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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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010
  visual thinking

Do you have a clear visualization in mind before you start a new piece or are you process driven? If the process determines the outcome for you, how does that effect working in a series, where connection between pieces is of value? How do the visual qualities unique to wax play out in your work, such as layering, texture, adhesive qualities? Does visual thinking increase your observation skills and speculative abilities? When you look at your work, what are you looking for? What kinds of things do you look at first? What do you struggle to see?

These questions form a rough draft for the panel discussion Visual Thinking, in which I am invited to participate along with Cari Hernandez and Laura Moriarity. The panel discussion is part of the IEA (International Encaustic Artists Retreat ) to be held in San Francisco on September 23-26, 2010. I'm very excited about the invitation, about the people I'll meet and what I'll learn as I attend other events at the Retreat. Not to mention the pleasure of being in the beautiful city of San Fransisco for three days.

I do feel just a bit strange about the whole thing--I'm not an encaustic artist after all. But this talk is about ideas, with a bit of process thrown in, and there are enough similarities between hot and cold wax that it will work.

What struck me most in the mix of questions above (sent to me in an email as a springboard to get me thinking) is the one about working in series, something I find to be very challenging. I do sometimes produce series (the painting above, Lake House #1, 12"x12" is one of a series of four) but not upon demand. Instead they evolve when I somehow become focused on a particular color idea, technique or format that ties several paintings together. It is more that I suddenly realize that several paintings have taken on related character than anything premeditated.

The questions above were meant as a springboard for thinking ahead in the coming months. Some are easy enough to answer, others more open ended and intriguing. I appreciate being asked to ponder them, and wonder where they will lead me
Saturday, March 27, 2010
  down time

I'm savoring the feeling of six weeks in which my calendar is nearly empty and I'll have time to fully focus on my work and tie up some unfinished computer projects and such. (Taxes are the blot on this pleasant scenario--but will soon be done.)

This coincides very nicely with the beginning of spring and my favorite time to be out poking around in the garden. So I'm feeling pretty relaxed with the present situation. But I can see that after mid-May, my life will become intensely busy with workshops, exhibits and other travel, right up through November. It's all great, exciting, wonderful stuff, but I've had moments of doubt when I look at my calendar and consider what is involved in each event and trip and exhibit. Yesterday when yet another opportunity arose that I intend to say "yes" to, I asked myself (as have several friends and family members) if I am taking on too much.

But here's the thing. I've been working hard for 25 years to achieve the recognition and opportunities that are now coming up, and I'm gratified and thrilled at the way things are going. There is nothing on the calendar I want to erase (although really, I should probably stop adding to it!) I'm aware that things could get overwhelming though, and I have been thinking about how to pace myself and handle the stress that I can already sense looming.

Although I'm framing this as a personal issue here, I know that a lot of other artists go through these times--they're such a part of the ongoing challenge to achieve success (however we measure it for ourselves.) In my experience, saying yes to every worthy opportunity--and then figuring out how to make it all work--is a very reasonable approach. Certainly there are times when energy and resources are stretched beyond comfort level, but the rewards are huge. (I'm not a workaholic or anything, am I?)

I find inspiration in a quote from my late father (whom I miss greatly.) Once when I was little, and upset over having a bad day, he told me in a kind way that "a day is just what you make of it." This stuck with me, and seems both comforting and challenging--true parental wisdom. So my answer to "is this all too much" is that it will not be too much if I don't make it too much. Which is where the challenge comes in of course! I do believe that we are all capable of doing more than we realize. But there must be a quiet center to return to in order to keep stress under control. This is what I am going to cultivate in the weeks ahead, my down time.

The painting above, Rosebud, 24"x24" is one of my recently reworked paintings and one that feels upliftingly like spring to me.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
  two modes

I was in my car for hours today going back and forth to Madison (about six hours round trip) to pick up some paintings. I also stopped to see some old friends, had two nice walks--one in the city and one through the woods at a scenic overlook on the way home--and I heard a couple of interesting programs on public radio. But most of the day was it just me behind the wheel, quiet, thinking. On the way down to Madison I thought about my galleries and workshops, and about all the many things I need to do for each one, bits and pieces of business. It's been getting complicated, with a full year ahead of workshops, and six galleries to keep up with--plus I'm hoping to add a couple more, itself a major project.

Thinking through all of this had a calming effect (I've been feeling a little overwhelmed) and I'll feel even better when I enter it all in a computer program I've been using for organizing, called One Note. This program allows the user to put everything related to a particular project or topic in one place--emails, URLs, notes, documents, pictures, to-do lists. It really beats my old method (if I can call it that)of using notebooks, scraps of paper, printouts, and paper file folders that always seemed to get buried or misplaced.

So, that was the drive down. Most of the trip home I thought about my paintings, in a much less organized way. Fleeting images of textures and surfaces, color ideas inspired by photos that my friend in Madison showed me, little blips of excitement over powdered pigments and solvent, which I have been experimenting with in the past week, ideas for collage with encaustic wax, and the possibilities that would open up with ordering custom built panels, etc, etc. Very stream of consciousness, and invigorating. It was kind of agitating as well--because I can only think about painting for so long before I want to do it, and I was of course, stuck behind the wheel.

A few miles from home I came out of my reverie and it struck me how very differently I had been thinking on the way down, with my careful step by step to-do lists. Frankly, there are days when I wish I could go from step A to step B in my painting, without twenty five detours along the way. Those are days when my messy studio with all of its half-formed ideas-- piles of materials, scraps of this and that, and dozens of panels in progress--seems overwhelming. Fortunately, though, I can usually put a positive spin on the situation, and see instead possibility and promise.

I read someplace that artists tend to have a high tolerance for ambiguity and things that remain unresolved. This is true for me in the studio, but not so in my art business and workshop planning. There I'd be lost--and quite anxious about it--without clear ways of organizing, prioritizing and scheduling. It's really very amazing and fortunate that the same lump of gray matter can handle both intuitive and methodical thinking.

The painting above is called Stony Path (16"x16") and was one that I delivered to Circa Gallery in Minneapolis for my recent exhibit (though it remained in the back room since I brought a few too many paintings.)
Monday, March 15, 2010
  in this economy

"In this economy" has to be one of the most over-used phrases of the past year--I say it myself, sometimes with self-conscious finger quote-marks raised. It's hit me personally of course--who hasn't been affected? For the first time in many years, I've had a gallery show open and close with zero sales. Other galleries have been slow also, and in general it has been a struggle for almost everyone I know in the art world, whether gallerist or artist, to keep going.

As someone who depends on art sales for a living, the strain of worrying over income has at times led me to daydreams of a "real job." That bubble pops pretty fast when I consider the realities of giving up studio time, and I remind myself (and my husband reminds me too) that what I do best is paint, and I need to keep at it. And that it does have value, including monetary value, to the many people who own my paintings. So I'm riding this out, encouraged by the sales that do occur,and thinking about how to work smarter within the gallery system that has served me very well in better times.

I've recently made a number of small (12"x12") paintings, for example, which have sold well over the winter. And I am currently re-evaluating the work that is out at various galleries and thinking of what might need to be rotated--a challenge when the work is scattered around the country. But in the past I have seen a painting languish in one gallery and sell quickly in another, so I believe this is a worthwhile plan.

Another strategy is to work over paintings that come back to me unsold, in light of new ideas and techniques that I've developed since the work left my studio. Of course, there are certain paintings that I don't want to touch, but others have the potential to be so much better with just "a couple" of changes. (Usually more than that! since one thing leads to another, and another, it's pretty easy to launch into a whole new painting.) With my multiple panel paintings, re-working can include taking out the bolts and moving panels into new configurations, in addition to re-painting the surface.

I brought six older paintings home from Circa Gallery on the weekend and have been enjoying working with them in this way--bringing them into 2010. When looking closely and critically at this older work, deciding what I'm still pleased with and what I want to change, shifts and developments in my work become clear to me. I see that I've learned to make more intricate textures and surfaces, and I've found ways to incorporate lines, scratches and other marks that I didn't used to do. I also prefer stronger contrasts these days, and a bit wider range of color within a painting.

The painting above, White Rock #2, (30"x24" oil and wax on panel)is one of these re-worked paintings. I heightened the contrast, added more texture and thin color washes, and it's ready for a new life.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
  workshop updates]
I'm home after another inspiring, exciting and exhausting workshop weekend, this one at Whispering Woodlands in Verona, WI. The location was a beautiful natural setting, with windows looking out over snow covered fields and woods. Eleven artists came from five states and Canada, and included professional, exhibiting oil painters as well as people who had not used oils in years, or were new to the medium completely. It was a very compatible, friendly group, with many ideas shared and stories told. But there were also the times I like best, when everyone simply worked quietly and intently. For more photos of the workshop, please click here. (All photos courtesy of Whispering Woodlands.)

I'll be updating the information on upcoming workshops on my website this week, because there have been some changes--for example, the workshop scheduled for Longmont, CO in April has been canceled due to low enrollment. I'm trying not to let that be too discouraging, because overall the degree of interest in cold wax has gone beyond anything I imagined when I started teaching a year ago. I get email inquiries and comments from around the country, and from other countries almost every week. The online forum that I started to facilitate discussion and sharing of images has grown to 135 members since November.

Plans to team up with encaustic painter Shawna Moore for two workshops this fall continue--we've been searching out venues and working on setting dates and fees. We anticipate holding the workshops for three days each, one in Telluride, CO and one in Santa Fe, NM, in late September and early October. We'll each instruct for one day--hot wax, cold wax--and the third day will be a chance to tie things together a bit, and to work with both of us in the studio. I give Shawna all the credit for coming up with this idea--and look forward to meeting her in person in May when she comes to the area for her exhibit at Circa Gallery.

I've also been signing up artists for workshops here in my studio (in Osseo, WI) with two classes definitely scheduled--on May 15-16, and on July 10-11 with an optional third day on the 12th. There is one place open in the May workshop, and two in July. If you'd like to jump into one of those spots, please contact me for more information at crowellart@yahoo.com.

I'll schedule more of these as requested, so let me know if you have something in mind and I'll see if I can accommodate you--with your choice of private, semi-private or small group format of 3-4 students. I'm excited about these workshops in my own studio, where all of my resources are available and the instruction can be very personalized. These are good opportunities for former workshop participants to come for a refresher, as well as for those taking their first class.

2010 looks very busy for all aspects of teaching, and for now I am not making definite plans for 2011...I may need a break by then. As much as I love the actual time I spend teaching, the other stuff, the planning and researching--all the business end of things--eats up a lot of studio time....and my own painting has to be my priority. Time will tell, I guess. For now, it's good and I am thoroughly enjoying the other artists in my classes, and what happens when they discover the joys of oil and wax.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010

I've written almost 400 blog posts since the fall of 2005, and in that time I've had a lot of conversations about art blogging. The most common questions I get from other artists who don't write blogs are: is it a lot of work, is it worth it, and do you ever run out of things to talk about? The answer to all three is "yes" and in order to go into some detail, I'm devoting this entry to the topic of blogging itself.

There are many ways to blog, but I'll focus here on my own approach--which is to write from my perspective as a full time painter about my life as an artist--the ups and downs, pleasures and frustrations, and ideas that I mull over in relation to my work. I try to stay off personal, political or family topics, although once in a while I'll venture in that direction if I see a connection to my work. I prefer a tone that is friendly but not overly confidential....the person I picture as my reader is an interested acquaintance, most likely another artist. Because of that I'm likely to be pretty open about anything art related, and more circumspect about other topics. My blog is basically a look at my professional life, with just personal stuff to be engaging (I hope.)

I mention this aspect of blogging because some people believe that to write a blog is to surrender basic personal privacy, and they recoil from the idea. A typical comment to me is, "how do you handle being so out there?" But it's up to the blogger to decide about how much to reveal, and I think that having an idea of who my readers are helps natural boundaries come into play. Some of my readers make enough comments (thank you!) so that I do feel I know them, and in my mind they represent the many others who simply read and enjoy.

As for the work load, I try to write at least once a week, often twice, and usually I post an image. I really appreciate comments, and try to respond to all of them. Not only that, but if I want people to read my blog, I need to keep up with other art bloggers and leave a few comments on theirs--so yes, blogging is definitely time consuming. I put the priority on my own blog, and fit in others as I can--nowadays relying heavily on Facebook to know when someone else has posted (If you have both a Facebook account and a blog, you can set up an automatic appearance of your post on your profile page and friend's home pages.) Over time I've fallen into a rhythm that seems natural--every 4-5 days I'll get the urge to write. Sometimes a week passes and I suddenly remember to write, and figure that's OK. But I don't have any kind of schedule or calendar to remind me.

Is blogging worthwhile? For me it is, because the writing itself is an activity I'm drawn to. I've always kept journals and notes on my work, and I enjoy the process of exploring an idea through writing. I find it really satisfying to see where my thoughts and words take me, once I start writing a post. The exploratory nature of this kind of writing is a bit like painting, in that I usually don't know where I'm heading beyond a general idea. I love it when various threads coalesce into a coherent statement--much in the same way a painting eventually reaches a meaningful conclusion.

So, I do recommend blogging to other artists, but with a rather obvious caveat--you have to enjoy writing. If not it will be a chore and chances are good the blog will fade away. (I should mention that art blogs can be well done with few words, mainly images, and that's a great way to go if you don't care for writing.)

Besides the pleasure of writing and recording activities and thoughts, blogging is also worthwhile for its networking potential--for forging connections with other artists and art lovers. Through this blog, I have made good friends (and spent time with them in "real life"), sold paintings, found workshop participants and venues, and travel opportunities. Other connections and spin-offs are less easily traced to the blog, but having an online presence is part of the mix of factors that makes things happen.

The final question, the one about running out of ideas, makes me squirm a bit. Sometimes I know I want and need to post, but when I cast about for a starting point, nothing comes to mind. I have heard that you should have a list of back-up topics to turn to, but that doesn't appeal to me. I want to write about things that are actually on my mind, relevant to my immediate situation, and those kind of lists seem stale. All I can say is that I hope the posts that were hard to get going on are not too obvious in that respect (I'll admit though that this was one of them.) Again there are parallels to painting--getting started can be half the battle, and once the journey is begun it achieves its own energy and momentum.

The painting above is Lake House #3, 10"x10", oil and wax on panel, 2010.


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       Rebecca Crowell