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.