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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.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Activities in the studio for the past few weeks: sorting, stacking, configuring, packing, getting ready to ship, and painting, painting, painting. With several shows coming up and a busy summer/fall of travel and workshops looming, I'm trying to sort out the business end of things. I want to get a handle on which paintings are for upcoming exhibits, which can be sent out now, which should be earmarked for this gallery or that. So I make lists and piles, but so far only a few firm decisions, and this is all kind of stressful. I certainly don't hate the business part of what I do, in fact I've learned to like it for the most part...but unlike painting, it often lacks a certain satisfying flow.

I'm always happier thinking about the work for its own sake, rather than where it will end up. And right now, there's a lot of diversity in my work that is interesting to me. For example, at the same time that I've been allowing some fairly recognizable imagery (mostly botanical) into my work, I'm also painting some of my most purely abstract paintings yet--simple color fields with solvent marks and scratches. I also have paintings going that feature primarily soft, atmospheric color fields as well as paintings with very bold contrast in both color/value and geometric division. I'm really enjoying the way these various paths are diverging and intersecting. It seems like a time of transition, but fortunately not the awkward kind--instead, various directions and impulses are feeding off one another and occasionally working all together in one composition.

Just to add to the mix--at the same time that I'm exploring a horizontal format in some paintings, I have resurrected the Vertical (or Column) Series which has been dormant for the past year or two. I painted a lot of these up until about 2008, then moved away from them--but am now seeing new possibilities, incorporating some of the techniques I've been working on with lines and interior divisions within the panels. Both formats, the emphatically horizontal and vertical, are older ideas that now seem fresh again.

One of the benefits of writing/blogging is that it often brings clarity to an issue. OK, now I see it--no wonder I'm feeling confused about galleries and shows and whatnot. There is so much unfolding right now in the work itself that I must need to turn off the art biz brain and just paint. Let's see if "trust in the process"-that great mantra--can apply to the whole picture--not just the art itself but the art business too. I expect that things will fall into place if I quit insisting that they have to do so right now!

The photos above and below are a couple of studio shots that may provide a glimpse into what I'm talking about, though at the distance they are taken, much is lost. I include them mainly to get a sense of my environment, of things placed around, under consideration.

Sunday, May 23, 2010
  new painting

The very first multiple-panel painting that I did, back in 2003, was a horizontal arrangement of five square panels. In the year that followed, my work gradually shifted into mostly vertical formats, and within another year or so I completely abandoned horizontal work. I think this strong preference for verticality has been a way into abstraction for me, removed as it is from traditional landscape/horizontal interpretations. I love vertical work for its own sake too--for its associations with architecture, and for its somewhat unexpected presence when pushed to extremes (as in my Column series.)

So I'm not abandoning the tall and narrow (or the square, with its own appealing attributes...)but in the past few months I've found myself working with side by side panels--in a few paintings anyway. And it seems a little ironic that given my original urge to distance myself from landscape, these paintings all have linear elements suggesting tree trunks and other plant life. I posted a few weeks ago about botanical imagery emerging in recent work, and the discussion that followed has helped this direction to sink in and feel rightly "mine."

The creative process always seems to be looping back on itself...but we emerge from each round in a new place. Perhaps face to face with an older idea, but now it exists in a new context, with new possibilities. It occurs to me that revisiting and revitalizing older ideas may be the most authentic expressions, since each of us seems to gravitate towards certain themes in our lifetime of work, and these become richer, more individualized and more resonant with layers of experience.

(The painting above is as yet untitled, 60"x24' oil and wax on panel.)
Monday, May 17, 2010
  workshop weekend

Time for blogging escaped me this past week--I was so busy getting ready for my first extended Oil and Wax Workshop in my studio, which meant a lot of cleaning and organizing--then teaching for three days on the weekend. Everything went very well except for one slight glitch...I came down with a bad sinus infection which wiped out my energy and clogged up my vocal chords. But the show went on, thanks to the gracious attitude of the participants, who urged me to take needed breaks and helped in various ways to keep things moving. And at the end of the day, especially with feeling less than 100%, I was grateful to be in my own bed.

Although I go through the same basic material about techniques for using cold wax medium in each workshop, each class is unique. I notice that certain things I say in the course of teaching tend to strike a chord and become a catch phrase for the weekend (for this group it was "knock it back"...referring to the way I like to bury imagery and technique under layers.) Often someone will bring in ideas related to a different area of expertise that are a good fit for using with cold wax--in this class, one of the artists is well versed in making textural effects in watercolor, and suggested some new uses for cheesecloth and solvents. Each group mentions favorite books, artists, galleries and museums in the course of conversation, adding to my own general knowledge which I can pass along to other classes. I also enjoy the fact that although people come in with very different levels of experience and background in the art world, this seems to lead to generous sharing of ideas and feedback rather than creating any rift or division in the class.

Without exception I have had cohesive groups with wonderful energy and enthusiasm, lots of laughter and interaction, along with long stretches of serious concentration. But each group has its own dynamic and particular direction, and each group contributes to the overall knowledge and growing enthusiasm for using cold wax medium. I find special enjoyment in teaching in my own studio, where I can grab a book off the shelf or pull out an older painting to illustrate something I am talking about. But teaching in other venues also offers the stimulation of a new area and generally a more spacious set-up than my own studio. The larger groups possible in these bigger spaces have their own dynamic.

This workshop has kicked off the busy and exciting summer and fall season of teaching ahead. For details on upcoming workshops--most of which I will teach away from home--please visit my website.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
  thoughts on imagery

An e-pen pal, Nancy Green, has started a new blog that's off to a very good start, with--among other topics--ruminations about moving away from representational landscape images into abstraction. In most recent post, she links to some earlier blog posts of mine about the topic, which made me realize how back and forth I have been over the years in my inclusion of identifiable imagery.

For the past few years, my work has been mostly color fields with subtle variations. Now I find things once again moving toward bolder activation of the surface, which sometimes includes recognizable imagery. For example, lately I've been playing a lot with lines--made with brushes, paint sticks, scratching sticks and solvents. Making lines seems to trigger an impulse to draw "things." These tend to be botanical in flavor--grasses, twigs, flowers--with some geometric references to buildings, stairs, and ladders. Sometimes, though I just "scribble," and make gestural lines that resemble handwriting, plus some simple shapes and curves.

When imagery does appear, I would say it grows out of the painting process in the same way that other elements do, like color and texture, or non-representational lines. In each case, I try to find what the painting needs as it evolves, rather than beginning with a plan to include (or avoid) an image.

Right now in my studio are quite a few paintings with (for me) bold lines, some of which are suggestive of imagery such as trees and other plants. I've been enjoying painting them, but I'm not sure if they are what I want...questions present themselves about the amount of attention that the eye and mind give to identifiable objects.

The painting above is actually from a few months ago, and more subtle than the very latest paintings. (The ones I'm not showing. Yet.) This one is Winter Garden, 30"x34".
Thursday, May 06, 2010
  workshop biz

I have spent almost the entire day at the computer doing art-related business--my few hours in the studio I devoted to cleaning up in preparation for an upcoming workshop, so, not exactly creative time. You can probably guess this is not my favorite kind of day. But I had let business things pile up, and become overwhelming and stressful. The best solution seemed to be to spend an entire day dealing with them--I'm not done of course, but did make a satisfying dent.

If you're wondering, just what IS all of this art business...a great deal of it has to do with teaching workshops. I've been planning for some time to make a general post about art business, but quickly realized as I started writing that workshops have come to completely dominate my non-studio time. The actual teaching part is very enjoyable and rewarding--so much so that I hardly feel justified in charging anyone--we're just having an art party! But in the months and weeks leading up to a class I definitely earn my fees. There is so much to deal with--innumerable emails and calls with venues and contact people, efforts on many fronts to spread the word about my classes, website information to update, print publicity to design and/or distribute, donations of sample supplies to request, my own supplies to purchase, travel plans to make and schedules to coordinate. For classes held in my own studio things are somewhat easier. But many of the above jobs still need to be done, and in addition there is organizing and cleaning, and figuring out food. The most enjoyable task is always that of communicating with people interested in taking a workshop from me-that brings a flavor of actual teaching, which is a pleasure.

To get a sense of my life right now, take that list above and multiply it by 9--the number of workshops I have coming up in the next 6 months. There's some overlap for sure...a blanket request for donated materials can be made for everything on the calendar, for example. It's also a huge help when someone volunteers to help coordinate things, as Carol Icard has done for me for my workshops in the Carolinas in June. But for the most part, each workshop has to be treated individually, as its own project.

I want to offer a few tips and hints I've learned over the past year or so about teaching workshops for anyone who is contemplating this life. I haven't come across very much information about this aspect of art business via the usual channels, and have learned it mostly by experience and talking to other people in the field. I'm convinced that although the work load can get a bit crazy at times, teaching workshops is a great job and very rewarding. I treasure the experience of meeting artists from around the country and becoming immersed in art-making with them for days on end. I learn so much and always come away feeling stimulated and personally appreciated, which feels good of course!

Clearly I've started this post with one big "what not to do." Don't let business tasks pile up. I mean literally, in terms of stacks of papers, and also electronically, with that dreaded "messy in-box." I like to use the little red flags that Yahoo accounts have for important emails (I assume other types have something similar) but when there are 20 or 30 red-flagged items they lose their impact and sense of urgency. Obviously I am not one to lecture here, but..I do try. I try to spend a couple of hours a day doing business chores. Often this is not enough, but it's enough for me! (It is about all I can stand on a regular basis.)

Here are a few other tips:
Deposits from students, and contracts with venues are necessary (I learned both of these the hard way.) Nail down in writing (email is fine) all details no matter how tedious they may seem--anything that if misunderstood will cause problems. These include what you will be paid (a big one!), the supplies if any the venue will supply, making sure the physical set-up is adequate, the minimum and maximum number of students, the time frame for registration. If you will be flying to the venue, you need a cut-off date for registration that allows you to either cancel or buy your plane ticket depending on whether you've got the minimum number of students.

Designated teaching and demo supplies are a good idea and save a lot of time (this may seem obvious, but until this particular light bulb clicked on, I was running around before every workshop collecting stuff off my painting tables.) Stockpile paint and other supplies when they are discounted and put them aside on the Designated Supplies shelf. I am currently working on getting duplicates for everything I use and take to workshops.

Realize the limitations of your student supply list, and figure out how to cover any lapses. My list is fairly open-ended because it includes choices for people who are on a budget or aren't sure how deeply they want to dive into cold wax painting. But because I don't have a clear cut, "Buy This!!" kind of list, and because there are a lot of choices available, sometimes people show up with inadequate supplies. And not every venue is conveniently located next to an art supply store, as was my very first workshop at Rochester Art Supply. (I recall this one fondly, and how fortunate it was that people could just run up a tab in the shop...the first version of my supply list needed a wee bit of fine-tuning.) So, I've learned to bring extras of panels and some of the more specialized supplies that I sell at cost. This doesn't work when I fly to a workshop, but otherwise seems to provide a welcome cushion.

Ask for donations form art supply manufacturers. I've been pleasantly surprised to realize how willing--eager even!--the people who make paint, panels, and other supplies are to provide you with freebies for your students, and for your in-class demos. Actually until recently I hadn't asked more than a couple of places for donations, but now I see how it works, and will be expanding my requests. Everybody wins--students save money, you have more stuff to offer, and the companies gain new customers.

Make the effort to communicate with your students prior to the class. When someone else is handling registration, ask for the email list of people who have signed up, and send out a welcome email a few weeks ahead. This gets everyone thinking about what's ahead and often prompts questions about materials to purchase. You can arrive at the workshop feeling a bit more connected to the participants, and they to you.

During the class, be flexible, listen carefully, stay loose, have fun. I have a plan but it's mainly a reference. I check it over a few times during the day to make sure I'm hitting the main things, but I don't get too compulsive about it. I try to keep a good rhythm going, keeping talk and demos fairly short, and providing lots of work time. I work on my own paintings during the work time, which I gather is somewhat unusual, but the students seem to appreciate seeing my work develop over the 2 or 3 days. I make sure they know I am always approachable, and break frequently to walk around and see who might need help.

Plan for pre-workshop prep time and post-workshop exhaustion. Organizing and packing for a workshop, traveling to and from, and regaining energy afterward take a toll on time and energy.

These are the tips that come to mind--surely I am forgetting some, and perhaps others can contribute a few. I am fairly new at all of this and very interested in other people's experiences.

(The painting above is Interior #5, 30"x30" oil and wax on panel.)
Sunday, May 02, 2010
  new painting and thoughts on texture
The painting above, Sandia (54"x30" oil and wax on panel) will be on its way in a couple of days to a collector in Chicago. The close up shot below shows the surface texture of the middle panel, which was created through scraping and scratching--plus a technique I've been developing involving solvent washes and pigment.

Lately I've been interested in pushing the actual texture of the work, the way it feels to the touch. This varies from painting to painting--depending on the amount of scratching and gouging vs. the degree to which I have smoothed everything over with brayers and squeegees. But in addition, there is always visual texture--complex and minute shifts in color, line and tone that evoke weathered surfaces in natural objects, rusted metal and old walls. Ever since I was a child (with collections of rocks, shells, beach glass and old bits of metal) I've been drawn to the patinas created by nature and time.

For me texture is not only visually beautiful and compelling, but it's also meaningful in its evocation of aging...and in its complexity, symbolic of experience and memory. Experimenting in the studio with various ways to create textures that look and feel organic (often because the process behind them mimics natural processes of accretion and erosion) is endlessly fascinating.


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       Rebecca Crowell