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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, April 26, 2010
  new painting

This is one of many paintings in my studio, either finished or underway. Titled Arroyo (24"x22", oil and wax on panel) it combines a few of the newer techniques and approaches I've been working with lately. Rather than relying completely on divisions that are created by placing panels together, I've been playing around a lot with adding divisions within the separate panels. This evolved naturally in my single panel paintings, and now is spreading to the multiple panel pieces. I've also been experimenting with various ways to make lines and shapes with solvent, evident here across the middle of the painting, and pushing the scratched and etched lines that I have been making on the surface with skewers or old ballpoint pens. I'm happy with the way these various changes are working here...increasing the amount of surface texture, depth and complexity of composition, while keeping a clarity of structure and color relationships.

Once when I was still in grad school one of my instructors said that all the changes he had seen in my work followed a logical progression. (Looking back, it hardly seems like I'd been painting long enough to receive this comment!) I don't recall the full explanation, if there was one--only that I found this very perplexing--how could it be true, when I had not planned anything out? Yet it gave me confidence to think that somehow I was building my work in an intelligent way, however intuitively. That was probably my first lesson in "trust the process."

Many years down the road, I'm still a bit in awe of how this works. Authentic change evolves intuitively, and for me at least, rather slowly. I may envision something I want to add or move away from in my work, but if it happens at all it will be in fits and starts, and most likely in a different form than I imagined. But inevitably, more satisfying aesthetically, and more connected to what came before.

was delivered today to the Regional Arts Center in Eau Claire, WI--the nearest sizable town to where I live, for the Last Minute Exhibit. Which is just what it sounds like--a spontaneous group show to fill in for another exhibit that was canceled. It's only up for two weeks--easy and fun, and if you live in the area, the opening will be this Thursday night from 6-7:30.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
  using dorland's wax medium, part 2

Here is the second part of the article I recently wrote for the company that manufactures Dorland's Wax Medium:

Developing the Painting

After the initial base layers of paint mixed with wax are in place, I bring a variety of techniques into play to add complexity and depth to the painting. Dorland’s is an essential aspect of most of my techniques, because it allows the oils to be rolled, knifed and spread easily, and provides a receptive base for imprinted images and incised lines.

I work intuitively, allowing the painting process to suggest the direction of the painting. I’m often inspired by some evocative texture or color relationship that evolves as I go. This is not a straightforward process--there are many side trips and dead ends—but each adds some texture and subtlety to the developing image, so nothing is lost along the way. Because Dorland’s aids in drying time, I can take a painting quite far along in one painting session, building up the layers necessary for my complex surfaces.

I have no set number of oil and wax layers, and no particular amount of time between applications. Though I often wait for a surface to feel semi-dry to the touch,I also sometimes work wet-in-wet. This requires a rather light touch to avoid mud, but enables some often lovely blending to occur. With experience, a painter using Dorland’s will recognize the different stages of drying and what effects can be gained from each.

The wax and oil paint mixture usually begins to set up after a few hours, and may dry to the touch overnight, but this is very variable. The color and type of paint will effect drying time (transparent colors often take longer than do opaque colors)as will the humidity and temperature of the studio.

To push, pull and manipulate the wax/paint mixture, and to remove areas of paint, I use palette knives of every size and shape and various kinds of squeegees. These range from artist tools to hardware store windshield squeegees, to my current favorite--a silicon-bladed dough scraper. Even pieces of cardboard or old credit cards can be used as squeegees. Each tool will yield slightly different results.

Besides palette knives and squeegees, my other main tools are different sizes of soft rubber brayers (the type used in printmaking) which are excellent for laying down thin films of paint, creating repeated patterns, and embedding textures. I also use them to apply pressure to the back of a drawing on newsprint or tracing paper, which transfers the image to a slightly tacky paint surface. A sheet of craft foam can also be used as a printing surface. I draw onto it with tube paint and then transfer it to the surface of the painting by going over the back side with a rubber brayer, creating a bold mark.

For textural effects, flat or crumpled wax paper, plastic wrap or newsprint may be rolled or pressed onto a fresh layer of paint and wax. This technique leaves tracks and impressions behind, and lifts off a thin film of paint. Powdered pigment, metallic powder or powdered charcoal can be sprinkled into the surface, and gone over with a soft brayer, creating small, filled pock marks. Thread, yarn or string may be dipped in powdered pigment and rolled onto the surface or pressed in by hand to create lines of various widths and character. Whisk brooms, pot scrubbers, nail brushes—all sorts of bristled objects—make surprisingly interesting lines. Sponges, soft rags, cosmetic squares and cheesecloth are used for subtle transitions. I joke that I never go into a hardware store or discount store without seeing painting tools everywhere—there are endless possibilities. In each of these techniques, and others that follow, the substantial body that Dorland’s adds to the oil paint is essential.

Lines and contour drawings are also embedded in the layers of my paintings. Sometimes I draw with a tube of paint directly onto the surface —one of the few times I do not mix the oil paint with wax (I just squeeze it out as I draw.) I also draw with a brush dipped in solvent, powdered pigment, or a wax and oil mixture, and with oil bars or pigment sticks (oil paint manufactured in stick form). A solvent line, when gone over with a squeegee, often produces beautiful subtleties.

As I near the end of a painting, I may add scratched lines, created with a cooking skewer, dry ballpoint pen, or palette knife. Scratching and chipping away at the surface is possible because the surface of the painting even if it has become fairly dry or tacky to the touch, remains workable if attacked energetically. If the surface has become too dry for these techniques, it can usually be softened by rubbing with some plain wax.

Although I don’t tend to add collage elements to my work, Dorland’s does provide a suitable base for the addition of paper, thin fabric, thread and the like. Collage elements can be layered and embedded into a developing painting at any point. Sometimes, I do like to add a bit of metallic leaf or metallic powder which I work into the surface.

Part of the process of my work is to destroy as well as build up. I never hesitate to make major changes—painting over a whole panel or washing it all out with solvent. I make a special point to eliminate “darlings”--those charming little surprises that pop up during the process. They can easily become too precious and impede the natural progression of the work if allowed to dominate too early on. My process involves both spontaneity and decision making, and careful editing—in the end, I value most what I have learned to control and predict. When it comes to surprises, I keep only what works in the painting as a whole.

Glazing and Finishing:

Near the very end of a painting, when the only changes I want to make are fairly subtle, I sometimes rub a glaze made with of a small amount of transparent paint mixed with Dorland’s onto selected areas of the painting with a soft cloth. This creates a slight color shift or enhanced contrast, and can unify areas that seem a bit disjointed or broken up. For areas of paint that I would like to remove or tone down slightly, I gently rub with plain wax and cheesecloth. When the painting is dry to the touch, I may buff it with a soft rag, one last advantage of using Dorland’s over other types of oil mediums. There is no need for a final varnish, as the wax itself provides sufficient sealing of the paint.

All of these aspects of my process have evolved over time, through experimentation and combining ideas from various sources. They include methods that I’ve stumbled upon, borrowed from my earlier background in printmaking, and discovered while playing with a particular tool or art supply. Almost everyone who tries Dorland’s comes up with some new ideas. This includes artists in my workshop, a few of whom can take credit for something here that they were kind enough to share. Without cold wax medium, most of these techniques would never have become important to my work. Dorland’s has opened up a new abstract vocabulary for me and one that offers new possibilities every day in my studio. © 2010 Rebecca Crowell

The painting above, Up and Down (14"x11") illustrates many of my techniques: the use of solvent and solvent lines, scratching and layering.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
  using dorland's wax medium: part 1

Recently I finished writing an article about using cold wax medium for Rupert, Gibbon & Spider, Inc., the company that makes Dorland's, the cold wax medium that I use. It will appear on their website at some point in the future, but in the meantime here are excerpts from the first part of the article.

When I first started using Dorland's, I was interested in bringing more abstraction into my work, but feeling constrained by brush techniques. I was also frustrated with other oil mediums I'd tried that made the paint slippery and runny. A sales person at my favorite art supply store recommended that I try Dorland's Wax Medium. I was delighted with the difference the wax made in adding body to the paint, and I began to experiment with ways to apply and manipulate this thicker, faster drying paint. Gradually I moved away from brush painting into the kind of abstract painting I am doing today, in which textured color fields are built up in layers, using a variety of tools.

Getting Started:
In workshops that I teach about using cold wax medium with oils, I have seen artists use this product in a wide range of styles and approaches. Dorland’s is a very flexible and forgiving medium, and the fun is in experimenting to find out what it offers. However, a bit about my basic procedures may help in getting started.

I paint on gessoed panels, rather than stretched canvas or linen. The rigid surface is better for holding up to my rather aggressive techniques involving scraping and scratching, and it also counters any tendency for cracking or sagging as layers are built up.

Ratios of paint to cold wax are a matter of personal preference--most of the time, I use about 1:3 or 1:2 Dorland's to oil paint, though I never measure it. I simply put a large glob of wax on my palette and mix it into individual colors as needed, using a palette knife. For the initial layers of paint, I lean toward about 1:3 or less of wax to paint, because the paint will tend to slide around on the panel with higher proportions of wax. Once a base of a couple of layers is built up, experimentation is easier. A higher ratio of Dorland's to oil paint creates a thicker mixture, and the added body will enable more textural effects. (The mixture can be made even thicker with the addition of powdered pigment or powdered marble, if desired.)

With a lower ratio of wax to paint the result is more like straight tube paint, which is useful for certain techniques. Since the wax acts as a drying agent, using only a small amount of wax usually means the paint will take longer to dry. Finding the right amount of wax for different stages of the painting takes some practice. Fortunately, there is no need to be consistent—it is fine to apply thin wax layers over thick, or the opposite. There is wonderful freedom in being able to use whatever seems called for, to simply paint with no concern for tenets of traditional oil painting (such as the requirement to use “fat colors over lean.” When oil colors are suspended in Dorland's it is unnecessary to be concerned with their oil content.)

I apply the first few layers of wax/paint mixture to the panel with palette knives or squeegees, keeping in mind that these are simply a foundation on which to build the painting, and will be covered over. Because I will later scrape, scratch and sometimes dissolve the top layers of my painting, I like to set up interesting contrasts at this stage--alternating colors, and using both opaque and transparent paints. I also stick to broad color fields rather than small patches of color, so that areas of color are somewhat predictable when exposed at a later point (though there are always surprises!)© 2010 Rebecca Crowell

I'll include more of the article in my next post. The painting above is Lake House #5 (36"x36.")
Sunday, April 11, 2010
  carolina workshops
As registrations start to come in for my two upcoming Oil and Wax Workshops in the Carolinas, I'm getting more excited about traveling to this beautiful area. The workshops--to clarify, they are completely separate events--are on June 18-20 in Spartanburg, SC and June 26-27 in Hendersonville, NC. Although I have driven through these spectacular mountains in the past, and knew that this area is home to many artists, I decided to ask Carol Icard to tell me a bit more about the area. Carol is the artist who first invited me to the Carolinas, came up with the excellent idea of having two classes on consecutive weekends and has been hugely instrumental in getting venues arranged and getting out the word about my classes. She wrote:

"...We have lived here for 8 years now and have barely scratched the surface for explorations. Going north from here is Tryon, NC, which is an historically documented center for the arts. "Up the hill," as they say around here (about a steep grade into the mountains) is Saluda, NC, and on the way a beautiful stop over is Pearson's Falls....past Saluda is Flat Rock, where visitors can enjoy Carl Sandburg's estate, which is a working goat farm, gorgeous property, now a national park. Hendersonville follows, with an interesting downtown, then one can head west to Brevard or northwest to Asheville which I think of as sort of like a southern Burlington, VT, or even Harvard Square in Cambridge in the 60's! Outside of Asheville are numerous small town destinations, like Black Mountain, Burnsville and Penland, where the nationally known school is located.

The scenery in the mountains, and in the foothills where we live, is both charming and calming. No real big city bustle, but lots going on all the time...Spartanburg and Greenville have renovated downtown areas....Art Walk nights are every third Thursday of the month (meaning that there will be one the night before the workshop--RC.)

...even though we used to live in the culturally rich Berkshires of Massachusetts, where summer especially was abounding with dance, drama, music and visual art, we have never lacked for cultural activities here...and the natural beauty around here and on up into NC and TN, is simply breathtaking."

Carol also provided some websites for more information about the area, and I am including them here for any out of town artists who are considering one of these workshops. It strikes me that coming during June might lead naturally to plans for a little vacation and time to explore the area either before or after the class. www.exploreasheville.com, www.visitspartanburg.com, www.historichendersonville.org, and www.blackmountain.org.

I appreciate that a number of local artists have signed on already and I'm sure we will have a great time! Please click here for more information about the two workshops, and registration information. Photos courtesy of Carol Icard.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
  door county gallery

Tomorrow I'm driving over to Door County (Wisconsin's "thumb" that juts into Lake Michigan) to deliver ten paintings to Woodwalk Gallery for the summer season. This is one of two galleries of mine in Wisconsin (the other is Zazan Gallery in Paoli) that do a primarily seasonal business with summer tourists. So I choose work for these galleries in easily transportable dimensions. The painting above, Lake Shore, is 14"x11" and is packed up for tomorrow's trip.

Short post! But I'm leaving in the morning and not quite ready....
Sunday, April 04, 2010
  what am i looking for

Some of the questions I listed in my last blog post (meant to stimulate thinking for an upcoming panel discussion at the IEA Retreat this September in San Fransisco) have been on my mind this week--especially one about what I look for my paintings. I think this rather daunting question asks not only what my aesthetic preferences are, but also what meaning I find in my work, and how do I create that.

At the same time that I've been contemplating this, I've also been finishing an article about my techniques (requested by the company that makes the cold wax I favor, Dorland's wax medium.) This writing focuses on specific ways that I use cold wax medium that I have developed over the years.

As I painted today, I thought about these two paths of inquiry and how they are related. I recalled the art-school concept of Form and Content--that ideally the Form, or physical aspects of the work (technique included) and the Content (the meaning of the work) are inter-related. One supports and leads to the other. When this relationship is out of balance, there is work that is heavily dependent upon technique for its impact, or overly conceptual without concern for visual elements. A somewhat out of date theory maybe--but it has always been useful to me in assessing my own work.

The way that I think of technique--and teach it in my workshops--is as a variety of uses for certain materials and tools. As such, technique forms the vocabulary of my visual language. Just as a particular word or phrase may be crafted to fine-tune the meaning in speaking or writing, so a particular technique comes into play. By themselves, separate from their use in a painting, my techniques have little meaning beyond visual enjoyment (not to dismiss that--it does keep me endlessly entertained while I work!)

The photo above shows a technique I use quite often--drawing something with a brush dipped in solvent, and then going over it with a squeegee (in this case, my trusty dough scraper) which leaves behind a very clear and distinctive mark. These marks can be stunning when the solvent cuts through several layers of color. While some of my paintings feature strong marks of this type, more often they lie buried beneath layers of transparent color, visible only subtly.

Which brings me to the meaning of my work, and back to Form and Content. My work is about layers built up over time and then worn away, showing bits of what is below the surface. When I work, I think about complex surfaces in nature and the human environment like old walls, rust and eroded stone. The quiet but relentless natural processes of weathering, aging, burying and revealing feel calm and steady to me, and have poetic and symbolic depth. This is what I want my work to evoke.

So, to answer what I am looking for--it is an integration of Form and Content. A blending of technique--layering, scraping, creating specific marks and then covering them over--and meaning as described above. Ideally, the ideas I am after lead to the techniques, and the techniques lead back to richer and more complex surfaces.


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       Rebecca Crowell