material as my guide

I once heard a presentation by Benjamin Zander and was inspired by his belief that there are untapped possibilities and connections in people. He sees his mission as someone who awakens possibilities in others. I must say he was quite convincing in his way of engaging, drawing the audience into his world, which is classical music. He has been the Boston Philharmonic conductor and his passion for classical music brought him to share it with others by inviting them to open themselves up to experience classical music, to let it pour in and to feel it. He made the spectator an actor of their own experience and it seems to me that is the way to tap into to new possibilities to make new connections. Being open, receptive is very much part of my creative process. It is through encounters of various kind that I learn to tap into new possibilities, create new connections.

I am reminded that it sometimes happens in many small ways. The seemingly casual and ordinary act of choosing and picking up a certain material can be the start of an encounter where the material becomes my guide.

I have had a few such encounter. One was with a paper that I brought back from Mexico. I had seen a show in Zacatecas, Mexico where Amate paper or bark paper was used. I liked what I saw so I went to the museum shop and asked with the Spanish I have where I could find it. I was directed to an art supply shop and bought several sheet of bark paper. That was 3 years ago. This spring I decided to give this paper a try for encaustic monotype.

Embarked on the Sea

Embarked on the Sea

I quickly found out that with this paper, I was to take a step back and let it be the conductor if I wanted the whole process to work. I had to find a way to cooperate with the strongly textured nature of this paper, to make it work with me. So I decided to make it part of my pieces. The dark unbleached pieces of bark became elements of the seascapes.

Seascape II

Seascape II

They became elements in the ocean in the piece above and the contours of the clouds/horizon in this painting.

I also found out that reworking a piece the way I sometimes do was not a given with this paper. Once the encaustic paint lands on this paper, it stays there. It won’t be rubbed, moved or blended. Paint can be added on top, in very small quantity, and it stays on the surface as the fiber is already thoroughly saturated from the first monotype. I find it is a paper that lends itself to be minimally handled and I learned to respect that and appreciate it.

Tree of Life serie

Tree of Life Serie - untitled

With amate paper, I also learned to do most of the work on the plate, where I can play up textures by juxtaposing brushed paint and oil pastels (red textured lines). Both get picked up and layered and intertwined. In this case, I was able to use pencil marks and to use plain medium for adding translucent shapes that feel substantial enough but also unobtrusive. With the light touch of plain medium I felt unburdened by adding more color and also like I was respecting the beautiful texture of the amate paper by not overpowering it. It seemed appropriate to let the woodsy fiber be part of the piece, a piece inspired by a tree. It is a material that indeed taught me to treat it for what it was, to play with its unique qualities, to connect with it. It did serve as guide, a conduit that allowed me to connect with my subject, a tree, and to honor both subject and inspiration.

I have had such an experience where material and inspiration connect while making my own encaustic paint. I found in my stash a prussian blue pigment I had bought a few years back in Montreal at Kama Pigments. I gave it a try, using all the appropriate safety precautions (mask, gloves) and added it to the encaustic medium. What I found out is that without the oil to act as binder, the pigment tends to float in the medium, staying rather gritty. It happens to have been a happy accident and discovery, as I was working on seascapes. To have an element resembling sand seems so appropriate for a seascape like this one below!

Sea Burst

Sea Burst

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