Monday, August 9, 2010

workshop impressions

I write from Glenwood Springs, CO, on my way home from the three-day oil & wax workshop in Longmont. Three days of creativity and comraderie, away from the distractions of normal daily life, have been a real treat. A highlight was meeting and spending time with Rebecca Crowell (at left), who led the workshop and generously shared her experience and knowledge about cold wax techniques. Also a highlight and unexpected pleasure was the group of artists who gathered together, all accomplished, practicing, questioning people, and the attitude of curiosity and willingness to explore and share that everyone brought to the occasion.

Three intense days have left my mind, for the moment, rather dazed and tiredly unreflective in any deep way. But I want to capture the top layer, as it were, of memories and impressions from the workshop, before time and new adventures erase them. For me, the essence of the workshop, in painting terms, was the opportunity to try new techniques, layering paint on more thickly and in more layers than I had previously done. Each layer had its texture, but those marks were not ends in themselves; rather they were destined to be the lower strata of the eventual painting, perhaps buried, perhaps uncovered, but even if hidden, contributing to the whole, just as the worm fossil a thousand feet down in the sandstone contributes to the eventual cliffs and canyons that we see. Because these layers were not the final, I could dare to take chances, to ruin, to bring back from ruin. Very freeing, very fun, yet also requiring a certain degree of mindfulness and thought.

Many new (to me) techniques added richness to this layering process. Among the most memorable: Using powdered charcoal and pigments, either sprinkled on and brayered in, or rubbed on lightly with a soft rag, or dissolved in solvent and brushed on. Marking and immediately smoothing over the mark, or burying it under new paint. Brushing on marks of solvent, and wiping them off to reveal the layer underneath. Contrasting quiet, calm surfaces with active areas. Troweling on the thick bottom layers, and encouraging random cracks and fissures to inform upper layers. Drawing with vine charcoal on a dry surface, to be covered with new paint. Using plain cold wax to seal charcoal or pigment that has been applied dry. Crumpling brown paper, newsprint, wax paper, or saran, and brayering over it on top of wet paint. Drawing and making marks with a bamboo skewer. Brushing with a broom.

Various other thoughts: Creating contrasts within a panel (colors, textures, sections, calm/active, warm/cold, dark/light, etc.) versus creating contrasts among panels. Are these two fundamentally different approaches: to create a panel to stand alone versus creating a panel to be one element among several? Playing with elements: if a panel's hues are analogous or subtle, vary the activeness of the surface through texture. If there's a lot of color change, calm down the texture. Apply a new layer of paint, deliberately leaving a section or a rectangle (for example) of the contrasting lower layer exposed.

This barely covers the surface of the richness of the workshop, but I hope it will be enough to trigger further reflections down the road. I owe thanks to everyone involved.


Rebecca Crowell said...

Nancy, I really value this thoughtful description of the workshop. The Longmont class that you took part was very impressive--everyone was so eager and quick to grasp what I was teaching and run with it...and such excellent questions and comments along the way. It was a wonderful 3 days--I'm a little nostalgic now! Your group will remain quite special in my mind. I'm glad you got so much out of the workshop and I can't wait to see what evolves for you!

Max McConkey said...

Bravo, Nancy. You've captured much of the essence of what we learned, as well as the spirit in which we learned it. Our artistic work is such an individualized pursuit, each of us discovering, creating in respective one-person studios. Now and again bringing the spirit of community to those individualized efforts can produce special creative sparks. Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing your skills and bringing us together. And thanks, my fellow student artist colleagues, for your cooperative spirit, which resulted in a very special camaraderie.

Carol Beth Icard said...

Hi Nancy,
Thank you for writing about your 3 day workshop with Rebecca. I feel fortunate to have experienced one in June in SC and have been painting with gusto using many of the techniques she so generously shared. Wouldn't it be great if there could be an exhibit of work some place, some time with a piece or two from all of her students? I imagine it would be quite rich and diverse.