Monday, December 30, 2013

Becoming Me

If you're one of the 2.3 regular readers of this fine blog, you'll no doubt recall that I've been giving photo/video a bit of a rest and working instead in encaustic, which is basically painting for gearheads. (No wimpy little brushes for me, no sir! Tacking iron, industrial-strength heat gun, blow torch ... now we're talking!) I've had some really good results and some disasters, and a handful of things I'm not quite sure I understand. I've spent a lot of time going back and forth trying to improve my technique and oftentimes not being sure if what I was creating was a bug or a feature, if you know what I mean. But I remained disturbed and dissatisfied ... my work didn't look like the work of the encaustic artists I admire, like Cari Hernandez, Joyce Gehl, Bobbette Rose, Daniella Woolf. And I really, really wanted it to.

I think I'm at a place now where I understand that Cari's and Joyce's and Bobbette's and Daniella's work looks the way it does because it's their work. It's what they do. Maybe this style I've been working so hard to "improve" is actually my style, my work, what I do. It is for now, at least. So I'm changing my point of view a bit, focusing on understanding the work, rather than on "improving" it. That's remarkably freeing, and if you are an artist striving toward "improvement," I highly recommend it, at least as a temporary thing.

There were a number of folks I knew in art school who really wanted me to paint. I worked primarily in photo and video, with a hefty dose of sound, book, and installation art thrown in--basically, anything that wasn't painting. I kinda-sorta tried it; I had one watercolor class in grad school, which convinced me that I was clearly not meant for watercolor, and I did one painting for another class during which the instructor fell asleep during my presentation. These episodes were not the least of my discouragement from working in paint, however. I had friends who were painters who took my breath away, and I was 100% certain that I was not going to be creating anything with paint that looked like Jenn Shiflett or Elise Morris or Gail Weissman or Nora Cohen or Lisa Rasmussen. Thinking about it now, that should have been okay. But it wasn't. I didn't want to be me as a painter. If I was going to paint, I wanted to be them.

So here's the weird thing. In my interest in making my encaustic work look like (someone else's -- fill in any name here), I decided that perhaps it was my lack of actual painting skills and technique that was keeping my work from feeling satisfactory. So recently I began to look into that painting thing. You know, with the wimpy brushes. And little tubes of oil or acrylic. I even put a painting technique book on my Holiday Wish List ... and thanks to my adoring boyfriend, I got it.

I've already blasted through it, and am re-reading it a third time. The thing that strikes me is that so many of the techniques are similar (or at least referential) to what I'm already doing in encaustic, so in a lot of ways it feels kind of familiar. There were a couple of cool and unusual processes that I got very enthused about, so I have already a small chunk of money on paint and gels and assorted hoo-hah of that nature and spent a good chunk of time tonight either playing with paint or setting up things so I could play with paint later. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of it, if I am supposed to be a painter after all, despite one medium failure, one crappy instructor, and my boatload of uber-talented friends.

I'll leave you with a little bit of an in-joke. Here is a new encaustic work of mine at an early phase, followed by the work I did on it tonight. (In case you're wondering, I'm happier with it now, but think it still needs a little more work.)

New encaustic. It felt just a
bit too lurid, the colors too
bright and clumsy.

Painting improved, using heavily
watered acrylic paint. Ha ha.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Narwhal, Sea, and Sky

I have not been blogging very much, and for that I do apologize to my loyal 4.2 readers (I'm convinced my social media activities have led to a definitely uptick in popularity). But it's time to start again and get on a somewhat regular schedule. I'll begin by showing you a little of what I've been doing most recently.

I've been working on a 3Dish mixed media encaustic piece for some time. It's one of those things where you just start without really knowing what you're going to be doing, and then you do something, and it makes some sense, but then you lose the plot and float around again until something else makes sense. So it has been for "Narwhal, Sea, and Sky."  I decided long ago that I wanted to use joint compound to create a form of some kind that would then be covered with wax; I'd heard it's a wonderful ground for wax and it's very easy to shape and mold--much easier, I imagine, than wax itself would be. So I sat down with a cradled wooden panel and smeared on some joint compound and just kept playing with it until suddenly it became a whale. Well, not quite a whale. A Narwhal. Or at least that's what it told me it was.

Narwhal went through a lot of phases, with me alternating between thinking it was delightful and complete junk. This is not unusual for any artist who works on a single project for a long period of time, I don't think. I seem to experience this in reverse with my photography; I'll look through the camera roll and suddenly spot something that seems wonderful that I had previously dismissed as a throw-away shot. (This is why I never actually delete anything.)

I think I've probably been working on Narwhal for six months, wondering what it would be. Here is a little bit of a visual representation of its journey from start to what I believe is completion ... although you never know. Ha.

This is Narwhal in its very beginning. Here you see only the board and the initial application of joint compound, and my whale form painted with gray oil paint. You can see that I've noodled around some with the style and design, but it's basically pretty raw and at this point I had no idea where it was going. I tried using rubber stamps in the joint compound, but that really didn't work so well, so I abandoned that approach and focused on using my hands to craft the flow and the shapes.

The hand-shaping made it more like sculpture and more personal, somehow. I enjoy tactile experiences, and as a photo/video/mixed reality artist, I have not generally had the opportunity to have this when making art.

In this image you see Narwhal in a later stage of progress. I applied a layer of oil paint onto sections of the piece and began buttering it over with encaustic medium. I knew for some reason that I wanted it to feel like icing on a cake. I applied several layers of medium until I felt I had that effect. I also experimented with gold oil paint on some starlike "points" in the sky section of the piece, but was not altogether pleased with the result. However, I still thought that, in its final version, those stars would somehow be visible.
Here you see Narwhal much further along, with multiple layers of pigmented wax applied to both the sea and sky sections. The whale itself has had a light application of clear medium as well, which I felt made it feel more integrated into the rest of the piece. While I wanted the whale to be distinct, I didn't want it to feel like it was sitting above the encaustic, but instead to feel like it was swimming through it, possibly popping up for air.

And here is Narwhal after I massaged the entire piece with iridescent pearl oil bar from R&F.  I like the way this seems to bring the whole piece together and unify it. The whale feels to me as if he is diving from a visit to the night sky back into the sea. He is a traveler whale, a mystic, a representation of something else. perhaps this is why he wanted me to call him a Narwhal ... "whale" is not an unusual thing, although it is a graceful and extraordinary thing. Narwhals are not really whales, they are more closely related to dolphins, and the males (and sometimes the females) grow a single very long tooth or "tusk" that makes them look like fishy unicorns. My Narwhal does not have a tusk, but perhaps it is a female Narwhal or a baby.

As it turns out, narwhals have quite a fan club. Just Google "narwhal" and you'll find Narwhal pictures and Narwhal cartoons and Narwhal oddities (what Dr. Who would look like if he were a Narwhal) and Narwhal huggable plush toys. I've added a few images to my Pinterest. There is just something delightfully unusual about them.

I hope that is at least what people think about the work I've created, that it's delightfully unusual. I'd especially like people to consider it and wonder about it (what was that Narwhal doing in the sky? And why, after all, is it a Narwhal and not a whale or a dolphin or a seabird or something else?). I'm very fond of it, and I'm beginning to think I've underpriced it ($310). But we'll let it fly out there and see what happens. I know it means something to me, and the next step is to let that meaning percolate up and make itself apparent to me, and to find out what it might mean to other people. All in good time, friends. All in good time.