Into the human realm

One of my very important starting point for my creative process is to be open. I keep myself open to possibilities. I try to be open to my surroundings and to what touches me. More often than not I am tuning in to nature and that’s reflected in my work. Earlier this year I turned my attention to the human realm when the Haiti earthquake struck. I let the devastation in and a serie emerged. It’s called “Departing Souls.”  It feels like a commemoration, bearing witness to lives lost. It feels like a process of honoring souls that are passing on.

Destruction – an unrecognizable landscape – a world that does not make sense to the survivors and witnesses

Departing Souls serie

Departing Souls serie

A world of great fear (“peur bleue” in French, literally “blue fear”)

Departing Souls serie

A world of suffering and pleas for help.

Departing souls serie

A world of countless lives lost.

Departing Souls serie

Latest finds in Arizona

I enjoy being in natural surroundings and draw many of my inspirations from nature. I always find something that speaks to me.

In my most recent travel to Arizona, two things emerged from my walking about and observing: a sotol plant with an old bloom by a boulder in Sedona, and the giant saguaros in Saguaro National park near Tucson. I did a few studies of both in encaustic.

Sotol & Boulder - Sedona, AZ

Sotol & Boulder - studies in encaustic

The shape of the sotol plant is a familiar one for me. And that’s why I was drawn to it. It reminds me of the agave, which has been part of my work for a few years now. Ever since finding an extraordinarily big agave within the grounds of the Rafael Coronel Museum (ex Convento San Francisco) in Zacatecas, Mexico, I have been working its shape in all manners I can think of! So working on the sotol&boulder theme was like paying a visit to an old friend.


While I find the size and stature of these giant cacti most impressive, it is the pattern of the folds, and the structure that I concentrated on. I found that making grooves into the paper before hand gave me some interesting etched lines.

Saguaro - studies in encaustic

saguaro - encaustic

Two Journeys- Photos of the installation and reception

Photo by The Encaustic Center

The Encaustic Center has posted a very nice slideshow of pictures for the installation of “Two Journeys,” for the opening reception and the demos. You can see more pictures by clicking on this photo and scrolling down to “images from the reception.” I very much enjoyed doing the demo and to be able to talk about how I work.

Image Gallery – Into the Horizon

You can view the pieces in the show “Two Journeys” at The Encaustic Center by clicking on this image. It will take you to my image gallery where you can find out information about each piece and see some in closer details.

Seascape V - detail

The opening reception is this Friday, November 20th from 6PM to 9PM.

There will be demos and discussions about materials and process from 7:30PM to 8:30PM

The show goes on until December 20th.

The Encaustic Center is open Fridays and Saturdays 10 AM to 4PM

or by appointment with Bonny at or 214-405-5993

“Into the Horizon” at The Encaustic Center



Two Journeys
Karen Chaussabel and Susan Sponsler
November 20 – December 20, 2009

Opening reception: Friday, November 20th, 6:00 to 9:00 pm

Karen Chaussabel
Into the Horizon
Born in France, Karen spent her childhood steeped in nature, aware and appreciative of her surroundings;
the connection endured, all the while moving to Canada, and now creating in Texas; her work speaks to those
landscapes and the process of integration and movement.
“This body of work represents a journey of exploration, both personal and artistic. The fluid quality of
monotyping with encaustic paint, is particularly suitable to embodying land and sea masses. The experience
of loosely brushing the paint onto a hot plate, having colors run into one another, blending and melding,
contributes to the feeling of exploration, of stepping a little further into those horizons as expansive
bodies of water and land emerge. Trust and respect of the process are at the heart of my creative journey.”
“I enjoy being in the process, engaged in a dialogue with my material. I find that through that dialogue,
my experience in art and life are enhanced. By letting materials be my guide, I get the unique opportunity
to grow and cultivate my creative voice. And exploring those new horizons through art has given me a familiarity
with them I did not have when I stood in their midst. That connection brought me to appreciate where I am”

Susan Sponsler
Yellow Work
Susan Sponsler was born in Seoul, Korea. She was adopted by American parents and arrived in the United States –
Iowa, specifically. Sponsler’s father, a Korean War veteran, and her mother went through the Holt agency to
adopt two babies – Susan and the two years later, a brother.
“The Yellow Work series consists of encaustic photo-based images related to my experiences as an Asian American
adoptee. My early dislike of the color yellow was closely entwined with my low self esteem as an Asian American.
From derogatory to powerful; naming ourselves Yellow now comes from the strength of our survival.”
“Yellow Work incorporates photos of myself along with items symbolizing Asia including, traditional Korean
language symbols, bamboo, the beautiful yellow leaf and other nature photos with yellow as the main focus.”
Sponsler’s work has been exhibited internationally – Seoul, South Korea, The US Embassy in Panama City and in
various cities in the US such as New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas, to name a few. She has a bachelor’s
degree in advertising and a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography from Texas Woman’s University.

Play on Words

I have a mixed media collage on paper piece at the Texas Federation of Fiber Artists show, Celebrating our Creative Spirit, at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. It’s called Play on Words

Play on Words

Play on Words

And this is its story:

“Play on word” embodies how I go about creating a piece: following my curiosity and trusting the process. It started off as an experiment. The initial idea was to brush medium gel on mulberry paper to render it transparent. It worked and when I tinted it with an ink wask , the gel medium acted a s a resist. Neat! Still, it felt like this was not a finished piece and that I needed to look further what to do with it. So I decided to see how I could play some more on the transparent effect and tried to use the mulberry piece as a layer on top of other pieces. It all came together when I laid this experiment on top of a thesaurus page that I had sketched on. It just all fit. It belonged together. I had to sneak a bit of cheese cloth thread in there for the final touch and that was that. After I finished collaging the layers, I realized that the thesaurus page contained the word “play.” One can see it through the translucent paper (top right – middle). This word indeed described both the process and the spirit of this piece. Playing with techniques, materials, words, letting them be my guide, is my way to explore and cultivate my creative voice.

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

Viewing the Working in Wax show

I went to the Working in Wax show at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek, CA last week. I wanted to see the show and my paintings in it. The photos I had seen looked quite promising and I found it to be indeed a very inspired and inspiring show. The gallery space is well designed and bathed innatural light. It is a beautifull space to visit and to have a show at. Eileen Goldenberg, the juror, filled that space with a very wide array of encaustic art and in doing so really suceeded in showing how “it gives us [artists] endless possibilities for expression.” There were works on board, on paper, on objects, some were painterly, some were sculptural, some were cast. There were some installation pieces too. My first and lasting impression of the show is about the diversity. To see such an array of materials, of approaches, dimensions, creative voice was quite inspiring and refreshing. It made being in this show, and being my first encaustic show, a truly special experience.

My encaustic monotypes at the Working in Wax show - Bedford Gallery

My encaustic monotypes at the Working in Wax show - The Bedford Gallery

The review in the East Bay Express offers examples and gets into some details about techniques used by some artists in the show:

Monotypes on different types of papers

Depending on which paper I use I get different results for my monotypes. Here are some examples from the demo at the Encaustic Center

Untitled - mullberry paper detail

Untitled - mullberry paper detail

On mullberry paper, the paints sinks immediately and, irremediably in the paper. I can add pencil and oil pastels marks, though the pastel tends to pick up the fine fiber of the paper and make it lint. There is no further moving of the paint around while on the hot plate, nor shading by rubbing with a paper towel… And that’s fine, when I want a pointilliste effect .


Untitled - tracing paper

With tracing paper, the paint absorption is reduced quite a bit and the paint swims on top. I can manipulate it a lot more. The paper towels can absorb a good amount of paint and thus reduce the paint layer, giving it more transparency. I can also wipe it away and leave marks, and textural effect (center blue “swish”, white lines). Where it gets fun for me on tracing paper is using oil pastels. The paper is so thin that the oil pastels melts quickly and gets creamy. It makes for stronger marks against the transparent surface.


Untitled -watercolor paper

Watercolor papers lends ithemseleves well to rubbing the paint. Rubbing the paint in reveals the texture and grain of the paper. It also helps me blend the colors further into each other and into the paper. I can do some shading and gate some gradient. I can also add shades in areas where there was no paint by using a little paint on the paper towel and lightly rub the paper.

Untitled- watercolor paper detail - etched lines

It’s also a paper strong enough to withstand vigourous rubing so that I can fill in the line I etched in the paper with the paint (horizon lines in this piece). I use the sharp tip of an awl (could be a nail, anything sharp) to make a groove in the paper before I put paint on the paper. I like this because when I rub the paint in, the line appears (usually but not always). I love that reveal process and the fine feathery line. It defnitely reminds me of my drypoint printmaking experiences. I would say that watercolor paper is my preferred material for this technique because its sturdiness lets me pick and choose the effects I can play with. I like a material, technique that offers possibilities. With that comes a sense of freedom to explore.

Encaustic Monotype – demo at The Encaustic Center

Last Friday, May 15, I was invited by Deanna Wood and Bonny Leibowiz, to do a demo for the grand opening of their joint endeavor: the Encaustic Center.

It was my first time working in front of so many people!!! It was intimidating. But, I am also happy I had the opportunity to show and talk a little about how I work. I used different types of paper ( tracing, water color, mullberry paper) to illustrate the variations of effect according to the type of surface used

This gives an idea of the set up:

– griddle set between 200F and warm

– pans of warm encaustic paint to the ready

– oil pastels, pencil for additional touches

Grand Opening - photo by The Encaustic Center

Grand Opening - photo by The Encaustic Center

I brushed on warm encaustic paint on the griddle and apply the paper on top. I do not use much pressure and work pretty quickly.

Grand Opening - photo by The Encaustic Center

Grand Opening - photo by The Encaustic Center