It seemed for a while that I was making lots of art that was disconnected and lacking in any deeper meaning (at least for me). But I kept experimenting and following what interested me and trusted that as I got better as an artist things would come together more. In 2013 I started to plan a series of work about the city of Portland as a living organism, incorporating biology and city landmarks. It was also around this time that I purchased my first house and began to explore my new neighborhood of St. Johns. I think that putting down roots in Portland made me look the city in a different way.
There were several podcasts that I listened to around this time that influenced me. The first was the show Mapping from This American Life. It was about what maps include and exclude, and different ways of mapping the world around you. The second was a show called Emergence from Radiolab about how cities and insect colonies are built from the ground up by the collective and it introduces the concept of “the swerve” that creates certain areas of the city. The other interesting podcast was another from Radiolab called Cities, and is about what makes a city “alive”. If you’re interested in these podcasts you should check out the books that are mentioned in them: “Everything Sings, Maps for a Narrative Atlas” by Dennis Wood, and “Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software” by Steve Johnson.
After listening, thinking, sketching, and photographing, I started working on the series of paintings I’m titling “Swerve”. It’s a mixture of maps, intersecting freeway overpasses, rivers, water diatoms, ant tunnels, bridges, bone tissue, chrysalises, honeycombs, and buildings. It feels more important and meaningful to me than my previous work, and I finally feel like I have something to say with my art. I can see a million different directions this can go, and it feels like a coming together of all the separate interests I had been following. Here are some of the first pieces from the series and the artist statement that accompany them:
“At the time I bought my house in Portland I began thinking more deeply about the city in which I’m putting down roots. When I’m fascinated with a city, I start thinking of it as a living organism. I picture its rivers as arteries that carry life-blood, its bridges as tendons pulling the banks together, its electrical wires as neurons zapping the signal along, and its tall buildings like a spiny outer shell that protects the city within. I start to recognize it in the structure of cells, water diatoms, and human anatomy. The city seems alive and pulsing with energy and consciousness. I’m also intrigued by the concept of emergence in city structure, or finding patterns that emerge from the chaos. Economist Jeffrey Goldstein defined emergence as, “the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems”. Looking at maps of freeway systems or the overviews of neighborhoods you can begin to see these patterns emerging. But how did they appear and who planned them? Are they the result of a top-down urban development project written by a consultant, or are they instead the product of “the swerve”? The idea of “the swerve” is literally people swerving from their usual route through the city when they see something of interest. This gradually changes traffic patterns, which in turn leads to more businesses, more swerving, and so on until you have an arts district or a collection of food carts. It’s a poetic concept that, like the winding tunnels of ants or the intricate structure of honey combs, our city is planned from the bottom-up. It’s built by the individual actions of the people who live there, creating a more complex whole.”
I’m trying to do a thing where I write a blog post every Wednesday, because I’m pretty good at updating my event blog, but I never post my thoughts about art or behind the scenes updates. I thought I’d start with one of my favorite videos to listen to when I’m feeling lost or discouraged about art making as a profession. It’s Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech at the University of the Arts in 2012. Whenever I’m feeling down I’ll pull out my sketchbooks and draw while I listen to his advice. These are some of the major points I took away from the talk:
- When you start out you have no idea what you’re doing, and this is great. If you don’t know the rules you don’t know if you’re breaking them and no one can tell you what to do.
- If you have an idea, just do it. Don’t wait to start until you’re ready.
- Think of your goal as a mountain you’re walking towards. If something moves you closer use it, if it moves you further away don’t do it.
- When you start you have to deal with failure. You’ll send a lot of stuff out there and not get many responses back.
- Doing something just for money isn’t worth it. If you do something to make good work you will at least have the work.
- When you finally reach success you might feel like an imposter. Like the fraud police will come to your door and make you get a real job. This is normal.
- Make mistakes. Lots of them.
- Make. Good. Art.
- Do the stuff only you can do. You might start out by copying people but find work that is uniquely yours.
- People will want to work with you if the work is good, you’re easy to get along with, and you deliver the work on time. But you don’t need all 3. 2 out of 3 is enough.
- You should enjoy your success. Don’t worry so much or be constantly thinking of the next project. Enjoy the ride.
- The world is changing. Make up your own rules.
- Pretend to be someone who is wise and behave like they would.
I hope you find some inspiration or advice in this video. Now go out there and MAKE GOOD ART!
I love to read the OffBeat Blogs every morning after checking my email (I became obsessed while planning my own OffBeat wedding). This morning I found an amazing article on the OffBeat Home and Life blog written by Mallory Carlson. It’s about her fear of failure and success as an artist, and I can definitely relate. This is one of my favorite quotes because it points out how silly our fear really is:
“Fear is nothing more than an instinctual response to perceived danger. But, unless that life drawing session is filled with rabid velociraptors, there isn’t any real danger. I needed to change the only thing I could control: how I responded to it.”
Read the whole article, “Killing My Potential: I Have a Fear of Success”
When I was first starting this art journey I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of talking to gallery owners, I was afraid people would hate my work, I was afraid I would appear unprofessional in some way, I was afraid that I would promise too much to someone and not be able to deliver. I was afraid of failing, but I was also afraid of succeeding. I was talking to my husband one and night and I confessed that I had a fear of success. He asked me how I could be afraid of that and I told him that I was scared I would take on too much and not be able to keep up with the demands. That I would agree to too much and that things would spiral out of control and I’d drop the ball on something important. Basically I was afraid of succeeding so much that I’d fail. I know. I’m a mess. Two years and four months into this journey I’m still afraid of things. I still get nervous and worry, but I try to not let it affect what I attempt. I freaked out before I attended my first open call art show and I was only one out of 100 artists, and now I’m able to put on a solo show by myself. I was still nervous beforehand, but I knew that the nerves wouldn’t kill me. I confront my fear by constantly pushing myself to try something new, something bigger, something different. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’m “succeeding” but hopefully I won’t be afraid if I do.
It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post! This last year has been really busy and it shows no signs of slowing down, so I had better learn to keep up. Last year I created my art booth to show my work at fairs and festivals, participated in my first Portland Open Studios tour, created (and sold!) 30 pieces of new work for the Little Things show, spent the holidays in Oklahoma, and created 11 new larger pieces for my first solo show. Every time I thought I was going to get a break there was something else to be working on. Even now, I have events lined up throughout the summer and upcoming shows. It’s been very tough to learn to balance the art making with the upkeep of this website, my portfolio, Etsy, and the budget while trying to tackle long term goals like making photoboxes and prints of my work. To organize myself I made a Weekly Work Breakdown schedule. Without a clear plan of what I need to do each day I tend to flounder, and maintaining all areas of art business is easier if you chip away at it a little each day. Otherwise it all piles up and before you know it you have to reorder business cards, check 200 comments, update your portfolio, write the monthly newsletter, and get that painting to the gallery all on the same day. I sat down this weekend to think about what areas need weekly maintenance and how best to break it up. From now on, everyday after breakfast I’ll turn on my wax, grab that second cup of coffee, and work for an hour on that morning’s Weekly Work task. Here is the basic breakdown of what I tackle each day:
Monday – Research shows, fairs, or festivals. Apply to those coming up and make a list of recurring shows in order of deadlines. Go through the Art Notes RACC flyer at the beginning of the month.
Tuesday – Internet maintenance. Check comments on website, Etsy and social media sites related to my art. Add new photos of work to portfolios and make art related posts on social media sites.
Wednesday – Research representation. Compile a list of galleries and alternative venues that might be interested in representing my work. Get materials ready to send and contact places.
Thursday – Updates. Work on blog posts (even if I don’t finish them in an hour) event blog posts, the event calendar, and the monthly email newsletter. Promote events and blog posts on social media.
Friday – Long term projects. This is the day I take care of other business, like ordering more business cards, and chip away at those big things I want to do, like learning to mix my own colors, making presentation boxes, creating a photo box, or figuring out how to make my own prints. Some weeks I’ll have whole days to devote to these things, but even when I don’t I want to at least be working on them a little at a time.
Saturday – Update budget spread sheet and file. My receipts tend to pile up and I know I have to keep careful track of my spending for taxes, so these should be entered every week. Also my filing tends to get out of control and it’s frustrating when I can’t find the paperwork I need.
There’s my schedule of non-painting related work. I know I won’t stick to the schedule perfectly all the time, but it gives me a structure to work with and it will hopefully keep me more on top of things. If I work at these things for an hour each day I should stay more on top of things and not be surprised with approaching deadlines and hundreds of comments to check.
What systems have you put in place to keep yourself organized? Have they helped?
A huge “thank you!” goes out to all of you who came to visit me during the Portland Open Studios Tour. I met a lot of amazing people, made some important contacts, had fun doing demos, and generally had a blast! I even had a journalist from The Bee interview me and take my picture for a bit about the tour and the local artists in the inner SE area. Read the full article HERE.
I hope you all had just as much fun on the tour as I did, and I hope to see you all again if I’m included in the tour next year!
I’m excited to announce that I just reserved my spot in the upcoming First Thursday Street Galleries! For those of you that don’t know, First Thursday happens on the first Thursday of the month and is when the galleries of the Pearl district have art receptions and stay open later into the evening. This makes for a great art viewing, wine drinking, gallery hopping night in Portland. The street gallery is exactly that: a gallery in the street that happens on First Thursday. They close off three blocks in NW Portland on 13th street between Hoyt and Kearney from 5 to 10 pm and local vendors with handmade and original artwork sell their work to the gallery hopping crowd.
The street gallery happens the first Thursday of every month from April until November. I will probably not be set up for April because I thought it would be wise to attend as a patron so I could observe how people set up their spaces and displayed their work to get ideas. However, I plan to be there every First Thursday from May until November, so if you’ve ever wanted a chance to browse all my paintings in person and bring one home for yourself this would be the venue to do it! My booth will be on the corner of 13th and Johnson by the PNCA building on the east side. Hope to see people there when the weather gets nice!
Hi folks! A lot has been going on around here which hasn’t left me much time to blog. This year seems to be the year of change, opportunities, and sales. First the change. I am leaving my long term gallery, the Love Art!, due to financial reasons. I’ve loved working with them over the year, and have enjoyed being a part of their wonderful artist family, but I simply can’t afford to stay. This means that at the end of the month I’ll be hunting for another gallery, which can be stressful with all the rejection that comes along with it.
On a happier note I had my first sale at a show during the Big 200 where I sold all four of my pieces before I even got to the reception (yay!). I was also in talks to sell the licensing rights of several of my paintings to Crate a Barrel for a line of art work, but they declined at the end saying they liked my work but already had something similar. That crushing blow was softened when on the exact day I found out Crate and Barrel said no I got the news that all three of those same paintings I was trying to license were sold on Etsy! (My first Etsy sale!) I just shipped off that batch of paintings to it’s new owner yesterday and was feeling good when I realized that I wasn’t excepted into a show I applied for and was excited about. So, it’s been a month of firsts, disappointments, and emotional highs. No wonder I ended up with a migraine last week…
Another big high was the reception for the “Come to Your Senses” show at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. It was an amazing reception, a beautiful show, and a great crowd of people. Thank you to all my friends and family that showed up to support me, and if you wanted to see the show but were unable to come the show will still be up until the end of March. A HUGE thank you goes to Kelly Williams for curating the show and working so hard to make sure it was fantastic.
I’ve been trying to be more involved in the local arts community this year. I’m now an active member of the International Encaustic Artists Portland chapter and went to my first chapter meeting which was great. There’s nothing quite like potluck, wine, art, and artist shop talk. Last month I also went to my first Portland Urban Sketchers sketch crawl, which was a lot of fun but very cold. It’s been really good to connect to other artists and socialize. Usually I’m so isolated in my little basement studio, so I’m trying to make a change this year and not be such a hermit.
Looks like it’s going to be a busy year!
I don’t always make New Year’s resolutions, but when I do I try to think outside the box and go beyond the common “eat well and exercise” (which really I should be doing anyway). I try to think of something new to add to my life, or a bad habit I want to change. Over my winter vacation, which I spent in Oklahoma visiting my family, I had a sudden surge of inspiration about my resolution. At about 3 o’clock in the morning. I realized that I don’t utilize my sketchbook as much as I probably should, and that working in my sketchbook on a regular basis as part of a resolution might not only improve my art but my mental health as well. I’ve always been a terribly journal keeper, putting off so many entries that it would take a whole day to catch up on what happened. Writing down what I did that day is boring to me, and usually boring to read later, but sometimes it is helpful for me to write down ideas I have so that I can work them out and see the big picture. Of course some days I don’t feel like writing and just want to doodle, sketch, make lists or brainstorm ideas. I’ve kept my sketchbook narrowly focused on perfect pen drawings that are used for later paintings, and haven’t really explored new ideas, mediums, or allowed my sketchbook to get messy. I’m not really even sketching in it.
When I was student teaching in the Woodburn High School the IB students had to keep sketchbooks that related to their artistic theme. They were supposed to use their sketchbooks to work out ideas, do research, paste flyers from art shows, write about their artwork and lives, and draw. The sketchbooks were graded and were actually a huge part of their score in the class. Looking at my timid attempts in my sketchbook now I would probably fail. I’m not pushing myself or my art with my book.
Another inspiration for instituting a new sketchbook practice is Summer Pierre who wrote this interesting piece about her journal practice for the Huffington Post. She pours her life into her sketchbook/journals and creates some amazing artwork in the process. Thinking about sketchbooks I remember how I once checked out a published version of Frida Kahlo’s diary/sketchbook for a project. While I didn’t have much time to go through it all, what struck me was how different her wild sketches were from her careful paintings and how much she wrote in them. I think that reading published sketchbooks from famous artists will help me broaden my sketchbook practice and push myself to try new things.
This last year has been incredibly hard for me, what with my career path taking a sudden and probably permanent detour away from teaching and into the confusing, wonderful, but sometimes overwhelming world of art. Often times I don’t know what to do next, and many days I feel like a failure. It’s hard to wake up each day and get out of bed knowing you aren’t going to make any money today, and probably won’t make any money for a long time, that you might never “make it big”, that many of your friends and family don’t take what you do seriously, and that no one would ever know if you just crawled back into bed. Don’t get me wrong I love what I’m doing, but it’s been a hard transition from the heavily regulated, scheduled, world of teaching to the more flexible and open ended world of art. Many times I can go a whole week without talking to anyone but my husband, and there are only so many times that poor man can hear me complain about how hard my day was after he’s dealt with crazy teenage girls all day. My point is, maybe a journal/sketchbook can help me work through some of my anxiety/confusion/fears without exploding hot-molten-crazy all over people. At this point it’s either journaling or therapy and a sketchbook is cheaper. Already I’ve been bad about finding time to sketch/journal, but I think if I schedule it in like brushing my teeth it will become easier over time. I’ll try to occasionally post pictures from my sketchbook and update on how this experiment is going.
Happy New Year and here’s hoping 2012 is our best year yet! (It better be cause it’s our last year right? 🙂
Feel free to leave a comment with your New Year’s Resolution below. I’d love to hear what other people are working on this year.
Peace! Chantel Greene
Before I start into my blog post I thought I’d give some description about what encaustic medium is and what I use it for. Encaustic medium is just the beeswax mixed with damar resin, so it’s clear or slightly yellow depending on the type of wax. I use it as the first couple of coats on my boards to create a blank background I can scrape back to, to dilute my colored wax to varying layers of translucency, and as a collage medium. Most encaustic artists I’ve talked to mix their own medium because it’s cheaper than buying it pre-mixed and it’s supposed to be very easy to mix yourself. Then, if you want to make your own colored wax you simply add pigment powder to your encaustic medium.
Since Art Media, a small local art store where I’ve always bought my supplies, has been bought out by Blick which is a national chain, I’ve started making changes in where I buy my materials and thinking about I support local businesses. My goal is to buy local beeswax to mix my own medium and pigments, and recycle wood scraps from lumber stores as my boards. I bought a pound of beeswax at my local Portland Homestead Supply Co, a bag of damar resin crystals at Art Media before it was bought out, and some mixing supplies at the Goodwill, Micheal’s craft store, and True Value Hardware. I was ready to make medium.
My supply list:
- 1 pound beeswax
- 1 bag damar resin
- digital food scale (any small scale will do)
- silicone brownie tray (muffin tins are good too, but silicone ones are easiest)
- non-iron pot with pour spouts
- wooden spoon
- hammer or mallet
- ziploc bag
My encaustic books say that a good ratio is 8 parts beeswax to 1 part resin. Since I had a pound of wax I only needed 2 ounces of resin. Here is what the resin looks like:
The resin crystals still have bits of tree and plant debris in them and they’re pretty large to melt in the pot, so after weighing 2 ounces of crystals on my scale I put them into a ziploc bag, covered it with a cloth, and hammered the crystals into a powder. This makes it easier to pick out the large pieces of plant debris and the resin melts faster. Don’t worry about small pieces of dirt or debris, I took care of that at the end.
After the resin was crushed into a powder I realized I needed to break up the beeswax as well since it was still in a big block. I’ve heard that it’s easiest to break beeswax if you stick it in the freezer for a while first to make it brittle. I only put it in the freezer for a short time but it still helped a lot. It would have been easier to break it with a chisel and hammer but I didn’t have one so I used a screwdriver as a chisel and tried to shatter the wax with my hammer. It kinda went shooting everywhere into little pieces when I whacked it, so I have to come up with a better plan in the future.
Once the beeswax was broken into more manageable pieces I put them into the pot and turned the burner setting to medium. Beeswax melts at 150°F but damar melts at 225°F so I had to try and get the temperature up to 225 before I added the powder. The beeswax melted rather quickly but the thermometer was reading low for a while even though the wax was boiling, and I also had trouble with my wooden spoon creating a bubbling froth as it released gas while absorbing the wax (maybe I need a more accurate thermometer and a metal spoon). When the temperature was close to 225°F I added the resin powder and stirred thoroughly until I thought the resin had dissolved into the wax, then I turned down the temperature but kept stirring a little longer as it cooled.
Once everything was melted and mixed I poured the hot liquid medium into my silicone brownie tray. This is where things got messy. Instead of pouring neatly into the tray, the medium ran down the side of the pot and made it hard to direct it into the right molds. It kind of went everywhere and overflowed some of the molds. I tried to tilt the tray to get the medium into the empty squares, but that was tricky and there was actually too much medium for the tray to hold. It…went…EVERYWHERE!!! I had laid paper towels underneath the tray to catch small drips but the medium glued them down the counter and hardened. There was medium on the stove, all over the counter, I think I even got some on the floor. Luckily wax can be scraped off and reheated with air guns, so I think I’ve cleaned up all the wax by now.
I let the medium cool in the tray and when it hardened the color was more opaque.
After it was cool I simply popped them out of the tray (this is why silicone is the easiest).
While the medium was still liquid the small bits of debris settled to the bottom of the molds. When I turned them upside down I could see all the bits of dirt in the wax. Some people melt the bottom of the pieces on a griddle and wipe it off, but I decided to scrape it off with a tool, collect all the scraped off bits into a ball, then remelt the ball into a small square and scrape off the bottom one last time.
So that’s how you medium and destroy your kitchen. In the future I think I’ll do this in my studio where I can make a bigger mess. All in all though I consider it a success because I now have a pound of locally purchased and cheaply made medium for me to paint with. I’m going to experiment with bleaching it using the sun, so stay tuned!
I’m always interested in artist’s processes and getting a sneak peak behind the scenes. I like to learn how they think, see how they prepare for a piece, and where they draw their inspiration from. This is part of the reason I love going to the Portland Open Studios so much, and why I love to look at artist’s sketchbooks. I thought I’d give you guys a look at how I develop some of my paintings.
I posted a blog earlier about how I like to go on research walks when I’m feeling stuck for ideas. Recently on a quick research/head clearing walk I grabbed some seed pods to take home and draw. I tend to pick up things that catch my eye in some way and it isn’t until later that I begin to think about how to incorporate it into a painting. This time I picked up some Honesty Pods (isn’t that a great name?) and made a detailed ink drawing of the papery pods.
Sometimes I’ll do some quick sketches with pencil and work up to a more detailed ink drawing, but other times I get impatient and start with a pen right away. If the drawing is going well I continue, otherwise I make a couple drafts until I’m satisfied. Here are some pictures of the finished sketch with the pods.
Once I’ve got a sketch that I’m happy with I’ll tape a piece of Japanese tissue paper onto the drawing and trace the basic outline. I have to add all the crosshatching to the tissue when it’s taped onto a blank piece of paper because the ink bleeds through the thin tissue and can ruin a sketch. When I’m done transferring the drawing onto the tissue I can imbed the drawing the wax. The tissue absorbs the wax and becomes invisible appearing to leave the drawing suspended in the layers. This is my favorite technique because it allows me to incorporate detailed drawings in my paintings, and encaustic is a medium that is hard to get a lot of detail with. Below are some of the paintings that I’ve used the sketch for. I actually traced the entire drawing, then cut it into two pieces and made two small paintings that could be hung separately or as a set. It’s also a nice technique because each painting includes a drawing that was done entirely by hand, not printed or photocopied, so each one is slightly different and unique. Hope you enjoyed you look behind the scenes.