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.

1 comment:

ann tracy said...

I'd definitely get that fire extinguisher ;~ D