Saturday, April 02, 2011

Drifting Into the Zone

If you're one of my 2.3 regular readers, you'll know that I am kind of hard to impress when it comes to art instruction, and encaustic instruction in particular seems to be a challenging arena. Nothing has been more painful than reviewing the encaustic "instructional" videos on the generally-hapless Expert Village channel on YouTube. The class I actually paid for in encaustic was good for seeing a little bit of basic technique demonstrated and getting a chance to play around with some warm wax, but since the electrical capacity of the room couldn't actually handle the draw from the heated palettes and the heat gun simultaneously without blowing a fuse, other basic techniques were just sort of ignored or glossed over. The first book I purchased on encaustic was a great introduction ... to the specific encaustic style of the author. Searches for information online produced an awful lot of the same stuff over and over. Not surprisingly, yelling at the screen that I didn't WANT to do Xerox transfers or see how to use collage materials AGAIN didn't make any difference.

So I started looking at the web sites of encaustic artists, and found some who were doing work I found compelling and interesting. I followed up on any references or links those artists offered. Eventually I found an artist who had written a book, and when I looked at the book I loved it. It was full of other artists I found fascinating, and in investigating those artists, I came across more workshops and reference materials and descriptions of technique.

Most of the workshops, sadly, are where I used to live instead of where I live now, a difference of about 3,000 miles. A number of them are exhorbitantly expensive and probably designed to appeal to the ro/md crowd (that's Retired Ophthalmologists/Monied Dilettantes, for those of you who aren't regular readers), because after all most artists can't make a living making art, so teaching is the next best thing and teaching other artists or actual college students is also notoriously unprofitable. But I did discover that one artist I particularly admire had recently produced a DVD on "advanced encaustic techniques," and given my response to her work, I kicked down the $60 and ordered it.

The DVD is "Wax Twist" and the artist is Cari Hernandez. Like me, her deep background is photo and video, and also like me she's drawn to sculptural forms and abstract renderings. Her work is not graphic-design based, and although she uses mixed media, it doesn't reference collage. Almost the first words out of her mouth were "we are not going to cover Xerox transfers." Already my $60 felt well-spent.

If you're interested in encaustic and have passed the basic stage of instruction, and like me find yourself on the other side of the country from Cari Hernandez, this DVD is a good buy. I learned a lot of new techniques, as well as ways to refine techniques I'm already working with. She expanded my thinking as to what's possible with encaustic. But the best moment in the DVD had nothing to do with technique; it had to do with what being an artist is all about.

She was in mid-demonstration, having layered an article of clothing onto a waxed panel. She used her tacking iron to form the wax in different ways around it, talking about how useful the tool was when working with tight spaces and flammable materials. But as she spoke, you could see her slowly leave the "real" world and become engaged by the piece in front of her. It was speaking to her, she was hearing it, she studied it and smiled and tweaked her and there, and her disengagement from everything else in the world was palpable. She was in the Zone. She was no longer making a video on encaustic, she was making art and the process just happened to be in front of a camera.

After just a minute or so, she recognized her own absorption, and laughed, saying something along the lines of "before I get too carried away with this piece ..." and continued to make her instructive point. I appreciated not only the lapse into ArtMind, but also her acknowledgement of it, and the fact that she left it in the DVD for all the rest of us to see.

I've tried to explain this state to non-artists; they don't quite get it. It's not about thinking, really; but it's also not about not thinking. The most accurate description I can find is that word "hearing." The piece is speaking, telling you what it wants to be; there's a mesh with your conscious understanding of what you want the piece to say and what it wants to say, and you begin to respond to the piece, to the materials, instead of to any kind of "plan" you might have for it. This doesn't mean we don't plan, or that what we do in the Zone is intuitive; there's a strongly intellectual component to it, it's almost like you have to be thinking clearly before you can hear the voice of the work come through. And then you have to be technically able to execute, but the approach you choose to execute ... well, that comes to you from what a former professor of mine (not an art professor, interestingly enough) used to call "a different way of knowing."

At the end of the DVD, Cari talks about the difference between technique and vision, how easy it is when you're learning something new to become fascinated by technique and forget about what you're trying to say and whether those techniques are appropriate. My own opinion is that the only thing to do, really, is to make a LOT of work. Some of those pieces will just be explorations of technique, you instructing yourself through experience. But some of them at unexpected moments will begin to speak to you, you will hear them, and at that point you will find yourself in the Zone, making art--and ultimately that's where we all want to be.

Learn more about Cari Hernandez
Learn more about her DVD and instructional web site, "Wax Twist."


Cari said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience, I appreciate hearing about you/ your process/ thoughts. I'm honored that the DVD content connected with you!
And a BIG shout of thanks for writing about it! Best to you- Cari

E. Marie said...

thank you, Cari! I love your work, you're very inspiring!