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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, June 28, 2010
  workshop tips

I'm writing this along the way home from my two teaching gigs in the Carolinas, feeling tired but pleased with the whole experience. (I'm also really eager to get back home to my own studio, but that will happen soon enough.) With every class, I learn more about how to teach, and how to handle the business end of giving workshops. And because everyone is experimenting, making discoveries and sharing the results during class time, each group of students adds to the growing pool of information and techniques. The workshops are definitely "works in progress" because each one results in an accumulation of notes, ideas and revisions.

I've also noticed over time that certain issues come up over and over, as students encounter new information and ways of working, and sometimes find themselves far out of their comfort zones. I experienced some of these issues myself when I took a couple of encaustic workshops earlier this year--I found out what it's like to be in a room of strangers trying my hand at something unfamiliar and difficult. Kind of humbling!! I have put together a few tips to keep in mind for getting the most out of one of my workshops:

**Have patience with yourself--it takes a long time to learn to learn use cold wax in a way that fits your own style and expressive purposes. I've been at it for about 7 years, and only on the last few have I felt a real sense of mastery with the medium.

**Let go of expectations, including that of having finished paintings at the end of the workshop. Although some people will end up with a few they are happy with, it's fine to come away with just a start. The short class length means that you're working with panels that are only semi-dry, and although there are plenty of ways to work with these, more options will open up once you're back in your own studio.

**The techniques that I teach will lead to some beautiful and seductive passages, and these can occur early on. But please don't stop too soon, just enjoy the passing scenery. Allow those happy accidents to happen--that's how you explore possibilities--and then move on. Once there's a good base of color and texture built up, you can start to select areas to develop and retain. Nothing is really lost, because the more layers underneath the richer the final result will be.

**Don't worry if you create a muddy mess. We all do it. One of the beauties of using cold wax medium is that you can change the surface very quickly and very radically by applying another layer of paint.

**Although working in a group can be difficult when you're used to your own studio can be hard, having all those studio mates also means lots of brains to pick. It's good to be generous and open--new ideas for using wax, technical information, new brands of paint and colors to try, titles of books and names of artists, gallery leads and art biz resources are all commonly shared and discussed in the group setting.

**Sometimes people are very eager to know about a particular technique or aspect of using cold wax, and you're always free to experiment and move ahead at your own pace. However, my demos and explanations follow what I think of as a logical progression, so please be patient and I will get to everything I can by the end of the class. There are no rules for a particular sequence to follow, but at least for the duration of the class it is helpful to follow along as the information is presented.

**The process is one that balances intuition with intention. Avoid preconceived ideas, and allow the paint to lead you through the initial stages of the work. Evolved areas generally have the most beauty and mystery. As you enter the final stages of the work, be a ruthless editor and you will end up with a more coherent painting.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010
  the workshop experience
In between two Oil and Wax weekend workshops in the Carolinas, I'm reflecting on what goes on in these classes, and what the experience is like for those who attend. The brief class descriptions and the promotional information put out by various venues where I teach really do not tell the story. The truth is that the workshops tend to be quite intense--for some people even "life-changing" (as I have been told more than once.) Though I can also honestly describe them as "fun" (which everyone seems to recognize as good marketing,) "fun" is really too superficial a description for what goes on. I think most people find fun in the camaraderie of the class, because in every workshop so far the atmosphere has been friendly and warm, with lots of laughter and open exchange of ideas. On the other hand, there tends to be only a limited amount of chit-chat, and long periods of silence in which people work with serious concentration. Everyone seems to recognize that there is serious work to be done and a lot of ground to cover.

I think that "joy" probably applies to most people's experience more than "fun" when it comes to actually working with the cold wax medium. Mixing wax in with oils adds a freedom and expressiveness to the painting experience that many people say they have been seeking, and that can be a deeply satisfying discovery. Although the first day of a workshop can be frustrating, by the end of the class a lot of people say they are hooked on using cold wax. Some leave unsure about how they will carry on with using it in their work, but from emails and posts on my Oil and Wax discussion site I know that lots of them do figure it out.

I've been listening to what people say about their experience in my workshops, from beginners to very experienced artists. I hear that in the course of the 2 or 3 days, they have experienced frustration, fatigue, and confusion...but also tremendous excitement, a rush of ideas, pride in what they have done, and yes, joy and pleasure. I'm grateful and somewhat amazed that so many are willing to take this sometimes wild ride (although I am sure there are some that did not realize quite what they were in for!) At the core is a desire to grow and push forward, and it is this energy that drives every class and my own pleasure in teaching.

What does it take (besides the obvious investment of time and money)to get the most out of an Oil and Wax Workshop? In my next post I'll have a few thoughts about that, along with a photo or two from the workshop that I just finished teaching in Spartanburg, SC.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
  ups and downs

This is Alto, (54"x30" oil on panel. I am shipping it tomorrow to Telluride Gallery of Fine Art in Telluride, CO, because they asked for a large painting. That sounds straightforward, doesn't it? But of course there is always more to a painting than responding to a request, as if it were a simple order to fill. In fact this painting was quite a struggle, made more intense by my goal to have it done before leaving on a long road trip on Tuesday.

I started with the large panel, which had a few payers of paint already, and over several days, I brought it to an interesting point of textural and color complexity. Then I worked with the upper two panels for contrast. A few more days along and I considered it quite a nice painting, and had the bolts put in, and left it sitting to one side of the studio for a few more days. This was a turning point--as described in my last blog post, I allow a few days to make sure the painting holds up--studying it head on as well as glancing at it more peripherally. It became clear to me that as it was, the colors were too bland and light--the painting lacked depth and richness. It was still, on some level, a very nice painting--it had an airy, almost lyrical feeling. But it did not stir me or hold my interest. It lacked presence, that elusive quality that tells me it is finished.

So, I went back into it one morning, and by the time I left the studio that night, I had on my hands a very chaotic, ugly painting. At three different times during the day it had seemed close to resolution, along three very different paths. But none satisfied me enough to hang onto, and I kept going back in and making more changes.

Let me say that my state of mind was not calm or pleased that evening. I thought I had wrecked something that was really lovely in its own way. This was Wednesday of last week, and I had planned to ship the painting Friday. I tossed and turned that night, and finally realized that if I didn't get the painting shipped before the trip, it was not the end of the world. It is far more important to be satisfied with the painting, and know that the process has played itself out, in its own time.

The next morning, in a much more calm and focused state of mind, I simply washed the whole painting down with solvent. And, something magical emerged--a very complex, rough texture that was close to the original painting (at the point I first considered it done)--but now with a much more developed surface. The solvent leaves traces behind, so washing back to the original painting meant that, while mostly still there, it was newly enhanced and re-defined.

I then began to apply veils of thin color, to scrape some areas and build up others, and make other subtle changes. Gradually the painting that is pictured here emerged. Once I had found my way with the main panel, the top two panels called out for more development too. My final move was the delicate forms drawn on the upper panel. (It's hard to see the detail in this small image--clicking on the photo will go to a somewhat larger picture.) The end of the story is that by Friday morning, the painting was done--and because the cold wax medium leads to quick drying time, I will still be able to get the painting on its way before we head out on Tuesday.

This story seems to have a lesson at its core. In stepping out of my impatience to finish--accepting that the painting needed to unfold in its own way--resolution occurred in a graceful and completely satisfying way. Not that I think I have learned the lesson and will be forever enlightened! No, I humbly acknowledge that I have been through it all before and undoubtedly will do so again. And I bet a lot of you know exactly what I'm talking about.

PS: Regarding the trip mentioned above--I will be on the road teaching two workshops in the Carolinas, this coming weekend and the one following. I believe there is one spot left in each, so see my website for details and to sign on--there is still time. I am looking forward to the whole trip, which will include a little down time. We're leaving home and studio in the care of our house sitter. (He is also the plumber--a very nice combination, since our bathroom is being remodeled while we are gone!)
Sunday, June 06, 2010
  is it finished?

I'm often asked "how do you know when a painting is finished?" It's a good question since I don't work towards a preconceived endpoint, and adding more layers of color and texture usually just increases the depth and beauty of the surface. Also, since my working methods allow for rapid changes in color and format, a new idea or technique can spark a desire to rework everything in sight--meaning that big changes can happen fast. Yet in spite of this fluidity, I do get a lot of paintings out of the studio, and each one I send off is "finished."

So how do I decide to stop working on a painting, and bring it to a conclusion? Deadlines and external demands play a part, as well as a sense that I've gotten what I need from the piece, and it needs to either be done or become something totally different.

A prerequisite for the final stages is a certain depth and complexity of surface that makes the work my own--this is something that I recognize intuitively. Once I have that, entering the home stretch is usually a conscious decision, though actually finishing can take only a few hours or many days. (I tend to think I am closer to being done than turns out to be the case...as always in the painting process, a minor change can lead into many more.)

Wrapping things up involves some self-critiquing--for example I look for the sources of tension or focal areas in the painting, and push and pull if one is not clearly dominant. (At least in my particular style, this makes for a stronger painting.) I consider whether the painting is strong from a distance as well as from close up, and in a multiple panel work, I spend some time making sure the arrangement of panels is my favorite.

The last stages of a painting amount to an editing process. I assess the amount of visual information presented and whether it is too much or too little (I actually do this more intuitively than that sounds, but I'm just trying to explain the process.) As in editing writing, it is all about fine tuning and subtle changes. I love this stage when every small tweak makes a real difference.

Finally, I set the painting aside, panels clamped together as needed, for a few days. I look it over with fresh eyes as I come into the studio, and glance at it once in awhile throughout the day. If it passes all this scrutiny, and if it continues to excite and please me on a gut level, I'm done.

A completed painting has what I think of as a personality--a presence that is hard to define, complex, yet connected and whole. It seems outside of myself, yet I recognize it as part of me, someone or something I know.

It's kind of funny, but in spite of all my efforts to make something exactly right, I recognize a certain arbitrary aspect to the process. There are so many decisions along the way that could have gone one way or another, right up to the very end. Seen a month earlier, a month later, a year later, the same painting would look different to me, and I might not think it done at all. Most of my paintings do hold up over time, though--and some even get better. But there will always be some that don't, that make me cringe and wonder what I was thinking. (If a "finished" painting is a snapshot of the artist on his or her journey...not all will be flattering.) Please excuse me for repeating my mantra one more time--but being able to call a painting "done" may be the ultimate move in Trust in the Process, and includes the acceptance of an occasional misjudgment.

(The painting above, Green Alchemy, 14"x 11" is finished.)


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       Rebecca Crowell