next question, "Oh, what kind of art do you do?" These two questions alone have always perplexed me in how hard they are to answer. So many artists around me whom I greatly respect have a solid and recognizable style. However, I have been all over the map (multiple times) and have not yet settled on anything that I feel is my "style". Why not?
Giving this talk was important to me for many reasons. Any life journey has its ups and downs, and any artist's journey has a story behind it that, once known, enriches how an audience sees and understands that artist's work. This happened to me throughout the course of art school, when I went from a total lack of appreciation or understanding for certain periods of art or artists who were household names, to an 180 degree shift in my thinking when I learned about the WHY behind what they did. Sometimes, it was all about WHEN they did what they did, or it was because of life's seemingly unsurmountable challenges or events. Suddenly, work I once disdained earned monumental respect when I better understood the "WHY". Many times, this new appreciation came because I realized the amount of courage and risk it took to do what they did given their circumstances. It is the WHY that fascinates me, and I'm guessing a lot of others benefit from knowing about not just "What" is on the surface of a painting, but what lies underneath it's core. Honesty, risk and courage look different than safe, tidy and controlled. I've worked both ways. I know the dragon in my studio could not be more pleased when I create art that is fully controlled, neat, perfect, tidy and beautiful. It is this work that would have even pleased my parents, who had a great appreciation for beauty and perfection, but did not appreciate anything that looked like they could do it themselves. I vividly remember gazing at a huge Helen Frankenthaler painting in a museum while visiting with my sister and Mother and remember my Mother's scoff at this monumental painting; "Anyone can do that", she said.
In my case, becoming an artist in this lifetime really only happened because of a huge crook in the road during my college years which suddenly put an abrupt end to the direction I was heading at full speed. When I encountered the road block, I went through reverse metamorphosis, i.e, from a butterfly to a lowly, grey/brown moth. Suddenly, the only thing I had done in the past that made me truly happy (art), was the only thing I could do at all. The decision was ultimately made not by me, but by something far greater and wiser than me. I have an amazing appreciation and gratitude for the way this came to happen in my life; it now seems like a well thought out plan. Do things really happen by chance? Or, do things happen for a reason? While preparing my talk, many things dawned on me that made me stop and appreciate that although we may not always have control in life, or be able to make sense at the time of why things happen, it does appear that time heals most wounds and with time, understanding comes.
The dragon in my studio has always been there. It/he/she (I will randomly call it a "he" for simplicity) has a palpable presence that seemingly puts a dead bolt on my studio door or somehow makes the white of my blank paper seem whiter than white. He causes me confusion when I look at my huge palette of colors and wide array of brushes as I try to "think" my way through just how to begin. Then, with a soft, soothing tone, the kind and empathetic dragon tries to console me, telling me, "It's ok, no worries, you don't really know what you're doing with all that stuff anyway and oh, isn't it time to take the dogs on a walk or do some laundry?"
Over time, I have come to recognize this compelling, fire breathing being as my ultra-dominant left brain. It creates barriers, doubts and has a sickeningly ghoulish smile and gleeful laugh when I'm struggling while painting. It's as if this dragon is just perched and waiting to say, "See, I told you so! Is that the best you can do? An artist? Ha!" And so on, and so on.
So how do you tame this omnipotent beast and put him in his place? For me, it has been a long process of finding who (and what) I am through the grueling artistic process which purifies through it's own kind of (healthy) fire. Deep down, we all know when we are pleasing our own personal dragon. There is a sense of satisfaction that lasts a little too long, contentment which breeds pride, and oh those sales don't hurt either (don't get me wrong - sales are GOOD! But, it matters what you are selling, the deep down drag out fought for victory creations, or the perfectly pretty, shiny "what's not to love", lifeless, soulless "gem" that any granny would love).
There are two kinds of ways I work that quiet the scaly one: if work is pretty and perfect, my dragon is quiet and content. I must admit, sometimes I am weak and throw the old boy a biscuit (or two, or three). However, if my process is fraught with endless battles of light, dark, big, small, thick, thin, warm, cool, leading to constantly changing scenes of disdainful creativity, my dragon is not only quiet, but mad. Not only that, he's likely to get hurt as I also work with a propane torch, razor blades and occasionally use my hammer. He sulks and goes off in some corner, just waiting for me to surrender and throw in the towel in disgust until I return to safety. Over the past several years, my dark, cathartic bodies of work were done with conviction and belief but, to this shrinking dragon's dismay, were not very "pretty" or marketable. (I suspect all dragons are also very practical and business-like; they know we artists starve and they have only our best interests in mind, and my personal dragon would love nothing more than for me to start painting pretty little cottages with soft glowing lights coming through the windows).
Every day in the studio is a battle. I would LOVE to hear about your dragon, and how your battles play out.
Oh what to do with those last bits of paint on your palette that are soon to dry and be tossed in the garbage? Try flipping it upside down on a new board (or one with a preexisting half-baked painting). Presto, now you've used the remaining fresh paint and can throw away your palette paper guilt-free. I've done this a few times now and am always amazed at how those little bits of color so randomly placed from the palette monoprint added to the end result. At least, I think so.
In the finished painting, the palette bits remain in some areas.
I took this photo right before the some final (small) adjustments. For me, this kind of painting process is like soul searching from beginning to end. I find this method of working encourages me to look deep within the subconscious for that right color, shape, texture, value, etc. It is a one way conversation until I can somehow engage the painting in conversation. I can't explain when or why this happens but I do know that it will happen at some point IF I keep at it. Momentum begins when it isn't just me "doing" the talking and I begin to hear a small voice suggest and assist as the painting moves along. Once this match is lit, the flame must be fanned to keep things moving along (no time for coffee breaks now!). I work as long as there is a two-way conversation, which is sometimes loud and active, and sometimes quiet. When the voices dim and some sense of order and peace are obtained, the painting and I are at peace, and I leave the painting alone. It is finished until, or if, one of us starts talking again :)
FINAL STAGE: Many things have happened between the middle and final stages, but I often forget to grab my camera phone to capture a "stage" shot. Although I am trying to get better at this (and if I do, I will post more revelations, most of them pretty ugly, on this blog!), this is all I have. I focused on creating some serious darks, less textured transparency in the quinacridone Nickel Azo Orange and limey green areas to contrast with the opaque seafoam green, some nice saturation to play off the duller grays, and a pinch of clip art to contrast with all the abstraction. Although this is a very small painting (just 6x6in), scaling up will require the same process, with bigger tools, of course. Jagged Edge, 6x6", 2015.
Image 1. Back in November 2014, I started working in encaustic on a larger scale. This painting is 36x36in, and as I had just renovated my encaustic studio, it is the first painting I did in my new space. Was this a finished piece? There were a few marks I liked and a smooth surface; it felt "ok", even "pretty nice", but only for a while. It sat in my studio for several months since I liked some areas, but I really didn't know where to go to improve it. It had to incubate a while.
Image 2. By February, 2015, enough time had passed where I finally felt the courage and motivation to just throw down some serious darks and just go for it. I had recently attended a workshop with Nicholas Wilton, and it was just what I needed. I will write more about that wonderful workshop experience in my next newsletter, but suffice it to say, I realized how unhappy I was with the painting I had done in November and decided to continue working on this mediocre painting with the hope of achieving something better. It was worth the risk of losing everything to pursue something better than "good".
Image 3. It took many hours (20? 30?) to go from Image 1 (above) to this stage. Although I tried to convince myself that maybe this stage was okay, deep down I knew it wasn't; it was soon to go back to the chopping block. However, it was a few days of mourning before I was ready to go back into it after putting so many (late, grueling, cold) hours into the development of the painting from all the stages which occurred between Image 1 and 3. At this point, I was as unhappy as I was with Image 1. Clearly, this painting was not done yet.
Image 4. By now, after several days had passed, I decided to do a few mockups on the computer (photoshop), experimenting with opacity and divisions of space. I decided I wanted to have a light area and a dark area, so I went in and created the division of space, concealing much of the chaos that existed in Image 3.
I made a few subtle changes after recently posting this on Facebook, but at least for now, I think it's finished because I can live with it, and I'm (currently) at peace with it. Although it is always a little hard to know when something is truly finished, all I know is that there is nothing that really bothers me, a lot that I like, lots of surprises, and it holds my attention. I'm looking forward to the next painting, the next journey, and though I have no idea where it will lead me, I expect a lot of surprises and challenges along the way. Journey, 36x36in, encaustic on Baltic Birch Panel, 36x36in, 2015
Thank you for visiting my blog! I welcome your comments and hope you will share your creative experiences with me.
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!