Wednesday 4 July 2012

artistic inspiration and a nest of dreams

"nest of dreams"

For anyone who hasn't yet come across it, I highly recommend the "moveable feast" which has been making the rounds lately.  It started the other day with Terri Windling's post about artistic inspiration.

It's been fascinating to read about other people's experience of the muse, sharing thoughts on how to court her; commiserating about those times when she seems to have abandoned us; wondering at our dangerous dance with her which occasionally leads folk into realms beyond, into what some call madness.

It's been getting my thoughts about inspiration fired up, and one theme which I'll be exploring in an upcoming post is the nature of landscape and the muse, and how for some artists (of all stripes: writers, musicians, painters...) a connection to landscape - often to a very specific landscape - is vital to their creativity.

In the mean time, I wanted to share a "process" post.

A while ago, I believe it was Jan who asked to know more about my process of using oils with cold wax.  As I was making this piece last week, I thought this would be an opportunity to discuss it a bit.

I've been playing with smaller format paintings (20 x 20 cm and 15 x 15 cm wood panels).  This one is a gift for a neighbour upstairs (who recently wrote the final exams of her grueling years-long process of jumping through the hoops for the German equivalent of legal bar exams.)

Her favourite colour is green, and as I don't often paint with green, it was a good challenge.  (Not to sound lame here, but the photo doesn't really capture the depth of the cold wax surface.  Need better photography and editing skills for that than I possess!)

Cold wax medium is sort of a modern spin on encaustic painting.  It doesn't require heating up of the wax as it's mixed with solvents which keep it firm, yet soft.  It's got a rather "buttery" consistency which allows it to be easily mixed with oil paints from the tube, or with powdered pigments.  What cold wax lends to a painting, is a slight translucence - depending upon how much wax to paint you use - and it speeds up the drying time of the oils, and once dry, it allows you to really attack the surface - scraping, gouging, scoring to add texture and depth.

Above are some of my favourite tools when painting with oil and cold wax: printmaking brayer/roller, metal paint spatulas, old flooring nails from the nineteenth century house we lived in in Toronto, a bone folder, an old chop stick.

Usually I don't use aluminum foil to line my cardboard pallets, but I was out of the slightly waxed baking-paper which I normally use.  I start by mixing the cold wax medium with the oils and put the colours fairly randomly onto the panel.  Wood supports are essential.  If the ratio of wax to paint is too high (which in my case it most certainly would be) then a canvas support would pose the danger of the surface cracking down the road.  Plus, I wouldn't be able to really go at the paint in the way I like to, for risk of ripping or denting the canvas.  

As well as oils from the tube, I use oil sticks.  These are fabulous, and allow for more gestural markings.

As I worked, it got messier and messier.  Decisions were made.  The horizon became a...what...a verizon when I decided to tilt the painting a quarter turn.  There were layers of paint put on with pallet knife, partly scratched off, rolled over again with the brayer, each step adding texture and a subtle interplay of colours in the various layers.  (Again, I'm afraid that my photography doesn't quite capture it.)

One of my favourite contemporary artists, who happens to work in oil and cold wax medium, is Rebecca Crowell.  She is a Meister at creating subtle, glowing, earthy paintings very much inspired by nature.  If you're interested in this medium, or if you just want to see some gorgeous abstract paintings, her site is well worth a visit.  She has also set up a dedicated web site to exploring cold wax painting techniques where artists share advice and examples of their work.

When I had the surface pretty much how I wanted it, I used the flooring nails to scratch the nest into the surface.  It's rather like that old grade school art class technique "black magic" where you colour the paper with wax crayons, paint it over with black india ink, then once it's dry, scratch away to make a picture.  Then I rubbed a bit of sepia paint into the nest to tone it down a bit.

Once the nest was there, I added a square of gold leaf.  This is tricky to work with, as the leaf is so thin it's almost like powder.

I was still not completely happy with it, and mixed a tiny bit of white paint with a mound of cold wax, and rolled it over most of the painting, including the nest, but not the gold.  This seemed to unify the entire piece.

In some of my collages, I mix words with images.  This is something I'm starting to do in some of my paintings.  For this one, I wrote "nest of dreams" on Chinese paper, tea-dyed it, then sealed it with acrylic medium, so that it could be imbedded into the painting with a layer of cold wax beneath and above it.

The muse was with me last week - in spite of my being down with a kidney infection and a double dose of anti-biotics.  I relocated my *studio* to the coffee table next to the sofa on which I spent my time in and out of sleep.

When the muse has her cattle prod at your backside, what can you do?