Browsed by
Month: March 2018

Encaustic Venezuela

Encaustic Venezuela

Twenty years ago today, 1998, I was on my way to Venezuela to collect shells with a group of collectors more experienced than I. In Caracas airport, I was amazed to see almost everyone walking with a cell phone to their ear. I learned later that the people had embraced this technology sooner than we had because their land-line phone system was so inadequate.

While I had signed up for the trip some months before, I didn’t realize I was in an altered emotional state from the events of the preceding three weeks, until I was in the van going to our hotel when the radio started playing the theme from the movie “Titanic”, “My Heart Will Go On,” and I began crying.

My former husband, Ray, had died suddenly of a heart attack three weeks earlier and my sons selected that song for the funeral.

It seemed not quite right to be going on vacation, but the trip was paid for and my sons told me to go and have a good time. I had not cried until now. The song was popular in Venezuela at that time, and every time I heard it, the tears started.

Fortunately, there were no radios on the beach. There were thousands of Turkey Wing, Arca zebra, shells on the beaches along with hundreds of Hairy Tritons, Cymatium pileare. In fact, so many of them that it was hard to find other smaller shells.

The weather was changeable, so I was either hot and sticky, or cold. Many days there was no hot water at the hotel. The beaches were dirty and trash strewn to the extent that I started asking myself, “What am I doing here?”

Ever the scavenger, I picked up all sort of interesting things: buttons, dominos, colored cord, drift wood, sea weed, net shards, marbles, feathers, and eye glasses.

Fast forward to December 2007, when I attended a weekend workshop in Santa Cruz, California, to learn about using encaustic wax. The next summer, after I had gotten the paints, wax, and equipment, I was looking for a subject to make an encaustic piece that was not just a sample. Every time I rummaged in my shells, I reminded myself I should use what I brought back from Venezuela.

Venezuela ’98

I found the words to the song and printed them out in small blocks, along with a few bars of music. My first layer was blue encaustic paint. I floated the words and music across the sky. Into the hot wax I pressed the domino, small shells, buttons, rusty pieces, seaweed, and netting. I penciled in Venezuela 98 across the sky. The encaustic gives the 8 in. x 10 in. piece an “other-world” look.

I haven’t done encaustic since that summer, partly because I can’t ventilate my studio to use those materials, so I need to work outdoors. And life began to get more complicated the next year.

From what I’ve seen, I think doing encaustic well requires a well planned idea of what you hope to achieve. I used to work that way when I was weaving tapestries, but I don’t have that focus these days.

Making “Myself as Artist” Collage

Making “Myself as Artist” Collage

I retired from my full-time Creative Arts Therapy position at the VA in Livermore, California, at the end of 2004, but wasn’t able to settle into a way of working in my studio on a regular basis. In 2006, I was learning my new part-time job at the University of the Pacific (UOP), and preparing for a trip to Australia in October. Now that the trip was behind me, I was trying to decide what kind of art I wanted to do.

During the 2006 holiday break from my library job at UOP, I started planning a large collage project composed of photos of the art I had made since I was a child.

I had moved my mother to an assisted living facility near my home early that summer. Under her bed was a large box she had moved here to Stockton from Ohio in 1996. It was tied up with string and she had refused to tell me what was in it when I moved her to Lodi in May of 1998. In 2006, she told me to throw the box away because she didn’t care about it any more.

When I opened the box at my house, I discovered it was full of photographs, some many years old, of her parents, aunts, uncles, and my brother and me. Some of them I remembered, some I had never seen. Now I had duplicates of paintings I made and gifts I’d given.

I decided on a collage of photos of my art to see where I had been, hoping to find the next step. It would be fourteen sections with each one covering five years. Each block was twelve inches square and I planned to arrange them in a square with four across the top and bottom and two going up each side, with the last two in the center somehow. To keep things manageable to work on, I drew out six panels of two blocks on heavy corrugated cardboard with half inch boarders on each square.

Each section represented five years in my life. The first one is photos of me and a drawing of a horse and my baby brother. I made color copies of my early art which I still have in a scrap book. The second block has drawings of a farm, my doll, a large chicken, and a butterfly.

Detail of collage showing first three blocks.

When I finished all the panels, I stapled them to the wall of my studio which was in a mother-in-law type unit behind my garage. I added lace between the panels. It was finished in June of 2008, and hung there for a year, until I decided to move my art studio into my house. My son Chris was going to remodel the unit for my boyfriend, who wanted to live there.

I didn’t have a wall in the house for this collage. Fortunately, because it was on cardboard and each block twelve inches square, I could reassemble it into a straight line. In the room where my looms were in the house, there is a beam going across the room coming down twenty-four inches from the ceiling where the collage fits perfectly.

Self as Artist Collage installed in my house.

After it was up, I was able to see how my work developed and changed over the years. I could see things that were good and some that were not so good.

At the end of 2013 when I began to write my memoir, I used this collage to recall what art I was making during the different seasons of my life. At one point, I concluded that possibly my best work had already been done. But I didn’t like the idea that my best creative days were behind me.

Now I’m trying to challenge that. I’m starting to play with materials I haven’t known what to do with, like things I pick up in my yard.

I’m still spending time organizing materials I haven’t used yet, so I see them more often. I’m harvesting photos out of old magazines so I can find images more quickly than leafing through a book, hoping to find the right thing.

On my drawing board table, I’m depositing whatever has caught my attention in the yard each day – so far I have two bent nails from repairing the fence on Sunday, three feathers, a label that fell off a spool of wire in the garage, something off the palm tree next door, and a photo cut from one of the magazines.

The components of the next collage are assembling themselves as I go through the week. I have a little feeling of excitement when I walk past them. For me, this is a whole new way to begin a piece of work.




Erasing the Rules

Erasing the Rules

I stepped into another world last Sunday. My son and his family escorted me to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA). We took BART from Dublin, California to a stop two blocks from the museum. The last time I remember being in the city was in 2002, when I had to get a visa for my shelling trip to Brazil.

We had lunch at a nice breakfast and lunch place that we found between the train and the MoMA. It was interesting to see sleek, high rise buildings next to older ones with all sorts of architectural decorations on their upper floors.

The museum has seven floors. I suggested that we start by seeing the exhibit I had come to see, the

Painting with Grey Wing, 1959 Robert Rauschenberg

work of Robert Rauschenberg, titled “Erasing the Rules.”

I had heard about this exhibit last summer when it was at the MoMA in New York, and scheduled to come to SFMoMA in November.  For me this was a must see.

I first saw some of his work in Cincinnati in 1970. I’ve seen pictures of his work from time to time, but I had not seen the actual work. Of course, you never know if going to see a show will be worth the effort until you have made the journey. I was not disappointed Sunday.  It is a fabulous exhibit.

The exhibit has paintings, drawings, assemblages, collages, videos of his collaboration with dancers, diagrams of how he planned what he wanted to make – on and on it went from section to section. There was so much it was overwhelming.

This man worked large. And small. He used everything – cardboard, fabric, metal, wood, stones, rope, zippers, newspaper, transfers, photography, silk screen, oil, enamel, ink, watercolor, crayons, car parts, even mud.

He was mixed-media before anyone knew what that meant. After about twenty minutes, I concluded that I am putting way too many interesting items into our trash or recycling bin. It took us about two and a half hours to work our way through all his work that was shown.

Of course, there is a book of this huge exhibit. I couldn’t pass it by. It measures 9 ¾ in. x 12 in. and is 1 3/8 in. thick, with 412 pages. It details how his career developed and contains items that were not included in the display.

Now, I can read about what I saw and remember how each piece looked. I can study his composition, which I find hard to do while I’m walking through a museum.

I didn’t take photos, but Jeremy did, and you can see them on my Facebook page. If you live near San Francisco you should go see this. But hurry, it closes on March 25.

Riding the train back toward home, I was mentally going through my stash, recalling the materials I have in abundance that other artists are not using in their work. Those are the things I should play with to see what they will do. Forget the rules. Improvise. Ask what if . . .?


The Quiet Joy of Picking up Sticks

The Quiet Joy of Picking up Sticks

In September of 1990 my family and I were in Ohio for the funeral of my grandfather on my

Jack Paine

mothers’ side. John Henry Paine, who everyone knew as Jack, was the last of his six brothers and one sister to pass. He was about half way through his 98th year when he died.

He earned his living as an upholsterer. He worked for the streetcar company in Cleveland during the depression repairing the worn seat covers. By the time I knew him, he was working for the Hotel Westlake. This was a residential hotel, where he reupholstered the furniture in the lobby and public rooms. He could also lay carpet and fix it if it got stained or otherwise damaged.

When I stayed overnight with my grandparents, my favorite game to play with him was Battleship which we played with a pad of graph paper and two pencils.

He made new covers for a rugged stool my dad sat on at his work bench. Now I sit on that stool in my studio. When I was doing graphic arts in Cleveland in 1963 he made me a seat cushion for the hard wooden chair I sat on all day. He made me a case for carrying my expensive steel rulers, too.

In his later years he often told everyone of his love for his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

After the funeral, as we were leaving my parents neighborhood for the airport I noticed an older woman in her yard picking up branches that had fallen off trees at the back of her lot. It was just a short glimpse, but I got the sense that she was happy to be there gathering sticks. I recall thinking that someday I wanted to be like her.

It’s funny how certain things take up residence and hide somewhere in our brain. A few years ago, I was out in my yard cleaning up after a storm like we had last Thursday, when the memory of that woman picking up sticks came to mind. I hadn’t thought of her since that day in 1990.

My yard features an enormous sycamore tree which is constantly shedding something. After a windy storm the yard looks like a war zone. So, I spent last Sunday afternoon picking up everything from huge branches to tiny sticks and seed balls.

This is an aerobic activity for me, bending over, breaking branches up smaller, walking about, digging the occasional weed, and listening to the birds chatter.

I feel better when I’m outside in the fresh air, busy with whatever is calling for my attention.

How does this happen, that we glimpse an image of what will bring us joy years later, and without any conscious intention, we one day are amazed to notice we are living that image?