Tag Archives: art

New Work #8: more winter wax

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We are having a delicious, drizzly February day here, and the starlings outside are making quite a racket. My wind chimes are going a little crazy. I’m just enjoying it all, taking care of family life, and baking ginger cookies (because that’s what I do when it drizzles outside!) Also, sharing the latest “Winter” piece, above. I feel like I’ve finally struck a balance between complexity and simplicity in these latest pieces. I am enjoying letting the wax be what it is, not fighting or trying to overly control it. For instance, when I first started adding the tiny white dot areas, it frustrated me to no end that I couldn’t get them all to look uniform. Some of them are big, some small, some stick up and others are flat. And it’s all dependent on too many factors- like if my pallet is heating up or not (it’s on a thermostat, so there are slight variations in temperature as it cycles on and off), or how long I hold the brush on the pallet to warm it up again, or how many dots I try to make before returning to my pallet (which, of course, has everything to do with my mood and patience that day). Etc, etc. But then I just gave up. It is what it is. And I fell in love with the variation. Now, I just let it be, and I think it is one of my favorite things about these little paintings. Sometimes, acceptance can truly transport us to new places!

New Work #7: Winter

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Some new work coming out of my studio lately. I’ve started a new series- a variation on the “white noise” series. I’m calling this one “Winter”. Most days, I take a walk with my dog in the fields near my house. We live about a five minute walk to the bluffs that line the coast here in Half Moon Bay, and we are lucky enough to have fields along the bluffs that are open to the public. Every season has it’s own way of defining the landscape, and here in coastal California, we don’t get snow. We don’t get ice. We get wind. In late fall, the wind becomes fierce, and pummels the tall, dead, silvery grasses, flattening them to the ground. The only things left standing are the sturdy remains of flowering weeds and herbs, sometimes with seed pods left intact. It makes a striking landscape- the black, barren remnants of last year’s plants stand like black calligraphic marks against the pale, flat grasses.

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So, I’ve been inspired to try to communicate some of this in these new paintings. These two are from drawings of seed pods that I found in my yard, and they look a bit like seaweed to me. I’ll post more of this work in the next few days, so be sure to check back.

Remembering Every Day

When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at a college — that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?” 

–Howard Ikemoto

Howard Ikemoto was my first drawing teacher when I was 19. Stroke of luck, that. He was such an amazing teacher, that I didn’t need the passage of time to know just what a lucky student I was; I knew it at the time.  I recently came across some old sketchbooks from then, and realized just how much I carry my teachers voices with me as I go on with my life and my work. I remember Howard telling the above  story one day in class. 

One of the things I love best about making art is the way it keeps me integrated: the four year old me, the 15 year old me, the 19 year old me, the 40 year old me. When I draw or paint, it’s easier to know that part inside that remembers- and I can tap into the same joy of “making” that I felt when I was four, and will feel when I’m 90.

Encaustic Technique #4: Color

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Encaustic paint is truly different from every other kind of paint. It looks different, smells different, feels and behaves differently. All encaustic paint comes in solid form. Heat must be applied for the wax to become liquid. Encaustic paint does not dry, it hardens. Quickly. For this reason, an encaustic artist must work with purpose and speed. This can be exhilarating, or exasperating, depending on your method of working, and your goals. Or maybe just your mood that day!

You can see my paints above. I’ve ordered them from R&F Paints, but a quick internet search will turn up several other suppliers. I like the quality of these paints, and have relied on them for years now. The little round cake off to the right is a color I mixed to have on hand- you can custom mix colors in small muffin tins, or in recycled small cans. If you put the muffin tin in the freezer, the paint will pop out, and if you mix it in a can, you can just leave it there and put it on and off your pallet as you need it. I find that the solid paints are very concentrated, and I usually dilute the color with clear beeswax medium. To use and mix the paints, the block of paint is touched directly to a hot pallet (at aprox. 200-220 degrees), and it instantly melts into molten paint. A little goes a long way. A natural bristle brush is used to apply the paint, and it hardens quickly on the surface of the painting. How much working time you have between the moment your brush leaves the pallet and the hardening of the paint and brush depends on how hot your pallet is, how warm the surface of your painting is, and how warm the room you are working in is kept. I have a small space heater in my studio for cold days or nights- mainly because it extends that brief working time. 

Just like other types of paint, different colors of paint behave differently- some are more transparent than others (manganese violet, cerulean blue, zinc white), some tend to separate if they sit on the hot pallet (cerulean blue, indigo, zinc). Some are more ferocious than others (alizarin crimson, phthalo green), and tend to dominate when mixing with other colors. The earth colors can be ever so slightly grainy sometimes. R&F offers a color chart for ordering their paints that are actually made with little squares of paint- and if you are thinking of ordering online, it is a great resource to have, as it gives you some clues as to the nature of each color.

Some artists make their own paint, using beeswax medium and powdered pigment. I’ve never tried this, and if you decide that this is the way you want to go, I’d do some research on handling powdered pigments safely. Sinopia Pigments, Earth Pigments, and Daniel Smith are all resources for powdered pigments.

I have mixed my own colors using beeswax medium and a dab of oil paint. In this case, you want the mixture to be mainly beeswax. If you use too much oil in the mix it will neither harden, nor dry properly. Not good. So just a little pigment to a greater amount of wax. This is really handy if you already own oils, and have a limited color range in the pre-mixed wax blocks. It’s easy to occasionally mix a little of a custom color this way. Powdered graphite can also be mixed with wax medium to create a warm grey with some luster, and you’ll feel just like Jasper Johns.

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Whether you buy your paint, or mix your own batches of color, you’ll want to get to know your paint. A great way to do this is to create your own color charts. I’ve been working on this project myself, and it has taught me so much about my paints. And I’ve discovered some really unusual, subtle colors in the process by mixing unlikely colors together. Here is how I approached this project:

First, I made a list of my colors. Then I created grids on printmaking paper (other thick, absorbent paper will work too). I wrote the first color at the top of the page, and painted the color next to it. This was my base color. Then, I labeled each of the boxes with the remaining colors. I mixed each color with the main color, and some clear beeswax.

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I added a bit of white for each stroke, increasing the tint a little each time. I designed it this way because I often work with tints.  For the next chart, I’ll delete Alizarin Crimson off the list, so the charts get a little smaller each time. When I’m done, I’ll have a sample of how every color interacts with every other color in my pallet.

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Here is the finished chart. (See what I mean about surprising color combos? Check out the great earthy orange you get by combining green gold with alizarin crimson!)

Depending on your techniques, color range, and inclinations, you could use this idea in a variety of ways. You could make charts exploring shades, or transparency. You could design a color wheel instead of grids like these. The point is that a systematic exploration is a great way to get to know how colors in this medium (or any medium) behave.

Taking Care of Business

I just want to quickly draw attention to the new links in my side bar. One of my goals for this year is to become more savvy about the business side of being an artist. I’ve resisted for years, and still have a tendency to think of the art world as mysterious and inpenetrable. But I am at a juncture in my career where I just need to learn this stuff and take care of business. Literally. So I’ve added a few links here, and there will be more to come.

Encaustic Technique #3: Collage and Enclosures

One of the outstanding properties of encaustic is it’s translucency, which makes it a great medium for collage. Collage can be used with encaustic to provide the main focus of a painting, or it can be used in under layers of the painting to give a sense of depth that is hard to accomplish in any other medium. It can be combined with many other techniques without any trouble. 

I’ll also be talking here about “enclosures”, or adding small objects to your paintings. This can be a bit trickier, and I’ll explain why and give some tips for successful enclosures. 

The first thing to understand about encaustic collage is that your collage materials must be compatible with your beeswax. By this, I mean that they must be an absorbent material, especially if they are large. They must also be compatible with heat, since you will need to apply heat for fusing your layers. I also don’t recommend anything perishable, unstable, or moist. Materials must be dry and clean. Consider the stability of any inks used on papers- newspapers, ink jet prints, and other printed papers may fade rapidly, even in low light, over time. Most printed paper will fade to some degree, but some will fade much more dramatically than others. Basically, get to know your materials, and how they relate to the nature of your work. If in doubt, do a light test by putting the papers in sunlight for a few days and seeing what happens. 

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Here is a little selection of things I had lying around my studio. Paper, tissue, fabric, photos printed on paper, ribbon, lace, all work.  Other materials I’ve seen people use are clean feathers (especially small, wispy ones), plant materials such as rose petals, string, wallpaper, and wood. Anything relatively flat, and absorbent. Be careful with coated papers, and any paper that is rigid and may react to the heat by curling or buckling. Again, there is no real substitute for getting in there, trying some things out, and getting to know your materials. One of the great things about encaustic is it’s forgiving nature. If something doesn’t work out, you can always take it out, re-fuse, and keep on going with the piece. Some of my favorite pieces have been happy accidents.

When you know what you want where, just place it on your wax.

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I use a wooden spoon to carefully burnish the paper onto the wax. You don’t need to press very hard to do this; the wax is generally receptive, unless it is very cold in your studio. You want to press out any air bubbles, making sure that your paper or other collage material has good contact.

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Then, lay down a layer or two of beeswax over the collage, or over the whole panel if you like, and fuse. I like to use cheap 3-inch natural bristle brushes from the hardware store to lay down even, thin layers. At first the wax will appear milky, as in the photo above, but as it cools, it will become clearer.

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You can add layers repeatedly, as long as you remember to fuse between layers. Depending on what kind of surface you are aiming for, you can fuse lightly or heavily.

An “enclosure” is when you add an object to your painting. This is trickier, and I suspect not as archival as adding thin layers of absorbent materials, but I’ve seen it used to great effect. One painting I remember involved perhaps a hundred white buttons, and rose petals. 

The idea with enclosures is to use small objects that can be contained, or enclosed by the wax, or objects with perforations, such as doilies or produce netting, which will still allow for a matrix of wax on all sides, so that the integrity of the wax is maintained. If the ratio of objects to wax is too heavy or if the piece is not properly fused, it could crack or break off. On the other hand, it is worth experimenting with, and I’ve seen some really nice work with objects incorporated into wax. 

SO- go on, fire up that hot plate, and get to work!

New Work and a Show

Geez!  When was the last time I posted new work on this blog?  It feels like ages ago.  Anyway, here we go… The two nests below are acrylic mixed media. 

And then two new encaustics… continuing to experiment with the same techniques. I am working on some others in this format too, just trying to push a little farther in slightly different directions than before.

All four of these pieces, plus some others, will be in the group show “Wishfull Thinking” at Lark and Key Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The show will be running November 5th through December 30th, and I encourage anyone nearby to go and take a look. Other participating artists are Flora Bowley, Michelle Caplan, Duy Huynh, Kate Phillips, and Osiris Rain. It looks to be an interesting and varied show, and Lark and Key looks like a dreamy gallery/shop. Just the sort of place that I could not resist walking into. You know- “tractor beam effect”. Here’s a look inside- 

Avian Brilliance

Could anything be more beautiful?

My mom and dad came for a visit recently, and when my dad walked in, he was carrying this. Found under the tarp for their wood pile.(Thank you, dad!!) I felt a little badly that these poor eggs were abandoned, but I will look forward to painting this nest.  This nest is in fantastic shape- and the avian architectural brilliance is always startling. Every piece of grass and animal hair is woven- just so.

As for me, I feel like I am starting to weave myself together as I come off from a busy busy couple of months.  Thanks to those of you who emailed me and made sure that I knew that this blog matters!

Sometimes I forget that my most artistically productive times are fed and nurtured by things that I don’t always give credit to.  Like walking, gardening, knitting, exploring, reading,  relaxing and playing with my family ….  and doing nothing. Sometimes I want to be efficient and productive, and I replace that quiet nothingness or repetitive, rhythmic (but seemingly mindless) activity with something that delivers a more quantifiable something. And I feel my creative juices eventually start to dry up….. I suspect that the physics of our souls are very very different from the physics of matter. Or perhaps I just need to get smarter about what kind of productivity I want (or need) to invest in.  So, though I know there are times when I just have to “get things done” that aren’t particularly nurturing to my creativity, it feels really really nice to get my feet back on the ground and create some margin for myself. One of these days I’ll get it through my head that creativity needs *space* to happen.  That sometimes it takes a whole lotta nothin for the best things to happen.

I can’t sign off without introducing you to my new blogging partner.

Meet Mouse.

Our new kitty, and the terror of the neighborhood. He totally owns everything around here (including us), eats at at least 3 houses, and chases our neighbor’s cats. And he’s only 5 months old. This is not necessarily a good thing. But this cat redeems himself with a personality the size of Texas. He is a study in fearlessness. And goofiness. 

And this cat knows all about margin.

Inspiration: Nature

Gorgeous, isn’t it?

This was one of my birthday presents this summer, a gift from my mother and father in law who live in Bonny Doon.  We think it is a Jay nest. The interior is earth, and it is quite large, with a very architectural feel- as if it was built, rather that woven, like many of my other nests. It was attached to something (the house? A tree?) on the side that is not there. 

I want to share, today, a couple of other artists who work with nature imagery. I love their work- take a few moments to click on the links and enjoy some stellar artwork.  The first is Emily Clawson, who’s painting was hanging next to mine in the “Translucent” show in San Francisco this summer. Her seed pod work and wing series are my favorites- the wing series is especially ephemeral, with enlarged patterns of dragonfly wings drawn with graphite and then transfered onto the wax. The second is Sharon Beals . I first encountered her work in Farley’s coffee house in San Francisco (kick-ass chai). I was blown away by her photos of nests, and am still scheming about how to get my hands on a print for my own walls. They are so beautiful, with velvety blacks and the nests absolutely glowing on German etching paper.  Go take a look. 

Enjoy your Sunday!

In Pursuit of Balance

As a busy summer draws to a close, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by all of the things that I wanted to accomplish, but didn’t.  I always have high expectations of summer- I simultaneously envision grand swathes of leisure time, and massive productivity. Reading fluffy books outside in the sunshine coupled with tearing out and remodeling the bathroom.  Juggling just the right balance of beach picnics and bike rides with hours of undisturbed studio time.  I grossly misjudge the reality of life- that the daily demands of dishes and errands, housework and paperwork, email and all types of obligations, chosen and not, gobble up an amazing amount of my time. I wish I could clone myself sometimes so that I would have time to triple my studio time, be the mom and partner I want to be, bake my own bread, and learn to play violin, go and get my graduate degree, do yoga everyday….. My biggest challenge is figuring out (too often on the fly) what my priorities are. I am the quintessential gemini, with a finger in every pot. I have trouble saying no, and it gets me into trouble.  

All this is preamble to the fact that I have not been in the studio as much as I like, or blogging as much as I like, and some of the steam has gone out of my sails in my painting. And what I recognize is burnout. Not so much from doing too much, as not doing the things that allow productivity to continue… like riding a horse with out stopping to rest it or feed it, or water it. I’ve written in this blog about creative momentum, and how I keep that going. But it is not an automatically self-sustaining thing. If I am not careful, I tend to burn all of my creative fuel, my momentum carrying me forward, without stopping to gather, to practice new things, try new ideas, take risks, etc.  In my rush to complete new work for shows this summer, I’ve neglected the daily or weekly practice of renewal.  There is a certain safety in just focusing on an established body of work, and being productive in a measurable way…. sometimes process and exploratory work is not productive in the way that is easy to value- having a piece of artwork at the end of the day. Sometimes it just goes into the trash can, or sometimes nothing material comes of it at all. 

In avoiding this kind of work, it’s come to my attention that one of the things I avoid above others, that absolutely makes my stomach squirm is drawing.  This is surprising even to me, as my drawing skills aren’t exactly lacking.  I’ve spent many hours drawing. I can draw fairly well. So why the avoidance?  I’ve avoided keeping any kind of sketch book for close to twenty years. I think it has to do with how primary, how immediate it is.  It is an instant feedback process. An instant record of my perceptions, my state of mind, my patience, or more often the lack of. And so, so often it doesn’t produce anything I would want to show to someone else. It feels extremely personal to me. More so than painting. I’m not sure why. 

So in the spirit of doing something that scares me everyday (or at least often), I’ve started doing small drawings on watercolor paper.  In ink. So unforgiving. To me, it feels like walking a tightrope without a net. But I am convinced that if I can keep doing this, I will be better able to develop new ideas for paintings, and have more of a creative flow. Here are a few that I actually like

It doesn’t solve my problem of prioritizing, but it may help with creative burnout… It will definitely develop humility.