Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Froth of July

6 x 9 inches
encaustic on canvasboard
In honor of the 4th of July, I made two encaustic pieces using only red, white and blue. The results were quite interesting; I'm completely happy with one piece, and almost happy with the second one.

For this piece, I layered the medium and pigmented wax on a 6 x 9 inch canvasboard, then worked the layers with my awesome new heat gun and fan nozzle. I've spent a year wondering how other encaustic artists achieved this lacy, foamy effect, and the answer is basically having the right tool. I could never have accomplished  this with my little craft heat gun, even if it had some kind of attachment that enabled me to direct the airflow.

4 x 6 inches
encaustic on wood
The second piece is on a 4 x 6 piece of wood. On this piece, I applied layers of medium and colored wax, and added a final series of drips and strokes in white and ultramarine blue. I then used my tacking iron to smooth the surface and blend and direct some of the colors. The results were reasonably successful, but it still feels like it's missing something, so I may work on this some more. One thought I had was to perform a shellac burn. It will be my first time giving that technique a try, and I'm not sure what the results will be, but all of this is experimental to a certain extent. And if I've learned anything working with wax, it's that you can't understand any of these processes without using them over and over and over again, and learning how to control and adjust them.

I'll leave you with a couple of detail images from RWB 1. I'm going to continue working with this technique and see how many more effects I can draw out of it. I'm pleased with my progress so far.

detail from RWB 1
detail from RWB 1

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Technique-a-aplooza Part 1

After a day spent working alongside one of my favorite local artists in her studio, I'm starting to understand that my fledging encaustic practice is actually a little further along than I thought. I've had in my head for awhile what I wanted my encaustic work to look like, but kept thinking I didn't have enough knowledge or had never found the right technique for it or even, possibly, that I just didn't possess the necessary talent (and I just heard every other artist reading this go "eeeeeEEEEEEEEE...").

As it turns out, none of those things are true. And doing a survey of my encaustic work to date, there are quite a few pieces I'm very happy with (including the three that now live in other people's homes) that show a reasonable ability to execute a wide variety of techniques; some of these early pieces are almost purely about the techniques themselves. Here are a few for your enjoyment!

Western Starshower
6 x 4 inches
wax and oil paint on wood

Possibly the most straightforward of the techniques is just the application of layered wax, creation of marks in the wax and then infilling with contrasting paint or wax. Western Starshower started as something else entirely. I've always been vaguely dissatisfied with the piece, until one day I turned it upside down and suddenly it made sense. I like the texture and sort of 3D quality of the black hills in the foreground. At the same time, though, I don't think this is one that will ever make it to the sale table; it's just a little bit too rough.

3 x 5 inches
wax and oil on canvas panel
Bengali is another piece that began as one thing and became another. There are so many techniques in this tiny piece I almost don't know where to begin talking about it. It's got layered overpainting, scraping away, "buttering" with the tacking iron, and a final layer of gold oilbar highlight. I have to say the addition of the gold is what kind of turned it from "nothing" into "something." I'll probably frame this one and put it up in my house somewhere. I haven't been able to make a photo of it that did it justice.

5 x 7 inches
wax on encaustic board
Misty Garden
8 x 8 inches
wax on wood panel
Speaking of buttering, Buttery is tacking-iron process run a little bit amok. This is purely overpainting and then pulling back the wax to varying depths with the tacking iron, revealing the different colors beneath. Again, I'm a fan of texture that implies 3D rather than 2D--the wax "sits up" in waves, the colors surprise, the form feels at once chaotic and elegant. In the same style is the much larger Misty Garden. It's less tactile, a little bit more glassy, but still with the technique of using the tacking iron to butter back layers of color to reveal unexpected layers of color underneath. On this one, though, I've also used the tacking iron to "style" the wax colors into patterns and waves.

Winter Trees
3 x 5 inches
wax and inkjet print
on encaustic board
3 x 5 inches
wax and pastel rubbings
on encaustic board
I'm not a big fan of image transfer processes in encaustic; most of the work I've seen that uses image transfer feels too much like a graphic design or collage project to me, and I've never had any illusions about being interested in working in either of those styles. But there can be something magically about the inclusion of printed images in this work if handled with a slightly different point of view. My two favorites in this style are Winter Trees and Leaf. Each uses a very different technique. Winter Trees involved embedding an inkjet print on rice paper into the wax; Leaf also features embedded designs on rice paper, but instead of an inkjet print, I made  multiple pastel rubbings of the leaf in different colors and carefully layered those to make the final piece. A little bit of oil paint was used to emphasize highlights and details.

9 x 12 inches
wax on clay board
I had the good fortune to know a number of extraordinary painters in grad school, and what they did seemed like magic to me; I've never painted and felt pretty confident that I couldn't ever create anything that looked like it had come off the end of a brush held by Lisa or Gail or Elise or Jenn, Mo or Anastasia or Nora. These artists still amaze me, and I'm not shy about saying they are all my inspirations when it comes to encaustic. This last piece is the closest to what I want to be as an encaustic artist, and rather than my previous assumption that I just probably didn't have the ability to create work like that, it turns out it was just another technique, combined with a tool problem. Some thought, some luck and the proper tool are what helped me produce this piece, which doesn't have a title yet. But creating this was so satisfying (and surprising), it defies description.

I have in my head now what I need to do to continue to produce work like this, the trick will be to keep working and be willing to fail. That's a good lesson both for art and life in general.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Irony Sandwich ... Art Show in AVN!

After a series of random connections and pleasant events, my first art exhibition in the 3D virtual world Avination is now open. It doesn't have an official title, but I'm thinking of it as "Irony Sandwich," not just because of the work, but also because of the way it came into being.

First, the important details:

Show star: Me. Only in Avination, I'm Winterlight Cazalet. Now you know. :)
Show location: Oasis of Art, Inspiration Terrace, Southern Bay sim, AVINATION.
Reception: Sunday, June 10, 4-5 pm PST (that's 7-8 pm eastern, and midnight to one for all you fabulous euros).

I would LOVE for anyone with a computer that has the chops to join us at this reception. Even if you've never set foot in a 3D Virtual World for any reason, please do so for just this one hour. It's absolutely free to join, it's easy, you will not receive a lot of stupid email spam for joining, and I will not be bothered at all by a lot of noobs at the reception. In fact, the sight of a noob in AVN thrills me to death!

All you have to do is go to the Avination sign-up page, create your account, download the Avination viewer, and log in. If you're already in Second Life, you can keep your SL name and even use some of the same viewers to log in (Firestorm and Imprudence both work just fine for AVN viewing and have the grid already listed among their login options; all you need to do is fill in your AVN avatar name and chosen password). Once you are inworld, just use search to find my avatar name, and send me an instant message if I'm online or use the landmark in my profile to get to the show.

I have 15 works on display. Now for the "Irony" part: they're all digital photographs of real-world things; works that I've actually produced and shown in what people like to call "real life." They're "real" pictures, but they're digital. And now they're being produced and shown in a "virtual" space. Given my ongoing interest in blurring and underscoring the arbitrariness of the separation between "virtual/digital" and "real," you can perhaps see why I find this amusing on a lot of levels.

So, come have a look at my Irony Sandwich. It will be up throughout June and maybe longer. And for all you artists already working in other 3D VR environments, please come have a look at Avination. I have a dream of this place becoming "the artists' grid," and I'll need your help to get there.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Creative Worlds

Important note: click on the images to view full-size. Worth it, I promise.

If you're one of the 3.3 (woot!) regular readers of this blog, you'll know that I'm an active participant in and booster of art in 3D virtual worlds; to date I've curated a couple of mixed-reality experiences and have several unrealized projects on the boards. In Second Life in particular, I count as my friends a number of wonderful artists whose work I enjoy and admire. My own particular bent when it comes to this artistic medium is one of integration and interrelation, blurring the boundaries between the "real" and the "digital/virtual," even though (or perhaps because) this distinction feels largely false to me. "Digital" is not, after all, the opposite of "real;" it's merely a label we apply to experiences in a particular environment to distinguish them from one another, just like "sparkling wine" is not the opposite of "champagne." It's the same thing, really; it just happens in a different place.

Me at home in Avination. In 3D
virtual worlds, it seems that
everyone lives on the beach.

I'm really excited about my latest ideas for a large-scale installation in a virtual world setting, complete with real-world integration. I missed the deadline for application for Linden Endowment for Art support, sadly, so now I'm trying to decide what to do. Art support organizations are still around Second Life, but like the rest of us they are largely cash-strapped, and most have restricted or eliminated programs that supplied full sims (that's like giving an artist a private island, for you non-virtual-world readers) as Linden Labs  has dramatically raised its sim rates for nonprofits and educational institutions. And like those organizations, I would have a hard time affording a full sim on my own, even for just a few months.

Weird thing with another
weird thing inside it.
The good news is that Second Life is no longer the only game in town. A handful of competing 3D virtual worlds have made a lot of headway in stabilizing their platform and creating enhancements that put them nearly on par with Second Life (which admittedly remains the Big MacDaddy of 3D Virtual Worlds). Right now I have an avatar floating around in four of them: Blue Mars, InWorldz, OSGrid and Avination. Although OSGrid seems to be populated by old developer friends from SL's early days, I find myself feeling pretty comfortable in Avination. For one thing, this was the world that made it easiest for me to look like myself (the self I am in Second Life, that is). For another, the platform seems very stable and is under active development, and many of the features I like the most from SL are present in Avination as well--they've done a good job of building on SL's open source code base.

One last good thing ... Avination is cheap. Free to join, a slightly better currency exchange rate for the US dollar than SL, and full sims are actually affordable and don't carry ludicrous set-up fees.

Another beautiful weird thing
The cons ... there are a few things I'd like to do that aren't supported in Avination yet, although I hear they're on the way. And there are significantly fewer regular users of Avination than of SL; this may be a hidden plus, and may, if I get my way, not be too difficult to work around in the end. Additionally, setting up the project in Avination could be a good "proof of concept" for something I might do later on in Second Life, giving me the opportunity to tweak and polish it before turning it loose on a larger, higher-visibility audience.

You're probably wondering what this mysterious mixed-reality project is about. As with all my projects, I could give you a long description of what I think it's about, but by the time it's finished it might not be about that at all. I can tell you my goals are forming around including both worlds in each world in a much more tangible way that I've seen done before, and focused on enabling interaction across the worlds that isn't about performance or "re-creation" or mere representation or scripted scenarios. I can tell you that I'm being inspired by a convergence of repeated references ... to William Gibson's "Idoru," to Jill Bolte Taylor's Ted Talk, to steampunk and strange shapes and things that repeat and repeat and repeat. Movement, light, mystery, poetry. Sound. Quantum physics. Music. Asparagus.

Two more weird things that move.
How they move is still secret :)
I'm building and scripting this install myself; if I can't figure out how to do it, then it must not want to be done. I've started making strange and beautiful things in Avination that really have no definition, I can't really tell you what they are. But they move and glow and turn slowly and change color and tell you secrets, fly and bounce, rotate and change, all unbidden, all in the spirit of self-direction.

Eventually, they will hold as many secrets as they tell. Eventually they will offer whole stories, that I hope the viewer will assemble in whatever way is most meaningful to them. Because at the end of the day, art is really a collaborative effort between the artist and the viewer, and I want to offer as many people as I can a window between these two wonderful mystical worlds that we could all inhabit, each with its own sorrows and illusions, each with its own amazing points of wonder.
Good night from Avination.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Light! Depth! Fuego!

I've been thinking more about my encaustic process lately, which you'll no doubt remember if you're one of the 3.3 (woot!) regular readers of this blog, and I've been spending a lot of time looking at the work of other artists I admire. Just in the year I've been working in this medium, there seems to have been a tremendous increase in the number of artists producing extraordinary fine art in encaustic. When I first got interested, all I could find online were crafters and collage, neither of which felt like what I wanted to do. Then I discovered Lissa Rankin, Cari Hernandez, Linda Womack, and (locally) Diane Rodman. Just recently, I took another tour around the web and found even more artists whose work inspires and amazes me: Lisa Kairos, Elise Wagner, and Molly Cliff-Hilts, among many others.

One of the good things about finding these artists and lots of online images of their work is that it gives me a chance to think about my work in relationship to theirs, not in terms of making it like theirs, but considering the elements in their work that I respond to, and how to bring those elements into my own form of expression.

an early experiment with
incorporating 3D objects
 Immediately apparent was the fact that the work I admired and responded to the most strongly had a depth and luminosity that my own work, for the most part, was lacking. As a photographer, it makes sense that I would be captured by the notion of the two-dimensional object that implies three dimensions; wax brings out an even more compelling interest in 3D for me.

I've experimented briefly with incorporating three-dimensional objects into my wax pieces but largely have not been wildly happy with the results. I've also attempted making the wax itself more of a three-dimensional feature, and I've liked those results a little bit better, although I haven't tried to do anything with the stiffer "modeling wax" designed for that purpose. At the end of the day, it's the magic I think I want to incorporate, the illusion of depth in something that is otherwise obviously flat. (Actually, I recognize this kind of "misdirection" is a fairly consistent theme in all of my work, the moment of wondering--however briefly--"Am I looking at what I think I'm looking at?")

Experiment with 3D wax
I have of course read plenty of information on bringing luminosity and depth into one's work. But encaustic is a tremendously hands-on medium; you really don't "get it" until you've done it a few times. So I've spent a few nights practicing these techniques, and while I achieved results I was initially happy with, now I can look at the pieces and see what would have made them better. This is the point at which I wanted to find myself; it lets me focus on refining my techniques, and makes me feel ready to move forward consciously and create with intent.

Front view of the experiment
in 3D wax. I actually like
this piece a lot
Another thing I felt, looking at my most-admired artists' work, is that their work had a refinement that mine was lacking. This is a bit problematic for me and will require some further interpretation. Certainly in other media I have a tendency to be all over the place. During a particularly annoying grad school critique in which one very measured, precise and somewhat anal fellow student continued to hammer at my work for not being more like her own, the instructor finally interrupted (quite rare for him). In a tone of mild exasperation, he said "She's not you. She doesn't make your work. She hasn't done this in this way because she can't do it any other way. It's a choice. This isn't a failing, it's a style." (Thanks, Jeremy.) You can see the 3D work to the right is fairly chaotic, but I think it does have a refinement that makes it feel finished and "official." In other words, it feels like art to me.

In looking at the photos I've produced of my experiments in luminosity and depth (the illusion of 3D), I find I'm not really able to capture the subtleties all that well, and I think that's probably fine. I can see things that are not quite right with all of these pieces, and I will keep working on them to enhance them. I think a scan, rather than a photograph, is probably going to be the best way to capture them; the light from the scanner does a pretty good impression of ambient light's effect on the pieces and shows off the luminosity and depth a little better. But for the time being, here are some examples of where I hope to go:

You can see the glow of the little heart form standing out from the
surrounding darker wax, left. On the right, there are intimations of
depth conveyed by the layering of clear medium and pigmented
paint. These are actually opposite ends of the same piece, both ends
need some major refinement, but at least I've started to achieve
what I was going for.

In order to achieve these effects consistently and to refine them in the way that will work for me, I know I need to have better control over the wax, especially when fusing and heating the surface to apply more wax. My little craft air gun is a bit clumsy and it's really easy to go just past that "warmed" state into "liquid." While that's an effect I generally like (overfusing R me), sometimes you need for those layers to remain separate and relatively unadulterated if you're going to represent depth. My tacking iron offers me a little bit more precision, but it's easy to accidentally smear colors and layers in a way that makes them muddy--this is, I realize, largely a matter of practice. Anyway, there is one clear way to quickly heat the wax to the perfect temperature for fusing and for laying down more layers in a way that is precise and effective. And despite my anxiety over it, I've gone ahead and done it ...

... I bought a blow torch.

Okay, so I got the little one, light weight and butane-powered, but it has an adjustable flame and a trigger ignition, along with a switch to power a continuous flame. And it came with a little soldering tip, so my further adventures in metalworking (more on that later) can also be furthered. It *should* work fine, once I figure out what I'm doing. I'm still afraid of it enough that I haven't taken it out of its package, but give me a few days and I'm sure I'll be blazing away. It never takes me long to work up the courage to jump into something new, and once I commit to a process, I'm in all the way.

Think I'll get myself a fire extinguisher first, though. Just in case.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

Some things that have been bugging me lately:

If you're one of the 2.3 regular readers of this blog, you already have read my rant on POV. Some people seemed to think this was a cry for help, or some kind of problem I was having. It wasn't; and it's not. Thank you to my dear friend Judy Shintani for serendipitously reminding me that it's actually my process, and that makes it just fine. I need a POV. I get to decide that for myself. If you don't need a POV, I'm happy for you, yay! But I'm just as happy for me that I understand that I need one and have the sense to keep working toward it. And yes, it's discovery that comes from work. Generally, from a lot of work.

Second thing: I have seen posted on Facebook by a couple of very different friends an absolutely idiotic quote attributed to Andre Gide, "Art is a collaboration between God and the artist and the less the artist does, the better." I almost cannot express how much this pisses me off. Once again, intention, focus, engagement, concept, and conscious choice in artmaking gets dissed in favor of some special magical outside force we're all just channeling. Talent's not real, choices are meaningless; we're just empty vessels. If the work is good, it must be because we didn't have anything to do with it! If it sucks, it's because we participated too much in the creation of our own work.

You can perhaps see, I think, how these two things are related. Each assumes that an engaged intellect is either not necessary or not helpful in making art.

While there is something to the notion of avoiding paralysis by analysis and getting out of your own way, there is NOTHING in the notion that not being conscious and deliberate in your artmaking somehow makes it better. Having no conceptual underpinning (which is really artschool talk for "an idea about what you are doing") doesn't make your work special, it makes it rootless. I can look at my crafty things or the stuff I've done just for myself, and I can see that. I see it in others' work as well. It keeps it from being everything it should be.

And once again, a serendipitous post from Judy ... "Being quiet enough to listen and trusting is the only way into creativity." But she and I agree. We aren't listening for the voice of God or trusting some outside force; we're listening to "our own true voices."

Whew, I feel better. More fun next post and less pondering. I promise.