Earthen/Dusk – Encaustic on Panel

DesertHill_5613, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

Just got finished with a busy studio day today. Wonderfully sunny day today here in Austin and I spent most of the afternoon in studio working and, when I wasn’t do that, I was dodging a low-flying bumble bee that kept gunning for my head.

Remember how the other day I commented about mistakes and mistake-fixing in the studio? About how I had spent the entire day (the other day) fixing up prior “studio mistakes?” Well, today was what I like to call “giant project day.”

What I mean by that is that, today I set out to just sort of knock out a bunch of paintings, and, did I do that? Nope. What did I do instead? Start one particular painting that can only be described (really) as a “giant project.” What do I mean by a “giant project?” Well, it’s one of those paintings that I’m going to be working on for a while. A long while. Like sometime in the year 2014 it might get finished, but only if I sweat a lot, really buckle-down and get to it. I’m going to work, work, work on this piece and it might still never get finished but I will be eternally hopefully that, one day, as soon as I get around to it, I’m sure as shooting going to finish *that* piece. Yeah, it’s one of those.

I truly believe that all artists have paintings like this. We go into studio, carve out some sort of “half-baked idea,” maybe even have some general direction we want to go with the work and we start working. But then, something happens. Something happens as we work away, something that makes us realize this isn’t going to be finished anytime soon now but also that this piece is somewhat “special” in some small way and, as such, it deserves the added attention. It’s not just added attention, no, we fully comprehend the idea that the piece is going to turn into some great project, some big “chunk” of our lives are to be devoted to it, and it’s going to fully consume us until we complete it, though we recognize this won’t happen anytime soon. The piece has spoken and who are we, mere mortals, to disagree with the universe, the cosmos or, heck, even the great pumpkin. (We are doomed.)

Today was that sort of a day for me-I made that kind of a piece. It didn’t start out that way, but it sure ended up that way.

For starters, I got up early, went to the bank, grocery store, and Home Depot to get more plaster supplies (it’s amazing how much plaster a girl can blow through when she is painting like this, trust me on that one.) Then I had something to eat and headed into the studio.

From a previous studio session, I had plastered up an 18×18 inch board and left it to dry, so this was sitting there, waiting for me. Instead of doing more of the type of work you see pictured here (this is pigment stick on panel) I wanted to do the plaster technique today for a couple of reasons-mostly because I wanted to work a bit smaller today (this “Desert Hill” is 18×24 while the plaster series is 18×18) but also because I was out of the 18×24 primed panels, so I opted instead to use the plastered panels I had done up last time I was out in the studio. No worries, I do this often and it makes for interesting painting, as I get to mix things up a bit.

So, I looked at the plastered panel and thought, “Hmm. What color do I want to do this?” I had some silver paint on the palette (encaustics are difficult to do with so many colors at a time because the palette needs to be heated and so there is limited space for a multitude of colors.) I settled on a purple-ish color (since that goes well with the silver I had already melted) and thought, “Oh! I have some pigment sticks that I got pretty cheaply and those were some bright colors.” Sure enough, I had purchased a purple pigment stick.

Next up, I got the pressing urge to draw a house, the way I always do, so I thought that, since I was using the pigment sticks and I can kind of “draw” with them (well sort of) I would try to draw an abstract house-ish like drawing and then wax on top of it. No worries, as again this is not something new. So I started to draw the house with the purple color and then I decided I would make a little “village” and so I grabbed a red-ish color and a blue (a beautiful bright blue actually-wow!) and then I wanted an earth to my, well, “earth” so I made that brown and then I had to fill in the sky so I made that sort of blue-ish but the blue color from the house was not quite the right color blue for the sky (it was more like electric blue!) so instead I tinted, toned, and shaded that with some dark grey and some white in places. Before I knew it, I had myself a cute little “village” scene and, well it’s really quite pretty. (I shot it with my iPhone so maybe I will be able to show it to you at some point.)

Anyway, now that the little “village” was done, I have to seal it with the encaustic medium. I started to do that, but then found out that I had used so much pigment stick that it “smudged” and wound up making my wax turn red (well, actually the “earth” color in my “village.”) With some gloves on, I worked the pigments from the pigment sticks around and made a sort of hot mess, but I rather like it. The pigments from the pigment stick hold together even if you smudge them around and sort of “finger paint” with them, not to mention the plaster makes little bumps and groves that either prevent the pigments from going in there (wind up looking like white cracks) or collect the pigments (wind up looking like shadows since they are spots with darker pigments than other areas of the surface-like dark crevices really.)

The short version is that the entire thing wound up with a lot of pigment on it and it made a mess of my hot palette painting area.

One of the problems I have as an artist is that I hate to paint with brushes. I know that probably sounds silly but I actually prefer (very much so) to either paint with my hands or to use a knife or a trowel like the way they usually apply plaster or stucco. If none of those options are available, then and only then will I turn to using a brush. Lastly, if the brush thing doesn’t work out, I use spray paint. I really hate spray paint though, as I don’t feel like I have my “hand” in the work at all; I feel very disconnected. Finger painting is quite the opposite of that for me, as I actually like to smudge and smear around the paint, working it with my hands. Once I find a brush I rather like too, I tend to stick with it so I have collected many brushes but only (typically) paint with a few of the ones I favor.

I recognize though that this practice of finger painting can be quite toxic when using things like pigment sticks as they are petroleum based and also the proper artist pigments are none too healthy to inhale too much of in the studio. Nevertheless, I much prefer to work with my hands, so I usually done a pair of rubber gloves and work over the pieces with my fingers anyway, taking frequent breaks to get away from the fumes.

For most of my studio time today, there was a bee buzzing around my wax station, looking to check out the melting beeswax. Usually doing encaustics attracts bees-no real surprise here, they are drawn to the smell of the melting beeswax, but I’ve always found (and been told that) they come around a bit to sort of “check out” the “new home” but then also take off once they do so and realize it is not their (own personal) humble abode. I’m told this is sort of similar to humans-the way we kind of maybe “check out new condos” that are being built near where we live-we’re inherently nosy creatures and want to be “up” on what’s happening but, at the end of the day, don’t really care all that much. Bees, I’m told, are no different from this. They usually come around, at least one lone one does, to check out the wax but then go away once they have suitably poked their “bees knees” into it and determined that it’s just “low rent” housing, not suitable for their queen. Meh, off they go, flying into the sunset and the sweet nectar of the flowers they prefer.

Today though brought about a different type of bee. This particular fellow was quite determined to get a closer look at my “condos” of beeswax so I kept being dive bombed and had to keep dodging around to avoid being stung. I was buzzed quite frequently while working and this made it difficult to work, made it harder to rub the messy pigments all over the place, trying to avoid the cracks in the plaster and also to avoid the bee gunning for my head.

The end result is a piece that is not finished yet, rather it’s got wax about the bottom “earthen” part of it and will have to be waxed more carefully, color by color, to avoid the pigments from “running” into the wax (or into each other.) Because of this, I will have to wax each color separately, fuse it gently with my heat gun, and then let it cool before moving onto the next color. All of that plus I’ve got to just hope the bee keeps his distance and is none too interested in my head. (Wish me luck here, as I am going to need it.)

Anyway, that piece is sitting on my workbench, awaiting me to finish it, which I hope to do at some point in the future. (You can hold me to it.) Tonight, I will be doing some paperwork and web-related items after photographing some of my recent studio output. Lately anyway, it feels like I have been working so much in the studio that I am starting to feel like some kind of “painting robot” and I don’t have a life outside of it all. At least, it seems that way to me-lots of studio time and work just pouring out, although not always what I had intended to produce. All of this productivity has me wanting to do even more but I still feel the pressure of this higher output in my studio. As I was photographing the work, I realized today that I didn’t even leave enough time to shoot it all, since there is so much new work awaiting me to photograph it and put it up on the web, not to mention the paperwork and such. Catching up with that is next up for me to do.

This particular piece “Desert Hill” is from a series I was hoping to produce this winter. I was hoping for twenty individual panels that I like, each representing a view of the desert areas outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico at dusk or sunset time. I guess maybe I was too ambitious, as I was hoping to be able to sort of knock out twenty of these over winter holiday. So far anyway, I have three of them that I am happy with, including the one pictured here, called “Desert Hill.” My plan of producing twenty is going to take a bit longer than I had originally intended.

Normally, I try not to beat myself up about these things but lately anyway it seems like I am anxious to get these pieces photographed, framed, and out the door. I really could envision a wonderful 1-person show of this work. Could you see maybe twenty of these in wonderful wooden frames, hanging in a gallery somewhere? Honestly, I would love to be able to pull this off, but I can hardly manage avoiding the bee that’s invaded my studio, not to mention I’m almost out of primed boards and I keep experimenting with plaster, yarn, and other things. I really have to try to stay focused and produce a devoted output, to not be so reactive to shows buzzing around me, much like the bee that has taken up residence in my studio.

In the new year, I will have to work hard, not only at painting more/better/faster but on staying focused on my goals, otherwise my 1-person encaustic show of “Earthen/Dusk” will be but a pipe dream and this will put a serious damper on my plans for next year.

Enough rambling for today, my dreaded paperwork awaits!

Until next time…



  1. Great Grandma Lin
    December 28, 2011 / 3:14 am

    would love to see a video of you at work…maybe you could train the bee? lol! just kidding…

  2. Carol
    December 29, 2011 / 5:43 pm

    I wish I could train the bee, oh how I wish I could train the bee. Why am I not generating energy from this bee? Makes one wonder.

    As for the video, maybe at some point. Since I work in my garage, it's none to "sexy" out there but it gets the job done. At some point, when I'm back in a separate studio space (probably summertime or EAST-time again) I will try to make a video of the encaustic practice.

    It's very fun watching people paint with a blow torch, surprisingly. Addictive really, but then again, of course I would like it.

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