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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.

Friday, December 31, 2010
  new year thoughts

Iced in on this New Year's Eve 2010, and contemplating the lows and highs of the past year in my art life. Things certainly began badly..art sales were slow for me last winter, and expenses high. If I'd known then that 2010 would turn out to be my best year to date for art income, I'd have spared myself some sleepless nights and general anxiety! It's a pattern though, one that I've observed in over 25 years of ups and downs in the art world. Things may look very bleak, and then suddenly there is a breakthrough, an opportunity, a new idea, a sale, a gallery call, some form of recognition...and once again, there's forward momentum.

2010 was my first full year of giving workshops, which was the best new development for me. They ranged from one-day sessions in my studio to three day classes in various locations around the country...culminating in a private session on the island of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands in November. (THAT was more that I imagined possible when I first started teaching in 2009.)

Every workshop I taught was its own adventure, and I loved the travel, connecting with interesting people around the country, making new friends, and the satisfaction of providing other artists with something they value (while learning plenty from them as well.) I was touched and honored that even in the slow economy, artists were willing to pay tuition and sometimes considerable travel costs to come to my classes. Only a few classes had less than full enrollment. (I'm looking forward to adding some new locations and new content in 2011--I'll be posting my calendar soon, and sending out a newsletter to people on my workshop mailing list.)

In the studio, it was a productive year, and I had three exhibits in 2010 (at Circa Gallery in February, and Darnell Fine Art and Telluride Gallery both in October.) Over the course of the year, I felt a shift away from specific references to my 2008 artist residency in Catalonia, though influences remain. New techniques for adding lines and gestural marks, as well as more contrast, and evidence of paint layers evolved. I will have quite a bit of new work online when I launch my new website in January. Actually it's going to be two websites--my main one will focus on my paintings--a straightforward gallery/portfolio site. The other (www.CrowellArtConnection.com...that's not an active link yet) will be aimed at artists, and have my teaching info, writings, links, and so on. At least that's how I envision things now--I'm heading for Ithaca, NY next week to get down to specifics with my website designer.

Tonight I'm feeling grateful for a good year now past, and optimistic about what's ahead. I wish all of you satisfying work, new ideas and a pleasing degree of prosperity. And that you experience great generosity, both in what you are given, and in what you give back to others, as well.
Friday, December 24, 2010
  art biz

I'm managing to post a finished painting (Red Plane, 30"x30", oil and wax on panel) but the past few weeks have involved more computer time than studio time (and of course, there have been the usual distractions of the season, though our own celebration this year is low key.) I've been working on setting up my teaching schedule for 2011, and this has led to taking on a chore I've put off for too long--updating and organizing my mailing list. To facilitate that chore, I signed on with Constant Contact, and so far I've been very pleased with the service. makes it easy to organize multiple mailing lists, and to put together and send out attractive emails and newsletters to large groups of people--eliminating the annoying chore of sending out information in small batches from regular email to avoid spam issues. As I enter all the data from my email mailing list into Constant Contact, I have been trying to make notes and nail down details about the people on it (over 500)--using the search function on my Yahoo account to remind myself of how we came to be in touch.

Of course, many on my list are well-known or at least familiar to me--friends, relatives, collectors, art reps, former students. But there have always been some contacts whose origins were lost in time. Solving the mystery of the who, when and where has been kind of fun--and it relieves some of the tedium of this whole chore. In a few cases, when I look back over old correspondence, I've been reminded of some unfinished business, or the need to get back to someone about an upcoming class, which lends a bit more satisfaction to this whole project. It seems like a fitting one for wrapping up 2010.

Another art biz project is also demanding my attention. With the new year, I will be preparing to launch two new versions of my website. One, my main site, will be a focused portfolio site, highlighting my paintings and professional accomplishments. The second will be devoted to my workshop information, various writings, links, and other info for artists. Years ago, when I set up my original site my web designer commented on the amount of information that I wanted to share, and she built that into the site. Now seems the right time to give this information its own focus and room to grow. I'll be traveling to Ithaca, NY in early January to spend a few days hammering out the details of these two sites with her.

By the way, if anyone reading this would like to be added to my new, updated and wonderfully organized (!!) mailing list, please email me and let me know if your interest lies in workshops, general info (upcoming exhibits, studio news) or both. If you'd like to add a little about yourself to the email, that would be great. My mailing list feels a lot more friendly when I have more than just a name...thank you. I am grateful to all of you who show their interest in my work and classes.

OK--I'm done for a few days with art biz! Heading out now for Christmas Eve dinner at my mother's house. Happy Holidays to all who are celebrating the season!
Friday, December 17, 2010
  from chaos into order

(Above: Timanfaya #2, 12"x12", oil on panel, 2010.)

A quote from the abstract modernist painter Beatrice Mandelman (that I came across in the December/January issue of Art and Antiques magazine) struck me as a succinct description of my own painting process:
"I'm trying to work from chaos into order, stripping away, using the basics; that part is intellectual..."

I don't know how Mandelman arrived at her brand of chaos to begin with, but I suspect she laid down color and marks in a spontaneous manner during the initial stages of the work, responding to the paint without much constraint. I do this in my own work, then edit, as she says, using "the basics"--thoughtful decisions arising from elemental design principles. For myself, and likely for her, this is not a simple one-two step process, but a back and forth journey between the edited and the unedited. Each stage of chaos gets organized, but something is missing or undeveloped...then on goes the next layer of chaos.

Although the word usually has a negative implication, chaos in this case is a positive, essential stage in the process--characterized by energy, exhilaration, opportunity, and the direct link between emotion and paint. The editing process that the chaos is subjected to seems analogous to the maturing of an adolescent into an adult. Direct emotion and reaction are gradually shaped into something more restrained and structured.

Living with a work in progress as it goes in and out of chaos requires patience and trust in the outcome. I once read that creative personalities often have a high tolerance for ambiguity and unresolved situations...I'm not convinced this is true outside the studio, but certainly it seems essential in this approach to painting.

I had not heard of Mandelman until seeing the article, and wish I could be in Taos to see her work on display with that of her husband, Louis Ribak at the Harwood Museum.
This is one of her paintings:

Saturday, December 11, 2010
  slow painting

Years ago when I was in college, my watercolor teacher commented favorably on something I had dashed off in a matter of minutes. I resisted the praise-somehow I didn't feel right about the painting because it had happened too fast, too easily. His reply, which has stayed with me all of these years, was exactly right. "So, if you don't spend enough time wrestling with it, it doesn't seem like your work?"

It's true. Until I've gotten to know a painting over time, worked through a few issues, and had some interesting back and forth dialogue, it doesn't seem sincere or authentic to me.

Though I move quickly and intuitively with the paint, speed does not characterize my work as a whole. I engage in a long process of continually burying and embedding marks and color fields until there is a substantial and rich foundation of color and texture, with those spontaneous marks visible on the top layers, or exposed from underneath.

Last weekend I started three 30"x30" paintings on Claybord that proceeded very quickly (Claybord is a surface on which the initial layers dry fast.) Within a few days I had developed satisfying images on all three, and even the richness of surface that I like. Since these are paintings that I have reason to finish in the near future, I told myself that this was good, and that I should be open to the occasional "fast" painting experience.

But I guess I wasn't very convincing. A week later, all three paintings have changed beyond recognition. None are finished, and I feel much more connected, involved, and excited to see what will develop.

Sometimes people ask me how many layers of paint and cold wax I build up under my work. A better question might be how many nearly-finished paintings are under there. Every painting I do goes through one or more stages that seem close to being resolved into a decent painting. Often think I am done, but a few days later, I am less satisfied, and I push on. It's important to refuse to settle for something that doesn't truly move me (especially hard when there is a deadline or time pressure.)

I try to follow my mantra--"work it, work it, work it." If I keep at it long enough, the result is always a step beyond what I might have settled for. Sometimes the resolution is reached through endless tinkering, other times in one surprising, decisive final move. Artist Catherine Carter discusses her similar painting process in a recent blog post, "Trials, tribulations, and finally, success" and related Facebook comment, "After days of battling it out, a painting finished as if by magic!" I know that feeling!

(The photo above is a studio shot that includes a couple of the 30"x30" paintings at an early stage.)
Thursday, December 02, 2010
  thoughts on travel

The painting above (Timanfaya #1, 12"x12") is one that I've done since returning from the island of Lanzarote just before Thanksgiving (see previous posts.) Its earthy colors and gritty texture are a direct response to my time on that volcanic island.

Before the first time I attended an artist's residency abroad (in 2001, Catalonia) I had some doubts about whether landscapes far from home would speak to me. I wondered whether impressions formed in a few weeks in a foreign country would be only superficial, and if they could lead to authentic, deeply felt paintings. At the time I had a strong sense of my home--my place--as embodied in the woods and fields where I live, and had been using my own landscape as source material for years. It's not that I didn't want to travel, but I wondered if the experience would really seem relevant to my work.

On the other hand I could easily imagine that travel combined with painting would open my eyes to the landscape in ways that shuttling through and taking a few snapshots as a tourist would not. I liked the idea of purposeful travel, of seeing new places and then processing the experience through my work. In the end, I was intrigued enough by the possibilities to apply for my first residency. This was followed by another in 2008 (also in Catalonia.) I've also traveled in England, the Western US, most recently to Lanzarote, and all of these experiences have fed my work. My next goal is an artist residency in Ireland.

A few years ago, walking on a foggy, craggy moor in central England, I had this insight: that there are many places in the landscape around the world (like that very moor) that feel like home, the true home of one's senses and feelings. This feeling of "home" is not about nationality and human culture...instead, it's about our emotional relationship with nature and the earth, and is a sense of recognition that in this kind of landscape, we belong, we feel the energy of our surroundings.

(Oddly enough, my "home" landscapes are nothing like the gentle hills of West-central Wisconsin where I actually live. Though I love it here and find it beautiful, I identify with places that are wilder, more barren, ancient feeling, dramatic, rocky and remote.)

I love what happens to my creativity when I'm in this sort of place. The landscape around me resonates with visual ideas that I'm already exploring, or that lie just under the surface of my awareness. I feel myself becoming hyper-tuned in to colors and textures around me, all the nuances of a landscape that is both new and strange, and deeply familiar. The landscape itself seems to offer validation, and the ideas and inspiration gained in such a place can carry me along for months after returning home.


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       Rebecca Crowell