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water-based mixed media
Since coming back from Ireland several people have asked me to write about the techniques I used in the paintings I did there, because the surfaces of these paintings are similar to those I normally get using cold wax medium and oils. But what I used almost exclusively during my artist residency at Cill Rialaig were water-based materials, not oils-- acrylic paints, acrylic mediums, watercolor--along with other compatible materials like powdered pigments and pastels.
I've worked with these materials during other trips overseas--beginning with my residency in Catalonia in 2008--because they are easier to transport, and I've enjoyed the exploration each time. But in the past, I struggled to get the surfaces as rich as I like them. Although I did some successful paintings on these earlier residencies, I also felt that most of what I did was somehow less serious or developed than my "real" work.
At Cill Rialaig, though, a shift took place. It's not that everything I did there was wonderful or well developed by any means, but from the first day of painting on this residency I felt a flow, an identification with the work that was very satisfying. I was speaking in my own voice, and felt in tune with the materials in a new way. I suppose it just took a certain amount of practice and experience, and things finally clicked.
My approach with the water based mixed media is a simple translation of the way I work in oils--instead of oil paints, I use acrylics and watercolor, and instead of wax I use acrylic mediums of various kinds. My techniques, involving brayers, squeegees, and palette knives, are pretty much identical to the way I work in oil and wax. Also very much the same are the other materials I use to develop rich texture--powdered pigments, pastels, charcoal, transfer paper and drawing materials. The paintings done in Ireland were built up in layers with a certain amount of scratching, dissolving or scraping back through, again just as in my oil and wax painting. They were all done on paper, generally taped to a board, to provide the rigid surface I like for these techniques.
What makes these paintings unique, then--different from my oil paintings? I find they have a fresh, energetic, spontaneous quality that comes form the quicker-drying materials. They are a bit less refined, a little more in the moment than what I usually do. I worked on them quickly...they did not seem precious to me, and in fact more than one went into the wood stove. Typically I finished 1-2 each day during the residency--although there were a few days when I didn't paint, in 21 days at Cill Rialaig, I came away with about 30 paintings. I didn't set out to do a certain number or even push myself very hard. It was all about the flow and the energy of that amazing location.