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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.

Sunday, April 24, 2016
  excerpt...personal voice
Photo credit: Paola Rezzonico

Jerry McLaughlin and I have reached a milestone with our book, Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations. Between the two of us, we have now completed the writing part--13 chapters and some 80,000 words. There is still a lot editing and rearranging of information ahead of us, not to mention the initial layouts and tying up various loose ends. The whole book will be gone over by the editor and graphic designer we have hired, and there may be significant changes. But we are making real progress. As always, I give huge credit to Jerry. Without his unrelenting energy and focus we would not have come this far. 

Below is an excerpt from the chapter Inner Work, which I wrote, an introduction to the idea of personal voice in art. This is its first stage, meaning that it has not been through the editing process, so it may appear differently in the final publication. But it will give you a flavor of the more conceptual aspects of the book, which are important throughout the book. (There are also, of course, many pages devoted to technique and the more practical aspects of working with cold wax.)  

Having personal voice in art means very much the same as it does in verbal communication. Our speaking voices are individual and recognizable, yet flexible enough to allow us to explore our ideas. They are consistent, but variable within a range that others would recognize. We can shout, or whisper, or speak in a foreign language, and still sound like ourselves. Ideally, our voices are strong and convincing. Yet they also convey infinite nuances of thought and emotion. In all of these ways, the idea of voice defines what many artists seek in their work.

Finding and developing personal voice in art is an ever-evolving process. As visual language becomes more nuanced and complex, we have greater range of expression. The more developed our personal voices, the more we can say.
It is never too soon to consider bringing out your personal voice. In fact, this creative voice has been with you since very early childhood. With some reflection, you may see consistent themes in everything you have created, even from a fairly young age. When identified and nurtured, these threads of ideas will help you find ways of working that feel authentic to you. On the other hand, being too precise and exact about your direction can be inhibiting to progress. There is grace in finding a path that is open and inviting, yet bounded by what seems most important and true to your inner self.

Many artists long for some dramatic change that will lead to personal voice, an “ah-ha” moment. Although change may happen during the search for personal voice, it tends to be a complex, and often very slow process.  Change can be encouraged and welcomed, but seldom forced in any way that is authentic to the artist.  A great deal of change is the result of practice and experience in our work, and can be so incremental that we hardly realize it. Other changes happen internally, incubating below our conscious awareness. These may cause us to feel restless and impatient before making themselves known.

Finding personal voice is an ongoing process, without a definite end point. But this dynamic aspect is one of its delights. As long as you continue to work, your personal voice unfolds. Sometimes this happens below your conscious awareness. But it can also be helped along more deliberately, with setting intentions, considering your sources for ideas, and engaging in self-critique. 
(and here, the writing goes into those topics--setting intentions, considering sources of ideas, and self-critique...) If you'd like to know more about the book, please visit www.coldwaxbook.com where you can also sign up to receive notice of publication, which we expect to happen late this year. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016
  journeys and stories

As we waited for the opening of my current exhibit, Interplay, at Thomas Deans Fine Art in Atlanta Georgia, Thomas asked me to tell him a little about each painting. Each holds stories, memories and associations from the past year of travel--in Sweden, Italy, Ireland and New Mexico-- and I loved it that he asked to hear a little about them. As we walked around the gallery, the impact my experiences hit me in a cumulative way for perhaps the first time.

Interplay, exhibition with Jeri Ledbetter, at Thomas Deans Fine Art, Atlanta, Georgia

An exhibit is a summation, a compilation of many works of art that represent a range of experiences. But in the lead-up time before a show, the smallest bits, the decisions and chores necessary, take over most of an artist's focus. Things can seem chaotic--paintings are scattered around the studio, some finished, some not. There are decisions to be made about which to include, which need to be photographed. There is the work of preparing for hanging with wires and clean edges. Computer work too--a statement, titles, prices, photo editing, posts and promotion. For my show in Atlanta, I decided to drive the work down instead of shipping, so I had the task of loading everything in the back of my station wagon, and three days on the road heading south. Then came fighting Atlanta traffic and unloading paintings at the gallery.  In the midst of all this preparation, it was hard to imagine the paintings as a whole, a summation, as a body of work. The scramble of small details and tasks obscured my concept of the big picture, beyond the faith that it would all come together.

Lane, in progress...memories of walking the backroads of Ballycastle, Co. Mayo, Ireland

Lane, Thomas Deans Fine Art, 48"x40." Oil, cold wax, powdered pigment. 

Then came the night of the opening. As any artist who has exhibited knows, the moment when you see the work hung with care on the well-lit, pristine gallery walls can be almost surreal. Your scruffy, long-time studio companions--with whom you have argued and conversed and loved with all their quirks and charms--have suddenly turned into polished, dignified strangers. "Who are you?" you wonder. "Where did you come from?" And then, as you study them, and discuss with people at the opening, you become re-acquainted, seeing in them all the small details and moments that you spent together.  And there comes a moment when you also see beyond their individuality to the whole. The separate paintings you've labored over for months, become a group, a community. They are interconnected; each holds a story that contributes to the whole.

Relating bits of their stories to Thomas Deans that night as we made our way through the gallery was the moment when the work spoke holistically to me. The various experiences of the past year that led to each painting came together. I thought about the incredible year I'd had, exploring rugged, ancient places, sensing their history, enjoying their culture.

Here is the story of the painting below, Icy Lake #3. I painted it last May during my month-long residency at Ricklundgarden in northern Sweden. It's one of a series of paintings that I did rather quickly, without as many layers as are normal for me. But the immediacy of working like that suited me there. It seemed to connect with the act of going outside and walking by Kultsjon, the nearby lake, and with watching the daily receding and breaking up of the ice and snow on its surface as spring gradually made its appearance.

Icy Lake #3, 12"x12" oil, cold wax and mixed media on paper

Here's another story: as I worked on the painting below, its surface with its many layers and bits of underlying color coming through reminded me of the old boats and fishing piers I had seen at various small fishing villages on the Mayo coast in Ireland last fall.  I titled it Porturlin for one village in particular. The painting brought memories of a day when I was out along the coast with my workshop students. I thought I knew the area pretty well, but our bus driver asked me if we'd like to take a side road to a village that was new to me. Porturlin was a slice of coastal Irish life, the pier strewn with fishing paraphernalia--seemingly unaffected by tourism, as is that entire stretch of magnificent coast.

Porturlin, 22"x30", oil, cold wax, powdered pigments. 

Of course, these are not literal interpretations of particular places. The stories come later, when I understand where the work has led me, not at the beginning. I work from memory, not just its visual imagery, but with all it entails--emotion, associations, connections. But the stories complete the circle. These paintings in their earthiness, layered references, and rich color remind me of particular places, but they are parts of the whole experience of traveling with open eyes and heart.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ingredients for productive, creative collaboration: two people with focused enthusiasm, purpose and vision, who are different enough to raise questions and push one another into new territory, and alike enough to make decisions and reach understandings without drama. A great pleasure and satisfaction in my life in the past year is the collaboration between Jerry McLaughlin and myself on our upcoming book, Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts, and Conversations, which we will be self- publishing this coming late fall/early winter. 

One of the first things Jerry and I discussed-- and immediately agreed upon--was that our book's content would go well beyond how-to instruction (although there will be plenty of that) to include other topics that deepen an artist's experience with the medium. We both felt strongly that the "why" of using cold wax was as important as technical aspects, and that thoughts and ideas about process would be as important in the book as purely practical information. 

We have big dreams for the book--that it will provide solid information for those who are new to cold wax, and inspire those who already use it to push into new territory. That it will help build a community of artists who use cold wax by sharing their work and ideas, and encourage readers toward stronger work, good studio practice and thoughtful self-critique.The scope of this can seem overwhelming at times, at least to me. (Jerry seems the have the energy and focus to move mountains.)

Earlier this month, he and I spent a couple of days in Santa Fe working intensely on the book. The experience was gratifying on several levels--although we had a daunting list of things to decide and discuss, we did manage to make our way through the entire agenda. But what I came away from those two days with was something bigger than appreciating what we'd accomplished. It was knowing that, as huge as this project is, the two of us will make it happen. It was feeling the excitement and intrigue of being part of a long-term, creative collaboration--for the first time in all my years as an artist.  

Of course, the book has been a collaboration from its inception over a year ago--when Jerry first approached me with the idea--through all its various stages to date. We've talked over ideas, content, design, who will write what parts, publishing and marketing details--all those necessary steps to get the book out there. We've had countless emails and several in-person meetings, with more planned for the near future. Jerry has led the way with organizing and researching, and curating the work of the many artists who sent in images for the book. I've edited, come up with additional information to the content, perused my blog for insights to add depth to various topics, and am currently writing several chapters about technique. 

Yet something has shifted in my perspective since Santa Fe. I feel I am understanding better the special energy of this collaboration--that it is more than pooling our resources and ideas, dividing up the work, consulting each other about decisions, and putting it all together. If that were all that was involved--going through the steps of a huge project in a prescribed manner---I think I'd be burned out by now.  Instead I'm finding collaboration to be dynamic, generating creativity, fueling itself as we move along. Between us, ideas are proposed, take root and grow, or are edited down or tossed aside. There are sudden inspirations, discoveries, major revisions and minor tweaks. In many ways the creative process is similar to painting, but it is a shared process; there are no dark corners of solitude or paralyzation.  Everything is brought to light, nothing is so precious or personal that it can't be questioned, and there's nothing that can't be elaborated on or delved into further if we are so moved. There is a lot of emailing back and forth as we work things out-some of it is lighthearted, as we've become good friends in all of this. We learn from each other, in delightful equilibrium.

Not everything we are doing to get the book out there is fun or interesting, of course, but as the vision we share has become clearer to me, more compelling and motivating, I feel more motivated to push through the tedious parts. As we worked in Santa Fe, with ideas bouncing around, merging and growing, the power of collaboration was clear, and I feel very grateful for this experience. When a first heard from someone called Jerry McLaughlin back in 2014--laying out his idea for a cold wax book in an email titled "wanted to run something by you"-- I had no idea what lay ahead. Thanks, Jerry, and thanks to all of you who are contributing and following the progress of the book--you too are part of the collaboration!
Monday, January 25, 2016
  land of enchantment
The Land of Enchantment...so they call New Mexico. I am indeed enchanted, a week into our stay in a lovely handmade cabin near Llano, just off the High Road to Taos. My husband Don and I have been out and about exploring the area from Chimayo to Taos, while other days we have spent at the cabin; reading, writing, walking and painting (me) and researching the area in consideration of a purchasing a house here (mostly Don.) We're well aware of all the cautions surrounding NM real estate purchases, but are proceeding nonetheless with optimism and the intention of finding a place for a few month's retreat each winter.  To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, we are dwelling in possibility and hoping to make this dream a reality. 

I've been to this area at least a dozen times over the years, and this landscape moves me deeply. In some ways, it's similar to places in other parts of the world that I have loved--Sweden (with its snowy mountains), Spain (with its arid mountains) and Ireland (with its dramatic cloud formations and big skies.) But as I work in the small studio in the cabin, I see that New Mexico has its own, unique flavor that is coming through in the work. This is a scrubby, gritty, rough and very textural place with its rocky landscapes, old adobe walls and patchy foliage. And it's also a place of great subtlety as the light shifts throughout the day, and the colors of winter weeds glow against the snow. 

Below is one of the paintings I've finished in the small cabin studio, Travel Lines #3, 36"x30," oil and mixed media on panel. 

Here is a smaller painting, reflecting memories of hiking in a canyon in the beautiful Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge near Socorro, where we went on our first weekend in New Mexico. (Canyon, 12"x18" oil and mixed media on panel.)

As always when I work, the time that I've spent in the landscape--walking, driving through, photographing, observing, enjoying-- feeds my imagery. This happens in an indirect, intuitive way. There is mystery to the way that the process of building up layers of oil, cold wax, powdered pigments and chalks releases the colors, textures and moods of my experiences.  Once I sense a connection, the information goes both ways as I begin to direct the painting toward a more intentional resolution. 

I'm very grateful to have this time, which I look at as a sort of unofficial artist residency--one that I'm able to share with Don. Quiet days and no big agenda. Soaking up the special character of the New Mexico mountain landscape, and knowing I'll be back. 
Monday, December 28, 2015
  at the end of the year

We bless this year for all we have learned,
For all we loved and lost.
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination. 
--John O'Donohue, from "At the End of the Year."

For me, 2015 was a year of new experiences, new and deepening friendships, and exciting expansions of my art career. It was also the year my mother died, on January 20, and thus it has been a year of mourning and adjusting to her absence. It was the year I traveled to three foreign countries--Sweden, Italy and Ireland--for teaching and painting, and those exhilarating experiences and rich memories have fed my work. It was the year I began a new project, co-authoring (with Jerry McLaughlin) the book Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts and Conversations, to be published in August of 2016. It was the year I put 8,000 cross-country miles on my car (mostly alone behind the wheel) and taught twelve workshops, and finally recognized the wisdom of slowing my pace for the future. 

It was not a quiet year for me at all, yet O'Donohue's poem resonates with me. No matter how busy, exciting, or stressful our outer lives may be, our inner processing--the integrating of experience, reaction, and intention that happens in a year of our life-- is indeed a quiet process. To me, our "invisible destination" is that which we reach toward spiritually, emotionally, mentally. As artists, it is what pulls us along--a tenuous vision that is at the same time ahead and just out of reach, and yet has always been with us. The urge we feel to reach it is our source of creative energy, as old as our years and as immediate as today's studio session. 

What I take from O'Donohue's words is the idea that our creative energy does arise from experience, played out in the days that unfold over a year. As 2015 ends, it seems a good time to ask ourselves what we have learned, what we have loved, what we have lost, and in what ways these are present, consciously or unconsciously in our work. Because these connections to our own experience are what what make our work authentic, vibrant, personal, and capable of growth. 

(The painting above, Trails (40"x60"), oil and mixed media on panel, is part of a new series in which lines inspired by maps and memories represent travels, wanderings and trails I've taken. )

Friday, November 13, 2015
  photos and paintings
Though faded a bit from when I first arrived in early October, the County Mayo landscape I left last week was still colorful in late autumn--the farm fields in astonishing shades of lush green and certain flowers in gardens and hedgerows in bloom. The bog glowed with golden grasses, and on closer view, fairy worlds of lichen and moss displayed a rich range of color.

Other aspects of the landscape and seacoast there were also powerful--rock formations, cloud formations, eroded walls, trees sculpted by strong coastal winds, the bare hills of the boglands.

I take lots of photos when I'm in Ireland and in other places where I travel--from closeup views of rocks and plants to more distant views of fields and sky. Even though my photos remain somewhat private (I never exhibit them except online, on blog posts, facebook and instagram) I'm starting to consider them a little more seriously. Like anything that is practiced over time, they seem to be becoming stronger and more integrated with my studio work.

It's not a straightforward connection--I don't use my photos as direct references for paintings, for example; I almost never look at them when painting. But what I'm starting to realize--and to feel good about--is a shared vision between the photos and my paintings that is made stronger by my involvement in both. They are separate channels, but there are influences and information flow between them.

Photography is for me a way to honor the visual world as it is, while allowing for the influence of my painter's eye from behind the lens.  I think of my photos as celebrations of the complexity, beauty and organization in nature. I take them for their own sake, and love the process of getting still, finding my subject, and capturing the moment. I don't think about anything then but the photo itself. But it sometimes happens that, in this moment of close attention to what's in front of me, visual ideas about color and composition are implanted. These can emerge later, intuitively, in paint. As well, the feelings, impressions, sensations of the photographed moment may also have surprising influence. Certain photos that I have taken create this strong emotional resonance for me, and have influenced many paintings, even though the viewer might not see obvious connection in terms of imagery. Often, it's not any one photo, but many that I take of a certain subject, or around a certain visual idea, that feeds my painting in these ways.

Although we tend to think of photos as influencing paintings, it's actually a complex back and forth, with each informing the other. For example, due to my painting experience, I find that I'm more intentional and present when photographing than I once was. There's an integration of attitude and approach that we often benefit from when working in more than one medium.  And I feel that my best photos are influenced by my paintings, in the sense that I'm intuitively drawn to subjects that relate to what I am working with in the studio--particular kinds of lines, color relationships, compositions. Visual ideas that are currently in play, or sensed as future possibilities. Since these ideas themselves originated in the landscape that I'm photographing--well, who can sort it out? I'm just happy, in thinking of the dozens of photo files I've come home with, to recognize a dynamic relationship between them and my paintings.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015
  back in ballycastle
Last year, one of the students on my workshops here at Ballinglen Arts Foundation said to me, "Clearly, Ireland is your happy place." She was right; during my residency time here (between the two workshops I teach) I feel enveloped in the simple joys of owning my days, painting and walking, being who I am. It is an idyllic time, free of responsibilities and to-do lists, in what I think must be one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. I feel tremendous gratitude for all that brings me back here year after year--the people at Ballinglen, my students, and of course the support and understanding of my family.

There is a subtle shift in my attitude that I notice after I have been here a week or so. A relaxation, a letting go of the urge to push and make things happen. Being still, just looking at things, noticing things. Enjoying the solitude as well as the company of the lovely people who come and go here.

This is my third autumn at Ballinglen, and each time I feel drawn to different aspects of the landscape. In 2013, it was the drama of the wild seacoast. Last year, while out walking with my brother who is a wetlands ecologist, it was the rich colors and textures of the tapestry of bog plants. This time I find myself looking closely at the hedgerows that line every small road and create the grid of farm fields in the landscape, densely woven walls of plant life that form around stone and wire farm fences, like vertical gardens. Thick with thorns and stinging nettles, they are formidable barriers, but beautiful in the richness of their colors and textures, Blackberry vines with ripe berries appearing, gorse with its yellow flowers, wild roses hung with bulbous red hips, fuchsia in bloom, ivy, morning glories and numerous ferns and grasses. Many plants have dried and gone to seed, while others are still vibrant with leaves and flowers.

The hedgerows form craggy shapes against the sky, their various plant forms intertwined and densely, complexly matted. Though their colors are stunning at this time of year, I see the hedges in my mind as line and shape, the variety of plant life compressed into rough outlines. For the past few days I've been walking the back roads observing and photographing them. I've noticed that along certain lanes they have been hacked back with some merciless hedge-cutting machine, but mostly they grow freely, wildly. I wonder in what ways they will influence the work I do here, or when I'm back home.

While my particular focus seems to shift from year to year, what has moved me in the past continues to do so. I'm still delighted by the sea and the bog. It feels to me that my experience in this place builds upon itself and grows richer each time, and that every year my awareness becomes a little bit more subtle and fine-tuned.

A couple of small paintings on paper from my first days in the studio:

More to follow!



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       Rebecca Crowell