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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, March 27, 2017
  the book
A week ago, it finally arrived--my copy of Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations, co-authored by myself and Jerry McLaughlin. I've been waiting to hold this book in my hands for over two years, since the day Jerry convinced me to undertake the project and it began to take form in our shared vision. I tore off the packaging, stared at the cover, felt the book's weight and heft, and began flipping through. It was beautiful and--at long last--an actual book. I felt a rush of emotion and an urge to celebrate, but I was by myself on an otherwise ordinary Monday afternoon. A couple of happy/excited/relieved texts with Jerry sufficed, and I settled down for a more thorough look. 

The pages seemed at once familiar and strange. Countless viewings on the computer screen, days of writing and editing, meetings with Jerry to go over photos and layout decisions, and line-by-line proofreading had pretty much seared most of them into my memory. Yet seeing the actual printed pages brought the whole project from an idea into a new and unfamiliar reality. After living for so long only as computer files, the book now had a physical presence, a substance. For the first time, I could imagine encountering it in a fresh way, as someone else would...picking it up in a store or a friend's studio, or opening the package that had arrived in the mail. If I were seeing it for the first time, I believe I'd be impressed. 

Knowing everything that goes into a book like this is a burden and privilege reserved for its authors. In our case, my own share of the work was considerably less than Jerry's, who not only instigated the project but was its prime mover all along. While we consulted often about various aspects of the book, he took on the heaviest load of overall design, layout, curating, communicating with all the artists in the book, and a myriad of other publishing and distribution details. Fortunately, we also received invaluable help throughout the process from our editor (Kristy Conlin) and our graphic designer (Haroula Kontorousi.)  And we remain ever grateful for the ongoing support of our families and friends, and of the cold wax community at large. 

Although my own workload during the past two years has been comparatively light, it still felt to me at times overwhelming, cumbersome, and nerve-wracking. The writing itself was generally an interesting and creative process, but there was so much more involved. For example, the text we started out with was usually too long or not well enough organized, and needed to be followed by re-writing, editing and of course, proofreading. We had to work out proper chapter titles, chapter intros, headings and subheadings, the placement of artwork, where and how to insert the special focus sections, the content of various charts and lists, the final wording and design of the covers (generously provided by Stephanie Dalton) and flaps. We spent two twelve hour days just working on the photos that illustrate the sections on techniques--planning images that would best show the process, setting up the shots, and finally, taking the photos. Once Jerry had configured the layout of each chapter, we'd usually have further revisions in order to make everything flow correctly or fit into the space, or the number of pages available. In the final months before sending to the printer, we did a lot of fine-tuning and proofreading, It was a challenge then to balance perfectionism and moving the project along, but it was important to focus on the very best result possible.

Throughout the process we worked mostly in our separate locations, with a constant flow of emails and PDFs back and forth. A few times, we met at my place in Wisconsin or at Jerry's in California. Near the end when we were ready for a line-by-line proofreading of the entire manuscript, Jerry traveled to Ballycastle, Ireland where I was on residency. These meetings, few and far between, were always times of intensive work. Once, in Oakland, we worked almost continuously on Chapter 6 from 8am until 1am the following morning. The photo below of Jerry and myself in Ireland was taken on one of only two short breaks over three days. I guess we couldn't believe we were free for an hour!

The ongoing demands of the process often meant working late into evenings in order to also make time for painting, and dealing with art and workshop business. (Amazingly, Jerry did his part while maintaining his medical practice as well as painting and teaching.) 

But in spite of the off and on frustrations, I never regretted becoming involved in the project. All along, I had the strong sense that this was an important undertaking. And I have highly valued my collaboration with Jerry, which continues to be enriching and dynamic. 

Once he asked me what the book meant to me. It took me a moment to answer, to step back and gain a little perspective. But the answer was clear. Although I have been teaching and writing my blog for years, and making a few notes in sketchbooks, I'd never before tried to pull together the various threads of 40 years of experience and weave them into one coherent form. In doing so, this book became for me a kind of closure. I'm very gratified to have so much of what I've learned, taught, written and thought about over the years complied in one place and organized in such a way that others can learn from it. 

Notes from 2007... I had started getting questions from other artists about cold wax and had the idea that I should record something about the techniques I'd been working out in my studio. This was written about six years after I first started using cold wax, and a few years before I started teaching workshops.)

Of course, our new book is much more just my own contributions, and Jerry's--it ranges into the words and work of the many other artists who participated. I love the depth that this brings to the overall content, and I've learned from the other artists. My own use of cold wax medium has always been fairly straight forward--mixing it with paint, and sometimes adding sand, pigments or powders. But seeing the wide range of approaches by artists in the book has had an effect on me. In terms of technique, I'm now more involved in using washes, pours, and pigment sticks. In recent paintings, I've also been exploring a slightly collage-like attitude--not literal collage, but the idea of sectioning parts of the painting with underlying geometry into areas of different but related passages. Certain collage and experimental artists featured in the book intrigued me and I think had some subtle influence.  

Coromandel 20"x16" oil/cold wax/pigment on panel. 

Now, as I leaf again through the book, I wonder what lies ahead in the coming months. As partners at Squeegee Press, Jerry and I are already planning new projects and events. Marketing and wider distribution challenges await us--we'd love to see our book embraced by workshop instructors, public libraries, and the academic community. The support from the community of cold wax artists has been strong from the beginning and continues to grow. 

In the immediate future, the books will be available on Shopify in mid-May, and if you like, you can PRE-ORDER your copy now using this link. If you ordered a copy during our crowd-funding campaign last summer, your book will be on its way as soon after they arrive as we can make it happen (the predicted date of the shipment arrival is April 7th, but that is by boat from China, so I suppose it is not absolute.) I'll be in the Bay Area the week they arrive to help with signing, and I'm sure Jerry and I will do a little celebrating too! We hope that if you choose to own our book, it will a valued resource and a delight for years to come. 
Saturday, March 04, 2017
  new zealand

Since my last post, I’ve been to New Zealand for three weeks, teaching two workshops, and exploring many coastal and inland areas around Auckland with my Squeegee Press partner, Jerry McLaughlin, and Norma Hendrix of Cullowhee Mountain Arts. As I write this, part of me is still walking a black beach; these sublime expanses of volcanic sand were my favorite places of all that we experienced.

There was so much beauty everywhere, though--so many spectacular places and interesting sights, such good camaraderie and excellent workshop sessions--that is hard to re-enter ordinary life (even though I when I returned, it was to our place in New Mexico, which is its own kind of paradise.) The first night I was back, I dreamed about paintings all night. These were compelling abstract images that I felt directed to paint. At one point I woke up and thought of looking for my sketchbook, which was someplace in the jumble of my unpacked luggage. But I told myself I would remember the images, and fell back asleep. In the morning, the more specific ideas and images were gone. I was left only with an impression of light, misty atmosphere, oddly shaped islands, and dark sand. At first I was disappointed. But then I recognized the impressions that I had retained. This was how it was on Karekare, one of the most beautiful black sand beaches that we visited. The dreams had distilled for me a memory that seems now to me the essence of the trip as a whole.

This was a gift, because my work is about expressing essence. In the midst of travel, identifying what is most meaningful to me--and will ultimately influence my work--is usually not clear; sensory impressions, thoughts and feelings crowd together, especially when there is little solitude or down time. In New Zealand, the days were full and sometimes exhausting, and I never took the time to write notes or draw, or do anything other than a few quick paintings during the workshops to process the experience. But every time we went exploring, I was taking it all in. I felt very present and observant, and focused in the way that travel opens the eyes.

I did take a lot of photos. For me, photography is another aspect of being present, an exercise in seeing and appreciating the reality of the moment. I never directly reference photos in the studio, but find that there is an alignment between what I paint and what I choose to photograph.

When I paint, it is memory that serves me best. And of the many memories the New Zealand trip, there will be only a few that impact my work. Until I am alone in my studio, back home after such a trip, I don’t know what these will be, or in what ways they will be expressed. The process of filtering out these essential memories is mysterious and intriguing to me. I often feel that there is symbolic or archetypal meaning in what comes through, yet there is no need to understand or explain. There are simply compelling visual ideas to explore.

Karekare, 24x36", oil, sand, cold wax on panel

For the past few days I’ve been in my little New Mexico studio, a bit jet-lagged but impatient to resume work. The remaining fragments of my painting dreams are an intriguing and elusive guide as I feel my way into new pieces. The fact that my dreaming brain was so active in this way makes me believe that the process of finding essence is working at a deep level, and that is exciting. On the other hand, I try to avoid expectations about what will evolve in the studio—my basic approach is to give myself over to intuitive moves, while making choices that build strong work. While I can be guided by a particular mood or visual idea, for the most part I don’t work with specific goals in mind. My night of painting dreams left me with a sense of sweet mystery and beautiful possibility, but I need to trust in my own way of working to find my way there.  


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       Rebecca Crowell