Monday, July 13, 2015

Seven Degrees of Separation--Part 9

From Silence into Words
7" x 21" x2 1/2"
Beeswax. Mixed Media onto
Artist Made Paper
 “Because even the smallest of words can be the ones to hurt you, or save you.” 
― Natsuki Takaya

The quote by Natsuki Takava sums up the next step in the path, Right Speech. Words are powerful for good and for harm.  The path would advise us to spend a good amount of time with no words, in silence, so that we become aware of our inner words.  I am personally on this step and although I have spent much of my early life in the silence of the convent, it is hard to quiet all of the inner noise of my own thoughts and feelings.  Right Speech would have us silent when we are tempted to speak from anger, greed, or resentment. Right Speech would have us be aware of others and situations so that our words are appropriate.  Too often in conversation we are consumed with our own options or positions and fail to listen and understand the perspective of the other or simply blurt out what is on our minds.  Right Speech would have us speak the truth, without exaggeration or omission, with honesty and sincerity.  Most importantly, Right Speech invites us to be aware of the power of our words to heal or hurt, to build up or tear down, to be crude and malicious or meaningful and uplifting.  Until our inner words align with our outer words and all is an expression of kindness, we are instructed by Right Speech to remain silent.

Singing Praise for the Morning
7" x 21" x 2 1/2"
Beeswax, Mixed Media onto
Artist Made Paper
Generosity of mind, spirit and words is the centerpiece of Right Action.  And generosity is founded  in the virtue of Gratitude.  Gratitude is the ability to see abundance in all the experiences of our others. From Christian spirituality we know that a virtue is a practice that becomes so habitual that it is an attitude in which we live.  I once met a wise older woman in one of my classes.  She often spontaneously broke out in song or in words of admiration for a color that she experienced as beautiful or when looking at her finished art that she thought good.  In all of the six weeks of the class, I never heard her say one word that wasn't filled with gratitude for the beauty around her.  It was not wonder that everyone was drawn to her because her gratitude overflowed into an immense generosity of words of praise, actions of gift giving and a self-less listening.  I've previously understood this step in the light of the Gospel, "Give. When you give, don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing."  Grounded in the virtue of Gratitude, I now understand that Right Action is something that simply cannot be contained.  Generosity becomes the essence of who we are.

Living Uncompromising Life
7" x 21" x 2 1/2"
Beeswax, Mixed Media on
Artist Made Paper
Right Livelihood is about alignment and community.  We spend much of our life in work. Research has shown that unless our job has meaning that goes beyond making a living, we re are more likely to be unhappy. And if our work environment is unhealthy, cut throat and demeaning, we will be stressed to the point of illness.  Right Livelihood invites us to first disassociate ourselves from toxic workplace environments because we will no longer have the ability to sustain a spiritual practice.  Sometimes, it means that we enter the environment with Right Emotion, Right Words and Right Actions and the workplace might change because of our spiritual practice.  

Right Livelihood is seen in terms of ethical livelihood, meaning that our work does not involve producing products or engaging in practices that cause harm to other living community of beings. It takes discernment, consultation with a spiritual adviser and much prayer to step into Right Livelihood.

All I Need is Here
7" x 21" x 2 1/2"
Beeswax, Mixed Media on Artist Made Paper

Right Effort is the step that will take us through the rest of our life.  It is the step that is least about fan fare and most about being where we are.  David Smith, in his book A Record of Awakening, describes this step in this way:  "I would say from my experience and observation that the great challenge we in the West to develop the ability to stay with the practice.  It is not difficult to observe people wandering around changing teachers and traditions, avoiding practice when they are not getting what they thing they should be getting from their efforts, or just avoiding themselves with their restless wanderings. The willingness to stick with things is the most difficult aspect of practice that we face because it is going against the current that has been carrying us along all our lives."

In this culture of instant gratification, it is difficult to be in the stay with the deny both the illusion of grandeur and the illusion that there are short cuts to insight. Probably one of the most difficult part of this step is to realize that we don't need to go to a magic place or study with the perfect teacher or read that ground breaking book.  The terrain of our journey is right where we are.  Our teachers are those whom we meet around the dinner table and in the pews next to us.  The ground breaking book is being written in the silence of our own inner words.

I've titled the last piece in this series, All I Need is Here, because it sums up the Eightfold Path.  The spiritual path begins where we are, as we are, with whom we are with. It is a life long process of becoming authentically human...and perhaps, if we are faithful...the reign of God.

When you make the Inner as the Outer 
and the Outer as the Inner
and the Above as the Below
And when you make the male and the female 
into a single one where the male shall not be male
and the female shall not be female,
Than you shall enter the reign of God.
Gnostic Gospel of Thomas

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Seven Degrees of Separation- Part 8

 Although I am a Christian by tradition and practice, I have read and studied the spirituality of all of the other main religious traditions.  Every tradition outlines a path to follow to holiness or enlightenment or peace.  Each tradition is steeped in its own culture, often originating from different parts of the world.  As I wondered about the path I was on in creating this series, I was reminded of the Nobel Eightfold Path of Buddhism, which is a life map for personal transformation.  When I looked back at these first three pieces of art, I realized that they were, perhaps, my own expressions of the first two steps along this path.

In all traditions, the spiritual seeker begins walking a path when he/she experiences the lifting of a veil enabling us to glimpse in a profoundly significant way, the true nature of reality..or a trans-formative experience of God.  Sometimes this happens through a near death experience or in bereavement.  It can happen through a profound insight or intellectual breakthrough in reading or study.  Experiencing great art or another's story can confront us into a new way of seeing reality that puts everything into a much bigger perspective and initiates our journey. I've titled this first piece, Lifting the Veil to express this first trans-formative moment.

Lifting the Veil 
7" x 21" x 2.5" 
Beeswax, Oil, Mixed Media on Artist-Created Paper Canvas

 The first step in this Eight Fold Path is Right View.  Simply put, we need to come to acceptance that there IS a path.  It is a faith in the unseen, it is a vision of something beyond ourselves and it is a willingness to begin a journey of transformation.   It sounds easy and perhaps even trite, but from experience I can say that it may take a good part of a life time to truly believe that life has meaning beyond what I see.  Or, as one of my mentors, Hildegard of Bingen, would say, "All is ordained in God for good, and so this too."  I have had to go through a lot of "this too."  Each of these life events both challenges and strengthens by belief just a bit more.

I've titled this second piece Through the Veil of Time because it is only through lived experiences and authentic relationships that we can leave behind our biases that often become dogma in our own mind.  Right view is about letting go of those artificial mind constructs that keep us bound by our illusions.

Through the Veil of Time
7" x 21" x 2 1/2" 
Beeswax, Oil, Mixed Media on Artist-Created Paper Canvas

Right Emotion, another step on the path, is a foundation for the rest of the journey.  Right Emotion or Right Intention, as it is sometimes called, encourages us to develop positive feelings for ourselves and for others.  This step is grounded in forgiveness.  I've known many people in my life who can't get beyond this step because they have never been able to either forgive their parents or siblings for hurts and painful childhood experiences or to forgive themselves for missteps or past transgressions.  It then becomes hard to see positive motivation in the actions of others.  To embark on this step, we often must step back into our past, realize that others have hurt us and we have hurt others....then make amends and move on.  We can then begin the slow work of appreciating our own value, caring for ourselves, and approaching each person--and all living things---we meet with positive good will.

Stepping Back into a New Tomorrow
7" x 21" x 2 1/2" 
Beeswax, Oil, Mixed Media on Artist-Created Paper Canvas

To see the next four pieces in this series and how they follow the Eightfold Path, see the next blog entry.

Seven Degrees of Separation, Part 7

A Turning Point

I don’t know why it is, but the third piece in a series is often a turning point for me…and it is always a difficult birth!  I started this one with two major strikes against me.  The first was color.  I had picked up a rich umber color at the paint store, but I found that after working with such lovely colors in the first two pieces, this color was dull…dull…dull.   The second strike was the image I chose from Pinterest. 

I have a rule, of sorts, that states, “you can choose any image or two that you want, but once chosen, you can’t go back to Pinterest.”  Why you ask am I so strict with the rules?  It might be my Catholic school education that kept us on the straight and narrow…and it might be a way to make myself push beyond my stuck places.  Whatever it is, the rule exists and I work with it.

The art work I chose had a tag “ceramic” from the Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis, MO.  It reminded me of a Chihuly piece that was commissioned by our public library.  I could vision paper-wrapped wire swirling out of one of my canvas windows.  It actually might have been a Chihuly after all because the links led nowhere; I couldn't find the art work on Google images or in any of the works of any of the current artists.  That IS one of the draw backs of Pinterest.  Images are pinned and repined constantly with no artist credits—I’m guilty of that as well—and the descriptors and links get detached from the images. 

I decided to keep the inner window unpainted and planned to somehow wax “squiggles”.  I worked for a week on that darn idea!  Nothing looked good.  Nothing was working…but in that length of time, at least the color was beginning to grow on me.  I know from long experience that I can’t force a painting to go where I want it to go.  It has to take its own course.

Here are some of my trials and errors. 

In frustration, I did what I sometimes do...I tore off the waxed paper and started over with the same form. The Chihuly images suddenly morphed into the former Du Chau work, leaving behind the umber for the "bubble gum" pink chip I had chosen from last summer.  I kept seeing soft rain through a window.

By this time, I had to know where I was going.  I've always liked the phrase, "Make your way by walking..." but there are times when you have to look at a map.  What did these three pieces have in common?  What did I discover so far?  Where did I actually want to go?  Every series is about a path.

The word, "path" actually gave me the insight I needed and the direction that had been embedded in the series with all of the intuitive decisions I had made from the start of the project.  To see how PATH and the meaning of this series are entwined, stay tuned.

Seven Degrees of Separation, Part 6

Experiments, Misconceptions and Brick Walls...

Buffalo Spirit by LuAnn Ostergaard              Inch by Inch by Du Chau

To fit one of my window-less canvases I went back to Pinterest  to find more inspirational steals.  I selected what I thought was a painting by Lu Ann Ostergaard. I loved the way the “paint” in her work lay on the dark canvas and I wondered if I could use that element, but reverse the process having the wax flow downward, leaving some of the canvas a contrasting white.

I also selected what I thought was a paper work by Du Chau titled “Inch by Inch.”  I was intrigued with the idea of perhaps using the “ledge” I had created on my paper canvas as a shelf from which to add a kinetic element to my work.

One thing I like in the process of “stealing” is its ability to lead me to new artists and media.  I was surprised to learn that Lu Ann’s work is actually digital photography and that we share a kinship in visual inspiration.  I, too, am drawn to distressed surfaces—old fences, decaying walls, rusted metals.  While my photos are references only, she enlarges her photo collages of naturally occurring patterns and textures into fine art.  I swear I thought she was a painter!  

Du Chau is actually a pathology technical coordinator at Methodist Dallas Medical Center by day and an award winning ceramist in his off hours.  After discovering that simple fact, I knew why the many attempts to create a similar kinetic element in paper had not been working.  He was using the weight of fired clay attached to musical instrument wires!  I didn’t have enough weight with the paper nor enough flexibility with waxed threads.  Luckily I had moved on by several days from these fruitless experiments when I learned about his medium of choice.

The color I chose from my paint chip stash was a red/purple that was close to one of my favorite R&F Pigment sticks, Quinacridone Magenta.  I thought that it would work well with the Indigo that I had planned to use as the dark element.  

The painting actually came pretty easy and I was able to achieve a lovely and complex surface.  I also enjoyed moving away from my usual palette and into such rich reds and blues.  That’s when I came up to a brick wall….

The ledge needed something….  I played around with several ideas, including some generally awful ones!  It wasn't until I set the finished first piece and the almost finished second piece side by side, that I got an inkling as to what that would be.  If this were to be a series, I needed common elements, so what I needed to add was a paper “veil” or “scroll” and the element of writing.

This photo was an experiment with getting to a sense of “language” from burning tissue quality paper.  It seemed to fit, so I created the final element and #2 was down.

To see how the third painting in this series transformed these two paintings into a series with meaning and direction, read the next blog!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Seven Degrees of Separation, Part 5

Making my way by walking....

Working as I do is very much like walking in the dark.  I don’t see a clear path before me, so I find myself looking backward as I walk, checking with what it is I already know about this series:

·        I KNOW that I will be working on handmade canvases and that most of them will have windows
·        I KNOW that I want to explore the contrast of waxed paper and un-waxed paper. 
·        I KNOW that all of these canvases are to be vertical with a specific color theme (restrictions from the project).  

There are also some things that I think (and hope!) will be part of this series:
·        I THINK I will be manipulating paper in a sculptural way.
·        I THINK I will think outside the box with these windows.
·        I HOPE I find my way into cohesive meaning with this series.

This is the point in my process where I don my cloak and dagger in search of something to steal!

                         Connections 2, Wei Lin Yang            Roots Expo  Ersi Marina

In my Pinterest boards I came across two art works that somehow feel right for this first panel.  I print them off and set out to the studio.  I’ve decided that for this piece, I will cover the panel with layers of wax and oil and contrast the panel with some type of paper addition.  Both of my Pinterest steals will allow me to work in that way. 

Since this panel will need to match the Alizarin Orange color I had chosen last summer, I begin the work in cool colors.  I often use graphite to draw or write on the white paper and spritz water color or diluted inks before I apply wax.  

This is an image of the work early in the process.  I continue with marks in the wax, layers of oil, images with stencils and oil pastels until I build up a lovely surface.  

This close up of the nearly finished canvas has ten or twelve layers of wax.  I like that I can see, to varying degrees, the history of where I have been.

In a break from the encaustic process, I do some research on the artists who created the art that I have pinned on my image board in the studio. Sometimes, the research will provide clues to my next step. It surprised me that both of these artists were international and both of these images come from a body of work on “books.”  Wei Lin Yang is an award winning artist and educator from Taiwan. I discovered that the material she used in the image, titled, Connection 2, is actually fabric and that her lovely marks are created through intricate embroidery.  The second image is from Ersi Marina, an artist from Spain. Her work is lovely in its simplicity. She often using fiber arts processes with paper.  Neither artist has a website, so I am not certain which images on their sites like Flicker and Pinterest are actually their work…another good reason to have a personal web site, blog  or a page on a group site, like IEA, for your work.

I felt drawn to Wei Lin Yang’s work and asked myself, “What is the draw?”  I liked the idea of wire and a long vertical hanging piece, so those elements became my jumping off point for my own work.  I isolated a center strip, added my own calligraphic marks, wax and stitching. 

  Close up of the paper work and the paint chip which will define the color of the finished work.

At this point, I put away my inspiration images and become immersed in seeing where the art making process takes me.  I’m including images of  the finished first work in this series, but the title and even the direction of the series is not yet clear.

Front view: finished work                                                    Side view finished work

To see how the next art work built on this one in a surprising way, stay tuned!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Seven Degrees of Separation, Part 4

The Paralyzing Factor of “Preciousness”

I've often heard it said, that in order to find what is authentic, the artist has to let go of what is “precious.”  But what does that mean???   I think we each find our precious place by experience.  For some, it is the area of the canvas that was painted exactly PERFECT! ...meaning that this area of the painting will be protected at all costs.  When the rest of the “not working” parts of the painting have been reworked to death, I finally paint over the one good area and by magic, the rest of the painting begins to work.  I think my buyers would indeed be surprised at how many precious areas have been abandoned under layers of paint…or in my case, wax.

While I am familiar with that “protect and release” rhythm in my studio work, I have never actually had to wrestle with preciousness BEFORE painting.  In this series, that is exactly what happened. We were all sent these lovely, luscious cradled panels by Ampersand.  I was dying to begin work, but I couldn't figure out how to make them work.  How could I get dimension from this flat surface?  After doing some big time struggle, I realized that the canvases, themselves, became precious and had to go.  Once that realization dawned, I was free to set them aside an get to the task of creating my own canvases from handmade paper and foam…a process that I have described in my book, Wax and Paper Workshop: Techniques for Combining Encaustic Paint and Handmade Paper. 

  Step 1:  Design canvas and cut foam board
 Step 2: Wrap mulberry paper onto foam board.

Three of the completed canvases.

I began by making several canvases the same dimensions as the original Encausticbords.  I left openings or windows in order to provide opportunities for inserting three-dimensional materials later on.  For this series, I decided to use handmade mulberry paper that I purchase from Thailand through a US supplier.  I often make my own paper, especially if I want to distress it, but for this series, I didn’t want to spend the extra time and money renting paper studio space.  Besides, I was now “itching” to get working.

To see the art I “stole” and how it worked out, stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Seven Degrees of Separation, Part 3

It was something he said…

I’m an extrovert as anyone who knows me will tell you.  I’m not one of those who never has an unspoken word, I spend a lot of time by myself and am very comfortable with silence.  I am using the term “extrovert” in its classical definition of “someone who is energized by the external world.”  When I want to know something that I don’t yet know—in this case, a personal focus for the Connection series—I went into my extrovert mode.  I have this feeling that the answer is “out there” somewhere and I will recognize it when I see it.  I go mental shopping, so to speak.

Sometimes my shopping actually takes me somewhere.  I go to book stores and read titles to see if an image jogs my consciousness or to retail stores to see how things are displayed  if I am looking for bases for sculpture, for example.  My critique group is a great source of insights into my work.  Often a conversation with an artist friend will be just the trigger I need to have things come into focus for me.

For this series of work, it happened out of the blue!  I was spending a little time “art surfing,” when I came across the work of Austin Kleon , a thinker and a blogger living in nearby Austin, Texas.  He speaks about “stealing like an artist.”  In the art world it is a huge ‘NO, NO” to “copy” the work of other artists.  I find that my students often get stuck here.  They like the style of a particular artist and then try to work that way.  For example, I love the collage and abstract work of my friend and colleague, Lyn Belisle, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t achieve that flawless balance of image and meaning that she does. 

Austin Kleon had just given me permission to “steal”, so I wondered about using my stolen art as a springboard, but moving it seven degrees away.  How would the new art look?  Where could that springboard take me?  How could I honor and acknowledge the stolen art AND stay faithful to my own voice?  The theme of Seven Degrees of Separation/Connection now had personal meaning to me.

To see how these reflections lead me back to images, stay tuned. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Seven Degrees of Separation, Part 2

You have to begin somewhere!

Yes, you do.  After several weeks of “seeding” my unconscious (meaning  that I send out a giant HELP to the universe and then wait), I move this “project”—for want of a better word—to the forefront of my work list.  Sometimes I wake up with an internal sense of readiness.  Other times it is a looming deadline that moves me from inertia.  For the Connection series, as I have begun to call this body of work, it was the opportunity of having to sit at the outpatient clinic for several hours while my husband had a minor medical procedure. 

Starting with What I Want to Know…. We, artists, make art for many different reasons.  Some of us make art to have a say about our world…to lend a voice in making change happen.  Others want us to literally stop in our tracks and smell the flowers of beautifully painted canvases.  Some artist explore concepts and ideas.  Others explore materials and processes and in so doing make their own statement about life.  I think I fall into this latter category.  For me it is the thrill of exploring, pushing the materials, and discovery…and because I am fundamentally extroverted, I know what I need to say only after I have said it aloud in my work.  So, I always start a new body of work on the heels of the previous one.  In this instance it is another paragraph in my ongoing exploration of paper and wax.

In our show last October in Sydney, Australia, my portion of the gallery space was seven linear feet.  Furthermore, the work—along with two sculptures and teaching materials for a week of teaching—(plus some underwear, of course) had to travel in ONE SUITCASE.  I ended up working on paper in a way that allowed me to roll up the work and travel it in a yoga bag.  I came back to the states excited to explore more deeply the contrast of waxed elements on pristine areas of handmade paper.  I also wanted to continue my exploration with sculpture.

Going to images…I have always collected images from magazines, art announcement cards and any other images that somehow speak to me.  I began by cataloging the images in files  and then later moved to gluing them in large scrapbooks.  A few years ago, I discovered Pinterest!  What a revelation and support to my process!   Millions of images from artists by artists, at my fingertips and neatly organized onto “boards” with a click of the mouse.   Beginning this series, I began with my Pinterest boards that held my images of paper sculptures.  I look at these as a researcher might…not as individual images but as a body of images.  These are the artworks, color combinations, sculptures that catch my fancy or that intrigue me.  What I noticed on this trip to Pinterest is that I had collected a lot of images where artists manipulated paper in multiples by folding, wrapping, layering, sewing…  I also found myself intrigued by the cut paper images that allowed for peeking through to another surface. 

I found myself excited (always a good indicator that I am moving in the right direction) about the possibility of working with paper in a new way  and by making a lot of something.  So now I have something about the “how” I will approach the work.  Getting to what I want to say is often a lot harder for me.  This time it came in a most surprising way.  To see how, stay tuned!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Seven Degrees of Separation, Part 1

Facing the Terror of Beginning

How does one begin a new series?  That has always been a hard one for me.  With so many choices as to subject or image, I find myself paralyzed.  So, one of the first things I like to do is to give myself some parameters.  Sometimes the restrictions are inherent in the theme if I am wanting to apply to a juried show or am part of an invitational show.  I find the limits as actually freeing, and sometimes, the greatest restrictions have resulted in major breakthroughs in my work.

As a group of instructors for EncaustiCamp 2015, we do a collaborative show to raise money for scholarships.  In the past, we have actually collaborated by sending work in a round robin fashion so that I might start a piece with one direction in mind only to find it become something entirely different in the hands of several other artists working in hugely different styles.  This year we are collaborating by setting strict limits on size, colors and theme.  This and the following several blog entries is my attempt to take you along with me on the road to the creation of this body of work both in word and in image.

Series Restrictions
I guess the first and overarching parameter is medium.  Since this is for EncaustiCamp, we are asked to work in the hot wax process, normally referred to as Encaustic.  We will each also be limited to size and support.  Ampersand, who makes the luscious Encausticbord, has graciously created a special size cradled panel (7”x 21”) for this project and donated eight panels to each of the seven instructors…seven each to be used for the show and one as just-in-case!   Last July we all trapesed down to the paint department at Home Depot in Seattle and chose colors that appealed to us at the moment.  We agreed to use the color from the sample as an important element of our work, so much so, that it would be a full 70% of the color on the panel.  Since we have been instructing in a particular approach to wax (mine with paper and wax), it is hoped that we would somehow incorporate our signature materials in the work.  And lastly, we have a theme to explore…Seven Degrees of Separation…or, as we have begun to think of the title…Seven Degrees of Connection.

I've been staring at the boards and feeling uncomfortable, yet mildly excited, ever since they arrived at my doorstep.  The size is not really problematic for me, but I find myself stymied by the panel.  I usually create my own panels out of paper and don’t often work on Encaustibord.  As I look at my color samples, I find myself wondering what I was thinking when I chose all of those pastels! Yikes!  I get my color from oil and medium.  While I use pigmented wax when I teach encaustic painting, I don’t use it often in my own work.  More importantly, my work has become more and more sculptural.  I have no clue as to how I am going to create in a way that moves my own work forward.

To see how I began to approach this project and to discover my two favorite ways to get a handle on where I am going in a new series…stay tuned to the next blog!