Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Encaustic Learning Curve

"Blue Skies", encaustic, plant parts and raffia on board, 12"x12", 2007

In 2004 I attended a 3-day introductory encaustic workshop taught by Cynthia Winiker at R&F Paints in Kingston, NY. That was a big deal for me to spend that much money and time away from home, and it showed the extent of my interest, but for the life of me I can't remember what prompted my initial interest in encaustic. Crazy, huh? Oh, well, I've forgotten more important things, I guess. Anyway, I just loved encaustic and the workshop was wonderful - all the info I needed to set up my studio and get going with the new medium. I bought a bunch of paint and tools and drove home ready to make it my own.

Then, pretty much nothing for three years or so. Oh, I dabbled and played around but the work I made didn't look much like anything I was making in any other medium and even the pallette of colors I used was not really me: many of the original pieces used red, yellow and white. What the hell was that?

So 2004 and 2005 were pretty much a bust. If you look at the picture of my old studio in the right column, you'll probably see why. Then 2006 was the Year of Moving. Bonnie and I spent that whole year packing, getting rid of or moving stuff to storage near where we would live, and generally getting ready to sell our house and 20 acres in Ashfield. Originally we were going to be part of a mill building redevelopment into loft spaces in North Adams, but that project fell through (thank God), and we decided to move to Easthampton (next door to Northampton and near Amherst and Springfield). I was without a studio for nearly the whole of 2006 until November 1st when I began leasing my current space in the Eastworks Building.

That meant I didn't begin painting with encaustic again until 2007, and not until then did I start making work that I felt was more my own. I had a lot of false starts and experiments, but when I hit on the idea of incorporating parts of plants from my garden, it started to make more sense to me. I also joined New England Wax in November 2007 and that has been so important to the development of my work in encaustic. Being able to network with other artists painting in encaustic has really broadened my idea of what encaustic can be and at the same time helped me to focus on what I want to do with it.

Encaustic pieces painted in 2007 - about half made the cut

Another very important aspect of belonging to N.E.W. is that it has pushed me to make work to submit for shows. Making work is what has to happen to gain control of the process, so whatever motivates me to do that is really valuable. I need prodding, as most of us do. The Malcolm Gladwell tenet about needing 10,000 hours to master something is probably true - not that I've spent that long working in encaustic, but I'm getting there.

Of course, the encaustic conference has been a wonderful benefit. What a great opportunity to be able to learn various technical processes, discuss the world of encaustic painting, listen to critical panels, see juried shows of top-quality work, hear important keynote speakers and just generally hang out with pals in the cozy confines of the encaustic world. We are so fortunate to have this treasure every year. Thank you, Joanne! (and Montserrat)

I haven't really been comfortable enough to show my encaustic work outside of the encaustic bubble, but I'm starting. This year, I submitted one of my encaustic pieces to the jurying process for the MassArt auction and it was accepted (for the silent auction - not on the block). I've always sold my work here, and even though it goes for half price, it's seen by a huge number of people and exposure is a Good Thing - right, Martha?

Last year (and this) I've made a big push in the studio to make more work in encaustic because of the show that Lynette and I presented at ArtSpace which needed so many pieces and also because there were a lot of juried shows to enter that overlapped and required that different work be submitted to each. I made way more work in 2008 than ever before and finally got to work much bigger than previously.

I have set up a way of working that is comfortable to me, and I can control the medium to accomplish what I want (so far). My next goal is to get my table saw set up for making panels and to get a vent fan installed. Here again, N.E.W. is invaluable because I took Kim's course in using power tools and I can consult with two friends (Lynette and Sue) for advice on setting up the vent system.

I think I'm in a good place with encaustic - even though I'm not working in it at the moment (still working on those saleable paper pieces). I know where I want to go with it for my next series and choosing that direction is most of the battle for me. Wax on!


Gwendolyn Plunkett said...

A great post about the history of your process of coming to encaustics and getting the medium in your control. It is such a seductive medium that one wants to try everything but eventually, like with all other media, one's own voice has to speak louder than the medium.
I enjoy reading your blog posts.
See you at the conference.

On a Whimsey said...

Great post and so interesting! I found encaustics and have not looked back whilst experimenting with different techniques etc. One thing though.... it is so addictive and I love to just let the waxes take me through to their world.

Nancy Natale said...

Thanks for your comment, Gwen. I know you're right that eventually we all find our own way of working with the medium if we stick with it. I'm looking forward to seeing you in June. I still remember that little piece you showed us in one class that was a real knockout. Hope you are still working Your Way!

On a Whimsey - glad you are still having fun. That's the most important part.