The Evolution Of A Mark, Part Two

Drawing is not what one sees but what one can make others see.
-Edgar Degas

Just about this time last year, I wrote The Evolution Of A Mark, in which I trace back to how and why I make the marks I make today…specifically speaking to the gouache paintings I’ve been developing on and off for many years and just recently got back into working again. Not just contemplating my navel, I’m hoping that by retracing how I got from there to here, I can help other artists look at their own work histories and trace back to what it is that sets their work apart. Once that thing is recognized, it can be developed.

My first post left off at gracefully closing the door on my textile design career and   blessedly opening a window into my fine art career at about my mid-20’s. I wanted a career in fine art, but I wasn’t a painter yet so I started by going back to my roots in textiles. I began by making art quilts that combined all of my loves at the time-photography, hand/machine sewing, found objects, beading, drawing, painting-pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. My modest success making and showing them got me into graduate school with a fellowship no less! I included some detail shots below…be kind, these quilts are OLD and so are the images.

Celebration detail, Portrait, Flower detail, Portrait detail, Flower detail, All: Hand and machine embroidered, quilted, beaded, fabric paints, found objects, photo transfers, fabric/paper collage, found fabrics

My work in grad school was (and still is) rooted in drawing connections between the earth and body. How I make these connections changed many times over the years with various explorations, but back then I was interested in making those connections through visual patterns. I started with art quilts but quickly dove into line work and using the sewing machine as a drawing tool. I was captivated by the sewn line as well as by the thread itself. There was something so simple and lovely in the pile of cut thread scraps on my sewing table that I started to use them in the quilts and as inspiration for drawings. So enthralled was I by the thread, I eventually abandoned the fabric base and just focused on making quilts out of the thread alone. My explorations led me to discover the magic of Solvy, a water-soluble embroidery stabilizer and I was hooked. My process was to cut threads from many spools and place them in a pile, then sew them together by following the flow of the clumps as I arranged them. I was so excited that this process developed from the basic process of sewing and this is where my interest in process as a form of art making was born. The sewn thread pieces resemble pelts, grass, hair, skin, which to me, spoke visually of both earth and body…another exciting thing that told me I was on the right track to combining process, materials and content.

Purity detail, Eleuthera, 12×12 inches, Purity, 6×4 feet each panel, Purity detail, White, 9×12 inches, Beginning, 2×3 feet, Rise, 4×5 feet, Beginning detail, Rise detail. All: Rust and Eco Stained fabrics, paint, machine quilted, embroidered, silk and cotton fabric, rayon thread.

From here, I made three 4×6 foot quilted ‘paintings’ for my thesis show that were comprised of the thread pieces, stained and painted fabrics, drawing and painting (pictured above). At the same time, I was also working on a series of drawings that started by manipulating and photocopying the threads, then using graphite paper to transcribe the photocopied images to another paper. The photocopy was placed on top, and the graphite paper underneath, I would then trace the photocopied image over and over without seeing the drawing I was creating underneath. The drawing created resembled a dense tangle of clumpy swirls, which referenced roots, veins, water systems and various other underlying channels integral to life.

Thread drawing photocopy detail, Clump 1, graphite on print paper, 22×30, Thread drawing photocopy, Thread drawing photocopy detail, Clump 2, graphite on print paper, 22×30

The repetitive act of tracing and sewing the threads embedded in my psyche and I found myself instinctively using it whenever I was drawing. I’ve created many series using this mark and it has varied over the years as you can see in the gallery below. Even with its variations, I’m pretty much stuck with it…or it’s stuck with me. See more of these paintings on my web site here and paintings on plexiglass here.

January in the Rockies 5, 9×12 inches, One Dark Cloud, 20×16 inches, January in the Rockies 3, 9×12 inches, Rain Over the Hill With Lake, 20×16 inches, Frost Fog, 16×20 inches

I hope you enjoyed this article and it’s helped you in some way. I always love hearing from you, so please feel free to comment (comment section is located in the upper left sidebar of this article). If you’re intrigued by line, want to find your personal mark or are just searching for some cool ways to add line to your encaustic paintings, my workshop at the encaustic conference is just for you! Read about it here and please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Stay tuned for my April blog posts-a two part series on the self-made residency I completed in January-February. I’ve gotten loads of questions about how to start one, where to stay, what to take, etc. and I’ll explain it all. I look forward to sharing this information with you and also sharing the work I produced during my residency. If you can’t wait, visit my Instagram for a sneak peak. See you in April, Happy Spring!

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.