Getting Back On Track After A Long Hiatus

"Seeing," from my Artist's Journal

“Seeing,” an image from an old journal of mine

For the last three years, I’ve been working on a memoir that I knew, if nothing else, would be the basis of healing a life I sometimes thought was terribly broken. In doing so I left my visual work in painting and collage on the sidelines so that I could concentrate on the writing.

The journals that I’ve been keeping for years became an important part of the writing process that pulled up old memories. As I wrote about my relationship with my mother, and went back into those notebooks I was surprised by the visual journal entries I had made and had an itch to do more of these colorful entries.

But the words I needed for my book flew thick and fast and I had little time to pull out the paint, the glue sticks, and the stack of old magazines and other stuff I needed to work with. Some of those things were still packed away from our move in 2010. It seemed too complicated to go looking for them.

When my memoir went to my copy editor, I decided to start painting again. But the thought of smearing paint on a large canvas was daunting. I was so out of practice, I had no idea where to start.

With the thought of a small visual journal on my mind I began puttering around, looking for the perfect notebook, opening up old jars of acrylic paint that were mostly dried up, and saving bits of interesting pieces of paper.

I began cutting out words and images from worn out books, magazines and junk mail. I bought new paint, retrieved the old hand stamps I’d carved eons ago, with their dried up ink pads. I found a variety of sketch pads that I liked and added some new pens of various colors. I cleared off a good sized section of my work table that was covered with stacks of papers that needed filing and moved the boxes of encaustic paints I’d been working with prior to deciding to write a book, over to the side.

I put out the new paint, the sketchpads, the scissors, and glue sticks. For weeks I just stared at it all, wondering which sketch pad to use and where to start. Suddenly I didn’t like the paint colors I’d bought and whenever I was struck with an idea that got me excited, something came up that needed my attention. Of course those enticing images in my head were swept away in the tide of work I thought I had to attend to before I could allow myself to play.

Desperate and needing help to get started, I signed up for Lisa Sonora’s, on-line video workshop, Dreaming on Paper. Because I am an artist I felt shame for not being able to get going on my own. In my head a smart-ass voice kept asking, “What happened? Did you forget how to make art, dumbhead? That’ll teach you to go off and write a stupid book!”

Turning my practical, structured, and sometimes intolerant left brain switch to off, I watched Lisa’s first video, put on some classical guitar music, sat down at my work table and began. Oh how freeing it was to just smear paint around on the pages of a sketch pad … and get this, at Lisa’s suggestion, I started in the middle of the pad, rather than at the beginning. I began flipping through a few magazines lying around and tore out words that resonated with me. They seemed to come out of nowhere, and the first ones fell together by themselves: Where My Heart Is. From there it was a piece of cake without all the rich, fattening calories. I let it sit for a few days, went back to it and played around some more. I started using my hand stamps and writing whatever came to mind.

And guess what? There it was!

IMG_1548 (1)

It is not be the most beautiful or astonishing piece of art I’ve ever put together, but I’m getting back on track. Lisa Sonora’s video series is artful, helpful, and inspiring. Hopefully, I’ll turn this work into a practice giving words and images their due together in journal form.

Have you ever put work aside that you had difficulty getting back to later? What did you do to begin again?

Saying It Out Loud

“Seeing,” from my Artist’s Journal

I’ve written a guest post on my daughter’s blog, Sacred Circle.  It’s about my way of making  my intentions known, my Artist’s Journal, and the summer writing camp I’ve been attending.

I hope you enjoy!

The Gift

Encaustic painting, 6 1/4″ x 7 1/2″, September, 2012

I‘ve been given a much-needed gift. Sometimes when you give a gift to someone, it also becomes a gift to others. Today I’m feeling like one of the others. I’ve been away, am tired, have missed yoga and really wanted there to be a class today. I’m still in catch up mode after my return last Tuesday from Vermont and have been feeling pinched for time, rushed and growling a lot.

Yoga class was cancelled this morning because my teacher is away.  She is up in New York City where she gifted her son who just graduated from high school to a weekend on the town.  In late August he’ll be going off to college, and I’m sure his single mom will be missing the dickens out of him when he goes off into the big, wide world.  She’ll become an empty-nester and oh, I remember those days.

There is also the fact that I’m hating that it’s an election year. The phone rings with political updates that are recorded and I’m unable to verbally attack those who are bothering me in the privacy of my own home even though I’ve told them in the past to put me on the do not call list. And as November nears, the phone will be ringing off the hook. Oh yes, I have Caller ID but someone has figured out ways to get me to pick up the phone without saying who they are.  I don’t watch a lot of TV but whenever I turn it on to hear a little bit of news, the air waves are flooded with political attack ads and pols expressing their disdain for all of the political actions that the presidential candidates are taking.  Pretty soon when President Obama brushes his pearly whites, that too will become a political act.  As Rodney King, who sadly died this weekend, once asked, “ Can’t we just get along?”

Then there is the firing of Teresa Sullivan last week, President of the University of Virginia, which as the crow flies is maybe a tenth of a mile from my home.  The way in which Dr. Sullivan, a brilliant, enormously popular and upstanding woman has been treated by the Board of Governors of the University is horrific. As far as I’m concerned this is one of the most heinous acts an institution of higher learning has ever taken. I’ll not go into the details here but if you want to know about it, just check it out on face book, twitter, or google.  It’s been on the front pages of the Washington Post and I pray it goes viral to every newspaper and television station in the country.

Last night after a weekend visit from a very dear friend, which I enjoyed immensely, I kind of lost it.  This weeks calendar looks like the list from hell and I’m tired, disgusted and haven’t had time to write.  My muse, sits in the corner, ignored and feeling abandoned. The idea of being able to add to my memoir has flown out the window and now I suddenly have the urge to throw paint at a blank canvas, really hard,  something I haven’t done in way too long. Throwing paint along with writing rants like this always helps to calm my spirit and brings me back to myself.

So Barb, I just want to say a big thank you for the gift of no class today.  It’s given me time I wouldn’t have otherwise had to wake up more slowly, to listen to the rain and the birds singing outside and to write a rant.  Later today I hope to throw some paint, but then again it might have to wait until later in the week. In the mean time, I feel blessed, much better and I hope you had a fantastic visit to the Big Apple.  See you on Friday.

Much love, Joan

Taking A Time Out

Weeping Cherry

I love the quote that Tiferet Journal posted on Facebook today:

“Stop the words now.
Open the window in the center of your chest & let the spirits fly in & out. “

I’m taking this to heart.  I’ve hit a wall in my writing and it’s time for me to take a little break from being so OCD about it.  This week and maybe even next week, I’m taking a break.  The weather here is supposed to be spectacular with temps in the mid-seventies. Sounds like gardening weather to me.  Everything that usually blooms much later in the spring is blooming here now, including magnolia, forsythia, daffodils, crocus, snow drops, cherry trees and pears.  I’m going to clean up what the winter rendered dead, prune and reshape straggling shrubs, get my hands dirty and play with my plants.

I also plan on making art.  The encaustics have been calling my name for several weeks now and I’ve been ignoring them, believing that writing was all I could handle. Not true!  Without some balance in my life, everything comes to a screeching halt.

And finally, being the introvert that I am, I realize I shut myself off in my studio way too much.  Tomorrow I’m having lunch with a friend.  Not only are the windows in my house open letting the promise of spring spirits fly through.  I’m opening the big window in my heart and coming alive.

Encaustic Work

Untitled Encaustic Painting, copyright Joan Z. Rough 2011

Home again and almost caught up with all that I’ve been ignoring since I left. Unfortunately we’ve had no rain for well over a week and the garden is calling for lots of attention.  I’ve chosen drought tolerant plants for the most part and that does make things a bit easier.  I’m having a rain barrel installed next week so that should make it even better.  That is if we ever get more rain.

I promised some of you that I’d post photos of the encaustic work I did over Memorial Day weekend at the workshop I attended at BookWorks in Asheville, North Carolina.  It was a fantastic  weekend and I’ve found myself very excited by the technique and the possibilities it holds.  I’m planning on getting to work with lots of experiments in the days to come once I finally gather the equipment and materials I need.

Encaustic is an ancient technique using beeswax melted and mixed with Damar Resin to create the medium or paint.  Dry pigments or oil paint is then added to create the colors one desires and the paint is then applied to an absorbent ground, such as wood, cloth or paper.  The wax mixture is allowed to harden slightly and is then fused to the ground material using a heat gun, iron or blow torch.  More layers of paint can be applied as well as found objects, like paper, shells and trinkets of all kinds.  For me it is all about layering, texture, collaging …. almost what ever I want to do.

The piece pictured above was my first and started with a layer of red medium, over which I applied a number of layers of differing colors including white, blue, green and yellow. Once the paint had hardened I began scraping it away revealing bits of the colors that had been applied before the final coat.  I spotted a blob of wax at on the table where the wax had dripped as I had applied it to the board.  I pulled it up off the table, fused it in the center of the scraped painting and there, above is the final result.

The next piece is actually a spontaneous collaboration between by myself and my wonderful teacher Celia Gray.  She had been layering colors on a board inspired by the work of another artist as shown in a book on encaustics that I had brought along.   Near the end of the class on the final day another student in the class needed an extra piece of wood to work on.  Celia softened the wax on the board she’d been using with a blow torch, called me over and suggested I start using the layers she was about to scrape away to making the board available for the other student.  As she scraped, the warm medium came away in thick, rippled ribbons of color which I picked up and began applying to a board I’d just started with a layer of white paint.  I pressed them down on to the board and then curled the remaining ribbons into rolls and placed them down the center of the piece.  The result is pictured below.

My next experiments will be with collage.  I’ll keep you posted as I go along!

Close-up of untitled encaustic, a collaboration with Celia Gray, May, 2011