The Evolution of A Mark

How does an artist acquire a consistent style or voice? In this post, I trace how and where from my personal mark evolved.

Advertisements

Happy first day of Spring, my Art Bite Blog friends!!

Continuing from my last post on the topic of marks, as I sit down to write this post about the process of my recent acrylic and gouache paintings, (and pictured above) I realize I can’t write about them without first thinking about where and how the marks in these paintings originated. I also took into consideration the many conversations I’ve had with students and workshop participants regarding approaching galleries with a consistent ‘style’ or ‘voice’ and how an artist acquires such things. I look at my work from five years ago and it’s so drastically different from what I do today, yet when I look at the total evolution across the span of twenty years, I can see why the total body is related and it’s an interesting path. Giving lectures about my work has enabled me to chronologically trace back to where I am today, but I only go as far back as grad school and rarely go back that far anymore. I’ve recently started a huge studio clean-out and as a result I’ve come across work that I’ve long forgotten about. Seeing this work again is what prompted me to go back even further, to delve into some of the reasons why I do what I do today. I would like to explore that path a bit in this post and in a few future posts. Perhaps reading about my journey will help you to develop and/or trace your own.

I first considered art as a career in high school with the discovery of Hieronymus BoschGeorgia O’Keefe and Wassily Kandinsky, not necessarily at the same time or in that order. My high school boyfriend’s father had a huge book of Bosch’s paintings and we would stare at it for hours. I loved the tremendous detail, the chaotic imagination and narrative. These paintings taught me to spend time, look further, to notice the small things not overtly apparent at first glance. I hope to encourage the viewer to do the same with my work by my adding camouflaged details one has to look to find. I was intrigued by O’Keefe’s voluptuous, sensual and simplified forms, use of color, subtle shading, smooth brushstroke and feminine subject matter. At that time, I had never seen any work similar to hers-mine was a more traditional exposure to art with pastoral landscape, tight still life and other popular art/craft of the 70’s, like scary clowns, bull riders and macrame owls…but I digress. I read everything I could about O’Keefe, poured over her work and even taught myself to successfully draw value, light and shadow by copying her drawings. I discovered Kandinsky around the beginning of undergrad and was literally blown away by the abstract expressionist ideas of communicating emotions through marks, patterns, gesture and color and that one could make a whole painting by simply being inspired by the emotions and melodies evoked by music. This approach to art making was totally foreign, yet it resonated with me almost immediately and I saw in my mind the art I wanted to make. Even though it isn’t obvious, I see the influence of O’Keefe’s wonderful forms and Kandinsky’s rhythmic marks in almost all of my work of the past 30 years. See the images below for some of my favorite paintings by these artists.

Although it was not my choice, I went to design school instead of art school…Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, now Philadelphia University and my major was textile design. Throughout my schooling and subsequent ten year career as a textile designer, I learned the fundamentals of design..composition, color, scale, repetition, etc. and acquired a detailed painting hand by countless hours of DOING. My first job out of school was as a jacquard designer for home furnishings. The company was unique in that I could take on a line of fabrics and design everything from start to finish-from the painted designs, to choosing the weaves and colors, to correcting errors in the weaving mill and on the computer. I learned an exponential amount about all aspects of design and because I had to spend hours correcting the shape of a flower on the computer if I painted outside the lines, I developed a very tight painting hand and eye for detail. The mill had been a former tie manufacturer and my bosses, the new owners, had kept within the traditional style of florals, damasks and allover patterns, small to large scale. Designing fabrics for a large scale area like a wall or sofa presents certain problems in that the design must ‘flow’ evenly without certain elements creating a distracting line. Looking out for these kinds of design no-no’s helped me develop an excellent eye for balance and placement as well as that continuous flowing line still so prevalent in my work today.

After nostalgically writing that last paragraph, I must confess that I hated that textile designer job, I found so much of it creatively stifling and perfection seeking. Thirty years later, I am grateful for certain aspects of working as a designer and I’m certain I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without that early training. See the second group of images below where I have included some of my hand painted designs from that job. Keep in mind that the colors in the paintings only represent different weaves and not necessarily the colors used in the final fabric. It’s fun to look at these designs and see how my textile design background influenced my early encaustic paintings (and pictured below) as well as a tiny flicker of my recent acrylic and gouache series. If you don’t yet notice that tiny flicker, I will fill in the blanks as to where the marks in that series come from in a near future post.

Please don’t be discouraged if you don’t have thirty years to devote to developing your voice, or if your first career choice wasn’t a creative endeavor as mine was, a lot can be achieved with determination, maturity and persistence. As I have mentioned in many previous posts, drawing a little bit everyday is the road to developing your own mark. One of my favorite quotes from my favorite book, Art & Fear tells it like it is…What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. The place to learn about your materials is the last use of your materials. The place to learn about your execution is in your execution. The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love. Put simply, your work is your guide. In time, as an artists gestures become more assured, the chosen tools become almost an extension of the artists own spirit. In time, exploration gives way to expression. If you’re determined and persisting in working everyday, even if it’s a 15 minute drawing, you will achieve your artistic goals…guaranteed!

I hope you have enjoyed this post and it helps you in some way. As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and suggestions-the comments section is located at the upper left sidebar of this post. Stay tuned for an exciting April-a two part series focusing on inspiring hikes for artists with contributions from some of my artist friends. Covering hikes from all over the world, remote and urban, these hikes range from other-worldly to tranquil to transcendental.

Enjoy the first day of spring, see you soon.

Image Descriptions (From left to right, top to bottom)

  1. Georgia O’Keefe, Black Iris, 1926
  2. Georgia O’Keefe, Drawing XIII-I copied this drawing over and over, obsessed with learning to draw this way.
  3. Georgia O’Keefe, Drawing X, charcoal on paper
  4. Georgia O’Keefe, Blue and Green Music, 1919
  5. Georgia O’Keefe, Music, Pink and Blue, 1918-I had a framed poster of this painting in my room through high school, college and my first apartment.
  6. Georgia O’Keefe, Special Drawing No 9, charcoal on paper, 1915 -I remember reading in her biography that this drawing was done while she had a headache, I found it fascinating that she was able to capture such a thing.
  7. Wassily Kandinsky, Yellow Red Blue, 1925
  8. Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VII, 1913, one of my all time favorite paintings.
  9. Wassily Kandinsky, Blue Circle, 1922
  10. Hieronymus Bosch, Concert in the Egg
  11. Hieronymus Bosch, detail, Garden of Earthly Delights
  12. Hieronymus Bosch, detail, Garden of Earthly Delights
  13. Wassily Kandinsky, Composition IX, 1936
  14. Hieronymus Bosch, detail, Garden of Earthly Delights
  15. Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights
  16. Wassily Kandinsky, A Center, 1924

 

Image Descriptions (From left to right, top to bottom)

1-7.  Lorraine Glessner, home furnishing textile designs for Jacquard Fabrics, Inc., gouache on Bristol board, circa 1991-94.
8. Lorraine Glessner, Sprawl, encaustic, mixed media on rust printed silk on wood, 12x12x1, 2006
9. Lorraine Glessner, Seed, encaustic, mixed media on rust printed silk on wood, 12x12x1, 2006
10. Lorraine Glessner, Misguided Angel Redux, encaustic, mixed media on rust printed silk on wood, 36x36x1.5, 2010
11. Lorraine Glessner, Flaupher, encaustic, mixed media on rust printed silk on wood, 12x12x1, 2006
12. Lorraine Glessner, Aggregate, encaustic, mixed media on rust printed silk on wood, 24x42x1, 2006
13. Lorraine Glessner, Crush, encaustic, mixed media on rust printed silk on wood, 24x2x1.5, 2010
14. Lorraine Glessner, Perfect Timing, encaustic, mixed media on rust printed silk on wood, 12x12x1, 2006

My 2018 Studio Resolutions, Part 2

Read the complete list of my 2018 Studio Resolutions so you can get started off on the right foot this year!

I hope you all have been spending the last two weeks purchasing books, reading at least 30 minutes a day and drawing, drawing, drawing everyday! If you haven’t done so, please be sure to read Part 1 of this post, which includes the how and why these resolutions are so important to me and my guarantee that they will get you started on the right foot this year. Remember, they will only work if you give them a determined try.

  1. Studio notes every studio day I’ve mentioned in a few recent posts why reading about what interests you in your work is so important and directly related to reading is writing. It is imperative that an artist write well! After all, we have to write statements, biographies, exhibition and teaching proposals, grant and residency applications, catchy snippets on social media, BLOGS..the list goes on. The only way to get better at writing is to practice writing. Remember Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages? I learned to love writing by making this a part of my practice way back in the 90’s and then fell in love with writing again in graduate school while writing my thesis. Reading is a huge help in sharpening writing skills, but you also have to put pen to paper and write your own words as well. What better way to do that than writing about your work every studio day in a short paragraph. I call it my Studio Log–it’s basically a short diary entry, (written in sentence and paragraph form with an actual pen on paper), that explains what you did that day in the studio-what you made, your process and how it turned out. Begin each entry with the date and how many hours you spent in the studio and add up those hours every week-this helps you track your progress and creates a feeling of accomplishment. Please note that while I know bullet journaling has become a very popular thing and it’s totally fun, we are working toward sharpening our writing skills with these entries, so you  must write in complete sentences in paragraph form. Writing in this way helps you to organize your thoughts, put things into proper perspective and see your accomplishments in writing. It’s also important to note that actually writing in a designated book or sketchbook and not on the computer completes the connection between your thoughts and your hand, the computer is a third party that breaks that connection. Further elaborations on your log entry can include but are not limited to…Do you like what you did that day and why, Do you hate what you did and why, What thoughts surfaced from the subconscious while you were working, Did you make any changes of note to your process or thinking, What are you going to work on tomorrow, next week or next month and/or any other thing pertinent to you and your work that day. I rarely look back at my daily log entries, but when it’s time to write a statement or a proposal, I have a wealth of information right at my fingertips.
  2. Visually document every studio session Something we should all be doing in order to promote ourselves in a social media obsessed world. Even if you don’t contribute to social media, photographing what you do in the studio will accomplish two things…1. It will enable you to gain insight into your process and 2. You will be able to track your progress and achieve a sense of accomplishment.  Although you may choose to share these images , the purpose for collecting them is to see where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going. If photographing while you work is distracting, just take a few photos of your work at the end of the work day to note progress. Or you may choose to do this at the beginning of the work day. Either way, it’s your studio photo journal and can be set up any way you wish. At the end of the week/month/year you have a collection of images that actually track your progress and this is so important for those times when we’re down on ourselves or feeling like we’re not doing enough. Even more elusive to us than a sense of progress is analyzing our process. We’re artists, we are visual people, we have to SEE things! Sometimes it’s not easy to see what is happening with the work until you look at from a different perspective -laying it flat or hanging it up. These photos offer many perspectives for viewing work, providing the opportunity to turn the image every which way, crop it, blow it up, etc . Observations made from these images can be shared in your studio log and used for social media posts, statements, proposals, etc. Understanding your process is an important part of knowing who you are as an artist, it sets you apart from everyone else, it’s defines you and helps shape how you and others view your work. More than anything else you can do to document your studio work, photographs give you insight into that process.While the studio log you’re keeping is helping to organize your thoughts and progress, keeping photo documentation will help you visualize this progress.
  3. Work toward a studio hours goal every week Your studio log entry requires that you log in your studio hours for the day and then add them up at the end of the week. This is yet another way to track your progress to make sure you’re meeting your studio goals. This was the first resolution I made to my list when I first started doing this in 2015 and I simply set a workable goal for a range of weekly hours I could get to into the studio. Everyone is going to have different hours due to addtional work and life responsibilities, so the key to achieving your weekly goals is making them feasible as well as slightly challenging. In 2015, I was teaching 2 days a week at Tyler School of Art, plus at least one day to prep for teaching. My goal for the studio was to do 25-30 hours a week with 25 being the minimum and 30 being the maximum (with plus or minus a few on both). I arrived at this number by creating a weekly calendar and crossing out the days and hours that I was scheduled for other things like teaching, paperwork, appointments, etc. I then began to fill in the open hours of each day with hours I could feasibly work in the studio and added them up. Once you arrive at a schedule and weekly goal, sign it and hang it up on your studio door or on the fridge, wherever you can see it that it will remind you of the promise you made to yourself. I also made rules as to what activities would fall under studio hours and again, your rules will be different. At first I was very strict and said that only activities contributing to making actual work could count toward my hours. I eased up after realizing that there are so many things I do that contribute to the making of my work-reading, drawing, photo research, even cleaning the studio counts! Give yourself at least 2 months to implement this schedule and if you find you were egregiously off in your hourly estimates, don’t be afraid to adjust the schedule. It is better to make a slight adjustment then to give up altogether due to frustration or feeling you have failed.
  4. Walk outside 15-30 minutes everyday I just added this resolution this year and I’m only doing so-so at achieving it due to the extreme cold we’ve had this winter…but I’m working on it! In the spring, summer and fall I walk everywhere I can and make a point of walking every night after dinner, rain or shine and I notice a significant change in my outlook and productivity. I have always known I’m just ‘better’ in the warmer weather and there are many factors that contribute to this, but I’m sure a huge part of it is walking and hiking. You may already know that there is much research to support a direct correlation to walking and boosted creativity, but just in case you don’t, this article is a good read. Another benefit to walking is the opportunity to snap photos of anything along the way that strikes your fancy, which can then be called ‘photo research’, which can then count toward your studio hours! The image at the top of this post is one of those images of mine taken on a walk on the dunes in Provincetown. So….Walk, get in shape, boost creativity, add to your studio hours…win, win, win, WIN!

By now you may have already forgotten your original 2018 New Year’s Resolutions, so you can now try these! Please feel free to post in the comments section (comments are now located upper left of this post), I would love the hear what you do to keep your studio practice alive and if any of my ideas have resonated with you. Remember, they are designed to work together with Part 1, so if you try them, please make sure to come back and post about your experience.

Stay tuned for my next post on Mind Mapping for Artists. What if you get to the studio and don’t know what to make or you have a whole body of work ready to go out in the world but you don’t know what it’s about? What if you don’t know what books to get or what subjects are pertinent to you or your work? Mind Mapping will help you narrow this all down. See you soon!

My 2018 Studio Resolutions, Part 1

I must confess that in the past I was never a New Year’s Resolution maker, I always thought it was kind of a silly thing to do. I tried many times and usually by March, my resolution to keep a diary, stop eating chocolate and lose 10 pounds was long forgotten. My resolution cynicism was put to rest, however, when I needed to either get back in the studio or give up being an artist for good.

It’s so cold and gray here in Philly in January, I just want to hide under the covers and hibernate. It’s hardly a time to think of new beginnings and fresh starts, but when the calendar page turns at the end of the year, something in my mind shifts. Suddenly, I’m full of new thoughts and hopes for making strides toward bigger and better things. I must confess that in the past I was never a New Year’s Resolution maker, I always thought it was kind of a silly thing to do. I tried many times and usually by March, my resolution to keep a diary, stop eating chocolate and lose 10 pounds was long forgotten. My resolution cynicism was put to rest, however, when I needed to either get back in the studio or give up being an artist for good.
If you have been reading this blog, you know that I went through a long studio slump due to personal troubles and grief (read this post for more about how I began to get out of that slump). In order to get back in there and make work, there were a few actions I needed to take. The first thing to do was to make the commitment to be a professional artist again. Even in my slump I still considered myself to be a professional artist, but I wasn’t acting like a professional. An artist who isn’t making art is not an artist at all and once the studio habit was broken, my confidence was shaken. Once I learned to quiet those confidence shaking voices, I could make the all important choice to try again.
Next, I applied for a residency (read this post if you are considering applying for a residency). A residency would get me out of my usual space where I would feel free to work, experiment and build back my studio discipline without the trappings and chores of being at home. The residency was the best decision I could make and it accomplished all I needed it to do-but once home, now what? A few months passed and suddenly it was January, 2015 and what better time to make my new commitments solid by creating a list of New Year Studio Resolutions.
To write this list, I had to return to my graduate school curriculum when my artist discipline had truly developed. The following list is based on the five daily must-do’s that I had to complete in order for me to get my degree and be successful after graduation. My complete list also includes weekly, monthly, and annual goals that support both the studio and business, but I’m just focusing on daily studio tasks here. It’s important to note that even though this is a ‘daily’ list, the tasks don’t have to be done everyday, just each day that you are in the studio (with the exception of drawing, that is). For me, studio days are 5-6 days per week, so adjust your list according to what is feasible for you. I have shared this list with graduate students, colleagues, workshop participants, artist friends, basically any artist who is struggling. I guarantee if you employ these basic tenets, your studio practice will improve, your work will expand conceptually and your production will grow exponentially. How many guarantees are there in life? Not many. Try it, you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.
  1. Read 30-60 minutes every studio day The reading I’m referring to here is not the latest novel, it is research relevant to the work you’re doing in the studio. Read #4 of this post and you will see why I feel that not reading enough is one of the top ten biggest mistakes of my artist career. Reading and research is imperative for professionals of every discipline in order to stay on top of what’s going on in their field. For artists, part of that research is the work itself, of course, but we have to feed our work cognitively and conceptually.  Take a look at what I’m reading this year in the image at the top of this article. I have a pile of books that pertain to my studio work and a pile for teaching and I revise both piles at the beginning of every year. I usually have one studio book, one teaching book and one inspiration book (with pictures) all going at once. I only read these books on my studio days because I have to have fun sometimes too! I keep track of the books I finish and it gives me a sense of accomplishment to see a long list at the end of each year. I also time my reading with the timer on my phone to minimum 30 minutes and maximum 60 minutes according to how much time I have that day to do it. My mind usually wanders, so I focus on the fact that for that short 30 minutes all I have to worry about is what I’m reading. Don’t know what to read or what your work is ‘about’ yet? No worries, I’ll cover how you can figure that out in in my second blog post next month.
  2. Draw 15-30 minutes every day No, that is not a typo, I didn’t forget to write ‘studio’ in there..you should be drawing every day, whether you’re in the studio or not. Before you stop reading because you think you can’t draw, please note that a drawing can be anything you want it to be. Also note, that these drawings are for your eyes only, unless you choose to share. They can be of any subject, made in any medium on any kind of media and completed any time and anywhere-their purpose is to get your creative juices flowing. I remember reading somewhere that there is a brain/body connection to movement and creativity and that a physiological change takes place in the brain when you move. You must move the parts of your body that you use to paint so as to create a rhythm that the creative parts of your brain will recognize. Starting to paint without some kind of warm-up exercise is like starting to run without stretching-you can’t start cold, you’ll hurt yourself! The same thing applies to painting. While I don’t go to the gym everyday, I do get up and stretch my body with short yoga exercises. If I didn’t, my body would be stiff within a short time. Drawing works as ‘creative stretching’ for me. If I don’t do my minimum 15 minutes, I’m ‘stiff’ and it takes me twice as long to get going in the studio. Get a small sketch pad-one that fits in your bag, take it with you everywhere and start to mark it up. I guarantee you that by drawing a short 15 minutes a day, your work and mindset regarding your work will improve drastically. If you’re still having issues with drawing everyday, I’ll share some easy drawing exercises in the next few blog posts that will get you started. Last, use that timer for the same reasons as above!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Studio Resolutions in my next blog post. It goes without saying that this list is only helpful if you actually commit to or RESOLVE to doing it. Do what is comfortable for you and what will fit into your life-do not over extend or you will end up in frustration. Last, you will need an artist friend, mentor or coach who will help to keep you accountable and moving forward. I would love to work with you to create a personalized list of resolutions just for you and help you to keep them. Please visit the mentor page on my web site to see what I can offer you.

See you back here in February!

 

My Encaustic Fairy Tale: 3 Lessons Learned

3 Lessons I Learned as an Artist by Lorraine Glessner

While writing my last blog post chronicling my early journey with encaustic, I realized that I learned many valuable lessons through it all. Three lessons stood out as being most important while at the same time being those lessons that I’m constantly re-learning as I go.

When I’m teaching, I always begin each day with a quote that works to set the tone for that day and almost always it’s a quote from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. If you haven’t read it, go get it NOW, read it once and then turn around and read it again. I quote from it often because I read it often, roughly once a year since it was first introduced to me in graduate school. My copy is highlighted almost all the way through because each time I read it I find another valuable snippet that seems to speak directly to me and the struggles I may be going through at the time. All of the quotes from this book were used to write this post unless otherwise noted .

  1. Experiment often with current and new materials, make lots of samples, document and save them. What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. the place to learn about your materials is the last use of your materials. The place to learn about your execution is in your execution. The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love. Put simply, your work is your guide.
    I can’t recall where I first heard the 40/60 principle or even if I’m getting the percentages right, but it’s something we all must strive to do. The principle works something like this…60% of your studio work should be spent making work you are known for and/or work you are ‘comfortable’ making using materials, processes and ideas you know well. The remaining 40% should be spent experimenting with new materials, processes and ideas which will generate new work. If you keep doing this, sooner or later the ‘new’ work begins to seep into the current body of work and eventually it becomes your current body of work. If you apply this principle, your work and you as an artist, will continuously evolve and grow. This sounds great, but many artists may find it difficult to work experimentation into their busy and sometimes, very limited, studio time. What I’ve done to keep experimentation alive in my studio is average my daily hours and experiment for a percentage of that time-usually about 30 minutes to an hour for every 6-8 hours. I call this work my warm-up drawing time and sometimes will work on the same drawing all week, applying new layers each day (see the featured image above). I have so much fun just playing around with materials in the studio that I’ve forgotten about. Many times, this experimentation has generated new bodies of work that I would have never conceived of without first experimenting.
    Vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue. I don’t mention this in my last post, but my first year of graduate school was very difficult for many reasons. My first review was at the end of my first semester and it was coming up fast, so fast that I was in fear of not having anything to show. One of my committee members suggested just having a wall of samples for my review. I had a few samples, but not nearly enough so I spent 3 straight weeks barely coming out of my studio to make hundreds of samples. Only having limited time as well as keeping in mind that these were just samples prevented me from being too precious and worrying about making a ‘finished’ work. Those three weeks were perhaps the most painful but most prolific of my total two year experience-more importantly I learned so much about what my materials could do and what I, as an artist, could do. I saved almost all of those samples and I still use most of them as teaching tools today, both in workshops and in my own studio.
  2. You don’t always have to know what you’re doing. This lesson could be read two-fold: a) You don’t always have to know HOW to do what you’re doing and b) You don’t always have to know what you’re going to make-what it’s going to look like.People who need certainty in their lives are less likely to make art that is risky, subversive, complicated, iffy, suggestive or spontaneous. What’s really needed is nothing more than a broad sense of what you are looking for, some strategy for how to find it and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way. Simply put, making art is chancy-it doesn’t mix well with predictability. Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.
    This is likely my favorite quote of all time and I read it in every workshop. It is absolutely essential to keep experimentation, the idea of imperfect perfection and  the element of chance in the work at all times. This doesn’t mean I’m encouraging you to make sloppy or ill-conceived work, rather, allow for a symbiosis to occur between you and your materials. Allow your materials to do what they do and you to push them gently in a certain direction. Full control and technical perfection is the death-knell for any work of art. It’s in the imperfections that true art is made and is the predominant concept behind the Japanese principle of Wabi-Sabi–an awesome subject for any artist to know, but far too complicated to explain here. The best book I have read on the subject is Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper and Wabi-Sabi for Artist, Designers, Poets and Philosophers by Leonard Koren is also good.
    When I first started working in encaustic, there were no books to refer to, no workshops and barely any information online, so I was basically on my own. I used tools that I already had in the studio, combined encaustic with other materials, basically developed my own processes and ways of doing things with this medium. The result was that I developed a truly original body of encaustic work. I absolutely believe that if I had taken an encaustic workshop, I wouldn’t have developed this work or perhaps it would have come much later. On the other hand, taking an encaustic workshop would have saved me two years of improperly ventilating wax fumes as well as understanding the importance of fusing and the reasons why Damar resin is added to the beeswax. While it’s okay not to know too much, ALWAYS work safely and technically accurate with your materials. Once you know those things, have fun and let things happen!
    Last, a great story illustrating the woe in striving for perfection comes from Art & Fear….The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right, solely on the quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scale and weigh the work of the quantity group: fifty pounds of pots would get an ‘A’, 40, a ‘B’, etc. those being graded on quality needed to produce only one pot-albeit a perfect pot to get an A. Well, came grading time and curious fact emerged: the work of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work and learning from their mistakes, the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end, had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay. Remember this story every time you strive for perfection and find yourself overworking a piece into oblivion.
  3. Don’t start working on a white background.  Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case. –Chuck Close
    The fear of the white canvas isn’t new, we’ve all experienced it in one way or another and have developed our own methods of fighting it.I always tell my students that art begins in the head with an idea, flows through the heart, which makes it personal and out through the hand, which makes the actual work. Too much emphasis in any one of those places creates an imbalance in the process. Whenever I have developed a finished work in my head and then tried to make it, I almost always fail due to the frustration that it isn’t coming out ‘right’. The same thing happens when I try to plan too much before beginning a piece, I get mired in the planning stage and never actually DO anything. The best method for me and one that I suggest to students is to develop a step by step process that will generate a mark, then follow or respond to that mark. The less control you have over that initial mark, the better.
    Covering a board with a stained or rust printed fabric and then responding to those marks was the process I developed in grad school. This process enabled me to create subsequent marks to generate paintings I never would have had I started with a white board. It was also important that I didn’t have total control over the initial process itself-in a sense the process controlled me and that was just fine.
    To see some of the stained fabrics and paintings I created using them, go to my last blog post. I have also presented a talk on generating process and artists who use process in their work-for artist links and a presentation outline go to this blog post.

While we’re on the subject of mistakes, learning and re-learning, be sure not to miss my next blog post listing 10 mistakes I have made as an artist.

My Fairy Tale Love With Encaustic

I confess, I am in love with the medium of encaustic. Just like any great relationship, it faithfully welcomes me as I enter the studio with it’s warmth, smell and luminescent glow. It always yields to my wishes without too much resistance and surprises me by doing things I didn’t even know I wanted it to do. Although we’ve had many tiffs and I have strayed to other mediums, I always return and our partnership gets better and better. We have a symbiotic connection, encaustic and I…yes, I am blissfully in love. But this wasn’t always so….

I confess, I am in love with the medium of encaustic. Just like any great relationship, it faithfully welcomes me as I enter the studio with it’s warmth, smell and luminescent glow. It always yields to my wishes without too much resistance and surprises me by doing things I didn’t even know I wanted it to do. Although we’ve had many tiffs and I have strayed to other mediums, I always return and our partnership gets better and better. We have a symbiotic connection, encaustic and I…yes, I am blissfully in love. But this wasn’t always so….

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there I was, a mid-thirties Fibers & Materials Studies Graduate Student at Tyler School of Art in 2001. I was working with ideas related to creation and the cyclic nature of life-imprinting, staining and marking as it relates to birth through to death and decomposition. More specifically, I was interested in the physical mark and pattern of this cycle on the earth and body. I began making visual comparisons using these kinds of patterns with images I took myself or found on the internet. Some of these were uncanny in their similarities as you can see below.

At the same time I was doing this research I was also looking for materials and processes that could replicate these patterns. Simply copying them or painting them didn’t work and looked contrived, I had to make these patterns via mark-making and process. One of my professors had taught with Christopher Leitch at the Kansas City Art Institute and recommended I look at his work combining organic printing processes and textiles. Based on the one paragraph and few images of his work that I found on the Internet, I developed my own process of rust printing and staining on textiles using decomposing organic matter and the results were more amazing than I expected. Using natural processes to depict natural processes also supported my content, it was astoundingly brilliant. I have included images of some of these fabrics below.

I came into the graduate program as an art quilter, hand dyeing my own fabrics and sewing large beaded and painted creations that included everything but the kitchen sink. I loved quilting and wanted to expand on what a quilt could be based on the simple definition, ‘three layers of material stitched together from front to back’. I used the fabrics I had created combined with papers, image transfers, mark-making, burning and lots of machine and hand embroidery. I spent the next year sewing very large, intricate quilts (which I later stretched and called paintings) for my upcoming graduate thesis show. These pieces are pictured below along with smaller quilt studies.

Even though they were a huge labor of love, I felt these quilts were just not enough. I wanted to show another side to these ideas and sculptural books were another thing that intrigued me. I wanted to work with anything skin-like. My quilts spoke very much to landscape and alluded to the body, but I wanted something luscious and something that could be touched. I experimented with melting Tyvek, plastics, crayons, layers of glue and although I liked some of these things, I didn’t find anything I could pour myself into doing. During a critique, one of my professors suggested encaustic. I had never heard of this mysterious and scary sounding thing. At the time, there were no books available yet and the images I found on the Internet of other encaustic work was done with an iron on card stock and was just not my kind of thing. I decided to experiment on my own and purchased a sampler of cheap encaustic colors, a bunch of beeswax and a pancake griddle. I also employed my Clover piecing iron that I used for quilting and I still use this versatile iron today. My first attempts were horrible, I had no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t ventilating properly, I wasn’t using Damar resin in my medium, I wasn’t fusing properly, my cheap colors were flat and muddy-I hated this crap and what I had made with it! I threw all of my paints, griddle and everything else encaustic into a closet hoping to one day sell it all on Ebay…And in that closet it sat for almost a year…

For the better part of that year, I continued sewing, making books, experimenting with materials, teaching and learning, getting ready for my thesis show. It turned out that the gallery where I was to have my show had a little room off to the side about the size of a walk in closet. Neither me or my gallery partner could figure out what to do with the space, so we tossed it between us for a few weeks. Finally, it landed in my lap and I was totally overwhelmed with what to put in there and I only a few weeks to figure it out. I started rooting through all the samples I had made to come up with an idea and I stumbled across those awful encaustic paintings…which surprisingly didn’t look so awful anymore. I attribute this change to two major turning points throughout that year.  One, was an amazing graduate level drawing course I took at the beginning of my second year. I had never drawn very well and was nervous about this course, but I was encouraged by my professors and fellow students to take it. This was not a typical drawing course, it was focused on mark-making and process-two ideas that were relatively new at the time and very new to me. This course completely changed the way I thought about drawing and making work in general. It completely changed my life in the studio and the way I taught my classes and I continue to carry those ideas into both parts of my life to this day. Two, was the writing of my thesis paper, for which researching and writing had played an integral role in marrying my content with what I was doing in the studio. For the first time in my life, my ideas and the work I was making were becoming one thing. I had grown immensely and knew myself and my ideas, I had become an artist and could look at the work I had made through that lens. The featured image at the top of this post is made up of two of the first experimental paintings that I hated. After rediscovering these two along with the other paintings, I began pairing them together and they were complete. This piece called Damage was the most successful and is now in the collection of one of my grad school friends, traded for a few glass pieces that he made.

One of the experiments I had done was to dip my stained and rust printed fabrics into encaustic medium and really liked the way it added depth and enhanced the marks on the fabric. Since I had been stretching the sewn pieces into paintings, why not do the same here. I mounted the fabrics using wax, only using minimal color and letting the stains and marks speak for themselves. I made ten of these paintings and hung them in the small room adjacent to the main gallery, which housed my large sewn pieces. The opening was in the gallery district in Philadelphia on First Friday so we had a packed house and there were so many people in that tiny room ogling my encaustic paintings, one could barely move. People were interested in the sewn paintings but it was sparse interest and they sparked no real discussion, everyone wanted to know about the luscious paintings in the tiny room. The icing on the cake was that I also sold one of the encaustic pieces to someone I didn’t know, wasn’t related to and was a museum curator. This was the first thing I had ever made that had sold, so I saw it as some kind of sign that encaustic is what I should be doing. The piece that sold is called Fulfillment, pictured below with images of some of the other paintings in the show.

I followed all the signs and immediately abandoned the sewn paintings to continue exploring the fantastic medium of encaustic which I have loved and made my own at the same time the medium itself was becoming it’s own. Over the years, I added more color, collage, image, hair, mark-making and investigated various ideas, although my core ideas have remained rooted in the earth. The rest, as they say, is history and encaustic and I continue to live happily ever after.

To see what came after this early work, visit my web site portfolio and begin with the archives here.

This post is a lot longer than I had intended so stay tuned for the next post focusing on the lessons learned in this fairy tale and some ideas that may help you in your own studio practice.

Encaustic Paint Colors I Can’t do Without

My favorite encaustic tools post was so popular I wanted to write about my favorite encaustic paint colors as well. There are so many amazing colors out there, it is overwhelming to choose! When choosing, we all tend to gravitate toward our favorites or the bright, pretty colors. Unfortunately, what we overlook by doing this are the most amazing earth tones, grays and colors that may look a little blah in the raw, but when melted on the palette, truly come alive. The colors I’ve listed here are not to be used as a guide for color mixing or as basis for a beginner to start a color collection. Rather, these are the colors I choose to work with again and again, they are my favorites no matter the palette. I also want to mention that I never use any color ‘straight out of the tube’, meaning all of the colors in my paintings are mixed-made up of 2 to 5 colors. I always choose the colors below because when added to other colors in small doses, they slightly alter those colors and create a more personalized palette for my work. Last, these are by no means ALL the colors I use, I use many, many more…too many…I hoard encaustic paint! These are simply the colors I use most frequently, the colors I never put ‘away’ so they are always out for me to grab.
I was having the most difficult time deciding how to photograph the paints for this post, so I thought I would do something fun-I just photographed them on top of an in progress painting and as-is-dirty, gritty, cut up, melty with other colors on them. The images hint at my process, plus the paints themselves look like little sculptures! If you want to see the clean versions of the paints, just click on the name below and you’ll be taken to the distributor’s web site. This list is in no particular order and my explanations should be used as suggestions only, there is no right or wrong here. For more comprehensive suggestions and color mixing ideas, take a workshop with me this summer or fall, I discuss color mixing in all of them. I hope this list introduces you to a color that makes your current palette sing!

R&F Paints

  • Neutral White  I have used this color since I started painting in encaustic sixteen years ago and painted with it almost exclusively then. When mixed with any color, it lightens and makes it a bit more earthy. Also, when mixed 50/50 with zinc white, it’s the perfect white-not as bright white as titanium and slightly richer than zinc alone.
  • Alizarin Orange I LOVE this color. Bright and versatile, it can go from a light gold to a rich rusty orange in one swipe. When mixed with white or any other color, it retains it’s richness.
  • Payne’s Grey I use this instead of black to darken any color. For me, black tends to deaden the color as it darkens, while this one allows the original color to retain it’s voice.
  • Brown Pink Like alizarin orange, brown pink changes color from a subtle pink-taupe to a rich brown taupe. I mix it to add a dark earthiness to any color.
  • Warm Pink Like neutral white, I have used this color since I started painting in encaustic. It brightens any color and when mixed with a little and painted next to or on top of earthy blues, grays or greens, the eyes vibrate!
  • Warm Grey (limited edition color not pictured on R&F page-see my pic below) BRING IT BACK!! PLEASE!!
  • Brilliant Yellow Extra Pale I love to use this color instead of white as it not only lightens, it adds just a touch of yellow and whimsy as it brightens as well. 
  • Cobalt Yellow Use in place of yellow to ‘sour’ any color. I love it as it’s just a bit off and when painted next to any color, the colors sing!
  • Olive Yellow Works just like cobalt yellow, but is a bit brighter. 
  • Celadon Green Love this in place of white as a mixer or to slightly gray down a color. This is one of the few I would paint straight out of the tube in place of white.
  • Cobalt Blue A bright, clear blue, I use it more than any other blue.
  • Warm Rose I use this color much in the same way I use warm pink, but this one is just a bit more pink and anyone who knows me knows how I love pink! Mixing this color with warm pink is my go to pink.
  • Malachite Green I use this color way too much. It’s one of those colors that changes as it’s painted next to different colors. It makes any color and any painting sing.
  • Aquamarine Blue (limited edition color not pictured on R&F page-see my pic below) I purchased the entire inventory of this color at a past encaustic conference and I’m on my last of it!! BRING IT BACK!! I NEED THIS COLOR!!
  • Cerulean Extra Pale Not quite gray, white or blue, it’s an amazing substitute for either of those colors to mix or use straight out of the tube…wait..did I just say that?
  • Green Gold I use this color constantly as I do cobalt yellow. It adds a bit of ‘sour’ to any color and makes other colors sing when its painted next to them.
  • Turkey Umber Greenish This is probably one of the most overlooked color in the R&F line as it looks dead and dull in the packaging and really not much better when its melted. However, try mixing it with any blue, green, black for an amazing richness. Also, try adding just a touch of it to any warm color to gray down, but not make gray. Its truly one of those indispensable colors that no one seems to use!
  • Phthalo Turquoise Another color that looks dead in the package and like black when it’s melted, it is actually one of the brightest and most versatile colors. Add just a touch of any white and watch the magic happen.
  • Cadmium Lemon A great substitute for any of the cadmium yellows, it ‘sours’ anything its mixed with and makes any pairing colors sing! I use it like cobalt yellow and olive yellow, this one is much more clear and can also be used to slightly lighten and brighten any color.

Enkaustikos I can’t link directly to each color, so this link goes to all of the colors listed below, just scroll the list to see the color.

  • Opal Aquamarine I love this color so much I buy it in huge bulk and for all of my workshops. It makes any blue or green bluer and richer, like the most amazing, clear glacier water. 
  • Golden Buff Titanium I’m a sucker for any white and this one is indispensable as a white with a touch of a tan or use as a basis for flesh tones.
  • Warm Pearl Want just a bit of a glimmer, this is your answer. It adds just a tiny bit of shimmer without being garish and without much of a change to the original color.
  • Indian Yellow Bright, clear, not quite yellow, not quite orange. I reach for it time and again in place of yellow and mixing it with R&F’s Alizarin Orange is magical.
  • Anthraquinone Blue Looks black in the package and melted on the palette, but mixed with black, blue or Payne’s Gray produces the most amazingly rich dark midnight blue.
  • Super Gold Pearl I’m not a metallic, shiny person, but when I want to add shimmer PLUS a little golden glam, this is the color I use. It’s not quite gold, which is too BUY GOLD STRIP MALL STORE for my taste, this one is a bit more antique-aged, if you will.

Evans Encaustics

  • Orange, Red, Blue, Green Interference Colors Hylla knows her shimmer and does it best. Again, I’m not a shimmer, shiny person, but the interference colors do just that-add a bit of a surface light reflection to the surface of any color.
  • Rose Gold This is the first color I ever purchased from Evans and I go through it like water. It’s pink, so that’s one reason and the other is that touch of rich gold shimmer.
  • Buff Again, I’m a sucker for any white. I love this in place of white to lighten any color and add an earthiness as well. Can also be used straight out of the tube in place of white.
  • Cold Steel (Limited Edition, Renamed or Discontinued, not pictured on Evans site-see my pic below) Sort of silver and gold together, just a lovely addition when mixed with grays and blacks.
  • Glowing Sky I’m totally into blue lately and need all kinds of blues to round out my palette. This one has just the right mix of lavender and gray with just a touch of shimmer, it’s different from any other blue.
  • Cloisonne Pink (Limited Edition, Renamed or Discontinued, not pictured on Evans site-see my pic below) What can I say, you know me and pink!

Kama Pigments I can’t link directly to each color, so this link goes to all of the colors listed below, just scroll the list to see the color.

  • Rose Hornyak/Hornyak’s Pink Again, me and pink-I’ll buy any pink. This one is so Pepto Bismol its almost gross, but it does so many things that the average pink doesn’t do! It adds just that tiny bit of purple that makes other colors vibrate. Try mixing this with Alizarin Orange and/or Warm Pink and/or Brown Pink for a pink magic fest.
  • Buff Titanium Another white that went on vacation and got a tan. I love this one because even though it’s tan, it’s still got the brightness of titanium.

Miles Conrad

  • Mesquite All of the colors in Miles’ line are as mysterious and enigmatic as their desert inspiration. Is it brown or gray or red or all three. I love this color for it’s changes depending on what it’s painted against. As a mixer, it adds a rich earthiness.
  • Sunset Orange-Is it pink or orange, this is is another color that just sings. Mix it with any of the oranges or pinks or even yellows above and the magic begins.

5 Encaustic Tools I Can’t Do Without

Since the start of the year, I have slowly been purging my studio of materials I have acquired over the years. Each time I pick up an item, I ask myself if I really need this thing, will I ever do anything with it? As I make my way around the studio to my encaustic table, I can’t bear to rid myself of any of my encaustic supplies, so I’m working backwards..isolating the items that I can’t seem to do without, the things that I reach for all the time, everyday. Of course, there are a lot more than five tools I use, but if I were stranded on a deserted encaustic island, these are the things I would want with me. I use all of these tools in my encaustic workshops, explain the techniques and bring extras for students to try out. So if you haven’t signed up to take a workshop with me this summer and fall, do so now because they are filling fast!

  1. Clover Mini Iron

29949-clover-mini-iron-mci-900

This tool is one of the first tools I ever used when I started working with encaustic in 2001. At that time, there were very few tools available and very little information about encaustic until Joanne Mattera’s The Art of Encaustic Painting came out a year or so later and changed my life. Until that time, I muddled through on my own, learning this difficult medium with snippets of information from the internet and materials I already had in my studio. In my former artist life, I was an art quilter and has this little piecing iron that I used to iron the seams of my quilts, so I tried it as an alternative to the heat gun and fell in love. Not only is the Clover Mini Iron an excellent little detail iron, but it is the ONLY tool I use to fuse collage and my horsehair drawings. When I first started teaching encaustic workshops in 2005, those who hired me as well as workshop participants would laugh when they saw the irons because no one was using them at the time. One of the things about my work that people respond to is the craftsmanship and how the collage seems to merge seamlessly into the painting rather than being a separate inclusion. This is wholly because of this iron. Those of you who have taken my workshops know that I do not recommend the torch for collage for safety reasons-often the medium is blown off of the paper collage during the fusing process and it ignites. Most importantly, both the torch and the heat gun introduce air and most of the time the collage piece pops up a bit and does not lay flat on the surface. For a lot of artists, efforts to remedy this annoyance often ends in frustration or giving up encaustic collage for good. Once learning to use this and other small irons for collage, the work will drastically improve, guaranteed!
I’ve had mixed reactions with workshop participants who have tried this iron during my workshops, some find it awkward. I recommend The Dritz Petite Press as an alternative just for fusing, but I find it difficult to use for collage. If you use collage in your encaustic work and have experienced frustration, I encourage you to take one of my workshops this summer and fall to learn my technique.
Two more amazing things about this iron is that it has it’s own temperature gauge and it can also be used as a heated palette knife.
This iron is available online and in-store at most craft and hobby stores that sell fabric related craft supplies as well as online at Amazon here, where I have always found the best prices.
NOTE: If you do a google search for the clover mini iron, make sure it the one you purchase looks like the one pictured, don’t confuse it for the Clover Mini Iron II which is red and white, not mint green and white.

2. Double Sided Detail Scraper
1824_1_
Other than my Clover Mini Iron, double sided detail scraper is the tool I use the most. I have purchased dental tools, wax carving tools, Kemper clay shapers, wood carving tools, etc. and I rarely use them. This tool is extremely versatile and supplants most of the tools of it’s kind. First and foremost, it is an excellent detail scraper for those hard to reach areas. The two sizes, pointed tip and the curved nature of the blade allow for almost any kind of scraping in any kind of area. I also love it for carving complex lines and shapes. The attributes I previously mentioned also allow for carving any shape-small or large or for any line, thick or thin. The use of the blade’s wider area and narrower pointed tip enable me to make my incised calligraphic lines in the wax, making it the closest thing to real drawing in wax. In some of my older work, the complex raised areas shown in the image below are only made  using this tool. It is also the only tool I use to place the hair for my hair drawings. The blade is wide and the curve is gentle (almost flat) giving it enough surface area to press the hair down without gauging the surface. I also use it to clean up the clingy wax from the edges of the stenciled areas of my paintings. Last, it’s also excellent for removing dust and those weird little hairs that always seem to find their way into the wax.
I have seen Kemper tools with one side shaped like this scraper, but never the double sided tool I have described here. I have only seen this particular tool sold by Enkaustikos here.

3. Sculpture House Encaustic Loop Tool

Sculpture-House-Encaustic-Loop-Tool-0

Possibly the best scraper ever invented, it works like a combination razor blade and the average clay scraper. I still love my razor blade for taking off little bits and my other scrapers for their specialties, but this scraper is the one I reach for again and again, especially when I need to really cut into the surface and remove some wax. Hand-made with a carbon steel blade, it is extremely sharp and makes scraping so easy, with less residue and annoying ‘gum up’ on the blade. It removes the wax in a long, fine ribbon, which I have never seen in any other scraper. I love these scrapings so much, I have started collaging them back into the work in places where I want a multi-colored, textured effect. After the scrapings are fused, they can be left as-is for raised texture or scraped back further for an interesting ribbon of color. The corners of this tool are also great for making wide incised lines.
I first purchased this tool from Enkaustikos here, but it is also available directly from the Sculpture House web site here. I recently emailed SH because I hadn’t seen the tool on their web site for quite some time, but it has just been re-listed. Get them while they’re hot!

4. Ball Stylus

il_340x270.730490254_5keq

Many of you probably use this tool, but I’m always amazed at how many people have never seen it or know what it is when I use it in my workshops. Originally designed for embossing into soft metal or paper, this tool is useful for many art projects. I love it for incising in the wax because it’s rounded end doesn’t cut into my board surface and chop it up like pointy tools do. It’s also great for using on transfer papers, again, because it doesn’t rip into the paper like a pointed tool does. These tools come in a variety of sizes and sets, which make it easy to carve various line weights as well as make different kinds and sizes of marks using transfer papers.
This tool is available online and in-store from most craft stores and online at Amazon here. There are also many variety sets available for purchase online here.


5. Apollon Elephant Painting Panels

apollon-elephant-painting-panels-standard

Just plain, old raw birch painting panels, they are cheap, well made, sturdy and most importantly, they are lightweight. I use about 15-20 layers of wax on my paintings and many artists use much more. With the weight of that much wax combined with the weight of a wooden painting panel, the finished painting feels like lead. Imagine hanging a show with 10-20 lead panels by yourself! So lightweight, but durable, is key for me. Also, for a starving artist on a budget, the price can’t be beat. I have tried and just can’t find a comparable, quality painting panel even close to the price of these. Also, they scorch to a lovely caramel or dark brown/black. For those of you who don’t know, I always begin my paintings with a gridded pattern of scorched brands. My newer work utilizes much more paint and for the most part, the brands are concealed…but I still begin the painting that way, it just feels incomplete without.
These panels are sold with a 1.5 inch cradle (deep) as well as uncradled (standard) with a 1 inch depth. Also very useful are the quarter inch panels I’ve seen only in the store. I use these for samples in workshops, for color tests or brush tests in the studio and anytime I need a wooden surface, but don’t want to use a whole panel.
The painting panels and birch panels are sold exclusively at Artist & Craftsman Supply, both online (with sizes up to 24×24) here and in store for all painting panel sizes up to 60×60.

 

***Stay tuned for the next blog post on my favorite encaustic paint colors.