Friday, December 11, 2009

"Pickup After Risk"

Acrylic on Canvas

Acrylic on Canvas

Last month I gave in to the urge to explore painting without a very charged medium -- "wax" (encaustic/beeswax-pigments-resin). Things in the studio were very slow at first but eventually picked up like I predicted. But, the waiting is sometimes unnerving after a period of rapidly churning out painting after painting.

In the pursuit of searching for the true 'driver' in my work, I interrupted the comfortable rhythm of my studio practice. The dreaded but necessary "painter's block" came as a result of eliminating the process of managing hot palettes, pigments, resin, heat guns, torches, and safety issues. This large self-imposed gap forced me to adapt and go deeper. I was questioning the "why of wax"?

Why would I want to change materials after years of responding to it and dedicating the work to this challenging and rewarding medium? It seems the work is asking me to look for something that I am missing. In my self-investigation of the work of the last 5 years, there is something very interesting to me about it. The grid and hard edge was always the starting point for my work. But possibly due to my lack of exposure to like-minded painters, or responding directly to the medium itself, I unconsciously buried this in my paintings for years -- excavating layers and layers of wax trying to uncover the grid. Here, the response may have been to the medium instead of the medium providing the visual language? This is why I refer to Encaustic as a 'charged' medium. In the past 6 months the geometric abstraction and hard edge is more and more visible, the palette more complex as well as the engagement with a more complex composition.

These two new paintings, "Metronome" and "Pulse" came after a few weeks of playing around with another kind of paint, canvas over panel, color, and format. The simplification in this new process with minimal tools and more economical materials is freeing. This thought takes me back to the AbEx painters and their following a less conventional and more economical means to making art -- Pollack pouring house paints, and Jasper Johns' use of wax and newspapers.

Your familiar materials and comfort zone can limit your voice--affecting your work as a result. So, when new materials appear, or in my case, simplified, it translates to new possibilities when the work demands something -- knocking hard. Letting go of bits of familiar materials and experimenting at mid-point really undermines studio rituals including your judgements of where you think you should be.

As a painter, responding to the work is very necessary to my process even when it asks for a very uncomfortable change. And, when you can, it takes you hopefully where you need to be. The uncertainty and unpredictability of making art forces you to risk and want to believe it broadens your ability to make and find what you're looking for. I'm hanging with this and ready to start on a new painting tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Progress - Another kind of Heat

Since returning from my NY trip, I've been questioning myself about what the wax is doing for my work? An urgency to get out of my comfort zone comes knocking . Working in Acrylic and Wax has been a constant--the wax driving the work. Talking this over with a good painter friend, the question of 'materials' has again jumped on my back -- a nagging dialogue which I am taking on this time.

This new painting, on my usual birch panel (60x24) is calling me out to do something sans the wax. The elimination of wax is a big deal --it changes everything in the painting process. It removes a time consuming setup routine, interrupts a workflow that has been in my practice for over 5 years and takes away a zone of comfort. The wait time for melting wax, making paints with resin and pigments, encaustic medium, and fusing is now replaced with little process -- mixing paint and waiting for paint to dry. I am finding that I can paint faster. Something is happening. A space of freedom that is uncomfortable. It's the wait time with nothing to do but staying with the work...intimacy.

Something happened last week --
I ruined a meticulously beautifully painted canvas (36x36)---prepping it in flat matte black, drying on my terrace sawhorses -- not a flaw after 3 luscious layers, 2 days of waiting and minimal sanding...what happened? i couldn't wait any longer. 99.9% dry, I started to unmask the edges and began sanding paint drips off the 2" cradle...sanding dust landed on the not-yet-dried surface the size of an orange...without thinking, i used my hand to dust it off and ruined it -- making a finger dent that f**ked it up! Lesson #1 learned...waiting for real is key.

The dynamic physicality of working in wax keeps you very focused and moving quickly all the time. Hyper multi-tasking is what it has been for me. Now, the process of painting without wax is much slower. Time to feel what is going on with the work. I'm not saying goodbye to wax, just gotta see what happens. It's sorta like the challenge of trying to eliminate 'black' from my wardrobe -- what's the new black and all that...

An initial thought passed through my mind that taking away a material like wax is simplifying -- but no not really. It's peeling off a layer to get to a new place with the work. Letting the work lead is everything. When a body of work is finished there's more coming that shifts the work if you can hang with that. Can you be true to that and get lost, insecure, frustrated and float along?

No mistake that I'm teaching Encaustic classes every month and just found out I'm booked out through 2010. Teaching is very rewarding for me. I enjoy group dynamics, the process, giving and receiving. I give my students everything, no holding back.

After 2 weeks of invitation came that can't be missed...suitcase packed, in the air after lunch-- headed for amazing weekend with good friends to celebrating a friend's gallery opening in Pomona -- AC Projects (Andi Campognone). The work is always waiting for me when I return.

Mocha the other morning at Peet's --4th Street/Berkeley....Mocha and me waiting for my friend.. talking Mom-to-Mom about our kids....on the spectrum...another book waiting to be written...

Here she is --- "Another kind of Heat" she'll be called for now....great name for a show...

More to say soon about music, the brain and creativity. My daughter and I did 'music therapy'
called "Tomatis" when she was 4....I heard there was an interview with Sting on CTV about music and the brain...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Showing Up/Paintings turned Studies

It's been a while since blogging. Sounds like a pattern. This week has been rough. Not too different from any practice that you lapse out of. This summer I've been busy moving and traveling. Meeting incredible artists that I can really listen to about art. Yeah, the good things... still transitioning with a rearranged life. My therapist says "so much change"'s not pretty but I keep showing up and things are better. If only I could cut myself some slack.

I have shown up in the Studio this week -- Tues, Wed and today -- doing a 4am - 4pm. I taught my Encaustic class on Monday. This week I knew I had to start again and kickass or suffer through a longer period of reviving the juju. This 4am thing has been my routine for the past 5 years.

Stretching my range as a painter is invigorating and frustrating at the same time, but I know it's right. The new body of work began in February and seems to be taking forever. I see now the work evolves and goes forward even when you can't see or feel it happening. Sometimes it takes a while to take it in. I can really say I like my work now and require less distance when the painting is done.

4 paintings are now 'studies'. Not intentional but yet another process that moves you along.

The grid began tight and more hardedged this year. The labor and physicality of working with wax, increasing the scale and meticulously isolating acrylic & wax has been a real high for me. oh yea, 'control'...

Something shifted when viewing the new paintings turned 'studies'. I saw several paintings in a painting. The tightness of the work began to feel overwhelming on several levels. Like my life -- too much of too much... reality -- lots of losses. So much I can't even write about it yet. People freak out when you tell them how bad it's been.

I'm investigating what I call the "driver" inside of me. The thing that wakes me up at 4am and signals me that painting is what I have to do. So there, I blogged. I have some shots to share on what a day like today turned out to be. Friends think it's glamourous to be an artist. It's not. I'm not bitter, just tired.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Creating in Between

encaustic monotypes
between the between



Did you know that Picasso worked for 72 hours straignt? Or that Van Gogh turned out 200 finished paintings during his 444 days in Arles? Yesterday I finished 3 large paintings and after going to bed I wondered what I would work on today.

The obvious would have been to grab another panel and continue making more work in the same series. Having worked steadily on this series for over a month and producing 11 seems quite productive.

I believe that creating every day and showing up in the studio is my life. My art-committed life. So, whether the work is good or not, it doesn't matter. Right? I'm dancing again! It's the love of creating that sometimes is blurred with love, obsession or plain effort and compulsion. One thing that is true for artists is the fact that creating regularly is honing your craft!

Today I decided to set up for creating some works on paper. Printmaking -- Encaustic Monotypes!
It took me 2 hours to set up and organize the work flow. The heat boxes with the aluminum anodized plate is awesome! Could not find any tech notes, but it came back to me slowly.

Sometimes this work in between hard work loosens you up, refreshes you and I know I do this in between my painting sets. It's a luxury to be able to work in different media and see what happens.

The piece at the top of this post is the first piece. Reminds me of a birthday cake with candles... my birthday is around the corner already! There I go -- jumping in and going with my impluse to be carefree and wildly experiment. The paper was my last and longest piece of Yatsumoto Kozo. I didn't feel like cutting it up so I decided to have fun with the 60 inches!!! It's a great feeling to relax and play around in between concentrated work.
And, no I don't watercolor...
Here are some of the playful works that happened in the studio today. There's something going on with 6 circles...hmmmm.
(please excuse the photo quality)

Blue 1


Blue 2

White Circles

Green 1


White Square




Tomorrow is Friday and I have no idea what I'm going to work on. But, I will be there making something! Hope you're dancing in your studio and that your work is going well.

To say yes, you have to sweat and
roll up your sleeves and
plunge both hands into
life up to the elbows.

______Jean Anouilh

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Getting Past Middle


Encaustic, Acrylic & Graphite
on panel

Today I finished a set of 3 larger paintings for my current series (Rearranged). The shifting of the contents happened while in the middle place. This 'middle' place is where I often find myself doubting the work. Do you feel anxious in the middle?

I know this anxiety is part of being human and of course as artists, who doesn't go through this often enough in or out of the studio. We know it so well... we can opt out but at this point of my renewed disciplined studio practice I don't.

It isn't so easy to opt out especially when I've just returned from a 12-month freeze. Showing up and pushing through -- relieved that I'm not wrestling with depression. Each of these weeks during the past month, while working on these pieces, I've been hit with too much reality. Outside the studio -- death of my favorite aunt, a painful breakup that won't go away, educational decisions for my teenage daughter (who has Aspergers Syndrome) and aging parents....I don't like being in the middle of this sandwich. Again...the 'middle'. When are we 'not' in transition?

Reaching the middle is when you can sometimes feel the anxiety or excitement for the work to go in another direction. This is what happens to me. Facing the compulsion to suddenly change the palette or form out of boredom is something I must understand about myself. It's actually not very different from how your personality is in life and how you deal in the studio with your work. Pay attention to your choices and how you cope in the studio. You may be surprised to notice that you're not that different inside the privacy of your studio. I have been fantasizing about turning my back on the world to paint, but so much of the world is what makes me who I am everyday.

This work started out a very tight grid with more than 7 colors! Excessive but it's what I needed to do-- color is what drives me and then form. The childhood dream of becoming a fashion designer never materialized so I create design and color in my paintings.

Rearranged #4
Encaustic, Acrylic, Oil & Graphite
on panel

So, back to the halfway point and the shift that happened. I have the original 4 paintings hanging in my living room and began seeing 4 to 6 paintings in each! A lot going on in these little 24"x24"s! You know, a very full plate of life. It's true and I rebel every chance I get.

Each day in the Studio I showed up working on this new set of 3. Format changed from 24's to 48"x24"'s! Challenging? Yes & No... I obviously needed a larger container. As I predicted, silence was good in the beginning. The absorption replaced anxiety and concentration. Blaring music, mostly jazz piano, gospel and hiphop broke the tightness. Dancing in the studio is always good.

The same nagging question of "why do you work so hard?" started to kill my flow. Music had to go and I think steam was coming out of my studio and felt at my friend's studio in San Francisco. She actually told me so.

As in a spiritual practice, it's very simple. It comes down to discipline and working hard. It's like those nadis that get stuck in your chakras that make you wanna crawl up in a ball and never leave your cave. Yet another push to go "deeper"! Big... OM...namah...

Deeper I went cursing a lot to my surprise. Remembering critique class -- what a drill. So, alone I sat with a glass of wine, and critiqued my work seriously and humorously. You have to be as honest as you can even as painful as it can be. I distanced myself from the work and mentally knew what I wanted to do, but sat on the new ideas for several long studio sessions. Could I really loosen it up? Will the transition be a good one?

Music is a strong influence in my life and it helped make the shift. Creating a new color to integrate into an already colorful palette was making me very crazy. Nothing worked. I pulled out every color index book I owned, leafed through a dozen art magazines and stared at my halfway there paintings. A lot of cursing went on during this process. I got it! Like in music, there's a bridge, a transition, reharmonizing, building tension, and rhythmic elements... I realized I had a tightly arranged melody.

The moment came and my favorite Color Index by Jim Krause with over 1100 combos and formulas inspired me. The work was too tight and I needed to make a transition. It was extremely complex working it out. I threw up my brushes and began mixing. All any artist can do is rely on waiting, intuition and process. Or, more like blood, sweat and tears...

It has been a good exercise in resisting the safety of keeping it the same to only expanding it on a larger format. This makes me think about how a music artist takes standards and reworks them. As painters, we rework familiar material to our own design and give it our treatment.

At a certain point, you have to go to the edge of the cliff
and jump --
put your ideas into a form, share that form with others.

____Meredith Monk

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Holding Inside The Studio

As always, holding and working truthfully in the Studio is here again. Whenever sets of paintings are completed and I'm working on another set, those same questions plague me and I have to work hard to chase them down. I suppose it's always a question about why I paint what I paint... and turning off the world outside the studio.

This week I started another set. Finished a set of 4, then another set of 4 and now beginning a larger format set of 4! This is how I work. In sets, in waves. There's a particular rhythm that I have to have in the Studio. There is a need for freedom to explore color and high need for physical dynamism. Perhaps this is the 'energy' that viewers experience with my work.

I enjoy the physical movement in the studio with setting up, changing media, changing tools, finding new methods and exploring the possibilities. An artist once asked me why I use the media that I use and why do I work so hard? I question this all the time.

Making art and holding is about quieting these thoughts, pushing them off to the side to paint. Making room for and allowing myself the space to create without judgement and thought. Yet, materials require thought-- especially working with integrating media and making skillful joins.

Working hard and following the work through takes discipline, effort and focus. At the end of the day I never know how it will turn out. The vision changes, mistakes are made, learning through the skillful joins and accidents can be very satisfying. Some days are started off with lots of energy, ending with dissatisfaction -- and another day can start off slow and end up full of energy and you easily work a few extra hours. There's always something, whether it's through something happening or not.

Thinking about Agnes Martin, her work, her philosophies... I resonate with much of her 1997 interview:

Her quotes are there for's about diving deeply into my process, knowing what I'm about and painting for myself. This is the part where she says, "I have turned my back on the world to paint". The world is always knocking on my studio door. So, you see, this 'holding' inside the studio is my small gesture of turning my back on the world. Quieting the mind while creating and sliding into that zone is the goal and beauty of making art. She said that 'music' is the highest form of art -- the emotional response is powerful.

I agree with her very much. I have music playing 99% of the time while I'm painting. Lately that 1% has been winning out but once the pace picks up after the initial start of a set, music is blaring and quite often the same music needs to be played for the entire set....

We shall see how these larger paintings play out.

Any material may be used but the theme is the same and the response is the same for all artwork... we all have the same concern, but the artist must know exactly what the experience is. He must pursue the truth relentlessly.
Agnes Martin

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Back To The Studio After a Fallow Period

Welcome to my new blog. It's been over a year since writing in my old and now deleted 'Stratawax' blog. I thought I could find that lost blog via the 'Wayback Machine' but nothing came up, so here I am on a perfect stormy, rainy afternoon in the SF Bay Area writing a new one! Oh, if you're looking for something on the internet as far back as 1996, you can search for it there.

This weekend I sat with many of my studio notebooks and found the notes for a topic I was planning to write about in the Fall of 2007 -- "Resolving"... I never wrote in a studio notebook nor did I paint or draw again until December of 2008. Yes, 2008 was a big year for me -- my mother confirms it was the 'worst year' of my entire life! And, I can't argue with her on that!

So, not knowing exactly where to start, I've decided to pick up where I left off writing. In fact, this is exactly what I did when I returned to the studio to paint again continuing with my series, "Private Lines". Isn't this what your therapist says when you flop in her chair and aren't sure where to begin and she says, "Just start with where you are right now?"

This is now for me. As artists opposed to non-artists, we have certain personality traits I feel we face more regularly which frustrate us and get in the way of making art. There are several traits and 'resolving' is one that was significant to me in 2007. To roll it forwards, I have reflected on the past 4 months in regards to what happened to resolve/unfreeze my blockage to create again.

Resolving has different meanings for every artist and at different moments. For me, it wasn't just about resolving a single painting, but finding my way back to studio life again as an abstract painter. I never lost the attraction or need to paint. I just couldn't create. The dreaded sources of blocks -- self-doubt, situational blocks, fatique, anxiety, depression, conflicts between life and know this internal process. This time it was the longest block and I have to call it another 'fallow' period' in my life.

Having a certification in Expressive Art Therapy and working in that field for over 10 years, I couldn't hide from understanding what was happening to me. I had to relax, take the pressure off and wait. The process was slow and I was definitely blocked. The real unthawing moment finally arrived through helping my daughter (16) with a Christmas Art Project -- gifts for her 13 teachers. Artistically gifted as she is, I shared 1/2 of my studio table with Livvy and provided her with all the materials she needed. I didn't care that I gave her access to my fine art supplies -- Golden Paints and small museum-grade cradled canvases. Someone had to do some art! ( I remember raiding my Dad's graphic artist materials at age 11).

The simple process of gathering and setting her up awakened that process inside of me. I had to show up for her. Patience and doing something familiar in the Studio can be the beginning of a thaw for an artist that has experienced a lengthy fallow period. Sorting through my materials excited for her was the initial portal back to painting. I didn't paint, too much pressure to make a painting. I brought out pastels and a sketch pad. After a day of that, I brought out the oil paints, painting circles on Sumi, that got boring fast and in a few days I dived in and set up. Painting in Encaustic (pigment, resin & beeswax) media has a serious set-up factor! I was excited and the anxiety subsided.

I pulled out the most recent set of paintings. A set of 16 12"x12" birch panels. There were 6 finished pieces and 10 blank panels. Holy shit! How was I going to get back into that series? This was also my new direction into mixed media (graphite, oil, acrylic & wax). Studio notebooks!!! I had kept great notes with paint mixing information and color charts!

Again, "resolving" came back to challenge. I knew I had to finish what was started. This returning to resolve and finish could help me find the thread to move forward. At the time it was my only thread. It was hard work but it sharpened my chops. Resolving pushes you again to work harder and to make your art as good as you can make it.

Through my process came the latest series, "Rearranged" which is my current work and expanding rather quickly. Yes, my life has been completely rearranged in many ways.

The work is always intuitive for me as I work with color and the grid is moving around and floating shapes are appearing and disappearing without a plan.

As artists, living in the studio is what we have to do. Some days we are in the zone and then there are days when we just have to sweep, paint the studio door again or whatever it takes.

It feels great to be painting again! And, now the writing block has thawed as well.

"Incubation & Fallow Periods"

If you're honorably wrestling with artistic questions subconsciously, that is, if you're doing the work of writing or painting but without pen or brush in hand, you may still consciously feel blocked and frustrated. Ideas in art often must incubate, just as ideas in science often must incubate; but neither the artist nor the scientist feels fully content as he lets his unconscious do the work. Still, you must sometimes wait. You may be in the minority and have symphonies come to you whole, as they came to Mozart. But even then you must wait, as Mozart did, for the propitious carriage ride during which the symphony courses through you. Or you may be in the majority, in which case you must sometimes wait on a given piece for days, weeks, years, or even decades, as Beethoven sometimes waited for his musical bits and scraps to come together as symphonies.

-Eric Maisel, PhD
Creativity for Life