7 Essential Portable Art Materials

Are you an artist who loves to travel? In this post, I share with you 7 Essential Art Materials so you can be Art Prepared for your next trip. Whether you’re a hiker, a teacher, a commuter or a tourist, like to sketch indoors or out, if you’re planning a trip and don’t want to lose your creative mojo, this list will be a help to you.

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Spring seems to be struggling to get here in the Northeast, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about summer teaching trips, hiking and painting in the great outdoors. I love to travel and fortunately for me, I do a lot of it as a result of teaching workshops. As you have learned from many previous posts, especially the last two on artists hikes, my favorite way to experience new places is to hike them and paint as I go. It’s important to me to not only record what I’ve seen via photographs, but to also record the essence of the place through my own marks. Please understand that these are just sketches, not masterpieces, they help me to keep my artist brain in tune when I’m not in the studio and they serve as memorable references for larger paintings. While I’m teaching a workshop, it’s sometimes difficult for me to get out and hike, so my favorite thing to do to wind down is sit in my hotel room and sketch. All of the materials I’ve listed in this post are inexpensive, lightweight, and fit neatly into my backpack, carry on bag or suitcase with plenty of room to spare. They are also TSA friendly so you can take take them with you when flying. Whether you’re a hiker, a teacher, a commuter or a tourist, like to sketch indoors or out, if you’re planning a trip and don’t want to lose your creative mojo, this list will be a help to you. Additional product images, examples of my sketches and how I use these materials are below each product description. Again, my sketches are not masterpieces. Be kind. ; )

  1. Piccadilly Open Bound Sketchbookz-craft
    An essential for any traveling artist to take along on a trip is the sketchbook, of course. I was introduced to this wonderful book through a workshop student last summer. There are so many good qualities I love about this book, the most important being that it’s compact, lightweight and can accept a variety of media, including water. Also important to me is that due to it’s open-bound binding and with a little breaking in, it lays flat without that distracting spiral between the pages most sketchbooks have. It also has a handy pocket to hold postcards, plants or anything else I collect on my travels. It doesn’t have a closure like other field sketchbooks, but that is easily remedied by a homemade tie, mine being a lovely piece of raffia. I don’t really like the word ‘SKETCH’ on the front, but that is also easily remedied by a little camouflage. Unfortunately, this book has been discontinued by Barnes and Noble, where I purchased it, but you can still get copies of it through Marketplace sellers here.


     
  2. Koh-I-Noor Watercolor Wheel
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    I love watercolor for quick sketches and have purchased a few portable watercolor sets over the years, but this stackable set of 24 colors by Koh-I-Noor is definitely my favorite. I found it in a museum gift shop near the children’s art supplies so I wasn’t expecting much in the way of quality, but I was totally blown away by the color intensity when I did my first tests. If you’d like to see a more comprehensive comparison to better quality watercolor sets, watch this short video. I’m no watercolor expert and I’m sure I don’t need a whole 24 colors, but I love having them at my disposal if I want them. I’m used to working with gouache, so I’m always searching for white when working with watercolors and this set has white! It really doesn’t work the way gouache works, but I like having it there for that little bit of opacity I always seem to need. It also comes with a handy mixing tray that screws right on top. This set fits perfectly in my pack, but it might be a bit bulky for some, so just unscrew the stack and only bring the colors you need. The set is very inexpensive compared to most portable 24 color sets, so if you’re daring you can go for the mega 36 color set available here or the colossal 48 color set here. The 24 color set is sold by many online stores and you can compare prices if you Google, but if you’re in a hurry just click here.

  3. ArtGraf Water Soluble Graphite Disc
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    ArtGraf is simply brilliant for all that it offers in the way of water soluble products. I was first introduced to their products by way of their water soluble graphite pencils and sticks that I love. When I was in the art supply store purchasing more, I found that they also make water soluble graphite products that they call ‘discs’. The disc is more like a block, it’s shape inspired by tailor’s chalk and comes in many colors. I first purchased the Carbon Black disc, it’s rich velvety black almost simulates sketching in straight Sumi ink. I loved it so much, I bought the earth tone set and just love it for sketching the desert landscapes I gravitate toward when searching for hikes. The colors are so rich and complex, I can achieve a wide value range just by changing the amount of water I use. Although I would love to, I can’t take all of the colors with me, so I always have the dark brown disc in my pack. Its as rich as the black, but not as harsh and simulates the earth tones a bit better. Just like the black I can achieve a wide range of values and it’s great for simple sketches when I don’t have the time to break out my watercolor set. The discs are sold individually or in sets through many art supply stores, but for online convenience most of the products are sold by Amazon here.

  4. General’s Sketch and Wash Pencil
    Generals-3

    When I work in any medium, I’m always about adding the line, the mark and in my case, lines and marks add up to many tangled swirls. For me, working in watercolor is not about painting in detail, it’s broad, blended swaths of color that yearn for a little detail-and swirls, of course. This pencil allows me to add those details in lines ranging from very crisp to a thin wash. The pencil works like any other watercolor pencil by either adding water after drawing or dipping the pencil in water first, the latter being what I prefer. What sets this pencil apart from most other watercolor pencils is the rich black line I get when it’s wet. Most black watercolor pencils seem to start strong and then fade out when wet-this one does the exact opposite, starting out a lighter gray when dry and then getting more black when wet. Its the perfect tie together finish for a bright watercolor sketch. It’s available at most art supply stores, but I purchase mine here.

  5. Pentel Aquash Water Brush
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    What to do with all of these watercolor art supplies, you ask? The answer is, purchase a good water brush! I’m embarrassed to say that I purchased my first water brush in 2016 when yet another workshop student introduced me to these wonderful things. At the time, I had never heard of them and also had a difficult time finding them even online. Fortunately, they are pretty much everywhere now and come in a few brands which I have tried. My favorite is the Pentel brand because of it’s quality tip that I can’t kill no matter how hard I use it and I don’t have to hurt myself to get the water out of the brush. I purchased this set (not from this merchant), being wooed by a bigger pen with a variety of tips. Unfortunately, the tips soon fell apart, the water either came out in a waterfall or not at all and I had to squeeze the pen so hard to get the water out, it would break my painting rhythm. Although the Pentel brand is a bit pricier and looks smaller, the brushes last, they’re easy to use with an even water flow per squeeze and surprisingly hold more water than the larger brushes. My favorite, most versatile tip is the medium round, it gives me a broad stroke down to a fine line. I can’t do without this brush and carry one everywhere, even in my everyday purse. Just a side note-if you’re flying and taking this pen with you, make sure you have emptied it of all water or TSA will confiscate! Purchase both Pentel individual brushes and sets here.
  6. Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pen
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    There are no limits to the love I have for this pen. It’s super black, versatile, comes in a variety of sizes and writes beautifully on any drawing or painting surface. When I’m out hiking, I use it to make quick sketches, write field notes, add depth to my pencil sketches and details to my watercolor sketches. I have the extra small, small and fine point pens and use them all in the studio, but always have the small size in my pack. Read this post for more about this pen and to see a series of drawings I did with it. These pens are sold individually at most art and craft stores and online, but I found a nice assorted nib 4 pen set here and a mega set with all kinds of interesting nibs here.
  7. Eberhard Faber Design Ebony Pencil 6325
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    I love drawing with pencil, I could do it for days. The problem is that it takes me about that long to draw anything because I use so many different kinds of pencils and leads, constantly switching around to get the right value. Unfortunately, I can’t bring them all with me in my pack, so this pencil is a great substitute for many of those pencils. It’s hard enough at the tip for fine line and soft enough to achieve a variety of values, from very dark to very light. The best part about it is it’s ultra velvety smoothness, I’ve never seen or felt anything quite like it. The smoothness enables me to draw in many smooth layers without annoying skips and dark spots. It must be kept sharp to achieve fine line, so instead of ruining my pack with a messy sharpener that takes up space, I use my trusty pink pocket knife every hiker girl should have and the pencil elements go back to the earth from whence they came. Unfortunately, these pencils have been discontinued but they are available from a variety of Marketplace and Ebay sellers if you’re patient and search. I found a good article that mentions other alternatives to this awesome pencil-I haven’t used any of the pencils mentioned in the article but there are substantial reviews to read for most of them.

I hope that this article was helpful and introduced you to some products you may not have been aware of before reading. As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and suggestions-the comments section is located at the upper left sidebar of this post. Please let me know what your favorite portable materials are, I’m always looking for new products to try.

Stay tuned for my next post which offers 3 Essential Questions to ask yourself when critiquing art, either your own or another artist’s work. When I was a professor at Tyler, these three questions helped simplify critique and went beyond the typical critique discussions to analyzing the overall impact of the work and what compels the viewer to respond to one work over another. Whether you are a professional artist or a beginner, this article will help you determine what makes an interesting work of art. See you soon.

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.

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

A Special Cyber Monday Gift for You

Hello My Dear Blog Followers & Subscribers,
I am so grateful for your support throughout the year I created a special super secret offer just for you…

Through December 4, I am offering mini paintings for sale with free shipping and a free notecard set with purchase ONLY to you, my followers and subscribers. Follow the directions below to login…

Start HERE on my web site
Click ‘login’ at the top of the menu and use Friend and MyGift to login
Visit the Holiday Gift page and start shopping for something special!

Don’t want to purchase a painting?
Purchase a workshop Instead…See my complete 2018 Workshop Schedule
Purchase My Catalog featuring essays and paintings from 2005-2017
Purchase a Notecard Set which includes 5 different unique designs

Combine Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday to purchase a truly unique gift.

The Happiest of Holidays to You!
Lorraine xo

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.

Two Exciting Upcoming Workshops Demystified

With workshop season fast approaching, I would like to introduce you to two of my most popular workshops. But before I do that, just below is a brief introduction to some of what you will learn in all of my encaustic workshops.

Included in all of my encaustic workshops

  • Color, composition, application, content-the basics, the intermediate, the advanced.
  • Using color relationships, proportion, scale as an effective foundation for other painterly information.
  • Individual consultation/critique discussion with each participant. Bring a piece of work, a question, a concern, a problem and discuss it with me. My most favorite part of the workshop is this special time I spend talking one-on-one with each participant.
  • Learn how to use encaustic’s strengths (layering, transparency, luminosity) to tell your story.
  • Mark-making exercises-whether you are taking the line workshop or not, exercises geared toward making simple or complex marks to generate a personal voice.
  • Book-sharing-each pariticipant brings their favorite art book to share.
  • Group sharing and discussion-always an amazingly helpful time for participants to share their victories and struggles.
  • A slide talk with examples of contemporary artists whose applies the concepts discussed in the workshop is offered for inspiration. Some examples of the slides included in the talks for each of the workshops discussed in this article is just below.
Pattern & Repetition Slides Examples
Grid & Line Slides Examples

ENCAUSTIC PATTERN & REPETITION

Mixed Media Encaustic: Pattern & Repetition
October 4-6
Studio Joy, Kansas City, MO
WORKSHOP WEB SITE

Basic Description
Repeated use of a shape, color or design element unifies composition, creates pattern, rhythm and movement as well as reinforces content. This workshop focuses on the creation of intricate patterns, expressive personal surfaces and complex, multi-layered pieces utilizing and in combination with encaustic painting techniques. With an emphasis on mixed media, methods and materials covered in this workshop include the use of organic and geometric form, realistic and abstract imagery, patterned collage, stencils, candy molds, tjaps, and branding (creating marks with heated metal and wood burning tools). Considerations such as using pattern and repetition as content itself, to tell a story, support and/or strengthen the message will also be discussed.

Who should take this workshop?

  • You swoon over textiles, prints, decorative arts, design, anything with pattern and you want to learn how to effectively incorporate these elements into your work.
  • You already include lots of pattern and repetition in your work, but the work hasn’t moved past mere decoration to involve meaningful content.
  • You desperately want to include pattern in your work, but you are fearful that it will be received by the viewing public as decorative art.
  • You love image and collage, but when you embed these elements into encaustic, the collage is blurred, burned or looks clunky.
  • You love painting with the intensely pigmented color of encaustic and want to learn how to effectively apply it-how to mix color, how and when to dilute, what brushes and tools to use.
  • You are frustrated with your current body of work, your process(es) and want to create consistency, and a cohesive portfolio.
  • You want to express yourself in a more meaningful way with your work.
  • Your creative process is stagnating and you want to learn a new process, idea or technique.
  • You have always wanted to create ‘visual poetry’ in your paintings.

What happens in this workshop? What will I learn?

  • What a motif is and how you can generate one to create personal patterns with meaning and how to incorporate them into your work.
  • Create personally designed fabrics and papers using indigo, rust and compost printing and use them as a basis for a painting.
  • Create repetitive patterns using innovative tools and techniques such as pyrography (making marks with heated metal and tools), tjaps and candy molds.
  • Learn my technique for applying decorative stenciling into my work and how you can use stenciling to strengthen your compositions and content.
  • Learn how to apply encaustic paint in layers and in various levels of transparency, as well as how and when to scrape back to reveal exciting forms and patterns within the layers.
  • Practice the effective application and fusing of encaustic collaged layers so you aren’t tempted to give up collage forever in frustration!
  • Experiment with doodling, mark making and process to create personal patterns.
  • Learn how to use the transparency of the wax to allow pattern and information to combine and ‘talk’ within the painting.
  • Learn how repetitive pattern, symbols, text, ornament adds power and interest to the work and therefore brings the viewer closer to it’s message.
  • How repetition can create visual poetry, rhythm, music, etc within the work.

What kind of work will I make?
Please enjoy the work example pics below from participants who have previously taken this workshop. Please also visit additional blog posts here and here and here for more information related to this workshop.

WHERE CAN I SIGN UP!

Mixed Media Encaustic: Pattern & Repetition
October 4-6
Studio Joy, Kansas City, MO
WORKSHOP WEB SITE

ENCAUSTIC LINE & GRID

Basic Description
Lines lead the eye and communicate information through variation in width, direction, density, length and character. They are as integral to any composition as the composition itself. Despite the incredible versatility of the encaustic medium, there is a limit to the techniques available in which to incorporate line. This workshop explores line and linear language far beyond the usual methods and materials to include the use of tjanting tools, masks, drawing with horse and human hair, branding with heated metal and wood burning tools, as well as creating your own grids, laces and lace like forms using free motion sewing machine embroidery on water soluble stabilizer. The workshop begins with a comprehensive exercise involving composition generation, which will result in several compositions from which to explore these new techniques. Considerations of the use of the grid as a conceptual as well as compositional tool will also be discussed.

Who should take this workshop?

  • You are a semi-beginner to advanced painter (encaustic or other) who often finds their paintings rife with color, paint, collaged, etc. information, but can’t put a finger on what is lacking or how to finish it.
  • You have great ideas but your compositions are scattered, nothing connects or works together to tell your story.
  • You are interested in what the grid can do for your work, but don’t want to make gridded paintings. NOTE: You won’t make a gridded painting in this workshop unless you want to do so, but understanding the concept of the grid as a foundational structure will make your paintings stronger. Guaranteed.
  • You want to express yourself in a more meaningful way with your work.
  • You want to create consistency, a personal voice, your own mark, in your paintings and body of work as a whole.
  • Your creative process is stagnating and you need to learn a new process, idea or technique.
  • You love materials and innovative ways to use them.
  • You dislike drawing and/or you’re afraid of it.

What happens in this workshop? What will I learn?

  • In depth discussion, brainstorming and slide talk about line and the grid-what it means in art, what it does, how to generate it, how to use it.
  • What the concepts of good design are and how to apply these ideas to fine art.
  • Marking, drawing, making marks with fun exercises involving music, text, folding/cutting paper, collage, fire, found materials are sure to relax you so that you don’t even know you’re drawing and are designed for you to generate ideas, content and a personal mark.
  • Effective and productive doodling.
  • Experiment with line ideas using innovative techniques and materials such as horsehair, pyrography (making marks with heated metal and tools), stitching by hand or machine, Solvy (water soluble embroidery stabilizer).
  • Experiment with encaustic tools such as a tjanting, incising into the wax, creating grids and lines using masks, paintsticks and encaustic friendly drawing media.
  • How you can create your own process to make a cohesive body of work and how that process can relate to and enhance content in that work.
  • Learn what found drawings are and how you can use them as a tool for inspiration and content generation.

What kind of work will I make?
Please enjoy the work example pics below from participants who have previously taken this workshop. Please visit additional blog posts here and here and here and here for more information related to this workshop.

WHERE CAN I SIGN UP!

Mixed Media Encaustic: Pattern & Repetition
October 4-6
Studio Joy, Kansas City, MO
WORKSHOP WEB SITE

If you have taken one of these workshops and it has made an impression on your work, I invite you to write briefly about your experience in the comment section and include a pic if you would like. I look forward to hearing from you.

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.