Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wonders of the Natural World

Tomorrow: the studio. Today: the backyard.

A 10-lb nest in a 5-lb box

The nest was built by house sparrows this spring. (The box was cleared out over the winter.) Two groups of hatchlings were reared in the box one right after the other, but the Bird Master, Bonnie, decided that enough was enough since house sparrows have been over-populating and crowding out songbirds. House sparrows can raise up to five broods in a season with good weather, food and a desirable nesting site such as this blue box.

Here's a closeup of the nest that contained all kinds of things from grass to dog hair to plastic to cigarette filters. It was lined with moss and lichen.

This photo compares a wren house and nest on the left with the sparrow nest and house on the right.

Closeup of the wren nest

Wren nests are mainly built of small sticks or pine needles with a few feathers. The sticks almost completely fill the available interior space and stick out the front and sides of the box.

The wrens have raised one brood in this house so far this spring and we like having them because they have a very joyful song. However, they like to have their nest boxes cleaned out between broods. Bonnie checked on this to see if she should clean it out, and as soon as she rehung the cleaned-out box, the male wren was back to claim it and start nest building. (As with sparrows, the males find the nesting sites and begin building the nests.)

This bird box does not hold a nest or a bird.

It appears to be empty

But it's home to a tree frog who stays in it most days, apparently venturing out at night to sing.

And just in case you thought this was only about birds and bird boxes, here are some other wonders of nature:

It's the fabled hairy mushroom

There were several of these weird-looking things in the yard that started out looking like regular mushrooms and then overnight sprouted this soft white stuff.

Read About Art Here

From Mira Schor's blog: Otto Dix - Portrait of the Dancer Anita Berber, 1925. Oil and tempera on plywood, 47 3/8 x 25 1/2 inches, Kunstmuseum, Stuttgart.

In case you really wanted to read about art, I recommend the link that I found on Brenda Goodman's blog to an essay by Mira Schor titled Reality Show: Otto Dix. This is the premiere post on her new blog, A Year of Positive Thinking. In this post she brilliantly connects Work of Art, the Bravo TV reality show on art, with  two current New York exhibitions: Otto Dix at the Neue Galerie and Greater New York 2010 at MoMA P.S.1. This is real analytic and critical writing the way it should be and well worth reading the rather long post.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Playing Catch Up

It's no wonder I never go anywhere because it takes me so long to get back in the groove that it's hardly worth it (well, the conference is an exception). Anyway, here are some things that I wanted to mention before the conference and have just remembered as my brain sinks into its normal state of atrophy:

Stephanie Clayton's Salute to Aqua
Through my friend Pam Farrell, I heard about the online exhibition of works in or of the color aqua that Stephanie was assembling on her blog. You will recognize many of the artists' names in this grouping, including mine, in the several posts that Stephanie has made about aqua.

Could've sent this one - "Blue Skies", 12"x12", encaustic and mixed mediums

Or this one - "Island Dreams 4", 6"x6", encaustic and beads

Or even this one - half of "Thinking Sideways", each panel 16"x16", encaustic and mixed mediums.

Where does "aqua" start and "blue" end?

This exhibition follows that of Little Red Squares by Pam and Spring Greens by Joanne M. Wouldn't it be great if all these works could be seen in person in their respective shows? Where, oh, where are the gallerists who should be breaking down the doors?

What is "art" and how do you do it?
"Intriguing concept but doomed to failure" was my instant assessment from the moment I heard about Bravo TV's "Work of Art" that intends to be the Project Runway of the art world. Well, it's no Project Runway (which I love), that's for sure. Seeing as my wonderful local cable TV monopoly, Charter, fails to include Bravo in my station lineup even though I pay about a million dollars a month for the crap that's on all the miserable channels they do provide, I have to watch online. Here's the link to the show if you're interested.

Book cover design by contestant John Parot, winner of third show contest.

Yes, it's nice to think that someone (apparently Sarah Jessica Parker) cared to include artists in the line-up of garment designers, chefs, freaks, bachelors, survivors, etc., etc. that compete in these foolish reality shows (some of which I watch and like). HOWEVER, you know it's going to be crap because how can artists work by the clock? (And without solitude and privacy, I might add.) It's as hokey as I thought it would be and I only watched the first episode because I have a desk computer and can't lounge on the couch while watching as I normally would in front of the TV.

But, it is interesting to hear (read) what some people have to say about it because they comment on what art is about and how it's made off TV, that is, in the real reality as opposed to the fake reality. So here are some links if you want to contemplate:

Ross Bleckner, artist   (this link from Tim McFarlane's blog)

Ed Winkleman, gallerist

Paddy Johnson, Art Fag City, art blogger

P.S. Bravo is very protective of their images from the show. All I wanted was to show Jerry Salz, who is one of the show's judges and whose writing I really like, but nooooooo.

Speaking of TV
Last week was the series premiere of one of my favorite shows that provides the opportunity to laugh at people who fall in mud, get squirted with various substances, get punched in the face, trip, slip, get made dizzy, etc.- all without harm to them and with their doing all these amusing (to us) things for the possibility of winning $50,000 if they can get to the end of a fabulously ingenious obstacle course. Yes, it's Wipe Out, one of my faves and only on for the summer, I guess. Tuesday nights on ABC or online here.

Half of the Big Balls obstacle. There are four of these BBs that contestants have to run across to get to the other side. I can count on one hand the number of people that I have seen accomplish this feat. I love the Big Balls!

Speaking of Reality
It's finally happened. We've seen billboards that light up, move holographically, emit sounds, and so on. Now we have a billboard with a smell.

Clipped from my local paper:
Mooresville, NC (AP) - It's not just the picture of beef on a new billboard in North Carolina that tries to catch drivers' attention, it's the aroma coming from the sign.
     The billboard on N.C. 150 in central North Carolina emits the smell of black pepper and charcoal to promote a new line of beef available at the Bloom grocery chain. Bloom is part of the Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion chain.
     The billboard shows a fork piercing a piece of meat.
     A Bloom spokeswoman says the billboard will emit scents from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day until June 18.
     A high-powered fan at the bottom of the billboard spreads the aroma by blowing air over cartridges loaded with fragrance oil.

Why haven't we seen this on the front page of the Times? This is the kind of news I would much rather read about than the horrible BP disaster. Let's get those vegetarian protesters organized! We need carrots or broccoli next! Wait, hold the broccoli.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Mini-Diary In and Around the Studio

Tuesday night, June 22nd
Returning from the encaustic conference after six days away from home has sort of spun me into different territory. Who am I here? Getting back into the studio hasn't happened yet, and I think I'm losing the sense of what I really do. I'm getting caught up in gardening, working for money, lolling on the couch in front of some boring TV show or immersing myself in a book. Do I even have a studio?, I wonder, and what is it like in there? I drove by the building last week and felt like I had moved out. Some combination of breaking the routine, being faced with too many choices of things to pursue and a lack of deadlines has taken its toll on me.

Color me curiously absent from myself.

You see that "curiously"? I think it comes from watching the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland last weekend. Weird but entertaining. My favorite Burton invention was the Red Queen calling for a warm pig to rest her feet on. That could come in handy, I think, but not at this time of year.

Wednesday night, June 23rd
Summer in western Massachusetts is bear weather and we've had two visits this week from a strangely (or curiously) neat bear. The bear broke into the screened porch that's attached to our garage by pushing in the bottom half of the screen door (that was actually covered with some kind of hard plastic rimmed with metal). Bonnie, who would make a great detective, pointed out that you could see dusty paw prints on the plastic if you looked closely.

All it did during the first visit was pick up a plastic bucket (a cat litter container) that held left-over suet cakes and a little birdseed. The bear apparently selected this particular container because of the suet. The container was pretty tightly sealed with a lid and had a looped handle. It was heavy but the bear carried it out into the yard, apparently in its mouth, and exited the way it entered, through the door. When it had gone maybe 30 feet, we think something startled it and it dropped the container, which then opened and spilled some seed. We think the bear did not eat any of the contents but ran off.

It came again the next night and easily pushed in the screening Bonnie had ducktaped onto the bottom of the door. The container with suet was not there. Instead it took the lid off a metal trashcan that had held birdseed. The can was empty but still smelled like seed. Nothing else was touched or even knocked over. The lid of the trashcan rested on the floor beside it.

Who is this bear?

Thursday afternoon, June 24th
I finally went over to the studio this morning to bring over a load of stuff from the conference. The only way to get back into the studio is to go to the studio. I putzed around a little and I could definitely have stayed but I was already very hot and it was only 9 a.m. Our cool, dark house with fans blowing, dogs sleeping and unfinished paperback waiting loomed large in my mind, and I left. I think I took on some color presence because by the time I left, my face was bright red (from heat).

Returning from the conference

I brought back from the conference a backseat full of books that my mother-in-law gave me. She lives in the next town over from Beverly (site of the conference) and kindly put me up for five nights. I'm not sure what I'll do with all of them, but there was a large selection of children's books from the '40s, '50s and '60s.

Part of the wide selection of picture books

The very best one has a great title and is a huge book printed in Sweden. There is no copyright date or mark on it.

This book measures 14" wide x 18 1/2" high closed!

Here is a page spread showing the very colorful images.

And finally, here is a photo of the oil portrait of my great grandmother on my mother's side, Elizabeth Bailey Dobson. She was born in England about 1853 and emigrated to Boston through Canada

This portrait was just sent to my by my one and only cousin. Her mother had it from my grandmother. I remember it hanging in my grandmother's parlor over the fireplace. It was in an ornate frame which has somehow disappeared. There was no signature or date on the painting. I don't think I look much like her except for my coloring and the propensity of my hair to form the same waves when it gets longer than I usually wear it.

The back of the painting. This should be a lesson to always sign and date your work on the back for future reference.

So I guess I'll be getting back to normal now. Or at least one can only hope.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tuesday at the Conference

On Tuesday I attended Homage to Fayum, an all-day workshop taught by Francisco Benitez at the Fourth Annual Encaustic Conference. This was terrific and Francisco a/k/a Paco is a great teacher.

Those Fayum portraits are so compelling that they are admired throughout the world and leave many people wondering how they were made. Paco has spent a lot of time researching them and other ancient works in Greece and Italy, and in this class he explained that the portraits were painted with just four earth (mineral) colors: red ochre, yellow ochre, black (from ash) and white (powdered gypsum or powdered calcium carbonate). Francisco was a visiting artist at R & F and demonstrated the process there. The R & F colors that we used in our workshop were Mars Red, Mars Yellow Light, Mars Black and a mixture of Titanium White and Neutral White.

Above: One of the original portraits found in the Fayum district of Egypt (now in The Metropolitan Museum, NY) 125-50 A.D., encaustic on wood, 14 5/8” x 7 7/8”

Right: A mummy portrait in place on a mummy (This mummy and portrait are dated to 80-100 A.D. from the Fayum district of Egypt. The portrait is encaustic on limewood.) The portraits were painted to depict deceased people. Whether they were done earlier in life when the person was still youthful or made as idealized portrayals after death is unknown.

I'm reviewing this information for you so that you will have the context in mind for the work that Paco has been able to analyze and the process he has recreated.

It has been difficult to discover exactly how the ancients worked because so few tools and no real treatises have been found about it. One of the few finds of artist's tools was made in northern France with the discovery of the tools of a Greek woman artist.

These are ancient spatula-type tools called "cauderia" in Latin. The ancient process was to work vertically and apply the melted wax with a brush or spatula and fuse it by bringing near a cage containing hot coals mounted on the end of a stick. (This so reminds me of Jasper Johns' method of a hot plate on a stick for fusing.)

There are three processes that Paco uses in his contemporary work: a brush in one hand and a heat gun in the other, a heated tool connected to electric power, a non-electric cold tool that can be used alone or with a heat gun or even a hair dryer.

He begins his works by preparing a cradled panel with rabbitskin glue pigmented to a dark greenish black. He lets this dry overnight. and the next day he makes a sketch on the panel with charcoal or conte. He applies a coat of encaustic medium to preserve the sketch and seal in the rabbitskin glue.

The beginning colors are a cool dark, mixed from black and yellow ochre, and a warm dark, mixed from black and red ochre. A sketch is made on the greenish black ground with the warm dark (reddish) so that it is visible.

Francisco Benitez did this sketch of an eye in our workshop. The greenish black in the center is the rabbitskin glue ground. The darkest color is the reddish black mixed with black and red ochre. The red color that will underlay flesh tones is mixed with red and yellow ochres.

Francisco Benitez blending colors and fusing paint with an electric tool.

Working on the sketch with a brush and heat gun.

The process is to work from dark to light. (A procedure known as tenebrism.) All the skin tones are underlaid with a red mixed from red ochre, yellow ochre and black. The whites and light yellows are laid on only at the end of the process as the volume of the figure emerges from darkness. Note that the tools or blending brushes both blend the colors together to give volume in the portrait and at the same time fuse the encaustic with heat.

Hot tools are cast tips that are attached to handles with temperature-controlling regulators. They are the type of tools used for woodburning and only the heads are different. R & F Paint is working with Sculpture House to manufacture the specialized heads, which will be available in August.

Cold tools - Many of these tools are used in sculpture and are currently available from Sculpture House.

This is an unfinished portrait that Paco painted in his demo class earlier in the conference.

Here is a closeup of the portrait showing the modeling and marks made from the heated tools.

This is our model Arielle (I hope I have the spelling correctly.) who sat for us all day long. She was also the sitter for Paco's sketch above.

Here is my portrait completed in the workshop. I haven't painted a portrait in 20 years so my modelling leaves a lot to be desired, but I had a lot of fun mixing color with just the four hues. It's amazing how much variety you can get with such a limited palette. My color does not follow the standard of the Greek painters who used much more yellowish skin tones. I think I'll keep working on this portrait and see if I can push back that Jay Leno chin in my painting.

And just to show the wonderful results that can be achieved by a master of this technique and a beautiful painter, here is one of Francisco Benitez's finished portraits from his website.

Epithimia, encaustic on panel, 24" x 20"

I enjoyed this workshop a lot even though, or maybe because, it was so different from my way of working and the works that I usually produce. Sometimes it's really beneficial to make an extreme redirection to appreciate what you already have.

Post Post-Conference
Julie Shaw Lutts, a conferee (and a member of New England Wax, I might add) graciously invited post-conferees to a barbecue at her home in Salem on Tuesday evening. She has a gorgeous Architectural Digest-type home located on a marsh in the next town over from Beverly.

The setting looking out from Julie's yard.

The food was absolutely delicious and the deserts were to die for. Many of them were intensely chocolate, including the birthday cake that Julie made for Sarah Bartlett, her friend and one of the conferees.

Sitting on the lawn in Julie's yard. (Thea Haubrich in the foreground.) Through the trees in the distance is one of the coves on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in Salem.

This was quite an end to the conference for me. All the chocolate that I consumed was enough to keep me wide awake for the two-hour drive back home to western Massachusetts, and I barely had to sing to keep my eyes open. I was mighty glad to see my little homestead and to sleep in my own bed last night, but I sure did have fun at the conference.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Monday at the Conference

My orb panel - the final product in today's post-conference workshop, Off the Wall: Encaustic in Three Dimensions, with Miles Conrad.

Miles put on his usual wonderful workshop. I really loved playing in wax all day with different materials and seeing the unexpectedly beautiful products we made.

Our class orb installation

Each of us made about 10 orbs from various materials that Miles provided. After our first few experiments, we each chose one piece and then we hung them in a grid and arranged them into an installation. The point was to get us to see how well these pieces work as multiples and also to notice how color, shape and volume play off each other in these pieces.

I had a wonderful time in the class chatting with friends and experimenting. I could tell you lots more about it and show you pictures, but I've been burning the candle at both ends and I'm nearly extinguished, so I'm calling it a day. Tomorrow I'm taking my final workshop with Francisco Benitez, Homage to Fayum, in which he demonstrates the encaustic painting techniques used in the ancient Fayum portraits, and we learn how to make contemporary paintings using those techniques and paint colors. I know it will be fabulous. Tomorrow I will not have a chance to post because I am driving back home right after the workshop so you will have to wait until Wednesday to get the final report.

Meanwhile I am leaving you with a fabulous image of Miles Conrad and a friend of his.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sunday at the Conference

Man, this blogging on a schedule stuff is hard work! I've set a precedent for myself that I'm finding hard to keep up with. It's life vs. blog and I think life is winning.

Sunday was another fabulous day at the conference. I began by giving my presentation on art blogging, for which I created a blog called All Info on Art Blogging. You can link to it here or use the permanent link in the sidebar to the right. The blog was meant to replace a hand-out and designed to contain all in information you would need to set up an art blog. The presentation turned into a kind of fiasco for me when I discovered that Blogger had changed its design format in the previous couple of days and I was unfamiliar with the new setup. Awkward! But friends who witnessed my embarrassment told me that at least it provided comic amusement so it wasn't a total loss.

Taking Your Show on the Road

Reni Gower, Fragments: CC, 2009, 59"x65", canvas, acrylic, cheesecloth, plastic, aluminum screen, rug-hold, wood.

Next on the docket for me was a wonderful presentation by Reni Gower called "Taking Your Show on Road". Reni is a professor in the Painting and Printmaking Department at Virginia Commonwealth University and spoke about organizing four traveling exhibitions that she has curated and participated in as an artist. She shared valuable information about choosing artists and art, finding venues, putting together a budget, shipping and insurance, communicating with artists and venues and many other items which only a vast amount of experience has provided.

I took copious notes on her six "Checkpoints" of organization. I have always wanted to organize a traveling show and now I have at least the basis for considering it more thoroughly. I know that after you have had the experience of putting one show together, you realize that the amount of effort it took should really be spread out over more than one event. Unfortunately, by the time I have gotten shows off the ground, I am usually so exhausted that I never want to hear about them again. But maybe Reni's presentation will help me in the future. I can only hope.

Patterned Effects and Visual Texture

After another tasty box lunch and a meeting, I was very happy to finally watch a demonstration by Greg Wright that I had been looking forward to since the conference roster was announced.  Greg is a master of texture in his encaustic work, and demonstrated various materials that he uses to get those great effects. What was so wonderful about the demo to me, besides the technical information, was Greg's enthusiasm for the work and excitement about creating and appreciating the happy accidents that occur repeatedly. We were all wowed by the effects he is able to achieve - mainly with powdered pigments plus water and/or shellac - and shared in his admiration for the materials.

Greg Wright showing a sample board

An important part of Greg's presentation was demonstrating the methods he uses in his own studio to reduce the hazards associated with powdered pigments and shellac. He is extremely careful and always conscientious about minimizing his exposure. I was very wary about using these materials prior to his demo, but now I am considering them after seeing how they can be handled in an appropriate way. Wait till I show you some of the sample boards with textures that Greg demonstrated. These textures are what really won me over.

Powdered pigment and water over Titanium White encaustic with Indian Yellow encaustic on top

Powdered pigment and water with encaustic under and over

The varied effects are achieved by varyinig the thickness of the application of pigment/water and the amount of time that the mixture is left to dry.

While extremely leary of it, I was also interested in the use of shellac with encaustic. I knew that it had to be lit on fire, but didn't really understand the material or process. Greg explained that Shellac was composed of lac from the Asian lac beetle that was dissolved in denatured alcohol. The denatured alcohol is what burns off when you light it. Fumes from the burning alcohol can give you a headache, he warns, so this process should only be used in a very well-ventilated indoor space or, preferably, outdoors.

Greg applying the torch to light a sample board where shellac has been applied over titanium white encaustic

A flaming panel - it will extinguish itself when all the alcohol burns off, usually a matter of seconds. NOTE: Don't try this unless you know what you are doing!

A sample board showing amber shellac after it has been burned

Another board with shellac and powdered pigments. If a second coat of shellac is applied after the first coat has been burned off, it will darken in color.

A sample board with water and shellac mixed with charcoal and powdered graphite

Greg showing another demo panel prepared with various techniques

Closeup of the sample board he is holding above. (Transfer and collage with various techniques on top.)

A closeup of texture on one of Greg's finished paintings. See more of his work here.

Conference Wrap-up

You can imagine that after taking in all this information and interacting with many friends and new acquaintances, I was exhausted. However, I did get a second wind after resting with my feet up for a while. I managed to stay awake for the Conference Wrap-up where Joanne summed it all up for us and a name was drawn for a free entry to next year's conference.

Here's Eileen Goldenberg at left doing her pre-drawing dance in which she's putting the spin on the juju (or some damned thang).

The winner of the drawing was Suzanne Arnold. She is the one with the giant smile and a reddish scarf near the center of this photo. Congratulations, Suzanne! See you next year.

More to Come

Today (Monday) is the first day of the Post-Conference Workshops. I am taking Miles Conrad's workshop, Off the Wall: Encaustic in Three Dimensions. Here are a couple of images of 3D encaustic pieces Miles made using the techniques he will be teaching today.

Miles Conrad, Orbs Series

A hairy-looking Orb