I can’t remember what I was looking for at the time, but what I found was my old portfolio from art school. I had fun going through this stuff again, it was like running into an old friend.
Here’s a few of the sketches just for kicks:
When I finished The Mark of the Thunderbird, I still had ‘more’. Not being one for meticulous planning, I started with the idea of presenting the beauty of the aftermath of a wildfire. The desolation is palpable, but there’s something just stunning about the charred remains of life that hold life within them yet. That’s what these two pieces are all about.
That was the start.
Just to mess things up a bit, I tossed in a different medium – encaustic. I’ve been burning myself with wax for a couple years now and finally have an inkling of where this medium can take me.
To this point, I only use natural beeswax. I filter it, cool it on a cookie sheet and put it outside in the sunshine for a few days to lighten it but, even though I read that that works, it doesn’t work for me. I still do it though, because what if it did work and I could use whiter wax…
White wax. Yeesh. It’s cost-prohibitive for this stay-home artist so in the interest of eating and having running water, I prepare the beeswax from it’s natural state. Lucky Ducky that I am, I have friends who keep bees! After melting and filtering the wax several times, I mix it with damar resin to help the wax harden and also give it some shine. It’s time consuming but it’s definitely not a chore. I think it’s the smell of warm beeswax that makes it one of my favourite ‘must-do’s’.
This panel is titled ‘Nourished’. I’m hoping that I can give the viewer the impression of life still below the surface. I saw a Ted Talk by UBC Professor Suzanne Simard recently. In her talk she describes Mother Trees and Interspecies Cooperation. It’s a concept that I’ve thought about a lot ever since and it’s definitely in my head while I’m working on this panel.
Adding white oil colour to my wax, I’ve started painting around the ground and sky.
Typically when I fuse my wax layers together, I just lightly ‘kiss’ the panel with the flame and that brings a little shimmer to the wax without moving colour around. Not this time though. When I fuse this wax layer to the one below it, I will actually melt this layer of white so it spreads out and blends itself into the background.
This panel is titled Renewal. When we got back to our cabin after being evacuated, there were charred pinecones and burnt needles everywhere. I was particularly interested in the open cones that will release their seeds now that they have been burned. Nature is pretty amazing.
The charcoal layer that I sketched in at first is barely visible, but I know where I’m going next. Because I want detail and texture in this piece, working on this panel will be finicky and time consuming and will probably hurt my fingers.
Focusing on the pinecone for a bit, I’ve started to etch lines into the wax and fill them with oil colours.
Here’s the thing about adding oil colours – the wonderful smell of them coupled with the melted beeswax is like tangy oranges and milk chocolate.
Alternately, Nourished is going quite abstract.
It’s a nice juxtaposition between the panels, and working simultaneously on the two is both challenging and motivating.
Working through the creative process, I feel like the roots in Nourish are complete, there’s nothing more I need to say there. Up top though, I added hints of a few other trees to suggest a forest while the painting remains abstract.
The pinecone in Renewal is developing now with the addition of oil colours as well as coloured waxes. This panel will have a lot more texture carved into it, particularly in the area of the pinecone.
Fast Forward to the finished pieces. The edges are waxed and the paintings are polished with a soft cloth to a beautiful sheen that shows all the intricacies in the wax
Encaustic pieces take about 18 months to fully cure. Because the paintings are made with natural beeswax, the surface shine on the wax will diminish slightly over time but if buffed with a soft cloth its lustre will be restored.
A Last Word…
Layers and layers of wax are added, subtracted, melted, cooled, rubbed and scratched in encaustic painting. I find I get swept away with the ambiguity of the medium. There’s nothing I like more than a project that takes me away somewhere, and when I land again hours have passed. Every artist knows what I mean.
I always thought that artists were supposed to be disciplined; meticulous in the planning, drawing, and drafting before ever putting canvas to easel. When I toured museums in Europe, I saw rooms filled with studies for final pieces. Man, that’s tough for me. I try, and sometimes – like with Bunny for William, I do get some studies done first, but as a rule once I’m inspired to make thoughts visual, I just begin.
But knowing what you want to say and then saying it with paint are two very different animals indeed.
It started with an idea. Indigenous legends tell us about the Mark of the Thunderbird. When I’m out in the bush, those marks are everywhere, they taunt almost, I see them but I don’t really see them unless I look.
Then it got tricky – when you don’t have meticulously worked out plans, drawings, palettes, yada yada, you have to rely on your intuition. The final piece was dancing around in my head and I had to trust myself to get it out there.
The colours I was inspired to use don’t really jive with my idea of the legend. Laying down the first colours, I was worried that I was going in the wrong direction. The legend seems pretty dark and these colours, in contrast, are vivid and fresh.
The really fun part happened when movement came into play through linear mark making. There’s also a depth that comes through abstraction. The pushing and pulling of trees that are there – or aren’t there – adds a kind of mystery while giving the eye a place to rest.
And then I grabbed the knife.
When I was in art school a hundred years ago, I loved painting with a knife. The textures and highlights that knife work offers seem appropriate juxtaposed against the calm watercolour-like background.
Fast Forward to the finished piece. Mark of the Thunderbird? Everywhere. But while I was guiding this piece I knew that I wasn’t yet finished with the whole idea. Stay tuned!
This process was pretty standard and it flowed easily – even though a few months passed between the first thoughts and the final product.
It started with the bunny. There are white tailed jackrabbits all over our neighbourhood. I see them in the day sometimes, but mostly they come out at night. In the winter, when the streets are covered in hard snow, they sit on the road under the streetlights. They are almost invisible, white on white, but if you wait they’ll give themselves away. Usually there are 4 or 5 bunnies out there in the night.
That night, as I was watching the moon outside my window, I noticed there was only one bunny. He was standing tall on the road, looking and listening, ears twitching.
I thought he seemed lonely. But not really lonely.
And moved on to William. While I was watching the bunny and the moon, I was thinking of the new baby in our family. I thought about how that same moon was probably shining on William just the same way it was shining on the bunny, and on me.
In the morning I made a rough little sketch.
I left that sketch for a while, and when I did come back to it I worked it out first in really muted watercolours. I wasn’t too focused on anything technical, I just wanted to explore where that sketch might go. I was pretty happy with the layout and I thought maybe it would be a cute birthday card or something so I played around with the values a bit in the second sketch and then I left it again.
I liked it okay, but I got stuck on that birthday card idea and it wasn’t sitting right with me.
Acrylics felt better. The colour palette was fun and I started smooshing paint around the canvas. I used a glazing medium with my paints which results in a translucent effect that I enjoyed especially with the moon thing going on.
Fast Forward! All of a sudden it starts to work itself out. This is where the fun starts, when the ugly part is resolved and I can’t wait to get back to my studio. The timing was so perfect for this painting, I knew it was “For Will” and I knew it was for William for his first Christmas.