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   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.

Monday, January 16, 2017
  looking back

I’ve been at our new winter home in New Mexico for several weeks now, and the beauty of this place, the friendliness of this small community, the cultural opportunities and connections with other artists are all amazing and gratifying. I’ve been painting a lot and taking long walks, reading, and writing. In spite of the distractions of the remodeling the old adobe here, and the need to figure out aspects of daily life in a new place, there are lots of quiet, contemplative moments that ground me in this new reality.

The angular forms and rocky textures of the dramatic landscape here are entering my work, and recent snowfall suggested stark value contrasts. I’ve been working mostly on paper, as I await delivery of some larger panels. 

I’ve started a small personal research project on the side—looking closer at the time of my life (in the late 90s and early 2000s) when I made the transition to abstraction in my work. I remember so little of this, and wonder if understanding it better would be helpful, not only or my own reasons but because I’m sometimes called upon to talk about my work chronologically, and this period represents a major shift. Also, toward the end of this time, in late 2001 or early 2002, I first started using cold wax medium. I know that for years I regarded it simply as a painting medium and not much more, though I was no doubt figuring out some of its unique properties from the beginning.

For this project, I’ve brought to New Mexico some of my old writings and journals. (I wish I’d also brought sketchbooks from the time; they may have been where I wrote about cold wax, if I did at all.)  I decided to just dig into these writings with no real plan. This morning I began with a journal that I wrote from August of 2002 through the June 2003. Interesting that the first one I picked up covers a significant time in terms of finding my voice in abstraction.

Early in the journal I mention a friend’s remark that my previous focus on realistic landscape seemed to have been a search for meaningful content. He said that “my challenge now was to take the substance of that work into new territory.” I found this insight helpful, a connecting thread to my earlier work. It helped me to clarify that my intention was to express the essence of landscape outside of a traditional landscape format. I had, at that point, done some landscape work that edged into abstraction by eliminating the horizon line, but felt I wanted to be less literal.

The following spring, I wrote a rather impassioned defense of abstraction after a discussion with a realist painter: “In abstraction you put yourself more on the line, because many people will think your work has no meaning. I think it is harder, more conceptual, and more personal…I will probably always have more admiration and appreciation for good abstraction than for good realism.” In retrospect (since nowadays I am not so biased) I can see that I was staking out my new territory and finding it a bit risky. I also had a rather polarized view of the differences between abstraction and realism, not seeing the crossover qualities or possibilities. For example, I was not sure at the time that “real” abstraction could refer to landscape or other aspects of the visual world.

An entry near the end of the journal, from June 2003, connects spirituality with abstraction, the idea of keeping open a clear channel and not interfering with negative or ego-centered thoughts. I noted that this gave me a sense of power and of “a force beyond my own conscious direction.” This was a very liberating insight, written after making my first large-scale abstract painting, a grid of textural color fields called 25 Views of Landscape. I can now see that this piece was a milestone for me, a synthesizing of various ideas about abstracting from landscape that had been brewing, yet very intuitively realized. At the time, I simply felt relieved-- happy with my work for the first time in a year or more.

This particular year-long journal, though, is dominated not by notes on process and studio practice, but by thoughts and experiences that are rather painful now to read. Although it the journal ends well, on the above note, it was a time of set-backs in my work and art career along with other more personal challenges. I share some of these in hopes that they will reassure others going through similar struggles. 

Looking back, I’m very grateful for all the positive changes that came afterward, that unfolded in their own time. But in the midst of challenging situations, it’s impossible to know what positive changes we may already have set in motion through our hard work and focus.

The summer of 2002, I wrote about a solo exhibit in Minneapolis in which nothing sold, and about a special preview meant to showcase my work for architects and designers, during which there was much more interest in the wine and cheese than in my work. The lonely, devastated feeling of standing by myself in the main gallery while the party went on by the refreshment table in the next room haunted me for a long time. (Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t try to take charge of the situation, go over to the table and mingle, but I was pretty insecure in those days.) I wrote depressingly in August of 2002:  “When I look ahead I see nothing uplifting…my art career, which seemed a while ago to be on an upward climb and full of promise, now is dead. Those good years (before 2001) now seem like a fluke. Everything I gained then has been lost.”

My concern with sales was not unfounded-- I had sold very little that year to date. The economy was bad, following 9/11, and although I knew this was a widespread situation I felt anxious and envious over other artists’ sales. That summer, I had been working on one large painting for 6 months without being able to resolve it. I described it as a “monster in the room,” after I had studio visitors who ignored it completely. I felt stalled, blocked, and I had to push myself to work at all. The abstract voice I longed to discover was still elusive in the early part of the journal. I was in transition in my work toward something really good, but a transition can feel a lot like a dead end when you ae in its midst.

In my personal life at the time, my sons were young teenagers. While I wrote a lot about how much I enjoyed and appreciated them, parenthood was also at times draining and time-consuming. My aging mother was experiencing an early stage of dementia and increasing anxiety, and depended me for emotional and practical support. I was going through some health issues of mine own that seemed to have no resolution. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s clear to me now how overwhelmed I was—so many people’s needs to meet besides my own, while feeling depressed about my work and career.

Thankfully, there were also positive and insightful passages in my writing. I wrote that my challenging situation made me look inward for the intrinsic rewards of painting, rather than outward for financial success or recognition. “My intuitive sense is that for now, my focus needs to be on the work, and letting some calm trust in the business outcome operate without giving the topic too much of my attention. I have to steer clear of a sense of personal failure…if I look ahead and see ‘no success’ I’m thinking about the wrong stuff… I need to think only about the paintings themselves. I do feel I am on the verge of some breakthrough, coming closer all the time, finding new aspects of abstract language. There is some elusive image in my head, hovering almost like a mirage that keeps me going.”

Parts of this still ring true for me, in spite of the successes I’ve enjoyed in my art career. I’m glad that I no longer feel threatened by a fear of failure, but I can still fall into the trap of leaning too much on extrinsic rewards such as sales and recognition. As artists we have so many lessons to learn, and even when we think we have something figured out, back it comes in some new guise. But with each round of confronting our issues, I believe we do make permanent gains.

untitled, new in my NM studio; 36x48" oil/cold wax on panel

It strikes me in all of this how connected are our lives and our art. Just the one journal I’ve read contains a personal art journey with far more twists and turns than I remembered. I plan to keep reading and contemplating, and if other insights emerge, I’ll share. So much of what we struggle with as artists is universal, and we all have stories that in sharing, can offer solace or encouragement to one another. 
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
  lifelong research

works on paper from Ballinglen

Last week I was looking over what I brought back from my residency at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ireland--some small works on paper, a few more developed paintings, some sketches and notes, website addresses of artists and books to check out, a book of poetry and some drawing materials I had been given. In that moment, surrounded by ideas, plans, materials, and resources,  I was struck, as I have often been in the past, by the idea that art-making is basically research. We conduct this research throughout our lives, compelled to keep learning and growing. Many of us deal with making our livings as artists, and all that entails. But what drives us really comes straight from the heart, a pure search for knowledge, understanding, and a voice to express our deepest selves. The search itself is a creative act as we pull from many sources, integrating fresh information with what we've already learned.

Like researchers in other fields,we gain insights and make advancements, refine our approaches, and contribute to collective knowledge and understanding. But to do all of this means that we need time to experiment, test and develop ideas, and to simply mess around in the studio. We also need to engage in thoughtful consideration, using our critical skills. There is no way to skip over this huge investment of time and energy and to move directly to an end result that is in any way original or authentic.

Although it's not always an easy perspective to maintain, I find that thinking of painting as research is a liberating idea. What's needed is an easy-going patience with the process, and the optimism to regard difficulties as learning experiences. The focus is not on the end result, but instead on what is intrinsically interesting within the process itself--what is being learned, explored, and uncovered. There are also times to step back, to evaluate, analyze. But I try to keep myself in a curious, open-ended "what if?" mode rather than trying to push to a particular finish line.

This attitude is something I try to convey in my introductory cold wax workshops, but I find it is often at odds with people's expectations. In the time-span of an introductory workshop, my goals are to demo a range techniques, check in to make sure they're understood,  discuss possible applications in terms of each persons work, and to present information about visual language, abstraction and other topics that will be useful going forward. In other words, I provide a lot of information and materials for research, but the real work must be done on one's own, over time.

I often encounter students, though, who figure they will learn the techniques quickly, then move on to making excellent paintings all within a few days. Using the research analogy, this is like expecting to know the focus of your study immediately, when first exposed to a topic. Artists who are already accomplished in another medium seem especially prone to having high expectations of accomplishment. It's understandable of course--they have things to say and the medium is not cooperating! But when you are first using new materials, it's rare to be able to express yourself in your usual ways, and thinking this will happen can result in a lot of frustration. The successful paintings that do happen in a workshop are often done by those who give themselves over to the process without expectations--or who, at some point, release their expectations.   Most people do relax, loosen up, and enjoy the journey's beginning once they accept that a workshop provides only the first steps. The true pleasures of research--the deep engagement, satisfaction, and surprises, lie ahead.

student work space, Ballinglen

All my best to my readers for 2017...here's hoping your own studio research will keep you growing and learning in the most satisfying ways!

Friday, November 18, 2016
  what I take home
After six weeks in Ireland, I'm beginning to pack up and get ready for my flight home next week, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. When I come here, I stay long enough to sink into the experience, to feel a part of life here, to find my rhythm of work and social life and solitude.

A lot happens in a month and a half. I've had several visitors, my studio has filled with work large and small, I've taught two week-long workshops, taken many walks, had wonderful conversations with other artists, and with various local people, and have revisited all of my favorite rocky and rugged places along the North Mayo coast. It is my life, for a time, day to day, ordinary and extraordinary all at the same time.

When I pack my suitcase to go home, I never really know what I'm taking back with me. Clothes, paintings, bits of memorabilia, of course. But what has imprinted itself into my sensibilities, what is lodged in my brain firmly enough to persist in my future work? I don't really know until I get home and have had some time for the experience to sink in, and for the essence to come through. Each time I've come, I've been affected by a different aspect of the landscape--weather, rocks and cliffs, hedgerows, the bog. In my work this year, I've referenced all of those, as well as moving water and the interior of an old church. I usually respond to many aspects of the environment when I am in a place, and then sift through it in the studio at home to discover what was most significant.

A few photos from my walks:

I know that my work is about more than the visual, though. It is about a longing for connection, an engagement of my soul, spiritual nourishment. The specific sources of ideas are those that resonate deeply-- channels into deeper meaning. I find that this place in Ireland is very rich with these sources, and that they grow and change and become more complex over time.

A few of my paintings from my time at Ballinglen:

                                                            Abandoned, 14"x11" oil/cold wax on paper

                                                                                                      untitled, 8"x11" oil/cold wax on paper

Sunday, October 30, 2016
  my ireland
The phrase "my Ireland" is not meant in any possessive sense--I am only a visitor, passing through for a few weeks on my annual residency (I've been here six times, four at Ballinglen Arts Foundation, where I am currently.) But it seems the right phrase for the moments here that touch me in a deep and personal way, and the sense of belonging here that is so compelling (and a bit mysterious.) Each time I come, I re-discover my Ireland--in both new and familiar experiences--and this feeds my work and soul.

It takes time for this connection to emerge. On my first days here I tend to be a bit scattered, unfocused and tired from travel. I also teach two workshops and usually, as was the case this year, I arrive just a few days before the first begins. I love taking the students out on day trips to some of my favorite places, and to see their responses to the experience. But I am in teacher mode for that time, and more focused on others than on myself. I put off my own need to connect until my residency days, my time between classes, which is a period of just over two weeks.

I'm well into that time now, and gradually, quietly, what I love has revealed itself during my long walks around Ballycastle, or in my quiet studio days. Yesterday I was up on the bog outside the village--a rather desolate landscape, but incredibly ancient and wild. The blanket bog I was walking through has taken millennia to form, and contains traces of a civilization that flourished here over 5000 years ago. It feels fairly solid underfoot, but is mostly water; archaeologists locate ancient stone fences and other constructions by sliding in metal rods until they hit something solid; it requires only moderate pressure to penetrate the bog. Although from a distance the bog looks brown at this time of year, up close the plant life is rich and varied in texture and color. All of this--the bog, the openness, the wind, the clouds, and the fact that no one on earth knew exactly where I was at the moment--brought me to tears.

on the bog

These weren't tears of joy or sadness, but simply the emotional overflow of the moment. I love these moments of intense connection. They happen almost anywhere here--when I am on the shore, along the cliffs, and walking on quiet lanes lined with ancient and intricate hedgerows. Sometimes they come out of some ordinary magic...a cow staring into my cottage window,or a flock of swallows doing their intricate dance overhead at dusk.  They don't always bring me to tears, which is probably a good thing, I'd be a weepy mess. But they do deepen my love for this place. And like any love, these moments have a way of bringing me closer to my true self, my best self.

on Belderrig Pier, photo by Kathleen Schildmeyer

Of course, I spend most of my time in the studio, searching for what links the landscape around me with my inner response. Both drama and subtlety have their place, and there seems to be an unstoppable flow of visual ideas.

On one of my first days here, I was offered an exhibit next October when I return in the Ballinglen Gallery, a beautiful space at the Foundation. I quickly realized that it would be practical to do some work for that show now and store it here, to avoid shipping it later. The director assured me that I could show unframed works on paper, and so I've been working in that direction as well as on small panels.  I'm happy to say that rather than causing me any stress or panic with a need to produce, this plan has instead given me a good sense of purpose and focus. It's also brought forward a few ideas that have been simmering in corners of my art brain for some time. These are related but also distinct, a way to express my various experiences and responses.

I started with some work in acrylic on large paper--not my usual media but I've always enjoyed playing with acrylic, using similar techniques and tools as I do with oil and cold wax. In this case, the medium lent itself to an idea I've had in mind for some time, abstractions based on the moving water of streams in the woods and bogs here, and at the edge of the surf on the beach. These paintings are almost representational but very loosely painted.

untitled works in acrylic on paper, 28"x39" 2016

A conversation with another artist here led me to think more clearly about an underlying concept or title for the show. For now, anyway, that is Motion and Stillness--another idea that has been hovering in my mind, now brought to focus. So, in addition to these very active acrylic paintings, I am also working on a series of oil /cold wax paintings in which quiet areas play against more active ones.

untitled, 12"x12" oil/cold wax on multimedia artboard

And finally, I've been exploring another "hovering" idea--since I was here last year I have thought often about the dense, tangled plant life of the hedgerows that line the lanes here. It has been a very linear idea, and I've worked with it some at home. But a few days ago I distilled the idea to its essence of line, working with water-soluble charcoal and gesso, on the same fairly large sized Fabriano watercolor paper I used for the acrylic paintings.

untitled, 28x39", charcoal and gesso on paper

It makes me smile to think that before I arrived that this year I decided to treat my time between workshops as my vacation, and put no pressure on my self in the studio. Now my walls are filled with this work and more. But it has come with a sense of ease, and lack of stress. I'm not sure where that magic comes from, but I'll take it. Maybe it's just the way things are here, a sort of "whatever will be, will be" attitude that I've absorbed a bit of. These are happy days, quiet, calm, and productive, and fueled by experiencing once again my Ireland. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
  what it's about
Last month, when I was teaching a workshop in Gloucester, Massachusetts, I was invited to give a public talk about my work. I used that as an excuse to revise the version of my talk that I've been using for the past couple of years, moving away from a chronological telling of things and toward a more thematic approach. Less "then I did this and then that" and more, "here are the ideas that I work with." This newer version felt good to me, closer to my core. But it also opened me to some new questions. Later, in an email conversation with an old art friend those questions became more fully formed. I'm still thinking about them, because there are no easy answers. 

For years, I've described my work as relating to landscape and nature. More recently, the particular landscapes that enter my work are associated with my travels and artist residencies in remote and rugged places such as the west of Ireland, northern Sweden and New Mexico--places that have a strong pull on my emotions, and in which I feel the strongest connection to what is around me. I have said that what I paint is an abstracted response to my experiences in the landscape. That my work is based in memory, filtered through my emotions, and that it evolves through the painting process itself.  And that it has to do with a sense of time passing and an attraction to what is ancient and weathered. All of this is absolutely true. But as often as I have explained all of this, I have sensed there is more to the story.

In the aftermath of my talk, I thought more deeply about what it is that is so strong for me about the landscape. I know it is not about literal or even abstracted depiction of places I've been. In fact, at times I struggle with being too tied to my memories of specific places. I love the moments of freedom I experience that are beyond identity of any place, even as I use the vocabulary of marks, colors, and textures that come from these places. These are times when I feel I am painting purely from my heart and soul. This is a cerebral and spiritual level that has begun to open up for me. 

When I was writing to my friend, I said that I feel my work expresses a sense of longing. I've always associated feeling that with the landscapes that I love, remembering the beauty and richness of those experiences. But I wondered if that was the whole story. Then with a slight shift in my awareness, in the middle of writing that email, I saw that the sense of longing that underlies my work is much bigger. It's a spiritual longing, a desire to express something...God, Divine Mind, All That Is. I try to express this with paint, even while knowing that I can do no more than touch the edges of this enormity. At the same time, it seems true to me that any bit of truth or beauty and artist creates reflects a larger reality. I don't expect I will abandon landscape as the main source of my visual language. But I wonder if my approach can become more expansive. 

Some form of spiritual seeking is surely at the root of what many artists do, whether or not they are conscious of it, or speak about it. We do live in a material world, and making reference to that world is a big part of who we are. But for me, right now, it feels liberating to push the other references aside long enough to say, there is more, always more. 

Chimayo #1  16x16 inches, oil and mixed media on panel
Thursday, August 25, 2016
  learning in series
Last week, in my advanced abstraction workshop in Gloucester, MA, we had a group discussion about working in series. About half the artists in the class regularly work in series, and the others all were interested in exploring the idea. As various people described their work in series, it was obvious that the word has no single definition.  Series can be anything from very intentional and planned in terms of concept and format, to an after-the-fact grouping of similar work, to something in between, such as what results from coming back to a specific idea over time. An artist's motivation to create a series can also range widely, and include wanting to master a particular technique, play intuitively with variations on a theme, or follow a conceptual agenda. But in all of this diversity, there is commonality. Working in series is basically a practice of revisiting and exploring a visual idea in depth--and a good way to recognize and follow our personal direction as artists. 

Because my work is very influenced by places that I've traveled and stayed, most of what I designate as series are groupings of paintings that have come out of such experiences. There are also series that I define because of similar technique or format. My series tend to be ongoing, and once I recognize them, they become ways of thinking about a developing piece, a guiding idea as I work. They are helpful to my intuitive process; they keep me on track, provide ideas, and show me what is worth pursuing and developing further. My series tend to evolve organically through my process, rather than being preconceived. (Below, a painting from my ongoing Llano Series, from my time in New Mexico this past winter; Llano #2, 36"x30" oil/mixed media on panel.)

Recently though, I had an idea that required me to work in an intentional series. This was because I did not imagine it as just one work, but as filling a wall. It's funny now to think that at first, I presumed that having had a compelling idea, I would simply do the work and have good results...voila! And that might have happened (more or less) if the idea had involved just painting, But it included printmaking also, and some techniques that were new to me. My idea was to merge print media and oil paint (mixed with cold wax medium) in the same image, creating a dynamic interaction between the two. What ensued was a process of trial and error, working out technical and conceptual challenges, and adjusting my ideas for the outcome. It turned out to be a far more interesting exploration than I had imagined. 

I'm sure the amount of learning and experimenting that took place would not be a surprise at all to artists who are used to setting clear challenges for themselves and working in preconceived series. But for me, this was new. I did work this way as a beginner, but my approach for many years has been based in intuitive process. For others like me or who may be curious, here's a run through of how the series evolved, and is still evolving: 

My original idea was to apply select areas of oil paint on top of monotypes. I am practiced at making monotypes on my etching press, so I felt confident about that part. I decided on a 12"x12" square format, printing on Arches Oil paper, which would allow me to work over the print with oil paint.  The first day, as I made a number of monotypes, I began to question my idea more closely. I didn't want the prints to be merely a base layer for the paint, instead I wanted them to interact with the paint, and offer their own special qualities to the final image. To that end, I made some strong dark marks, and some of the textural effects that are unique to monotype. I set them aside to dry, and the next day approached them with my oils. The only one that I liked after painting over all of the prints was the one below. It wasn't really what I had in mind, though. What you see here is only a thin layer of transparent orange paint over the monotype. The character of the oil and cold wax was not exploited. 

On the others that I attempted, the paint overpowered the print. I considered running them back through the press with a new printed image on top, but everything was too wet then, so I set them aside. By the next day I had a new plan. (I'm holding onto the idea of multiple runs through the press, alternating painting and printing, though...a spin off series perhaps.)

My new idea was to begin with a carborundum print. In this technique, you adhere a fine grit (carborundum, available from printmaking suppliers) to a plate, and that plate is inked and printed using the etching press. Because the carborundum itself is textural, the ink catches in it in a different way than on a smooth plate, and the result is characteristically rich, deep in color, and somewhat textured where the grit imprints on the paper. I figured this type of strong and textural print would stand up better to the paint. 

My next step was to figure out the basics of  carborundum printing, because I had never done it before. I did have some carborundum on hand, which I had bought a while ago with the idea of experimenting at some point. The time had come, and I spent the next few studio sessions experimenting, learning how to make textures that I liked, and how to ink and print the plates. This in itself was fascinating. I didn't have any instruction other than a short YouTube video so it was all an adventure. Here is my most successful straight carborundum print: 

Once I felt I had a handle on the printing process (or at least some basic ideas) I began to work over some of them with oil and cold wax. It turned out that I was right in thinking that the carborundum prints would come through in a stronger and more defined way than the monotypes had. I was able to paint freely in some places, and in other areas allow the print to dominate. Below is one of the pieces that I'm happy with. I love the way the carborundum produces such deep blacks, and the textural effects that are unique to this process interact with the special look of cold wax and oil. This piece began with the same plate (upside down) as the print above: 

Today I explored further, feeling more free, playing areas of fairly thick paint off against the more delicate print areas. I'm enjoying the way that this series is opening up some new territory for me. Now I want to know more about carborundum printing, and to keep exploring this intriguing conversation between print and paint. 

PS: You can click on any of the photos to see the pieces in more detail. 

Monday, July 11, 2016
  the back story

This has been an astonishing week for Jerry McLaughlin and me. Just last Tuesday, we launched the crowdfunding campaign for our upcoming book, Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts &Conversations.  Yesterday the funding reached $30,000, exceeding our goal and our highest expectations. The majority of the advanced copy books we offer have been claimed, the workshops that Jerry and I will teach in May filled quickly, and we have received wonderful contributions from 17 countries. The clear message we hear is that many artists are very excited about our project. They are not only eager to receive copies of the book as soon as possible, but many are also offering generous outright donations and high levels of support. To be surrounded by such affirmation, appreciation, and confidence in the outcome of our book is a beautiful thing. 

Our crowdfunding campaign continues, with additional funds earmarked to help with our distribution and retail pricing. Please click here to join in the effort. There are still advanced copies and signed copies of the book available as perks. Thank you, and thanks to all who have already joined the campaign!!

As we reach the last stages of publishing, I've been thinking back about the events that have evolved over time and culminated in this book. The idea took root in my own art practice, but the right partner and collaborator was necessary for it to grow. 

The story begins when I bought my first jar of cold wax medium in early 2002 at the suggestion of one of the helpful salespeople at Wet Paint in St. Paul, Minnesota. When I think of all the changes in my work and my life that came from that one impulsive purchase, I'm amazed. But from the start, I found that cold wax medium suited what I was after in my work. I’d just begun to find my way with abstraction, following an artist residency I’d had in Spain that fall, and in those first explorations with cold wax, I gained much firmer footing in my personal direction. The landscape-inspired color fields and textures that I had been rendering with straight oil paint now emerged organically from the process itself, due to the body of the wax and paint mixture. It was an intriguing alignment of materials, process and ideas.

Garden, 2004, 40"x24" 

Over the next few years, I experimented and came up with many techniques that involved brayers, squeegees, palette knives, imprints from textural objects, powdered pigments, and pigment sticks. I found that intricate effects were possible when digging back into my built-up layers with scraping and solvents. Through practice I began to notice how certain techniques worked best at certain stages of the paint surface’s drying, and developed patience for working at those optimal times.

my cold wax tools

For a number of years, cold wax was simply a part of my process, an ingredient in all of these explorations, but fairly unremarkable in itself. Then in 2009, Kathryn Bevier invited me to teach a workshop in Rochester, NY. The subject of the class was up to me, and I was casting around for an idea when a friend said, “why not teach about that wax that you use?” I dug back through some notes I had made in my sketchbook, and came up with enough information (barely) for a two day class.

If anyone had tried to tell me then that within seven years I would have a national and international teaching practice, or that I’d be co-authoring a 300+page book on the topic, I'd have laughed. But even in that first workshop, the excitement of the artists in the class, and their immediate engagement with the process was clear, and I was encouraged to continue. It wasn't long before I was teaching 10-12 workshops a year, and in 2012 I taught my first overseas class, at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo, Ireland. Since then, I've also taught in Italy and Sweden, and have had artists in my class from those countries and from Brazil, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, France, Denmark, and Spain. 

teaching in Ireland/ photo:June Durkin

Teaching has never been only a one-way process for me. Cold wax medium invites experimentation; most people who work with it come up with ideas and applications that suit their own needs, and are generous in sharing. Following my early workshops, the community of artists working with cold wax medium began to grow rapidly through online contacts (including facebook, and a website and discussion forum that I started in 2009.) Artists who had been using cold wax on their own for years also entered the conversation. Over the past few years, cold wax topics discussed online have become wide ranging and internationally based. Many artists are now teaching workshops and broadening the base of knowledge. Through the curiosity and dedication of thousands of involved artists, cold wax medium has evolved into a hot topic.

From the earliest days of my workshops, artists were suggesting that I could, or more urgently, should write a book on the subject. But while I enjoy writing about art and my studio practice in my blog, a book about cold wax medium seemed like an entirely different, and not very appealing, project. I was unable to envision it as much more than a how-to book, which seemed to me a tedious sort of writing. I did have a book in mind that I wanted to write someday, but it would mainly concern broader ideas about painting. So although the seed of a book focused on cold wax medium took root early on, it remained for years a tiny, badly nurtured seedling. (In fact, I kind of hoped the poor thing would die.)

This was my attitude when Jerry first contacted me with the idea of collaborating on a cold wax book. My response could not be called enthusiastic, but I agreed to hear him out. Fortunately, he is a persistent and persuasive person in all the best ways, and eventually, in February of 2015, we met in person to discuss the idea. That day, we talked for almost ten hours, and my skeptical outlook shifted. During this in-depth conversation, I was able to clearly see new and exciting possibilities for the book. Jerry’s vision was broad, and together we discussed how to include our shared passion for the bigger issues. We agreed from the start that the “why” of cold wax and art practices in general should carry weight equal to the “how.” 

In discussing our roles for the book, it was important to me that Jerry be the sole curator of the artists and images that we would publish in the book. There was no way I wanted to select and reject from among my many friends and students in the cold wax community. The prospect of doing this in the past had been another factor that stalled me from writing a cold wax book on my own. 

Jerry’s passion for the topic, his energy, research, and willingness to track down and communicate with artists from around the country and the globe has made this book a reality. I am forever grateful for his persistence and vision.

In a few weeks, I will join Jerry in Oakland, CA for the final stages of approving the book text and layout, and shortly after that, Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts, & Conversations will be off to the printer.  We have been working on it for over a year and a half now, and it has been a deep and engaging (and sometimes, exhausting) process. Just as teaching is not a one-way learning experience, working on the book has taught us a great deal--we've learned from each other (click here for an earlier blog post about our collaboration), from Jerry's considerable research, and from the many artists who have contributed images and ideas. 

We sincerely hope the book fills the high expectations that surround it and that the cold wax conversation will expand and grow as the result of its publication. Cheers!



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       Rebecca Crowell