Category Archives: studio

A Good Mess

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There is, I think, loads of potential in being up to one’s elbows in a good mess. I’m not talking about the kind of mess visited upon you on a late Sunday afternoon when the last thing you want to do is clean up, but a weekend of neglect and fun and living has resulted in sticky mugs adhered to the coffee table and muddy shoes piled by the front door, dirty dishes in the sink, and wild tumbleweeds of dog hair blowing gently along the floor (ahem)…let’s call that a lazy mess.

No, I’m talking about creative mess, which is another thing altogether.  Well, it still might result in a pile of dirty sticky coffee cups, yes, but it’s also evidence of being busy and productive, of being in the moment, caught up, and just going with it, not stopping to worry about it. There is a kind of bravado to it.

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My studio cycles through this state several times a year, the sedimentary clutter building up until I don’t even remember what’s at the bottom, everything covered in a fine coat of graphite and glitter and paint. And where did I put that scraper?!

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Things, I admit, can get a little dysfunctional at the tail end of it. Then I’m ready to take a few hours and sift through, wiping things down, putting things away, rediscovering things, rearranging, scraping wax off most surfaces, shepherding spiders out the door.

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So, this is a different kind of potential, isn’t it?  Like a deep calming breath, a pause. The potential of a clear workbench, organized paints, the windows washed, and the graphite found. (Still need to whitewash that wall, though!)

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Ready for the next mess.

Looking Forward 2014

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This morning I walked past my open green waste bin and the discarded flowers that lay at the top caught my eye.  I threw them out last night and they were rained on a bit.

If my last post was about looking backward, this one is about looking forward. January has been such a lovely month.  I don’t really do new years resolutions, but I usually do a big studio clean, take inventory of my life, and make some plans, set some goals.  That sort of thing.  So in that spirit, I’ll share some of my thoughts/aspirations for 2014:

  • Steer myself out of ruts, and try new things.  Small things, certainly.  Large things, hopefully.
  • Draw more.
  • Stay present.
  • Take some road trips with my son.
  • Read more books.
  • Slow down and notice beauty in unexpected places. See above photo.
  • Write more.
  • Experiment more in the studio.

Looking forward…

Double Life, and a Studio Clean-Up

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January is just whizzing by me.  Surely, time moves faster as you chase it.  And I feel as if I have been chasing it, with so much to do, and trying to fit it all in.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to just stop, and breathe.  And slow down the moment.  And pay attention.

For months now, I’ve been simultaneously preparing for war and peace, so to speak. ( I think it’s an Einstein quote, and he actually said, ” You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”)    For about a year, now, I’ve been going to school part time to complete a certificate in technical writing.  I’ve also been trying to increase my hours in the studio, ramping up my practice, trying to make a go of being a full-time artist.  The sensible fall back plan, and the big dream.  I feel like every day I get up and just throw myself at it all.  There is rarely a sense of completion, because there is always something more to do.  I just keep setting little goals, and moving forward.  Inch. By. Inch.

There are financial pressures.  I don’t know if the artwork can answer them. It seems to be gaining traction, but I have to wait and see how it all shakes out.  I really want to be able to jump in with both feet into… something.  But for now, I must simultaneously prevent and prepare.

Painting and technical writing might seem at odds with one another.  And it does feel like I’m living two lives, or preparing for two futures, or even two potential selves, sometimes. Each activity exploits different parts of my personality.  But the two things also compliment one another in remarkable ways.  When I was working my way through my foundation technical writing courses, I was struck with how the skills I was learning could be directly applied to all of the writing that I am required to do as an artist- statements, bios, website copy, etc.  Active voice, defining audience, elegance, efficiency, specific language, direct style.  My studio notebook has become my constant companion, and I’ve learned to just get it all down, and edit later.  My editing class sharpened my attention and further developed my appreciation for brevity and specificity in my painting practice.

Right now, I’m taking a course in Information Graphics, and I find myself asking different questions in the studio.  Questions like “What is the question that the work answers?” and “How do I shape the data to answer the question?”.  It’s all pretty interesting stuff.

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One of the things I always do in January is clean my studio, and this year was no exception.  I also tried to create a “clean” area, over to the right, for a drawing space.  I’m trying to have a corner that isn’t covered in wax and paint splatters! (I know–good luck!) I’ve also added the memory foam mat on the floor, because all the standing takes it’s toll.  If you don’t have one of these in the studio, get thee to thy computer, and order one.  They are heaven.

Well, then, back to work!  I have a data set to download, and some paper cutting to do!

Works In Progress

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I’ve been hard at work in the studio.  Here is a look at a larger piece in progress, and some small pieces lined up.  The small pieces were a challenge for me (they are 8″ x 10″), because I really prefer to work larger.  I think my paintings are generally more successful on a large scale, but this time around I tried approaching the small work a little differently.  I treated each as if it were a small, experimental piece of jewelry.  I found that taking this approach naturally adjusted the scale that I worked at, and kept me from trying to jam in too much imagery, a common problem for me when I try to work small.  These six pieces will be available at Hang Gallery in December.

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Here’s another view of my studio work table…

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This is something I often do, especially when I am trying something new.  I’ll find a way to “mock up” the next element in a painting.  This is especially valuable to me because when I start a painting, I only have a vague idea of where I want it to go, and often it takes me someplace completely different.  And because I’m always working in transparencies, allowing each layer to show as I build the image, it is especially important to me that I respond to the image by adding each layer in the most aware, informed way possible.  By trying out different elements before adding them to the painting, I can be a little more efficient, and often this process leads to innovations that I may not have thought of otherwise.  It also allows me to make little adjustments, sometimes minute, that make a big difference in the compositions.  These yellow circles may or may not be added- I haven’t decided yet.

Overall, I’m having a productive month in the studio so far…

Studio Shots

It’s been such a gray and rainy spring! But that hasn’t stopped the work in the studio… in fact, it’s been a wonderful year for the plants this year. Above, some mustard gone to seed.

The hummingbirds have been busy disguising their nests with this moss that grows on the old plum trees behind my studio.

This lovely thing fell to the ground during the last wind storm. I’m looking forward to drawing it.

This pile of embroidery thread is waiting to be woven into some paintings… paintings that are only in my head at the moment. I’m looking forward to the hours of summer, and seeing if some of my new ideas work.

In The Studio

I thought I’d share some current works in progress from my studio. This piece above will be put together in the end as one piece. I’ve been inspired by other artists who work large on multiple panels. Here, I had these small 10×10 inch panels lying around, and I thought I’d use them as a little test run… and that’s my medium setting up in the muffin tins. Working large uses so. much. medium!

This is a pretty crappy photo- taken late in the day with my lights on. But you get the idea. I’m really loving the metallic paints from R&F. So lovely when they are scraped down- this design is done in the german silver color, and it has a lot of variation, like a patina.

On to the next layers!

Whatever Works…

The other day I was working in my studio, and this was the scene… and I thought, “How strange this looks!” So I ran to get my camera to share it with you all. I’m so fascinated by other artist’s processes, and the unusual ways that we problem solve when we are trying to get an idea out of our heads and onto the image. Encaustic is such a “new” medium in it’s current usage, and as I meet more and more artists using wax in their work, I am struck with how we are inventing it as we go.

I also thought this was funny because I’m often told that my work is delicate or ethereal, and yet the process is so… scrappy. I knew here that I wanted a large, white circle on the painting, but I didn’t know what to use to guide the circle. none of my usual objects were large enough. And then the garbage lid called to me from across the studio…  “Me! Me! Use me!”

So I did.

Encaustic Technique #8: Gesso

A small holiday gift for you all: a new tutorial. This one is a little different. It’s not about the wax, but what we put under the wax.

I’ve written here before about using paper or claybord as a base for painting. About a year or so ago, R&F came out with an encaustic gesso. It doesn’t smell and isn’t labor-intensive like rabbit skin gesso, and, unlike regular acrylic gesso, it is absorbent enough to be used under wax. Until recently, I’ve just used it as it comes: bright white.

Recently, though, I started experimenting with tinting it with powdered pigment before applying it. My aim was to create an aged looking, darker background for painting.

In the above example, I started off with a layer of white gesso. I let that dry completely. Then, I mixed a portion of gesso with my powdered pigment and applied it in large, sweeping strokes to most of the canvas.

After letting this dry slightly, I sprayed the panel randomly with water and scumbled the surface with rags, creating a textured looking surface. When the gesso was completely dry, I sanded portions of it where I wanted more light to come through.

The point here is how flexible this could be- try using different colors, layering colors, or painting into the dry gesso with water based paints, such as guache. The surface could also be stamped with homemade stamps before applying your first coat of wax.

My one critique of the gesso is that it pinholes like crazy (similar to claybord). I remedied this with a lot of fusing and additional layers of wax. I’m not sure what causes the pinholes- If any of you know why it does this, please leave a comment! I’d love to know how to control it.

Long time, no write

Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been writing a ton. But I certainly haven’t been writing here, have I?

It’s been a wonderful, yet incredibly busy fall season for us around here, meaning me and my family. I continue to struggle, as we all do, to fit it all into these 24 hour segments we call days… and have yet to find the formula that allows me to do it all and stay present enough to enjoy it.  Such a work in process… and I guess that’s where I’m at these days, trying my best to give myself to the priorities that I’ve set for myself and then seeing the beauty and accomplishment in the messy incoherence that ensues. I figure if I can do that, I’m in pretty good shape.

Well, this is my habit, to take stock toward the end of the year. Not a bad habit, but it can turn melancholy if I let it, so I won’t. A few of my favorite things that I did this year- that sounds more cheerful.

I attended the IEA retreat in Carmel Valley… What a fantastic group of artists. Such a beautiful place.

I developed a body of work that I am in love with… a rare thing for me; I am so critical of my own work. The slow down in sales has facilitated my spending more time on and with my work. So there is a silver lining.

I participated in NaNoWriMo in November… 50,000 words in thirty days, with only a few vague ideas in my pocket- it felt like jumping off a cliff, and I survived! I created my parachute on the way down. Challenging, invigorating, terrifying. I’ve never written that much in my life. My daughter did it too- I couldn’t have been prouder.

So what did I learn the most from? Definitely NaNoWriMo- hands down. I’ll be taking every skill I practiced back to my studio. For example: you don’t always need to know where you are going to get somewhere. Let surprises happen. Let the work take charge instead of bending it to my expectations. Spend time with the work every day. Sit down and work, even when it’s the last thing I feel like doing. Trust that I have something to say. I usually just have to get quiet enough to hear it myself.

I’d love to hear from you- what did you do that was new this year, and what did you learn from it?