Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Waxing & Waning Of The Inner Landscape

10"x10" cold wax on panel

Almost a week has passed since I loaded the last wet painting into my car at the end of the week long workshop I attended with Rebecca Crowell.  I was drawn to the quiet strength of Rebecca's work when I saw it in Santa Fe four years ago. So to find her not far from home ( Vancouver Island Art Workshops) seemed an opportunity.  The days were long but structured well between painting and presentations. I love the ability of cold wax to deliver texture and surprise through the use of built up layers. It was fun to watch the different ways each of the 12 artists manipulated the same material, from bold graphic work to soft and ethereal.  There was an open invitation to work until 9 pm each evening. I knew ahead of time I wouldn't do this, given the restraints of both body and mind.  We had tons of workspace which was great considering that we worked on multiple, slow drying panels.  If you were stuck on one, you could turn your eye to another. Experiment was encouraged and we were reminded that finished work was not the goal, though the mind often wandered from this. I think I might have needed a flashing neon sign over my work tables to keep me on top of those.

There were lots of take-aways from the week about materials and process and points of contemplation.  And  I expect things will continue to slowly seep and settle into the blood and bones of me and my paintings.  At least I hope so. It is always so interesting to see what we absorb and internalize from any teaching.  It has everything to do with where we are in our life and work and what rings in our ear afterwards and how we synthesize it.  I will continue to explore questions like "what inspires me", "what do I hope to express in my work".

As painting is such a solitary practice it was nice to paint in the company of others for a change, to share a laugh or an observation.  Participants were generous and open. The atmosphere was supportive but with a strong focus on work. Kind of like a silent retreat in some respects, you appreciate the energy of others while focusing internally.

Cold wax and charcoal on terra skin

I am an incurable people watcher. It's so much fun to watch human nature unfold before you (your own and others).   I found myself equally interested in how people expressed their personal energy and shared it with others.  How did we manage our needs, our frustrations, our stress, how did our habitual reactions play out?  There were parallel teachings going on for me, always the art, and always the dharma. We are such a curious bunch, us humans.  I watched myself make a conscious effort to be who I am: quiet, quirky but friendly. Not always, but sometimes I can see my own inclinations to chat or engage as slightly needy (we want to be part of the tribe, a respected member, even).  I decided to check this need at the door (as much as possible) in the interest of work and experiment with how that felt. It was fun to watch this impulse arise and subside and to just be, to just work.

I watched my own human inclination to enjoy praise but reminded myself what a false wind this is, being constantly tossed about in the opinions of others.  I have learned that outer acceptance is a pale friend compared with my own inner acceptance of whatever is.  This has been such an important lesson for me over the years.  My strong inclination to feel frustrated with what I achieve and then to fall into mucking and discouragement came to visit. Sometimes it took a good while to catch myself and redirect.

More Cold wax & charcoal on terra skin

The one on one exchanges with Rebecca were helpful. In my search for "form" in my work she suggested the question to toss about, "what shapes out there in the world do I like?" To my surprise I was initially stumped by this question. And perhaps a search for form might better be thought of as an evolution of detail?  I am thinking it also has to do with variation in value?

And after my hours of painting I returned each evening to the charming home of artist, Carole Reid and our lovely feline host Isabelle.  I have never met a friendlier cat. She looked forward to me sitting on the couch each evening so she could purr and sleep and I could let the day's work steep and percolate.  It was a great house swap that Carole wrote about here and here.

I don't know if I had any expectations going into the workshop. Perhaps not overtly, but I think there are always hidden ones simmering below the surface.  I feel fortunate to have been part of this richly textured week and look forward to following the tendrils and threads as they spread themselves out into my work.


  1. Luscious, luscious paintings, Carole! James Scherbarth teaches here in Mpls. Have you seen his work? The leap from painting with form—to formless… can't imagine. :-)

    1. thanks, Kris. I have seen a couple of his pieces on the cold wax site. Will have to check out his own site. Ha, ha, form, formlessness, always there is the leap, no?

  2. You have such a beautiful way of communicating your thoughts and experience, Leslie. I relate to everything you wrote in this post. I particularly like the "come to visit" about "mucking and discouragement".Such a gentle way to put self judgment. I've found so much insight about myself through this post. It was exactly what I needed at this moment. Thank you for sharing yourself.

    1. So glad this resonated. That's why we do this blog thing, isn't it, to share with those walking the same path?
      That frustration is such a big one for some us, how to dance with it, that's what we learn as we go along and maybe we get our toes stepped on a little less each trip around the dance floor?

  3. As always so much food for thought in this post. I especially enjoyed your take on our need for praise and what a 'pale friend' it is. Wonderful. These images are delicious to look at. Xo

  4. Thanks, Jeane, always so lovely to have your input (never pale:) )

  5. Rebecca Crowell is one of my favorite artists - what luck to have a chance to study with her! I'm intriqued by your charcoal/cold wax pieces, but am not familiar with terra skin. what is that? As usual, your insights have given me lots of good stuff to think about (no pea-brain explosions yet!) :~)

  6. I haven't googled terra skin yet, but apparently it's made from stone! It has a silky smooth feel to it. If you know yupo (which I don't) people said it had a feel a lot like that.
    lol on the pea brain, mine is always on the verge of explosion.