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.