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Tuesday, June 04, 2013
  master class
When I taught my first cold wax workshop in 2009, I had no idea of the excitement that would grow around this medium. Artists who have taken my classes now number in the hundreds, and I have taught in a dozen states so far, with classes scheduled ahead for Ireland and Canada. A number of other experienced artists now teach cold wax workshops, developing and spreading new ideas, techniques and applications. Online, the discussion forum I started in 2010 now has over 2000 members from around the world, and www.coldwaxpainting.com , a website that I launched in December of 2012 has racked up over 30,000 page loads.

My mind boggled with these thoughts as I drove to Mineral Point, Wisconsin last weekend to meet with ten artists for my first Master Class--all of whom have taken a class with me at least twice in the past--quite a few of them at the same venue where we were meeting again--a quaint collection of restored 19th century mining cottages called Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts. (Our own studio was a Quonset hut on the edge of the property, in the process of being renovated and perfect for our messiness.)

Although I enjoy teaching the techniques that are the focus of the introductory level class, my heart lies more with the "why" of abstract painting than the "how" --and so at every level I include presentations that explore ideas and concepts, and encourage discussion of ideas. In my Level Two classes, I include technique, but also exercises that encourage exploration of color and mark-making, and I provide one on one sessions to discuss each artist's personal direction. In working last weekend with my most experienced students, I decided to focus strongly on finding personal "voice" as an abstract artist, and to run the three days as sort of a mini-conference, with lots of time for discussion and stimulating presentations.

There was painting time of course--I spent a half hour with each artist individually to discuss their work, which meant the others were developing their panels. But it was overall a more scheduled and directed experience than workshops I have taught, and I appreciated everyone's willingness to follow along with such enthusiasm and energy.

Spinning out from an exercise in quick drawing (above) the first morning (thanks to Lisa Pressman for that idea!) the artists created a small series using a few of the quick drawings as inspiration. We then moved on to an exercise in critique and discussion of the series work in pairs, and finally to a wrap-up group session on the third day when the artists showed whatever they wished to share. In this segment, each was asked to speak about his or her work in the manner of a short artist statement, and to ask and receive questions from others in the group.

Prior to the workshop, I'd written to ask if anyone would be willing to contribute a short presentation to the class. So, besides my own power points (about finding your voice and working in series) we were treated to Dianne Martia's demo on image transfer and other uses of tissue paper; Sara Post's resources and discussion about the connections between artist books and working in series, and Jim Scherbarth's slides of his personal journey from tentative beginner to confident, award-winning artist running his own gallery. Below, Dianne's demo:

The workshop ended on Saturday evening with a reception at Brewery Pottery Gallery in Mineral Point. Diana Johnston, who owns the gallery with her husband, came up with the idea of having an exhibit of cold wax paintings from members of the Master Class (the invitation was also extended to members of the Level Two class held at Shake Rag Alley in 2011) to coincide with Mineral Point's Gallery Night and Art In Motion Parade. The exhibit-- EXPLORATIONS: 13 Journeys in Oil and Cold Wax Medium--was the perfect ending to the class. I cannot say for sure, but it may be the first ever invitational group show of cold wax paintings. Below, some shots of the exhibit, and a few of the artists (Eve Ozer, Mark Witzling, Jim Scherbarth, Wendy Bachiu and Sara Post) with their paintings.

So much for a factual description-- it's much harder, especially with respecting privacy, to describe the emotional aspects of the workshop as these artists (some of whom knew each other from previous classes, while others did not) talked about personal connections to their work, their frustrations, questions and vulnerabilities. There were stories of loss, struggles with confidence and self-image, and also wonderful successes and triumphs.

With finding personal voice as the theme of the class, it was important that the group be open and honest--able to communicate about what is deep and essential in each person's work, and this came forth fairly quickly and deepened over the three days. We also shared plenty of laughs and kidding in addition to the emotional moments and discussions about ideas, process and challenges. The generosity of the artists with their personal stories, and the intense, involved discussions about the work were moving, and created bonds that made it hard to leave on Sunday. I look forward to continued connections with everyone there, and plan to run more Master Classes in the future. I felt that my role throughout was more of a facilitator than a teacher, and I learned a great deal--truly one of the most rewarding experiences of my workshop career so far.
We wouldn't have been able to be so open and free if it weren't for your stewardship. And we wouldn't be were we are and where we are going with out your talented instruction and open heart. You elevated us and since you take us so seriously, we are able to take ourselves seriously, too. That comes from our admiration of your incredible painting talent. And your validation of our talent is a beautiful gift.
Thank you for this touching comment, Eve--I appreciate it deeply.
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       Rebecca Crowell