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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.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

One of the most essential skills for an artist is to be self-critical--not as in "oh, terrible me, I'm no good at all" (although I guess most of us have lived at times with that awful conviction) but in a way that identifies, confronts and moves through problems. It's very hard to achieve the distance and clarity to do this, and sometimes another person's eyes are needed. But I think that ultimately you have to be able to critique yourself in a tough but positive manner, so that you can keep on track during all that studio time when you are by yourself with no feedback from anyone.

I have a list of criteria that I use as a check-list--though really it isn't as methodical as that sounds. Usually a quick scan through will help me pinpoint a problem. Very often, if something isn't working, I see that there is either too much happening in the painting (confusion, lack of focus and direction) or too little--the curse of the subtle painter, caught up in each minute nuance and losing the energy of the painting as a whole. I try to be sensitive to these and other bad habits that can undermine the good progression of a painting. (Knowing what to do about them is usually a harder job.)

As much as a person may analyze and question work in progress, sometimes the insightful truth chooses to arrive at an awkward moment, say, at the opening of an exhibit or when a deadline is imminent. This is a real challenge, keeping one's cool while acknowledging that a change is due. (Once--years ago--I suddenly saw, in the middle of an opening, that my work had descended to a level of subtlety that could only be called monotonous...)

Usually, the knowledge that I will be exhibiting my paintings in the near future (which is the case right now--my show at Circa Gallery in Minneapolis opens in just over a month) serves to sharpen my vision and energize me in a good direction. Although I used to suffer a lot of pre-show anxiety, at this point I take exhibiting pretty much in stride and can work steadily towards the opening date in a good frame of mind, without much inner drama.

But frankly, this has been a difficult week in the studio--a couple of paintings have come along well, but they are the exception. Most of my time has been spent slipping into ruts, making mud, spinning my wheels, and losing my sense of direction (insert additional cliches for describing frustration here!) Of course, I know this is all part of the process, and I'll bear with it--and fortunately I am not down to the wire yet. There is still plenty of time left to pull things together, and I'm confident that I will. Still it has not been a good week, and I am definitely ready for a new one. (Actually, a whole New Year sounds like a great idea!)

There is also a thought that comforts and sustains me as I pick at and tweak and fuss and rip things apart--I am aware that this sometimes ridiculous-seeming degree of fine tuning is what makes my work mine. Many abstract painters work with the same basic elements--color fields, geometric divisions, layered textures--that I do, but each of us has our own individual way of resolving the infinite number of details and nuances of our own work. My own are very labor-intensive and intuitive...meaning a great deal of trial and error is involved. Yet every layer leaves its rich traces, even when totally wiped outwith solvent. There are really no mistakes.

(The above painting, Remebering Catalunya #2 (60"x36") is one that I did manage to finish early this week. )
Saturday, December 26, 2009
  hope for 2010

I've been hearing encouraging things from my new gallery in Colorado, Telluride Gallery of Fine Art. The painting above, Going Home (12" square) and two others were sold soon after they arrived a few weeks ago, and apparently things are overall pretty busy there. I've also had a string of sales at Darnell Fine Art in Santa Fe. I'm thinking this may be a trend, because I've been seeing blogs, emails and facebook posts from other artists around the country with similar stories of recent sales, commissions, and opportunities. So maybe, fingers crossed and quoting Yoko Ono, "Hard times are over, over for awhile."

I'm always very thankful when one of my paintings sells, but I feel an extra measure of gratitude for the people who bought my work in 2009. I'm sure it was a stretch for some of them, and their purchases meant so much. I'm also proud of all of the artists and galleries that hung in there this past year, and just kept doing what they do best. Wishing a prosperous, creative and art-filled 2010 to all!
Sunday, December 20, 2009
  workshops: looking back at 2009

It's odd for me to think that a year ago at this time, I was a workshop rookie. It's not that I was new to teaching--I'd conducted a few week-long summer workshops on abstraction, plus I had several years of part time college teaching, as adjunct faculty, up through the late 90s--but it had been ten years since I'd done any of that. Teaching my own techniques for using cold wax medium, in a small, hands-on, intensive class was a new idea to me. When I invited to teach my first workshop at Rochester Art Supply last April, I wondered if this was something I really wanted to get into and whether I would enjoy it enough to be worthwhile. After brainstorming with a friend or two, and developing a class plan and materials list, I decided to give it a try.

Since then I've tweaked and refined the class in many small ways, and revised it to fit into a one, two or three day format. But the original plan has held up well. I introduce a variety of techniques for using cold wax medium through demos, and participants develop their own paintings in an individualistic way during work time. The class also includes discussions, slide shows and other information, as much as time allows. At the end of each teaching day, I'm ready to collapse--it's intensive, but rich and lively.

After my first workshop in Rochester went well, I was open to doing more--and the remainder of the year filled up. In July I went to Redwood City, CA (pictured above), and in October I taught at Peninsula School of Art in Door County, WI. I also held three one-day sessions in my studio. In each of these workshops, I met remarkable artists and thoroughly enjoyed our interactions and seeing the work that evolved.

The Redwood City workshop was the first one that was initiated and coordinated by an interested artist (Connie Kleinjans) who simply emailed me to ask if I would come--and many emails later, it was all worked out. Now there are several more artist-initiated workshops scheduled for 2010, as well as some at established workshop venues. At this point, I'm fully booked or at least "penciled in" for 2010 (in some cases, dates or other details have not been confirmed.)

My idea is to teach as much as I reasonably can, while giving myself sufficient studio time. I know that for me, travel is wonderful but tiring and disruptive to my focus...time will tell if the schedule I have arranged for the coming year fits my intention of preserving studio time, but it feels right to me now.

The response to my workshops has been really gratifying, both from people who have already taken the class and from those who contact me about future classes. I'm discovering that cold wax medium appeals strongly to many painters, just as it appealed to me when I first started using it. Cold wax shares some visual qualities and effects with encaustic painting, but is simpler to use, requires no special set-up and emits fewer fumes.

The list of upcoming Oil and Wax Workshops for 2010 may be viewed on my website. Dates and specifics will be added as they become available.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
  new small painting
Although it is new, this small painting (12" square) is related to the white series that I worked on through out much of 2009. It's not exactly white-white--more of a warm, off white, with hints of other colors. This is what I've enjoyed about these paintings--the many variations of white that can be layered and juxtaposed for a depth and subtlety.

Now that the world outside is white--glaringly so--most of my recent paintings lean toward strong, bright color. Odd how that works. I've always noticed a tendency toward red when it is freezing outside. Maybe because of the importance of the glowing wood stove in my studio?

In the past couple of days, painting has been disrupted by the holiday season--I've been baking and putting some packages together to send to friends and relatives. Until this week, aside from cookie-baking, I have given it all minimal thought though--keeping it simple, my goal every year! It seems like the best way to preserve a bit of the wonder and good cheer that is the best part of the season.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
  new painting

I'm still really enjoying doing these smaller paintings (this one is Blue Wall, 12" square) and also pushing for stronger and more saturate color. I also have about ten larger paintings in progress, but the smaller ones seem to be what get me going every day. On this scale, changes and new directions appear more clearly for some reason, and my attention seems more focused--at least as I warm up. (Literally...those old cliches about artists freezing in their garrets don't seem far fetched at all.)
Sunday, December 06, 2009
  new gallery association

A little over a month ago, I was invited to send work to Telluride Gallery of Fine Art
in Telluride, CO. The news came as I was busy preparing for other exhibits, but the timeline was fairly relaxed--the request to have some things there by mid-December if possible seemed doable.

In order to come up with some medium-sized pieces, I collected three unsold but favorite paintings from Circa Gallery--I'm having a show in February there, so they'll have a lot of new work soon. I also finished three new small paintings, and today I took everything to Pak Mail. I'm just hoping those mighty Fed Ex trucks make it through the snow storms and deliver everything safe and sound.

The painting above, Passage (12"x12" oil and wax on panel) is one of the smaller paintings I sent. I'm really excited to be part of this beautiful gallery in such an interesting and spectacular location. (Not that I have seen Telluride for myself, but I'm happy for the excuse to visit before long.)
Thursday, December 03, 2009
  gifts for painters

Although I hesitate to do anything to contribute to Christmas commercialization, there are a lot worse things you could give your favorite oil-and-cold-wax painter (or yourself) than interesting art supplies. So for what it's worth, here are three of my favorite recent discoveries for creating texture and interesting surfaces. (Those of you familiar with my work will know that I use a variety of tools in my work, very few of them brushes.)

Wilton Dough Scraper: (many thanks to artist Jen Bradford for this tip.) Having tried various types of squeegees on the market, I am really pleased with the versatility and just-right flexibility of the silicon blade on this piece of cooking equipment. The handle is very comfortable and it is a well-made little item, as opposed to most of the cheap squeegees sold for cleaning windows that are a bit awkward to use, and quickly deteriorate when subjected to the rigors of abstract painting. I am also very enamored of a line of products that perform in a similar way--and are actually intended as art supplies--called Colour Shapers (google that for many places to purchase.) But they are pricey, and I can now recommend this dough scraper as a low-cost alternative. It's available on amazon.com and probably at lots of cooking equipment outlets--though I never did find one when I was looking. (Jen finally mailed me one!) Most dough scrapers out there have metal, not silicone blades, and while they may have their uses (for dough anyway) I suspect a metal blade would be too rigid for expressive painting.

Three in One Baren Kit: I was checking out at Wet Paint in St. Paul yesterday (my favorite art supply store) when the helpful sales guy started demonstrating this little object for me, and I was won over. It is a printmaking tool, and for anyone who uses transferring techniques in their work, or would like to create small stamps to use for texture and linear interest, this is a fun little toy. The "three in one" refers to the rounded baren at one end for rubbing/transferring, a cutting tool (the handle screws off and you can attach any of 5 cutting blades) and the ability to turn the whole thing into a stamper by cutting a design into one of the small rubber disks supplied, and then attaching it by its sticky back to the baren. Granted this is a rather lightweight plastic object (which gives it that toy-like appeal I guess) but it works great--I tried carving into one of the disks in the studio this morning, and used it to apply the design to a painted surface. All of this fun for only $9.95! and if you buy this at Wet Paint they throw in a bag of ten of the little rubber discs free for your carving pleasure.

Clayboard: This is not a new product to me--it is made by the same company, Ampersand, that produces the Gessobord that I use in all of my work. So I've been aware of it for years but had never considered using it in my oil and cold wax painting. Yesterday during my shopping spree at Wet Paint, I asked another helpful sales person (that store is full of 'em) for one of Ampersand's new large sized Gessobord panels (40"x30") and was told they were out of stock. However, it was suggested that I try the same sized Clayboard panel which they did have on hand. After this morning's painting session, I have to say that there are advantages to this surface that may possibly make it even better for my particular techniques that Gessobord, which has a very slightly grainy or pebbly surface (Claybord is completely smooth, and drawing and moving paint around on it was just delicious.) Even more interesting, Claybord is highly absorbent and so the initial layers of wax/oil and paint stick that I applied this morning dried very quickly. I was able to build up a very complex texture in far less time than I am used to...on the other hand it was slightly disconcerting to find the oil drying almost as fast as acrylic. I was told that this effect will be most pronounced in the first few layers of paint, so as the work progresses, the paint will act more as I am used to. So far, I haven't time tested this product, but it looks very promising. Stay tuned for my report after the painting is done...


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       Rebecca Crowell