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.
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.