I am presently seeking out new territory in my paintings, and it’s too soon to show what I’m trying to learn now. So, for your viewing pleasure today, here is one of my favorite paintings from my encaustic period (which lasted maybe 3-4 years and may not yet be over). This is the 4th in a series of 4 paintings of poppies – a very popular group of paintings.
Creativity is about play and a kind of willingness to go with your intuition. It’s crucial to an artist. If you know where you are going and what you are going to do, why do it? — Frank Gehry
This is a very comforting quote for me. When I paint, I frequently have only a very vague idea or sometimes — no idea at all — of what I am searching for in the new work. I start somewhere, and often, the finished piece is so far away from where it started, it’s unrecognizable. One of my favorite things about working this way is that I discover things — such as shapes and images — that I just couldn’t invent.
I have completed two new tornado paintings; one was the one I started a few weeks ago while being interviewed for a Weather Channel segment about my tornado paintings. It’s changed a lot since it was filmed in progress (final version above; first version below).
This is the second of my Organics series using encaustic. I have started several more in this series in oil, and will likely attempt some in acrylic, as well. And of course, there are all the sketches.
This piece went through quite a few changes during its creation. That’s one of the challenging things for me about encaustic. I may think I know where I’m going when I get started on a new piece, but things have a way of getting out of control when fusing each new application of wax to a melted state again (not necessary, but I love the process and especially the glassy smooth outcome) — however, it is fraught with the danger of losing edges and shapes that one already established.
This piece has many layers to it and a very thick coat of gorgeous translucent clear beeswax. Way down almost to the very bottom layer are some lovely shapes cut out of rice paper and coated in a celadon green wax, but you can only see memories of them now. There were also several strands of “beads” of wax paint in lime green that were very carefully applied, one bead at a time, that have now blurred to a few soft, hazy lines.
And, now that I have two solid little paintings and about 8 or 9 of sketches in my new Organics series, I also have a new gallery page on which to gather them all together: Organics.
For about the past year-and-a-half, I have been in a bit of despair over how to continue working in encaustic. I started using encaustic paints in 2006. Encaustic paint is pigment suspended in a mixture of beeswax and damar resin that the artist heats and paints with while in a melted state (the paint, not the artist 😉 ) – you can read more about encaustic here.
My first attempts were simply thick coatings of clear wax covering small pastel drawings of tornadoes. Then I began painting the tornadoes using the hot wax. As paradoxical as it may sound, I found the demands of the encaustic medium really liberated me from my former work that was too tight or too representational for my own satisfaction. One cannot be tight when painting in encaustic AND achieve a smooth surface, and I fell in love with the smooth surface and the unpredictability of what happens to colors melted in wax when you blow them around with hot air.
For the next year or so, I was thrilled to continue working in hot wax. I began a series of nuclear bomb paintings in encaustic, intending to paint about 100 of them, but my idea was too daunting for a subject matter that was so frightening. Having grown up in the days of duck-and-cover, I decided I couldn’t really live with that fright through the creation of 100 paintings, so I quit after completing only five nuclear bomb paintings.
I then did a political piece consisting of nine iconic images that I digitally manipulated, printed, and then encased in hot wax: my “What Have We Become?” piece. However, for most of my painting history, I have been primarily concerned with the formal qualities of art — just the beauty of the stuff on the canvas — and I always meant to avoid political statements, so this piece has (so far) stood as kind of a one-off.
Then I tried animating some encaustic paintings, but my physical set-up made that a very difficult process, so I have also put that aside for the time being.
After trying all of the above, I had a flash of inspiration and painted my set of four poppy paintings.
Simultaneously, I moved on to painting abstract works in encaustic. You can see all of those pieces on my Encaustic gallery page.
In the beginning of 2008, I moved back to painting in oil again — which feels so much like home to me — and I also tried acrylic, which has now found a place in my work (when I want to work both large and fast).
But after that, I kind of hit a dead end with encaustic. The rest of my work was becoming organic, but my next attempts at encaustic took on a design-y kind of rigid structure. I did about 6-8 paintings like that this past summer at a workshop, and have been really unsatisfied with most of that work. In fact, I have removed all but two of them from my Encaustic gallery page, though you can view them in the tiny thumbnail gallery below. I’ve also tried working in ways that I see many other encaustic artists work — collaging paper and fabrics into the hot wax, scraping and carving, and embedding objects in the wax — but so far, for me, these have mostly been dismal failures.
Meanwhile, back at the easel, my latest work was taking on quite an organic shape (see the organic series), so I thought I’d try this imagery in encaustic as well as oil and acrylic; after three partial days of messing around with this piece, I am pretty happy with the outcome. I’m preparing several more panels to continue my explorations in this direction.
This one, “Happy Together,” is just the first of my encaustic pieces for my new Organics series, and I do anticipate that I will be quite happy with subsequent pieces.
What do you think?