Challenging work, this. I’ve been trying to translate some of the same ideas I’ve been exploring in encaustic into my acrylic mixed media work. The pieces seem related, but distinct as well. The same problems come up, but I have to solve them with a different language of solutions, as I move between the two mediums. I feel as though each new painting progresses the conversation a bit further, without a whole lot of repetition from piece to piece.
You can only faintly see the embroidered word “Begin” in the painting above.
It is difficult to see in the above image (these are large-ish paintings, and the low res image doesn’t quite do them justice), but I’ve started using tiny dots of paint (the black circles above) much like I use in the encaustic pieces, but to different effect.
I’m off to the redwoods for a week of camping, swimming, sunning, and hanging out with good friends. Have a great week!
And once I begin, it is rare that I want to stop. As I approach a painting session, or a block of time in my studio, or begin a new painting or body of work, my doubts and insecurities often crowd me, beckoning me toward some other soothing activity like working in the garden or reading a book. Baking cookies. Catching up on email. Cleaning the toilet.
No, really, it is fascinating to me that after 20-something years of painting, that I can still have these feelings. It’s like that squirmy, resistant feeling you get right before jumping into a cold lake or swimming pool. After jumping, I always get a little rush of adrenaline, and then have the thought that it’s really quite nice. Wonderful, even.
How do I get to the other side of those feelings with my artwork? I remind myself to just begin. Then I give myself permission to do something other than painting in my studio if I just do not feel the flow after a little while. I could tidy my studio, or do some preliminary drawings, I could go outside and photograph, make some color charts, write in my art journal. Whatever. But almost always, I find myself caught up in the riptide of creative momentum, and I paint.
When I first started writing this blog, I had recently been to a yoga workshop, taught by Rod Stryker, called “Yoga of Fulfillment”. One of the most powerful things I came away with was the idea of a “Samkalpa”. Samkalpa means a resolution, a resolve, or an intention. Mine is defined by my desire to have momentum in my studio time, and to feel the thread of fearless creativity running through my life, weaving what then seemed fractured, together. Since then, I’ve supervised the building of a studio in back of my home, to better integrate painting into my busy family life. I’ve been much more productive than I’ve been in a long time, and have at times felt the momentum running strong.
I’ve always gotten my household and homeschooling “work” done in the mornings, and eked out a few hours of painting in the afternoon. Most days. Much of the time, this works great, and I love the way my studio warms up in the afternoon, and the sun through the skylights. But lately, I’ve been thinking about how the first things I do in my day pretty much always get done. I don’t find myself wondering first thing in the morning, “hmm….. I have time to either take a shower or brush my teeth. Which one do I do?” But I do find myself having that mental converstation with myself over, say, painting and exercising at 4 in the afternoon. Or painting and seeing a friend. It dawned on me that the things I do first are- literally and figuratively- the things I put first. So I’m experimenting with getting out into my studio earlier (after I’ve brushed my teeth, of course!), and working a bit longer. It feels strange and different. But productive.
One of the most uncomfortable aspects of it is not checking my email before I go out to work. But if I do, before I know it, I’m reading the New York Times online, or catching up on my blog reading- and there goes an hour. Or two. Ahem.
So I’m curious about you artists out there- what habits and routines do you have that help you get your creative work done? How have you changed unproductive habits to productive ones?
I’ve been having some fun in my studio this week experimenting with wax inlay (intarsia). Here are some of the results-in-progress.
First, I tried putting oil paint into the texture and doing a wipe, but it didn’t work as well as I had hoped, so I tried filling with wax and scraping back, and I’m much happier with it. I like using intarsia in my underlayers, as I like to imagine that they are more stable, and an oil wipe in the last stages of a painting. But, Oh! The scraping- my fingers don’t like it much. I need to do a serious perusal of my local hardware store for a razor holder that works well for this. I took good photos of the intarsia process this time, so I’ll do a technique tutorial on it soon.
Above: a detail of a larger acrylic painting. I’ve been trying some new things with acrylics, too…. laminating milky, transluscent papers into this painting, tracing some of my field sketches, and using a graphite paint that I found recently. It is such a good exercise to try to explore the same aesthetic and formal concerns as the white encaustics, but it a radically different medium. I think it keeps things fresh all around, with each medium informing the other. Well, we’ll see. I don’t think the above painting is really successful in the way I want it to be, yet, but I’m going to keep on playing with it. I’d love for it to segue into a new (and parallel) body of work.
And I’ll leave you with one last image, something I picked up on a walk the other day. I don’t know what my neighbors thought, with me traipsing through the neighborhood with my dog and a dead bush, but I love it- it’s color and form- and can’t wait to take an hour or two and draw it from different angles.
P.S. I’m going to the opening for “Working in Wax” tonight in Walnut Creek (see announcement below) and am so excited to see so much encaustic work!
Mmmmm. Beeswax. I just ordered 25 beautiful pounds of it from Swan’s Candle Making Supply. I’ve always ordered from R&F Encaustics (and their wax is lovely, too), but since I’m on the west coast, it’s great to have found a source here in California (and their customer service has been great- as I found out when I botched my initial order… ahem.). I also ordered some microcrystaline wax- I’m adding a small amount to my beeswax to improve the tack in the clear layers that I use so often. I’m blending in about 1/10 microcrystaline, and it does seem to be improving the adhesion of layers. This has been a concern of mine as my paintings grow in size. I often find myself trying to find a balance between adequate fusing and avoiding disturbing my layers. It’s a tricky thing.
As you can see from the (slightly blurry) picture above, I’ve also adjusted my set up to accommodate larger amounts of wax at a time. I’m using a single burner with an adjustable thermostat, a small pan, and a thermometer. I’m finding that I really have to keep an eye on that thermometer! I used to melt smaller amounts in the small bread tins you can see on my palette, above, but it takes 45 minutes to melt a batch, or longer if it has damar resin in it, and I’ve needed more than that at once. I tried using a crock pot, but found that the temperature was unreliable, and that having it sit for long periods of time melted eventually turned my wax a deep amber color. I ruined quite a lot of wax that way. So far, this is working great- the only downside is that if a drop or two gets on the burner, it smokes up the studio, and reminds me that I really need to get fans in there and stop relying on my windows for ventilation!
The next thing I want to try is a torch for fusing. I’m hoping that it will speed up my process a bit. If anyone has a favorite torch, I’d love to hear about it… fewer people use torches for fear of lighting things on fire, so it’s harder to find recommendations, but I’m looking for one that is not too heavy, and has an adjustable tip, so that I can fan the flame out, or concentrate it. I’ll post about it when I’ve found one that I love.
Some new studio shots from this week. I finally got around to cleaning up. I like a good, productive mess, but with my paintings slowly growing in size, and my studio not growing to accommodate, the mess and the art were starting to battle it out in there. So I hung some things up, threw some piles out, vacuumed many a cobweb, and kindly showed some spiders the door.
Ahh. Much better.
And after a short break from my acrylics, I’ve started experimenting again with what might be an extention of the white encaustic series I’ve been working on. After a year of working on two distinctly separate bodies of work (the nests and the white paintings), I decided that since the nests have been slowing down for a while now, I’d try bringing the acrylic work more in line with the encaustic work, and have been exploring some of the same ideas. But, of course, these two mediums are so, so different- my aim is for the paintings to feel related, but to allow each medium to express it’s own unique influence. I’ll have some photos of those works in progress soon!
Here’s what I’ve been working on… more from the “Winter” series.
This last piece is larger- 25 x 28 inches. The top two are 12 x 12″.
These paintings are continuing from a series I started a few months ago. I took a walk near my home, and gathered some of the mid-winter weeds and flower/seed stalks that had dried but were still standing tall against the wind. I’ve been drawing them, and incorporating them into these paintings. I’ve been enjoying making these so much, my ideas for them keep getting bigger… as in wanting to paint bigger and bigger. I use a lot of clear wax in these, about 15 layers or so, and the image elements float between layers, creating a depth and space that gets more interesting as the paintings get bigger. There is more room to visually float and explore in the picture space.