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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, September 27, 2010
  california report

I'm flipping through all the photos I've taken since arriving in the Bay Area and trying to pick out just a few to represent what I've been up to. But although photos and people and places are great, most of the experience has been internal and I have only just begun to digest it all.

The top photo shows the expansive view from the home of an artist friend near Livermore where I am staying for a short time before heading to New Mexico tomorrow. We arrived yesterday with a third friend, taking BART from San Francisco, where the IEA (International Encaustic Artists) Advance took place. It has been an appreciated opportunity to rest, relax and repack (my suitcase blew out all its zippers, necessitating a shopping trip...maybe I packed too much?) All three of us are still pretty worn out from the conference-- two intense days of talks and networking, and a final day (yesterday) spent touring several artist's studios. I'll be writing more about the IEA Advance itself, I think, in a future post, but for now I'll just say that I'm very glad to have attended.

We wound up yesterday at an art collector's estate north of the city, where the middle photo was taken. Imagine a large home with every room absolutely filled with an eclectic display of art--so much art that the owners do not even live in the space--it is exclusively a display area, and they were generous enough to allow us to wander through after a nice catered lunch outside under the trees. The painting in the photo was one of my favorites, by Korean artist Hyesook Park.

The photo below represents a sharp turn away from the gorgeous and refined...my friend in Palo Alto threw a party the second night I was in California for the express purpose of making Bad Art. Choosing materials from an enticing array of neon colored poster board, styrofoam, glitter, puffy paint, dyed feathers, old cardboard, fake plants, all sorts of little 3-d objects, and a more traditional selection of paints and drawing tools, we dove into several hours of creating stuff we'd never think of making in our normal "serious" studios. Would you believe I made a big-eyed kitten out of foam, surrounded by garish feathers in a styrofoam frame? It's true. It was the most fun I've had at a party in a long time. We ended the evening with a critique session, exploiting every art jargon term we could, while at times giving over to honest admiration for what had been created. Everything was done in clashing or muddy colors, cliched and poorly executed--yet all of it was spontaneous, playful and humorous.

After weeks of long studio days finishing work for my two upcoming exhibits--hours and hours spent refining, reworking and evaluating, this party came at the perfect time. Tomorrow I'll be leaving the Bay Area to follow up on those efforts, with an opening at Darnell Fine Art in Santa Fe on October 1, and one at Telluride Gallery of Fine Art in Telluride, CO on October 7th. Shawna Moore and I will be teaching Hot Wax/Cold Wax Workshops at both locations as well...busy days ahead.

Sunday, September 19, 2010
  visual thinking
This coming Friday(gulp) I will be speaking to about 75 people at the International Encaustic Artists Advance in San Fransisco, CA. I'm on a panel discussion entitled Visual Thinking with artists Cari Hernandez and Laura Moriarty. We'll each have a short time to discuss our work in the context of the topic, and then will respond to questions from the audience.

The following is what I wrote as an introduction to my talk (although I will attempt to ad lib rather than read this when the time comes.)

"Visual Thinking" to me is a synthesis of several states of mind I'm typically in while working in the studio. Being completely immersed in the painting is one--meditative and timeless, it seems the core of creativity. Yet it’s so seductive I can become completely absorbed in even small nuances of paint, losing the bigger picture.

The analytical and self-critiquing mode, at the other end of the subjective/objective spectrum, makes it seem as if there is an invisible viewer in the studio with me. Which is not a bad thing, as long as the critical voice does not become too overbearing or the sense of being watched lead to self-consciousness.

I conceive of visual thinking as a middle ground, a state of being that is neither total submersion in the work nor pointedly objective. Visual thinking means being intuitive, subjective, and involved--but also aware of the viewer and concerned with communication. It is visual intelligence, perceptive and attuned to nuances in the work, receptive to where things may be heading, and aware of how a viewer might respond. There is observation and response, a loop in which one creates interesting visual situations, and then responds, sometimes spontaneously and intuitively, sometimes with thought and decisiveness.

I still have some work to do to put this together with images of my work, and there will be considerably more content of course. About half of the hour allotted to our panel will be questions from the audience, and I expect it will all be very interesting.

I've also been busy finishing, photographing and wrapping paintings for my upcoming shows. The painting above, Vertical #24, 66"x12" represents a return to the series of vertical pieces I have been doing off and on for about 6 years. I enjoy the ongoing challenge of visual thinking involved in working with this unusual format.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
  new painting

I just finished this painting, Omni, (60"x30") for my upcoming exhibit at Telluride Gallery of Fine Art in Telluride, CO. It will be the biggest piece in either of my upcoming shows (the other is at Darnell Fine Art in Santa Fe, NM.) The past few weeks have been an intense push to get ready for both of these exhibits, to be shared with encaustic artist Shawna Moore. They open only a week apart--October 1 in Santa Fe and October 7 in Telluride--and somehow two dual shows equal more than one solo show, with the galleries requesting between 10 and 15 pieces. So I have almost 30 paintings to deal with--to finish, in some cases, to photograph, enter into the computer, and pack up. Since Shawna and I are also teaching a collaborative Hot wax/Cold Wax Workshop at each location, the logistics of pulling it all off are mind-boggling.

Still, to work well it is necessary to shut out all the demands and requirements of travel, exhibit and workshop planning, and simply be in the painting. As I ought to know, a painting evolves in its own time, in its own way, and generally will not cooperate if rushed or forced. I'm sure I have learned this a thousand times by now, but it can still be a challenge when under a deadline. Even though I should know better, I tend to resist making big changes when a painting for an upcoming show seems to be nearing completion...even if that is exactly what the painting needs.

The painting above presented just that situation, and I was mired in it for days. Until this past Wednesday, its largest panel was dark green/turquoise in color, with coppery highlights. It was a beautiful, complex and highly developed surface, and I kept going back into it and making it ever more rich and deep. I added the other panels, and worked it all over again and again. I longed for it to reach a happy ending, as soon as possible.

But Wednesday morning, in a moment of brutal honesty, I acknowledged the truth. This was a static and tired painting, and adding more of what was already there was not the answer. The large panel had grown dull and heavy--no matter how many times I went back in to add flecks of color--and the other panels were not sufficient to wake it up.

So--the answer was to abandon caution and go for radical change. I covered the whole surface of the large panel with light gold (metallic) paint and cold wax for luminosity, and then began working over that with a brayer and white paint/wax mixture. Immediately the surface was energized, as bits of the underlying green and copper came up through the top layer, and deliberate scratching and use of solvents revealed more in selected areas. Now instead of a large field of dark green and copper, there were small, intense focal spots, which carried considerably more weight and impact, and the whole painting seemed lighter and able to breathe. Today I finished the piece by going over certain areas again with white, and adding the kind of subtle refinements that are distinctive in my work. The three supporting panels, which had appeared a bit random in earlier incarnations, now came into their own with a bit more tweaking and color adjustment.

When I teach I often tell the students that nothing is lost by going over a dull or confused panel with a new layer of paint and wax, and much may be gained. I only wish I had a "before" photo to better illustrate the changes that this painting went through. It would be a good reminder for myself when I need it...
Friday, September 03, 2010
  FAQ part 2

In this post I'll continue with answers to some of the questions I am asked most often about my painting process in general and the use of cold wax medium (which I mix with my oils) in particular. If you're interested in learning more ( a lot more!)about using cold wax medium, please sign onto the Ning site that I created for discussion and sharing of ideas and questions, and posting of art work. (If you do wish to become a member of that site, please sign in using your complete name--a strategy to ward off spammers!)

When/why did you start using cold wax medium in your work?

I think it was around 2002 or 2003--I only remember that I bought some at the suggestion of a sales clerk at my favorite art supply store. For several years I didn't attach any special importance to the wax. I liked it better than other painting mediums I had tried, but it took awhile for me to start to discover its potential and what it could bring to my work. At some point I realized that the body, luminosity and faster drying time that it added to the oils were leading me into the more abstract direction I had been seeking in my work, and that there were countless ways to use it for complex textures and mark-making.

Even as recently as 2008, I did not think of mentioning the role that cold wax plays in my process when the video was made of me working in my studio. It was not until I was asked to teach a painting workshop that the importance of the wax some to mind. I listed in a notebook all of the techniques I had developed and realized that this was unique information around which I could create a 2 or 3 day class.

How many layers of oil paint and cold wax do you put on your paintings? (a variation on how long does it take you to make a painting?)

I can't really give a specific number of layers or amount of time spent on a painting. This is partly because I always have a lot of work in progress and cannot keep track of how any one panel develops. The answer is also impossible because I remove a lot of paint during my process. A painting with ten applications of paint layers today may have only two tomorrow, but traces of all ten will remain.

In general, I like there to be a substantial body of paint on each panel, enough so that there are complex interactions between layers and applications of color, and so that scratching and other mark-making can be impressed upon the surface.

How long does it take the oil and wax mixture to dry?

This depends on many variables, including the humidity in the air, the thickness of the cold wax/paint mixture, the surface on which it is laid down, and the color and brand of oils. So it's hard to say! But in general, the oil paint/cold wax medium mixture will start to set up and become tacky in a few hours, and will be noticeably set up overnight. Within a week or so, most paintings are dry to the touch and can be exhibited or shipped. But like any oil painting it takes more time to be completely and thoroughly dry. One advantage to using cold wax medium is that no final varnish is required--always a tricky issue with regular oil paintings when the recommended time to apply that varnish may be months after the painting has gone to a collector.

Are cold wax paintings fragile? Do you have to be careful about hanging them in direct sun or leaving them in hot places?

Cold wax paintings have a hard surface when dry--there is no trace of softness as with encaustic (hot wax) paintings. As with any oil painting, exposing to extreme conditions or hanging in direct sunlight is not the best idea, but they are not especially fragile, or sensitive to heat once dry. They do tend to be a bit brittle on the edges and corners of the panels, so care must be taken when moving them around.

Can you mix cold wax medium with anything besides oil paint? (People most often want to know if they can mix cold wax with acrylic paint.)

Cold wax medium can be mixed with many things, but water-based paints or other substances that would be adversely affected by the solvents in the medium are out. What will work: powdered pigments and metallic powders, charcoal, chalk pastels, and any other fairly fine-grained, natural substance like marble dust or sand. You can also use cold wax medium in collage, with materials like paper, photos, cloth (silk works beautifully), metal leaf, and even dried organic substances like dry leaves or pine needles.

Where do you get your panels? How do you fix them together in your multiple panel paintings? or are the panels just hung together but not actually held in place?

I purchase panels made by Ampersand Art, and prefer those in their Museum Series line, either Claybord or Gessobord. It is recommended that you use a rigid support if you plan to build up any thickness with cold wax medium, but there are plenty of other options--other companies that make panels, home-made ones, or even paper if it is eventually framed or otherwise supported.

My multiple-panel paintings are permanently bolted together on the back by carefully aligning them and drilling through their cradles (not being handy in this way myself, I have a woodworker perform this operation.)The arrangement and orientation of the various panels that make up a painting are as carefully considered as any other aspect of my work.

The painting above is Casa #2, 42"x36", oil and wax on panel, 2010.


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       Rebecca Crowell