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Thursday, April 26, 2007
  thoughts about painting technique
There was a lot of curiosity at my recent opening in Milwaukee about my painting techniques. I was asked (more than once) about how I use wax medium and board panels, how long it took to develop my techniques, and if I worried that other artists would copy them. People also were interested in the process of arranging the panels--the thought process really--if these arrangements are preconceived or arrived at through trial and error.

I did the best I could with these--in some cases the answers are straightforward, in other cases the territory is more murky. I don't really remember, for example, when I started mixing cold wax with my paints, and what led to what on the path to how I now work. I don't consider my techniques to be something static or completely "arrived at" because they're always evolving. And certain things I do vary so much from painting to painting that there is no easy answer. But I tried to be honest and clear in my replies.

Most of the people asking detailed questions about process and technique were other artists--I either knew this from what they said, or guessed by the nature of their questions. I recognize the motivation for such questions as being somewhat personal. Which brings me to the question I found most interesting of all--if I am so open about how I paint, do I worry that other artists will copy or steal my ideas?

This one I'm very clear about, because I have been that person probing into someone else's technique plenty of times myself. Not only in conversation, but also in countless museums and galleries, or with an art book or exhibit catalogue in front of me. I've questioned, wondered, and made notes and thumbnail sketches about color and compositional ideas, the use of line or contrast, and effective combination of media. I've soaked up all kinds of things, some having to do with technique, some with ideas and concepts. It's both admiration for the work of others, but also frankly, an acquisitive process--because I see something in another person's work that I want for my own. Other artists know exactly what I'm talking about here, right?! It's right there in the heart of the creative process, all that taking in and mixing up, and forming new connections and conclusions.

I wonder...could it be that over time, the more influences you integrate into your own work, the more personal and individualized your work becomes?
Well said! Great topic and one I've given lots of consideration to as well. No easy answers but I like your bottom line. KJ
Yes, I think that is how it works - the more influences, the more try-outs the more personal it gets.because you take your picks from all that you see and translate it into your own personal painting language.

When I was in New York in January and attended the interview with Brice Marden, asked why he painted what he painted, he answered: I just want to paint something that I like to look at. I thought that a very 'down to earth' answer and is not that the core of why we do what we do?
And if you think about how highly personal and individualized that is, how specific our own preferences are...well it seems to me that the means to achieve that certain thing ( in other words, your technique) is not something you could ever just simply lift from someone else, and have it be satisfying and sincere.
Yes, I think that is how it is for me, Rebecca. I feel like the proverbial sponge soaking up everything that is interesting to me. I hope to meld it all into my vision when successful. On the other front, it's in my nature to share anything I know about anything so I hope someone else can add to their storehouse of knowledge.
I've noticed that spirit of generosity in many artists...
That is so true. I just came back from Mississippi Art colony where 40 artists were doing a lot of sharing.......and so much fun while being productive.
Hi Rebecca, I am asked about my process all of the time by artists, (I can figure out if they are artists pretty quickly too mostly by the questions they ask-or don't ask) and I reluctantly disclose everything. I do tell, mostly because I like to hear how others artists work as I am curious. But I admit that a part of me really wants to keep my process to myself, not because I am afraid that artists will use it, but just because it's mine and I have spent much time and energy getting here.

Does that make sense?
I guess it might seem to trivialize all that has gone into developing your technique to put it into a few sentences for the curious. It makes it seem overly simple, maybe? But one look at your work will make it obvious that it this is hardly the case!!

And then there is the idea that people who are really good at what they do make it look/sound simple--but that is actually what makes it even more impressive...
I agree with what you say. In fact I would much rather talk about the 'how it's done'with my own work than what the painting is about.
Ah yes, that makes me think of another whole topic, the artist statement...a friend of mine pointed out that the ones that work best talk more about process and other objective information than about meaning and interpretation. When viewers are left to form their own interpretation they tend to get more engaged with the work.
I'm in agreement with what you say here. I'm not worried about someone 'stealing' my ideas...we all do it in one form or another and it's been done for ages.
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       Rebecca Crowell