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Monday, July 25, 2016

Rebecca Crowell's New Book on Cold Wax

 Friends, my work has been included in this new book on Cold Wax Medium and to help Rebecca and Jerry get the word out I thought I'd share the back story on their collaboration. I'm excited to see their dream come to fruition and I know some of you will want a copy of the book.

Here's one of my cold wax pieces, although not the one in the book.



  the back story


This has been an astonishing week for Jerry McLaughlin and me. Just last Tuesday, we launched the crowdfunding campaign for our upcoming book, Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts &Conversations.  Yesterday the funding reached $30,000, exceeding our goal and our highest expectations. The majority of the advanced copy books we offer have been claimed, the workshops that Jerry and I will teach in May filled quickly, and we have received wonderful contributions from 17 countries. The clear message we hear is that many artists are very excited about our project. They are not only eager to receive copies of the book as soon as possible, but many are also offering generous outright donations and high levels of support. To be surrounded by such affirmation, appreciation, and confidence in the outcome of our book is a beautiful thing. 

Our crowdfunding campaign continues, with additional funds earmarked to help with our distribution and retail pricing. Please click here to join in the effort. There are still advanced copies and signed copies of the book available as perks. Thank you, and thanks to all who have already joined the campaign!!



As we reach the last stages of publishing, I've been thinking back about the events that have evolved over time and culminated in this book. The idea took root in my own art practice, but the right partner and collaborator was necessary for it to grow. 

The story begins when I bought my first jar of cold wax medium in early 2002 at the suggestion of one of the helpful salespeople at Wet Paint in St. Paul, Minnesota. When I think of all the changes in my work and my life that came from that one impulsive purchase, I'm amazed. But from the start, I found that cold wax medium suited what I was after in my work. I’d just begun to find my way with abstraction, following an artist residency I’d had in Spain that fall, and in those first explorations with cold wax, I gained much firmer footing in my personal direction. The landscape-inspired color fields and textures that I had been rendering with straight oil paint now emerged organically from the process itself, due to the body of the wax and paint mixture. It was an intriguing alignment of materials, process and ideas.


Garden, 2004, 40"x24" 

Over the next few years, I experimented and came up with many techniques that involved brayers, squeegees, palette knives, imprints from textural objects, powdered pigments, and pigment sticks. I found that intricate effects were possible when digging back into my built-up layers with scraping and solvents. Through practice I began to notice how certain techniques worked best at certain stages of the paint surface’s drying, and developed patience for working at those optimal times.


my cold wax tools

For a number of years, cold wax was simply a part of my process, an ingredient in all of these explorations, but fairly unremarkable in itself. Then in 2009, Kathryn Bevier invited me to teach a workshop in Rochester, NY. The subject of the class was up to me, and I was casting around for an idea when a friend said, “why not teach about that wax that you use?” I dug back through some notes I had made in my sketchbook, and came up with enough information (barely) for a two day class.

If anyone had tried to tell me then that within seven years I would have a national and international teaching practice, or that I’d be co-authoring a 300+page book on the topic, I'd have laughed. But even in that first workshop, the excitement of the artists in the class, and their immediate engagement with the process was clear, and I was encouraged to continue. It wasn't long before I was teaching 10-12 workshops a year, and in 2012 I taught my first overseas class, at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo, Ireland. Since then, I've also taught in Italy and Sweden, and have had artists in my class from those countries and from Brazil, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, France, Denmark, and Spain. 


teaching in Ireland/ photo:June Durkin

Teaching has never been only a one-way process for me. Cold wax medium invites experimentation; most people who work with it come up with ideas and applications that suit their own needs, and are generous in sharing. Following my early workshops, the community of artists working with cold wax medium began to grow rapidly through online contacts (including facebook, and a website and discussion forum that I started in 2009.) Artists who had been using cold wax on their own for years also entered the conversation. Over the past few years, cold wax topics discussed online have become wide ranging and internationally based. Many artists are now teaching workshops and broadening the base of knowledge. Through the curiosity and dedication of thousands of involved artists, cold wax medium has evolved into a hot topic.

From the earliest days of my workshops, artists were suggesting that I could, or more urgently, should write a book on the subject. But while I enjoy writing about art and my studio practice in my blog, a book about cold wax medium seemed like an entirely different, and not very appealing, project. I was unable to envision it as much more than a how-to book, which seemed to me a tedious sort of writing. I did have a book in mind that I wanted to write someday, but it would mainly concern broader ideas about painting. So although the seed of a book focused on cold wax medium took root early on, it remained for years a tiny, badly nurtured seedling. (In fact, I kind of hoped the poor thing would die.)

This was my attitude when Jerry first contacted me with the idea of collaborating on a cold wax book. My response could not be called enthusiastic, but I agreed to hear him out. Fortunately, he is a persistent and persuasive person in all the best ways, and eventually, in February of 2015, we met in person to discuss the idea. That day, we talked for almost ten hours, and my skeptical outlook shifted. During this in-depth conversation, I was able to clearly see new and exciting possibilities for the book. Jerry’s vision was broad, and together we discussed how to include our shared passion for the bigger issues. We agreed from the start that the “why” of cold wax and art practices in general should carry weight equal to the “how.” 

In discussing our roles for the book, it was important to me that Jerry be the sole curator of the artists and images that we would publish in the book. There was no way I wanted to select and reject from among my many friends and students in the cold wax community. The prospect of doing this in the past had been another factor that stalled me from writing a cold wax book on my own. 

Jerry’s passion for the topic, his energy, research, and willingness to track down and communicate with artists from around the country and the globe has made this book a reality. I am forever grateful for his persistence and vision.




In a few weeks, I will join Jerry in Oakland, CA for the final stages of approving the book text and layout, and shortly after that, Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts, & Conversations will be off to the printer.  We have been working on it for over a year and a half now, and it has been a deep and engaging (and sometimes, exhausting) process. Just as teaching is not a one-way learning experience, working on the book has taught us a great deal--we've learned from each other (click here for an earlier blog post about our collaboration), from Jerry's considerable research, and from the many artists who have contributed images and ideas. 

We sincerely hope the book fills the high expectations that surround it and that the cold wax conversation will expand and grow as the result of its publication. Cheers!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The June Garden


I shot a few photos out in the garden for you.
Some things are coming on but it's still pretty quiet.


It's almost time to harvest blueberries.
The plants are finally big; taller than I am and loaded this year.


Broccoli is being eaten at nearly every meal.


It's ginger and garlic stir fry tonight with rice.


Knee high corn.


Dahlias. John's been planting big pots of flowers. 
I'll save those for another post.


Taters and little daisies along the path.


Favas. Mmm.
With onion and olive oil.


And kale.


The lettuces are going to seed; the weather finally turned summery.


Loosestrife. (oops, it's Veronica!) I love this flower.


And of course calendulas. You only need to plant them once.


An overview showing the supports and a sliver of sunset.


And the awesome gardener with his prizes.

Lemon 25x28 on canvas

I've been spending long hours in the studio.

Wine 19.5x25 on paper

Yellow Bicycle 24x24 on wood panel

Summer Rain 24x24 on wood panel

I can see great progress since starting to paint abstracts four years ago.

Mary Kay Cadillac 24x24 on wood panel

The best part is that I have more successes than failures now.

Black Eyed Peas 24x24x1.5 on stretched canvas


Strawberry Moon 24x24x 1.5 on stretched canvas
That's all the news for now, folks. Hope your summer (or winter for those down under) is going well.
Back to the studio now for me! 

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Summer, Arizona, Amsterdam


June. My favorite month. 


We've just finished 2 days of record heat and the garden loves that.
Tonight I shell and peel more fava beans.
I'll show you the veggies in a later post.
But cabbage! Broccoli! Yeah!


My daughter Shellie and I took a trip down to Arizona to see this guy and his people there.
Yo Nathan!


That was in May. I've been away from the blog for too long.


We also had a big tree keel over on a calm day. ha ha. Big event.


Fast forward several weeks. A trip to Amsterdam with a group of artists. We visited Rembrandt's house, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum as well as going on a canal cruise and eating amazing food together. 


Teaching with Katie Kendrick.
To this fabulous studio in the heart of the city.


Michelle had scouted out our excellent lodging and art studio convenient to the museums and all the best attractions. It was like finding ourselves in a fairytale.


This was my first visit to Amsterdam and I was thrilled and educated to be in a place so different than the U.S. We are fairly progressive in Portland but could learn so much from this remarkable city. My eyes were opened.


This is Katie and I in front of a Marlene Dumas painting at the Stedelijk Museum. She lives in Amsterdam. I wrote about her work last year when I saw her show in London.


Relaxing in the studio, drinking tea and being together.


Michelle's painty hands. Can we all relate?


Katie taught for 2 days and I did as well. She taught intuitive painting and I taught life drawing.


We were lucky enough to have a live model.


Our model was Claire and she was completely comfortable in her body; said that she believed she was beautiful on the inside as well as the outside. Seventy-eight years old and fully at ease with herself. 


Diligent study. Sacred moments.



Our group went on a 4 hour bike ride through the city and into the country.


Everybody rides bicycles in Amsterdam, from the orchestra conductor in his top hat and tails to the stiletto heeled young women to the elderly people working at their various occupations. It's always rush hour and there are hoards of bicycles sometimes four abreast on every street. Really, astonishing. They somehow manage to cooperate for the well being of each person sharing the roadways.


A great shot of Katie; canal, bike, this shouts Amsterdam.


One more group shot. We are wet but very happy.


Thank you to every person who has ever come with us on our trips to paint and share community. It is the thing I dream about at night - that I'm with my tribe, sleeping, eating, painting and sharing the things we love together. It's the best ... the best.

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Seedbed of the Journal and Spain in September


This is an old journal page. I've been thinking about how one gets from zero to finding one's personal language in paint. It can be a long and arduous journey but I think I've found some shortcuts and some ways to stay motivated. Right from my first nervous steps into non-representational painting, I experimented in my journal like the page above.


Another one from the archives. These are the pages that survived my enthusiastic culling. Some of the experiments ended in disappointment. These pages became backgrounds for writing or underpaintings for other work. So the ones I liked better became records of my search.


The ones I didn't like were gone as though they never existed. Nothing lost. No record of failure. In fact, no failure at all since I learned from every single effort.


I treasure each one of these early efforts and I can plainly see, only in hindsight, what they were leading to. Not that the work doesn't continue to evolve because it does. But I can see how these small (8x10") paintings led to the more confident work I'm doing today.


This is a detail from my most recent painting on canvas. I see everything in it that I saw in the earlier work. But I couldn't have reached this point without building the platform first in a safe place. You really will need to paint many paintings to develop work that looks like your own and not someone else's. It takes self knowledge. It takes time. It takes the courage to accept something that doesn't look like work you've seen somewhere else.

So here is where I tell you about Barcelona and Bordils, Spain. Because what I've been thinking about is the upcoming retreat in September that will take place in those locations.

We'll be spending 4 days in Barcelona at the Hotel Cram.



Four days in Barcelona! Yeah. I know. Picasso, Miro, Gaudi ... some of the best art museums and architecture in the world. With time left over to make our own art, collect souvenirs, be with a group of friends who love to share ideas and experiences.


Transportation will be provided to Bordils where we will do more sightseeing, more fabulous food eating and more journaling discovery in our 2nd Catalonian location.



Oh, and if you have a big travel budget, you could also join us in Can Serrat for the first leg of this exquisite journey where we will be painting BIG paintings on canvas. A glorious stretch and a place that could be the beginning of a new life for you as it was for me after I stayed there 3 years ago.

You can dream. We only go around once. More information on Painting Big in Can Serrat HERE. (oops. This one says it's full but there might be a waiting list)

And on the Journaling part of our trip to Spain HERE. You will have me and Katie Kendrick teaching at both locations and Kathie Vezzani guiding us to some of the best food in Europe.