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" |
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
|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.
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.
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
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!
thoughts on flow and meditation
|Llano #2, 36"x30" oil, cold wax, pigment|
For years I have thought of painting as the way that I practice meditation, because it can take me out of ordinary thought and into a different sense of time. This state of creative "flow" is something many artists share, and long for when it eludes them. It's a sense of being at one with your work and materials, in which other thoughts and concerns fall away, You are not operating in clock time, but in the present moment--a moment that goes on until something intrudes. A habitual glance at the clock, an interruption, a minor frustration, physical needs or fatigue, or some other disruption inevitably jolts you back into ordinary consciousness.
But even if it lasts only a short time, I notice that a period of flow helps me feel renewed, energized and focused. Often I come out of this state of mind, look at something in process, and see exactly what needs to be done. In a way similar to being away for a day or two, I can see my work again clearly.
I believe that in this state of flow, deeper aspects of your intentions and abilities are accessed. The normal activities of the mind that judge, restrict, or argue with intuition are silenced for a while, allowing more of your creative truth to speak. It's not that there is no inner dialogue, at least for me. Some part of my brain continues to observe, react, be inspired, and make decisions. But there is a special rightness to all of that--one thing leading to another, my hands falling easily on the colors and tools I want, and feeling pleasure in what is unfolding on the panel. There is a feeling of peace and spaciousness.
|Llano #1, 36"x30" , oil , cold wax, pigments|
In recent days I've started a practice of regular sitting meditation, and although this practice is very new for me, I'm struck by the differences between that and creative flow in the studio. And having observed the differences, I don't think I will claim painting as meditation any more. What happens when I'm painting may be meditative, in the sense that my mind is quiet and contemplative. But it is also engaged with shifting thoughts and perceptions, and lots of body movement. And it involves memories and personal reflection. In meditation, though, there is a great stillness, lack of thought, a beautiful emptiness, and distancing from the ego. (I am too new at it to it to say much more than that, except that I think I'm hooked...)
It does seem that meditation and creative flow are related, and can enhance one another--that both help us to access deep parts of our being. Some of you who read my blog are no doubt experienced at meditation and I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you feel that meditation helps you in your work? Do you sense a connection with your ability to enter creative flow? Does it work both ways. in that the experience of creative flow helps in reaching a meditative state? Thanks for any comments.
I am well-acquainted with creative flow but a newbie at meditation, and intrigued by these ideas.
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.
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!
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. )