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Archive for the ‘The Hive’ Category

Surprised to hear from me again so soon? I was on hold with the employment office and thought, why not write a blog post? Funny what goes through your mind after listening to repeated pre-recorded messages and disturbing muzack for an hour. That’s right, an hour.

In my last post I sent links to the print-on-demand books The Theory and I created for Oregon sculptor Lee Kelly. Two of those books (One through Nine and The Observatory at Jaipur) documented exhibitions Lee had at his gallery in Portland.

The books contained:

  • Photographs of each piece in the exhibition, captioned with names and dimensions
  • Photographs of earlier pieces that are related in some way to the new work
  • Critical discussions of the new work
  • Brief introductions explaining why we thought a book was a good idea
  • Biographical information about the artist

I’m going to discuss each point in turn but right now let’s talk about why a book can be an important tool for an artist and another way to direct the messaging about your work.

Exhibition catalog
I’m not speaking for every commercial gallery, but here most galleries don’t produce exhibition catalogs for their artists. Public museums and collections often do, as a matter of course. But most of us wait years to be included in a major collection or even (gasp) get a career retrospective exhibition. So what happens while we wait? We mount important shows in commercial spaces, the work sells or it doesn’t, and a month later it’s as if the show never happened.

Documentation
You probably document your new work and exhibitions on your web site. A web site is the most important tool you possess because it contains everything and is easy to update. But speaking as a user, I know how quickly most people click through web sites. And getting people to read anything longer than a caption online? Whew!

Old tech like a printed book can place images in context with writing and give depth and insight into the artistic process. Or allow a critical thinker the ability to write about your work at length. And because the book is available online (through whichever online publisher you choose) you can buy copies of the book at cost to give away or provide a link so that people can buy it themselves. It’s always there.

Preserving a body of work or important period in an artist’s life
I was talking to my father about the book we wrote called One Through Nine which discussed an exhibition of paintings he did in 2013. It was his first exhibition of paintings on canvas since sometime in the 1960’s. He said, “I didn’t realize until I saw the book that the paintings all related to one another. Without the book, the paintings and the ideas would be gone.”

All that said, this is not a get rich quick scheme unless you are a genius self-promoter.

A book is another way to take control of the messaging and presentation of your work.

Next time I’ll try to channel The Theory about why having a smart guy or gal write about your work is a good idea.

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I’m watching the snow fall, the very snow I’ve been waiting for all year. I understand, people in other parts of the U.S. scoff at Oregonians’ inability to drive in the snow, dress for snow or, let’s be honest, think in the snow. Snow starts coming down and we flee the workplace by the thousands convinced it’s the end of the world and we’re all going to freeze to death. On the other hand, what group of people knows more about seasonal affective disorder than Oregonians?

Although we’re only getting our snow now, we had a savage cold snap in early December. The lows were in the single digits. And again, I understand, this is nothing for you folks in Montana (Stacey Jean Barron of Missoula, Montana, I’m talking to you) but for us it was unexpected, especially for beekeepers. A friend lost two hives, and we have no idea whether our bees are still alive. Anyway, it’s still pretty out there:

Sculptures in the snow.

Lee Kelly sculptures in the snow. The one in the foreground is from the 1960’s. The lonely table in the background is where The Theory and I had lunch during the reno. It was sunny and warm then. Seems so long ago now.

Lavender from the garden, probably dead.

Lavender from the garden, probably dead. I don’t want to talk about it.

Our beehive huddled under straw bales.

Our beehive huddled under straw bales. That’s Akbar’s Elephant in the background, a stainless steel sculpture by my father. Sculptures always look great in the snow.

A close-up of the hive. Snow is insulating, right? I can still hope.

A close-up of the hive. Snow is insulating, right? I can still hope.

Well, I need to get the hurricane lamps set up in case we lose power. A happy snow day to all… and to my bees, good luck.

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Hello! Yes, friends, I’m back from the Reno Recovery Unit at Bellevue Oregon. This is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. When last we spoke, I had petrified albino rats on my mind and not much hope that the renovation of our kitchen would never be finished. I wasn’t far wrong on that last one. Still need to do some touch up wall work and some painting.

We moved back into the kitchen in late September, after the rains started—September was one of the wettest months of the year. There’s nothing like grilling in the rain, or washing dishes on your knees in the bathtub. Whoa, flashback! The doctors at RRU said there’d be days like this. [BTW, there isn’t any such place as a recovery unit for crazy DIY-ers, it’s just wishful thinking on my part. If it did exist, The Theory and I would still be there, eating soft-boiled eggs and watching daytime television.]

I offer some before-and-afters as proof that it wasn’t all a dream:

Under that pretty blue tile was a gooey, fungus- and bacteria-rich plywood of the 1979 variety. We salvaged as many of the tiles as possible. My mom made them.

Sink wall before. Under that pretty blue tile was a gooey, fungus- and bacteria-rich plywood sheet of the 1979 variety. We salvaged as many of the tiles as possible. My mom made them.

Here's the same wall after demo. The shovel is pointing to the place where The Theory found the petrified albino rats.

Here’s the same wall after demo. The shovel is pointing to the place where The Theory found the petrified albino rats.

Ta-da! Took this photo just this morning and you'll note the lived-in look.

Ta-da! Took this photo just this morning and you’ll note the lived-in look.

Before. Trapped between two doorways, the appliances were constant traffic stoppers. We saved the blue splash behind the stove. It's acrylic paint over stainless steel, made by my dad. Free to a good home, if you have a truck.

Stove wall before. Trapped between two doorways, the appliances were constant traffic stoppers. We saved the blue splash behind the stove. It’s acrylic paint over stainless steel, made by my dad. Free to a good home, if you have a truck.

Stripped down to the wallpaper of previous owners.

Stripped down to the wallpaper of previous owners.

After. This simplified footprint makes it darn near impossible to incinerate children and pets as they walk by. Some might say that's NOT an improvement.

After. This simplified footprint makes it darn near impossible to incinerate children and pets as they walk by. Some might say that’s NOT an improvement.

Where’s the art?

To be honest, it’s taken me three hours to write this post. That’s how un-creative DIY has left me. For instance, I spent my xmas vacation curled under the duvet watching Wallander and developing a weird crush on Kenneth Branaugh. I think it was because he cried during season two, which is something The Theory did often during the reno. <sigh> Now that I’ve seen all the Wallenders I’ll have to think of something else to do. Art, anyone?

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I’m still loving this book—Encaustic Materials and Methods by Frances Pratt and Becca Fizell. It was written at a time when encaustic art included a range of materials and techniques, and many of the formulas were developed by the artists themselves.

As I worked with encaustic pieces that contained both hot and cold wax, I began to want a glaze that could create a uniform surface. I also needed a little more bloom control. The weather has been very winter-y here at the Hive and it’s not the flowers around here that are blooming.

I turned to my Frances Pratt to see what her long ago artists had to say about encaustic glazes, and found several glaze recipes, two for hot wax and one for cold wax. I tested each for a variety of results: 1) Application method, 2) Drying time, 3) Transparency, 4) Interaction with underlayers, 5) Finished look, 6) Bloom prevention.

This week I’ll talk about each of these recipes.

Half and Half Beeswax / Damar Resin

I saw a paint recipe by Boston Expressionist Esther Geller (1922-) in Encaustic Materials and Methods. Click this link to see images of Esther’s work posted on Pyrocantha’s Flickr Photostream. Esther often worked on Masonite in very large formats, which is about the coolest thing for an encaustic artist to do.

Esther Geller. Phragmoi Gates (1975). Encaustic on Masonite. Six joined panels each 6' high x 2' wide.

Esther Geller. Phragmoi Gates (1975). Encaustic on Masonite. Six joined panels each 6′ high x 2′ wide.

Here’s another image of Esther’s beautiful work:

Esther Geller. Dancing Goddess. Encaustic on Masonite.

Esther Geller. Dancing Goddess. Encaustic on Masonite. Image from an exhibition at TCAN, Natick Performing Arts Center, Natick MA.

Esther uses cakes of 50% beeswax and 50% damar resin, to which she adds stand oil and turpentine to make a buttery encaustic paint. Esther’s perfect paint is the subject of another post, where I also curse mineral spirits. Ptooey!

When I made a batch of half and half medium and poured it into muffin tins, I noticed that the medium didn’t shrink while cooling and it was difficult to release from the pans. It also had a nice, hard gloss. I melted a cake on my palette and used it to glaze a piece where I’d worked some oil paint into the surface. Here are my results on the six-point scale:

1) Application method: Hot wax, brushed on.

2) Drying time: Instant.

3) Transparency: Cloudy, more than regular white wax medium.

4) Interaction with underlayers: None. I fused lightly to get a good bond.

5) Appearance: Thick, semi-gloss.

6) Bloom prevention: Very good

The recipe for Half and Half is easy:

Step one:
Melt 5 parts white beeswax over medium high heat until fully melted.

Step two:
Add five parts damar resin crystal to melted wax, dropping the pieces into the hot mixture carefully to avoid splatter.

Step three:
Continue to stir the mixture as the resin melts into thick ribbons. Watch your temperature to keep from going over 200 degrees F. The resin should be fully incorporated around 185 degrees.

Step four:
Line a strainer with four layers of cheesecloth and carefully pour the hot wax mixture through the strainer into ½ cup muffin tins. When fully cooled, turn the muffin pan upside down and strike the edge of the pan against a hard surface until the wax cakes pop out. If they resist, try holding the pan in both hands and gently flexing the metal. Strike again.

Glazing:
Melt a half and half cake over your palette. Brush the hot liquid onto your painting, trying to minimize lumps and bumps. Fuse lightly with your heat gun. This creates a hard, sticky surface, and scraping will be difficult. Use an iron to even out imperfections and scrape while the wax is warm. I’ve heard that high-resin content will make wax more brittle. While I haven’t noticed this, please experiment when using it on larger pieces.

Untitled (2013). Encaustic on board, 6 1/2" x 7 1/2". You can see how cloudy the glaze layer is when compared to areas where I scraped back to the dark blue underlayers.

Kassandra Kelly. Untitled (2013). Encaustic on board, 6 1/2″ x 7 1/2″. You can see how cloudy the glaze layer is when compared to areas where I scraped back to the dark blue underlayers.

Next time: A glossy and transparent hot wax glaze. Ooh la la.

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I was rereading this blog a few months ago and realized that I hadn’t melted a can of wax in almost two years. In case you are new to the blog (or forgot all about it), what happened was the classic nature-abhors-a-vacuum scenario, also known as, “Sweetie, do you mind if I use your studio for a frame shop for a little while?”

How long is a little while, anyway? As long as it takes for the studio owner to wise up and kick the interloper out—or at least to the other side of the room.

Here’s what it looked like:

The ante chamber of King Tutankhamen's tomb was jumbled with objects the young king might need in his afterlife.

The ante chamber of King Tutankhamen’s tomb was jumbled with objects the young king might need in his afterlife.

No, it was more like this:

Inside Homer and Langley Collyer's Manhattan home, circa 1947. The brothers were recluses and hoarders and both died at home, among their things.

Inside Homer and Langley Collyer’s Manhattan home, circa 1947. The brothers were recluses and hoarders and both died at home, among their things.

Okay, my studio is not as amazing as King Tutankhamen’s tomb nor as infamous as the home of the Collyer brothers. But walking in there for the first time with my eyes open was almost as heart-stopping. Where had all this junk come from? The only resident was a very mature (by that I mean BIG) garden spider. I relocated Shelob out the window with great care.

As soon as I could fight my way over to the palette, I fired up the wax and filled the place with the aroma of honey and resin. Here’s what it looked like after I’d spent a couple of days cleaning up:

My worktable. Yes, my studio walls really are yellow like that.

My junk-strewn worktable. Yes, my studio walls really are yellow like that.

This is after I cleaned up around the table but before I’d managed to get close to the desk area. Sheesh! You’ll have to take my word for it, the place looks much better now.

So I’m ready to work again. Now what? Have to admit I’m a little nervous.

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I’ve had a decadent couple of weeks! Walking, napping, baking and eating, and mostly staying out of trouble. I didn’t go to the Hive until yesterday—it’s been cold here—and when I did, I discovered Didi the Hive Beast had been using the place as party-dog central. As I cleaned up I sang a new song to the tune of Through with Love:

I’m through with dogs / No more dogs for me / Through with dogs / I’ll kill the next one I see.

There was another verse about guns and knives but that seems gratuitous for a family-oriented blog.

Didi the Hive Beast at rest. She's actually not dead in this photo, just napping with her eyes open on her ratty old chair. And, folks, she's not that cute.

Through with Art
While cleaning up, I asked myself why I hadn’t been in the studio since, like, December of last year. It wasn’t just Didi (though reason enough, right there). I wondered if I’d arrived at a stopping place with encaustic. In the last eighteen months, I’ve studied the material and the technique very closely and practiced good work habits, just like Dad would tell me to do. Some of the art is okay, and I have shown improvement. All good. And yet…I didn’t want to make art as I had been making it. I felt done.

What now?
I went back to my journal and found a couple of simple sentences, one from a post here on the blog and the other from an ages-old short story. I wrote them out on some French cold press paper and then added and removed wax. I have no images yet—the pieces aren’t done. But I have to say that for the first time in months, I felt meaning at the heart of this work.

Words at the Heart
What was this new meaning? Text. Until yesterday, I had been experiencing a sort of writer’s block, even though I was still writing all the time on stories and other projects. Visual art had become a wordless zone.

Many artists use words in their visual art. Think Cy Twombly and Anselm Kiefer, for instance. In my work, I don’t see words as a gesture, comment, or descriptor but as a sort of window that makes other kinds of thinking possible. For one thing, my handwriting isn’t as pretty as Kiefer’s. For another, what if I decide I don’t like those words…what if I want to change them later?

Cy Twombly, detail. From an exhibition at the Chicago Art Institute.

Writing process as meditation
Words are history as well as story, identity, and yes, even visual substance. But one thing writing doesn’t do is give you time to just exist. All those words want thinking about, editing and rearranging.  So why couldn’t my visual art use the same tools as writing, words for instance, and work them like objects that contain literal, visual and even temporal aspects?

Final word on words
So, I’m back where I started eighteen months ago. Writing, painting over, rewriting and revealing words.

Linda Womack
For a nice description of a similar artistic process, but with very different results, check out this post from wax legend Linda Womack.

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The Hive has been abuzz with amps and volts for a few weeks now. I can still dim the lights when I have both irons, the palette and the heat gun going at the same time—hellfire! That’s how I know I’m still alive. Here are some photos of the panel, my working boxes and what the Hive looks like now that it has illumination of a reliable sort.

Electrical panel with reflection of light fixture. Note the important safety instructions.

Outlets. Left is good, right is a dangerous fire hazard, now disabled.

The Hive--aglow with light and vigor.

Judgment of Kassandra
This week and part of last week, I’ve been balancing my expenditures against the art

Piano I. Graphite and wax on prepared board. 10" x 10".

I’ve actually produced. This is not a happy accounting. The Theory loves to tell me I know nothing when it comes to judging my own work. But I can’t help it; sometimes I feel physically ill when I look at it.


Yesterday for instance, I sawed Piano II in half. I think The Theory was disappointed. It used to be 18″ x 8″ and now it is somewhat less. (Note: a fully encausticized piece of art went through the table saw like buttah. I wanted to keep on going.) The Theory said what he liked about Piano II was the odd rectangular size. But after staring at it for a week, what I didn’t like about it was the size. Guess what? I won.

Piano II. Wax, pigment and graphite on prepared board. Trimmed down to a svelte 8" x 10".

Uptick
This weekend, I played with embedded objects and came up with pieces that gave my brain a little electrical charge. When I looked at them later, I was intrigued enough to forget I created them. Maybe that’s what I’m aiming for—getting me out of my art. Here’s another piece I like, called Me and You.

Me and You. Detail. Encaustic on prepared board. 9" x 18". Pictured here is the 9" x 11" portion.

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