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Moreland Meadow 2020

(posted 09/11/2022)

In spring of 2020, when society contracted and we eliminated in-person gatherings, I started a habit of walking each morning at dawn before work. My job in data analysis was sitting at a computer for eight hours or more, so the walks really helped me mentally and physically feel energized each day. In every direction from my house there is beautiful scenery, since I’m lucky to live in a rural community. My route quickly became ingrained down a side gravel road with overhanging tree limbs that provided some pretty canopies as I approached.

What I loved most was catching glimpses of creatures I don’t usually see or hear. An occasional car would drive by, but often times it was just me on the road with busy birds, camouflaged rabbits, and the occasional running deer. One day I found this young orange newt crossing the road and so I helped him to the other side.

I vaguely remember watching for a solar eclipse over the tops of the trees once. I sometimes would see a cat crouched by the side of the meadow on his early morning hunt.

Early last year, I was devastated when tree cutting services swept down the road and cut many of the beautiful trees lining each side. On one walk, a little bird became very aggressive with me, swooping over my head several times. I can’t help but wonder if it thought I was what took down those trees. This year, some homes were built on the meadows of Moreland Road where I often stopped to snap photos of wildflowers, sunrises, morning mist, and dewy spider webs. Now the gravel road is paved, and I stopped the walks.

I am fairly certain the lot where my current home is was once a meadow or forest. I am not guilt-free of this encroachment on nature, but it has been very sad to experience the loss. What I do still have though are many photos I took on my strolls in 2020. Here are a few.

I made several encaustic art pieces from them and have sold a few. The ones in frames are my favorites, and I don’t plan to sell them. As I look at these and enjoy the beauty of the photos and the memories they hold, I can’t help but be grateful for this silver lining to the cloud that came over us in 2020.

Art History 101: Imposter Syndrome

(posted 05/26/2022)

I thought I’d share some of my history just to let you know where I’ve been. I think it also helps me close the chapters for good and continue forward into my next art phase. In my last blog I told the story of how I spent a lot of time in the art room in high school and why. The art teacher had suggested I could get a scholarship to Cleveland Institute of Art but I looked at him like he was crazy thinking my grades were too good to “waste” on art school. So, I was not intending on being an art major when I applied to Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. I wanted to be an art therapist. Looking back I clearly see I didn’t pick the right college, but at the time I had no clue how to pick the best school for my intended major. It was a good “liberal arts” college so I was assured no matter what I majored in I’d be guaranteed a career in whatever I wanted to do after I earned a Bachelor’s. I’m not sure if I was misled or had no common sense at the time, but that’s how I perceived my options. The campus was pretty, the tour guide seemed friendly, and they gave me hefty grants based on my grades. I was wait listed at Oberlin and Dickinson, so I accepted my fate and matriculated at Allegheny in the fall of 1988.

College was difficult for me to say the least. They expected me to show up early in the morning, do lots of reading, participate in class and spend hours studying. I will let you in on a secret, I didn’t do much of that in high school at all. I would study the night before tests since the teachers usually told us what would be on them. I did like to read a lot, but was more interested in Anne Rice and Stephen King novels than Immanuel Kant or Thomas Merton books. Then there was my new social life. I went from talking to literally two people in high school to having a nice group of friends in college based on our mutual love of loud keg parties and drinking any form of schnapps we could get our hands on.

At Allegheny I felt some support of my new friends, but did not have any connection with my advisor or my professors. I avoided them as much as possible, certainly because of the shame I felt in not attending classes and not doing well on tests. I had never struggled in school so I didn’t realize I should have reached out to them for help. I didn’t even know a tutor was an option. It did not improve either when I spoke with my advisor in the middle of my Freshman year and she said “Maybe Allegheny isn’t the place for you.” I’m still angry about that after all these years, but writing this does help get it off my chest. She was probably right, but she never offered me help or ways to improve my situation. I think that’s when I first developed my tendencies of imposter syndrome.

I spent the next three years feeling like I wasn’t good enough to be there. I went through some very tough emotional and financial struggles my junior year and considered dropping out after I failed an 8 am class I rarely attended – Geology. Quite honestly college was boring me too. It just seemed like work, and I was having too much fun with my new friends for that. With encouragement from my good friend and roommate, I decided to bite the bullet and take an extra course my senior year to finish my degree. By that time I had a few art courses under my belt including a multimedia class where I hand built this clay piece modeled after a glass bottle with candle wax dripping off the sides. It was about 18 inches tall.

I thought my choice of majors was between English and Studio Art based on the classes I had done well in and felt encouragement from the professors when I did show up and do the work. I learned to mix the clay and glazes and how to fire pieces in an enormous gas kiln. I can’t say I felt like an expert after those classes, but I knew I loved it and enjoyed the process more than anything else. Here is a piece I did in beginning ceramics course when we had to depict the fortune after opening a fortune cookie in class.

I never felt connected with the other art majors. They seemed weird to me ha ha. Now I realize I would have fit in perfectly with my own weirdness if I had just accepted my differences rather than try to hide them. I did not spend a lot of time at art events, but I do vividly recall when the art gallery receptionist bought a raku fired cup and saucer I had made. I was in shock since I had always given my pieces away for free to family and friends.

Here are a couple of the pieces that were part of my senior year project. Some lost soul broke off the points of the yellow triangles in the top piece, so I had to just go with it when I discovered the damage in the studio the next day. The platters are about 20 inches wide and I still have some of them.

That senior project was another experience that added to my imposter syndrome. We were supposed to find an artist that inspired our work and I had settled on Wassily Kandinsky. I read a little about his work and was inspired by the bold shapes, colors, and lines. His use of the abstract to transcend the physical world resonated with me. I was not able to convey this to the art history professor though – he quickly shot me down and said my work was no comparison to Kandinsky. True, but I don’t know where these professors come off being so mean to young people.

Fast forward to early 2000s when I enrolled in pottery courses at Lakeland Community College. Once again I was in my element spending hours in the studio each week. Throwing pottery was very fun and was something I was ok at, but never mastered it. I lacked a lot of the strength needed in my hands and it is very hard on your skin. Hand building came much easier to me. Here are some of the pieces I made at Lakeland. The teacher was very good, and I loved the classes. He showed us the technical nuances but let us run free with our own ideas and projects.

I have not done ceramics or pottery for roughly twenty years now. I don’t really miss it since I found encaustic to be very satisfying, inspiring, and full of possibilities. If you’ve read this far, thank you so much for your interest. I don’t spend too much of my time looking back, but I needed to chronicle and appreciate the learning experiences that brought me to where I am right now.

Heavy

(posted 05/19/2022)

I’m very pleased to announce that my encaustic piece “Heavy” has been accepted in to the 12th May Show at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio. The show runs from May 19 through July 15. Here’s a link to the Lakeland CC web site where you can see gallery hours along with the option to purchase the pieces in the show that are for sale.

Once in a while a piece will take on a life of its own, and that was really the case here! It began as a playful portrait sketch I did after watching Eschwan Winding create one of her beautiful figure drawings. I did the sketch with white pencil on a black background just to try something different. I liked it, but was not nearly satisfied – I continued to add some oil paint, then encaustic medium. I mounted it to a larger wood canvas, then covered it more encaustic medium, a crazy amount of texture, and then some panpastel matte and metallic pigments. Once the wax was slightly heated again, the oil based paint and pigments set in and became part of the medium.

“Heavy” by Rachel Rivas-Plata. Encaustic on Wood, 11″x14″ (2022)

The results incessantly interest me – the mysterious expression, various textures, bright orange hair against the dark, weathered background. There is also a subtle contrast between smooth and rough wax, and matte and metallic finishes seen as you move left or right of the piece. I deliberately compounded the 2 pieces of wood with the medium to seem as though they were one. She’s a bold and bright figure, and forever bound to some darkness and wounds, both physically and in her neutral gaze. 

I paid close attention to how the piece made me feel rather than how it looked as it progressed, which I find very interesting and gratifying. That signals to me that the art work transcended its physical state.

Here are some process photos and videos.

The initial sketch

The painting in process

After mounting to second wood canvas

Covering with encaustic medium

Texture in the cooled medium from brush strokes

“Heavy” by Rachel Rivas-Plata. Encaustic on Wood, 11″x14″ (2022)

The show at Lakeland’s Gallery in Kirtland, Ohio, runs through July 15, 2022.

The Jewelry and Some Old Scars

(posted 04/30/2022)

If you have seen my table set up at local events or looked at my Etsy shop, you will undoubtedly always see some beaded jewelry for sale. When I was in high school, the art room was my escape from being the target of some bullies who picked on us fat kids for sport. My teacher allowed me to go there during gatherings like lunch and study hall where I would otherwise mostly pretend I was reading a thick novel to avoid eye contact with anyone. As part of the art curriculum, I remember making a silver ring and a brass pin. I still have the pin, here’s a picture.

When cutting the metal for this piece, the blade slipped and I put a pretty big gash on the side of my finger. I desperately tried to hide the nonstop blood and avoid attention but was ultimately sent to the office where they dressed the wound (and I of course lied when asked if I had a tetanus shot ha ha!). I can barely see the scar anymore, but it’s there. The bullies are gone from my life thank God, but the mental scars never fully vanished either.

Fast forward to around 2010 when my daughter was a toddler. I was a stay-at-home-mom who quit work when she was born because I wanted to be the one to raise her. Even though I knew it was the best decision for me and her, I felt an enormous amount of guilt and shame for not “working.” That’s when I decided to go to the local craft store and purchase some jewelry making supplies so I could start blooming where I was planted at the time.

I created an LLC called Raeca Jewelry, using a combination of my name and my daughter’s, Camille. Well, not knowing much about the principles of business, I am sure I spent more money on supplies than necessary and it quickly became a hobby rather than a business. I created the Raeca Jewelry shop on Etsy, had business cards made, then sold a few items to family. A friend suggested I try selling it in person, but my anxiety about being in public (stemming from high school no doubt) always made me shudder at the thought. I ended up giving away most of what I made as gifts.

Fast forward to 2018 and beyond. By this time I had gravitated toward doing wall art work again and discovered a new medium called encaustic which is painting with a mixture of beeswax and tree resin. I closed the Raeca business and opened Wolf Pup Studio. My studio became filled with beeswax, heated tools, pastel pigments, brushes, and wood panels. In 2020, a great friend (and art buyer) introduced me to a lady hosting a local art event where I could set up a table outdoors. Up until that point, I had sold a few encaustic pieces through some local shops. Being my shy self, I figured there wouldn’t be many people at the sale due to the pandemic so I took the leap. Happy ending – I sold lots of my art and jewelry that day! And after attending a few more art markets over the past couple years, I’m much less anxious when selling in person.

My jewelry supplies are still on a shelf in my studio, and I pull them all out occasionally. I think I’ll always make time for the jewelry. It’s meditative and fun, and that’s simply why I still like to do it.

January Blues (and Reds and Yellows, etc.)

(posted 01/23/2022)

January is not one of my favorite times of year as a resident of the Snow Belt in Ohio. Cleaning up the holiday decorations, shoveling snow, and struggling to zip up my pants are just not very uplifting moments in my opinion. Observing nature has always been my respite for when I need a boost. A walk in the park, a drive down a country road, looking out the window at the birds or even just watching the snow drifting and falling as the sun rises brings a sense of wonder and excitement to my hibernating state.

I bought a nice digital camera many years ago. I also bought several books on how to use it but honestly never learned about all of its functions. I do like taking photos with it and manipulating them digitally, though. Photopea is an excellent, free web-based photo editor. Since I discovered it, I’ve used it dozens of times. Try it out if you are ever looking for basically a free version of Photoshop. It even has templates for creating banners for social media sites which is always a help when you need to create the best size image for those platforms.

Here are some examples of the types of changes I make to my photos. These pictures were taken from my kitchen window over the last few days. I keep my camera on the counter in case I see some interesting birds when I’m there. I cropped and slightly edited the photos, adjusting mostly size, hue and color saturation. The picture with the black and white bird had a branch in front of the bird’s head, so I used the clone tool to cover the branch with pieces of the surrounding image.

In the next example, I cropped the bird so it was in a more interesting position on the canvas. I also played with saturation and brightness to make it more appealing to my eye.

I plan to use these in encaustic pieces, so you’ll probably see them again in the future. Thanks for looking at one part of my artistic process!

I hope you enjoy the season in whatever way you can. I’ll continue to take photos from the window until the temperature is above freezing.

Time

(posted 12/28/2021)

2021 ended up being a really good year as far as my taking the leap to sell in person. I’m a card carrying introvert but the shows have given me wonderful experiences when I see how people react to my work. And, it’s the best feeling in the world when they hand over their hard earned dollars for what I create – Every sale sparks a celebration! Pictured below is a cyanotype encaustic (or what I call “suncaustic”) that sold at the holiday market a few weeks ago. I hope to never forget seeing the buyer’s excitement when he saw the piece and knew he wanted it.

I remember when I was in my twenties, feeling angst about my occupation in publishing and wanting to make a living at something that felt more in tune to who I am. Working for other people, you eventually realize you are serving their goals, not your own. I do have a day job in the tech field now (and love it), but I use the income and experience to serve my goals as well. I’m lucky enough to work with people who encourage me and appreciate my creativity, too.

As my beloved Dr. Phil once said, “The difference between a dream and a goal is a timeline and accountability.”

What is my goal? You will just have to stay tuned and I will tell you when I get there. For now, art work keeps me grounded, present, and fulfilled. Happy New Year! Looking forward to what I can manifest in 2022. There is no beginning or end to artists, we always have been and we always will be.

Auburn Arts District Holiday Market

(posted 11/30/2021)

I just finished up a fantastic holiday market hosted by Auburn Arts District and Cleveland Art in my little town, Auburn Township, Ohio. There was a daily admission fee of $10 that paid for appetizers and beverages. They even served food and beer from our local pizza place, bakery, and brewery. Here are some photos of the building and surrounding scenes – a very old, very artistically renovated space which was able to accommodate a dozen or so vendors and hundreds of patrons this past Friday and Saturday.

I had a space upstairs next to a lovely lady selling handmade soaps and a gentleman selling maple syrup goodies. Of course I bought some natural soap as well as some tasty bourbon maple syrup! And, I purchased a beautiful print from a nature/animal artist who was also among the group upstairs. Here’s a video of my setup.

Wolf Pup Studio LLC

And here is another short video showing some of the beautiful handmade glassware sold by Cleveland Art.

Cleveland Art Glassware

I sold quite a few encaustic pieces, but more jewelry and ornaments than I had ever sold. Some of my favorite pieces incorporated vintage buttons and beads. It was so nice that people liked and appreciated my unique jewelry creations. I began making them many years ago when I was at home full time raising my daughter. I never sold many on Etsy because of all the competition, so it was a great feeling to finally sell most of the pieces that have been in my studio for many years.

My relatives and friends came and bought some art too, so I’m really grateful for their support as well. It was a wonderful feeling to recognize their faces as they arrived.

Before the sale, my goal was to make enough money to buy myself a new printer, and that’s just what I’m doing this week. And, as always, to give back to my community I made a donation to NAMI of Geauga County today. It really is the best part of selling my work!

I have listed all my work on Etsy again for now. If you want to attend their next Holiday Market, it is planned for December 10 & 11, 2021. I will not be there, as I only signed up for one, but I’m looking forward to being among the vendors at an event again next year at this warm and eclectic space.

Lessons from Birdtober

(posted 10/30/2021)

I am happy to announce I have completed my final bird of Birdtober 2021, a chance for artists of Instagram to show off and/or improve their bird art skills for each day of the month of October. This challenge came from a super talented Texas artist who has my gratitude for the inspiration and education: Andrea Holmes, whose web site is linked here. She brought awareness to the TCA Texas Lights Out for Wildlife campaign, which encourages turning off non-essential lights from overnight during the four months of peak migration, September, October, April, and May. More information can be found at tcatexas.org.

If you are interested in purchasing any of my encaustic birds done on 3 inch wood ornaments, you can find the bulk of them at Valley Art Center’s Gift Shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. They will be for sale there for the next few months at $24 each, plus sales tax. Encaustic is something that is far more interesting to experience in person. It has a glow, texture, and scent you obviously don’t glean online.

Here are the 31 birds, keep in mind the photos are in descending order:

Artist choices: 2. Painted Bunting; 9. Short-Eared Owl; 16. Oriole; 23. Piping Plover; 30. Cardinal

Thank you for looking! This ended up being a super rewarding challenge, and I will probably do another one next year. Here are some of the valuable lessons I took from the month’s work –

Work at art. I often create new pieces just as experiment or “playing” in the studio. It’s quite different in a good way for me to have assignments. I’m not often motivated to create lots of art, so this has helped me generate a lot more items to sell than I normally would in a month’s time. I think I should pay attention to that and set more goals for myself in order to bulk up my inventory.

Don’t rush. I didn’t make many mistakes, but I did when I rushed through the work and/or was not “in the moment” but thinking of something else. This proves the fact for me once again that multitasking does not work, and the ability to focus is a wonderful asset. Lists help me stay on track and not forget steps such as signing my drawings. Yes, I forgot to sign one before applying the wax – hopefully just one. I also forgot to paint the edges black on a few.

Be prepared. This was probably my biggest lesson learned. In order to post daily, I created a system to work on groups of birds, usually four at a time. The encaustic ornaments required several steps, including drying time for the paste, so it was always better for me to repeat each step four times in a row rather than work on the entire process at once. My brain is wired that way and I work efficiently like this at my day job, so it was easy for me to create a system and follow it. Giving myself the time to do it was the challenge. I had to look at my calendar weekly and plan which days were available to spend a few hours at a time in the studio.

Don’t compare. If you search the hashtag #birdtober or #birdtober2021 you can see the beautiful work posted by all the participating artists. I’m not the best and I’m not the worst. Where I fall in the middle does not matter to me because when someone looks at the work I create I know mine stands out as unique. Encaustic medium also gives the pieces distinction. I think most encaustic artists have their own unique style and process and that’s one of the reasons I love the medium. My pieces are truly one-of-a-kind.

Birdtober

(posted 09/30/2021)

I’ve been taking a bit of time off from creating new work, and I have just the project to get me back in the swing. I follow many artists on Instagram, dating back a few years when I first began to work in encaustic. One recently posted a challenge she calls Birdtober in which every day for the month of October she is asking everyone to create a work based on her list of birds. I don’t know her or a lot about her, but she is Andrea Holmes, her Instagram is @aholmesartstudio, and she lives in Texas. I’m thankful she has created the challenge and I’m eager to officially get started tomorrow!

I’ve done a few preliminary sketches this past week. I originally wanted to put them all on watercolor paper, but after a few tries, I realized the paper is too unstable, resisting in some areas, while completely soaking up the wax in others. Then, I had the brilliant idea of putting them all on bamboo cutting boards I picked up at the dollar store, but they are too big and I fear the size will be too difficult to finish a piece every day. I had some flat wooden circles left over from my previous ornaments series and figured that will be a great canvas to work on with these birds.

Stay tuned, I’ll be posting some progress photos over the next few weeks. If you want to follow along on Instagram, find me @rachel.rivasplata.

Nature Arts Festival at Big Creek Park

(posted 08/14/2021)

Last weekend, I had a wonderful time showing my art and jewelry at the Nature Arts Festival at Big Creek Park in Chardon, Ohio. Thankfully, my art was accepted into the juried event, which gathered many, many artists from NE Ohio and beyond. I had requested an indoor table and ended up sharing one large room with a jewelry artist, Anne Nelson, who does some incredible things with metal. I also met another encaustic artist, Stacy Cook, and I very much enjoyed seeing her work and hearing about her process. I had a great conversation with another jewelry artist, Cynde Hujarski, who has a really unique style. Many thanks to my husband, Raul, who is becoming quite the art show professional! Once the event began at 10 am, I was pretty much tied to my table. I was hoping I would get more time to venture outdoors to see the other artists – I’ll have to make it a point to do that next time. I did have a chance to see the work in Carlene Holtz’s tent outdoors. She had some really beautiful floral art done on glassware. She is also the owner of MC Art Studio on the corner of Bell and 306 in South Russell/Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Full disclosure: I have some pieces in the gallery there, and it’s a very charming space, so check it out!

Inside, we had a steady stream of visitors, some purchasers, some browsers, and some friends and family. It was very nice to be able to inform people on what encaustic is and the versatility that it brings to my artmaking. Being indoors was definitely a good decision on my part, because it was terribly muggy outside and I believe it rained for a bit as well.

As always, it was so nice that my friends and family came to see me – I appreciate it so much! And it was very nice to meet some fellow artists as well as local patrons who enjoy nature-inspired art. The beauty of our parks is irreplaceable and I love that people are so passionate about spending time outdoors and observing nature. I can literally get dozens of ideas from a few pictures that I take on a hike through the park. Here are some photos of my display, before and after, along with photos of some of the items that sold.

“Through the Trees”
“Pattern Revealed”

The best part of selling my work is that allows me to share a portion of my profits with NAMI of Geauga County. I gladly made the donation today. I’m looking forward to my next local show … I hope to see you there!

Hibaku

(posted 08/14/2021)

I am so pleased to announce this piece along with the sailboat painting I did a few months ago have been accepted into the Geauga Arts Council’s West Woods juried exhibit opening on August 20, 2021. It’s called “Hibaku,” and it’s a 12 x 12 inch encaustic on wood canvas. I made a smaller version of it initially titled “Beyond,” then decided I liked it so much I wanted to make a larger one. I think it could be translated into an even bigger piece some day. It’s basically a representation of some gingko branches with a cloud filled, sky blue background.

I’m sure many artists have pieces related to or depicting how they feel about the pandemic. I knew I wanted to document some of my feelings about it, but never sat down and planned something out. This piece came as a surprise from a stream of consciousness. When working on the study, “Beyond,” I made a conscious choice to keep the leaves equidistant, incorporating my feelings on social distancing. Showing that while we are distant, we are still largely connected via lines of communication. I also wanted the hard, straight lines to boldly contrast with soft organic lines inside the leaves – depicting contrast of science and nature. The deep cuts represent our illness, the beautiful sky beyond is our hope.

The title “Hibaku” came from my research of the ginkgo tree. I like to incorporate symbolism into my work – sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly, but it’s usually there. Ginkgo trees are largely symbolic of strength and longevity. You can read an interesting web page about it linked here. I read there a shocking yet wonderful fact that after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, “Even though scientists predicted that nothing would grow at the site for 75 years, the ginkgo trees and several others fully recovered, and ginkgo is now regarded as a symbol of endurance and vitality.” I knew when I learned that fact, I had to reference the history of the horrific bombing along with our own struggle with this “bomb” of a virus that has been dropped upon the entire world. I am an optimist, and I needed to share this amazing fact through the title of my work. In the words of Peter Del Tredici who published a paper on the subject linked here, “Hibaku is a Japanese word meaning ‘something that has experienced a nuclear bomb.’ Typically it is used in the form hibakusha meaning ‘people who have survived a nuclear bomb.’ ” While I never want to diminish the pain and suffering of the victims of the bombing in 1945, I am a firm believer in the importance of learning from history.

Now turning to the actual process, unlike most of my prior works, this one began with charcoal gray chalk paint on the surface of the wood canvas. Having a dark base, allowed me to carve into the top wax layer to reveal that base color later in the process. I really like this effect and plan to continue using the dark base in the future. It pretty much guarantees there will be some depth to my work.

Next, I coated the canvas in white pigmented beeswax. I believe I built up four layers or so, fusing with the heat gun between each layer. I then lightly carved the outlines of the branches and leaves onto the cooled wax. After that, it was time to add the blue sky color in the form of PanPastels. I love working with them, but they can be a bit unpredictable. It’s always best to test the color combinations on a separate piece of paper before using them on your work. As you’ll see in the following video, the coolest thing happens when you add the pastels – the pigments get caught in the carved outlines and accentuate them.

When I was satisfied with the addition of blue, I went on to brush the green pastels onto the leaves. Here’s what it looked like after the above steps.

Then it was time to carve lines into the leaves, tedious work but it can be meditative.

Next two photos, you’ll see me struggle with the background. Initially, I was unable to mimic the floating clouds that I had loved so much in my original study, “Beyond.” I even erased the entire background at one point.

Even when you erase something on a wax surface, there are remnants left, so it can add to the overall worn feeling and patina of the piece. I was able to get the desired background eventually after a couple more applications. I also added some red and warmth to the ginkgo stems and leaves which helped contrast them with the sky even more.

This final photo is of the initial 8 x 8 inch study I called “Beyond.” It’s currently for sale in my Etsy shop – linked here.

To see both of my accepted pieces, along with several other local artworks, visit the Geauga Parks West Woods Nature Center from August 20, 2021 through October 5, 2021. Center is open daily 10 am – 4 pm. “Hibaku” is 12 x 12 inches and priced at $88.

Renaissance by Fire

(posted 07/02/2021)

I love to experiment in the art studio. If you have seen much of my work, I’m sure you can tell by now I have multiple artistic personalities. One day I’m focused on abstract pieces, the next I’m working on a sketch of a beautiful butterfly. I used to feel bad that I don’t have one “style,” until I saw a TED talk from an artist who capitalized on that ability (rather than considering it a disability) when he made up a hundred artist personas with bios and created art pieces for them all. Genius. I found the link! Here is Shea Hembrey’s TED talk.

I. LOVE. ART. (in most of its forms), so I easily become distracted and inspired by new materials and techniques. I have seen many encaustic artists use alcohol inks to create these interesting floral-like pieces by blowing the inks through a straw. As you can see below, I tried one of these straw-blown flowers myself. I like it, but it’s probably not something I’m going to pursue. There are artists like Alicia Tormey and Shary Bartlett who do a fantastic job at making them if you want to see some really amazing ones. Check out their work!

So, when I went about creating “Renaissance,” I knew I just wanted an abstract form. I was experimenting with color, mixing the warm pinks and reds with blue. Alcohol ink is VERY vibrant. I can see why people love to work with it. The colors are supersaturated. The control or lack of it is another beast altogether. It’s nearly impossible to dominate it as a beginner. You really need to work with it for hours to get a sense of how to manipulate it to your liking. If you want to regularly work with alcohol inks, you’re going to need lots of time and/or instruction.

I began the piece by coating an 8×10 inch wood canvas with white pigmented encaustic medium to get a clean, white surface. I then added drips of the inks, letting them dry for a half minute or so before blowing them around with a straw. I have read suggestions to use an alcohol ink blending solution, but I didn’t have one so I used isopropyl alcohol to dilute it.

I found that adding lots of the alcohol gave it a much nicer flow, so I went with it.

These were made over a period of two days. I would add the ink and alcohol with an eye dropper, blow it around, let it dry, then come back in with more ink or alcohol to get the desired gradations of color. I think it necessary to mention the main reason it took me a couple days is because the fumes can be overwhelming. I found that if I spent up to about 5 minutes manipulating the inks, I needed to leave the room to let the fumes dissipate before coming back in a couple hours later.

When I fatigued of this process, feeling as if I should somehow elevate the image a bit, I decided to catch it on fire.

Here’s what it looked like after the initial burn or two of wet alcohol on the surface. (The colors aren’t as bright in the following photo because of poor lighting.)

You can see why the process is so intriguing. The colors seized together in places and also created some circular melted areas from the heated beeswax surface. The next thing I did was add some shellac. In order to get the webbing that is so often loved in encaustic works, you need to lightly torch the briefly dried shellac. I have taken one of Alicia Tormey’s workshops on doing such torch fuses. I’d like to use clear shellac pigmented with white or another color to achieve more dramatic effects in the future. The following image is showing the painted amber shellac just before the applying the flame.

And here is the final piece. You can see where the amber shellac separated to create the cells/webbed effect. Also note, I added (and scraped away) some rose metal leaf on the surface. With the vibrancy, effervescence, and viscosity, I think it’s what a brilliant star or divinity might look like if it were to die then be reborn into the universe. Hence, the name.

Yesterday on Auburn Road

Yesterday on Auburn Road, 8×8 in. mixed media encaustic by Rachel Rivas-Plata

(posted 06/19/2021)

This is one of the very first deliberately planned encaustic pieces I ever did. It began with a very old photo of my late grandparents’ home. I digitally altered it, then pasted the print onto a wood canvas. Then came the most difficult part – painting forsythia with beeswax. I knew I wanted to paint these particular flowers with the house. It is a long held memory of mine that when we used to visit my grandparents at Easter, my grandpa would cut a few branches for my mother to take home. It was such a small, sweet gesture, but it is one of the only memories I have of my late grandfather. We did not go to see them very often. We lived only about thirty miles away, but since my father (their son) had died when I was only two, we saw them only twice a year: Christmas and Easter. I pass the house every now and then, wishing I could stop in to see my grandparents to ask the dozens of questions I never had when I was young, but only the shadows of memories live there now with the new owners.

I had to look back in my Instagram posts to find that my first draft of this piece was in May of 2018. I had originally drawn the home on a blank canvas, then added photos of the flowers over the top. It wasn’t until I reversed the process and painted the flowers over the photo, that it looked to me more like my memory. I labored over the flowers, painting and removing them several times. This process actually ended up adding a worn, gouged layer that I really like. The flowers are close, but still unclear in their detail. The home is far and unfinished, but some details remain. Dreams and memories are so difficult to capture, but I think I did grasp much of what I wanted to portray. Below are images of the first drafts in process.

Fast forward to a few months ago, and I saw the call for art for Lakeland’s May Show. I had never entered an actual show and I decided that even though it was not finished in my mind, that I should just throw my hat in the ring. It cost $15 per entry, and I entered this piece as well as an abstract. Neither got into the May Show, but this one did get chosen for the Extended Show at Stella’s Art Gallery in Willoughby, Ohio. I found out after I entered the pieces that the juror was American postwar and contemporary artist, Jae Jarrell.

Yesterday, I browsed both the May Show at Lakeland’s Gallery and the Extended Show at Stella’s Art Gallery. I saw some works from local artists I have befriended on social media and was very happy to see they had been chosen. I saw many pieces that I thought were phenomenal, and others I thought were not nearly as good as mine. I have a feeling I’m not alone in this regard, and I learned that I need to develop more of a callous when it comes to being judged. For many reasons, it took a lot of nerve to start calling myself an artist. Now I have to really act like one and roll with the punches.

I have come to realize why this creative/artistic aspect of my being is so vital. It unlocks much of the confidence within myself. I also learned that how I see my work is often not nearly how others see it – For good or bad. I need to further research who my audience is and see more art shows to better understand what is expected and accepted in particular venues. And above all, I should not hesitate too much when putting my work out there. The more irons in the fire, the easier that rejections get and the more chances I have of getting my work and name recognized. No magic nor rocket science required. I believe hard work and gratitude will carry me along this artist’s journey.

Wings

(posted 05/22/2021)

I keep a list of ideas on my phone and it seems I never have problems coming up with ideas, but I do have problems deciding on the size of my work. I have this nagging urge to go much larger, but at this point I’m still not sure which pieces I want to take to a more attention-getting scale. I have a real affinity for abstract pieces, and will most likely end up doing some larger ones soon. But, the reason I bring this up is that two butterfly pieces were actually inspired by the size and shape of the canvas. I looked at the two old pieces of wood my aunt gave me and thought: “Two butterflies would look great on there.”

In December of 2019, I did a series of four small butterfly collages to enter into the insect art show at the local nature center. I sold two of the pieces and they were really fun to do, so I went ahead and used the same process for the two panels, “Wings No. 5” and “Wings No. 6.” I have a vintage copy of the children’s book “Five Children and It,” by E. Nesbit. I bought it at a used book store when my daughter was very young. She’s thirteen now and I can’t get her to read “Harry Potter,” let alone a vintage book, so I put it to better use and ripped it apart for this and other projects. I think what makes it even more cringeworthy , as a lover of books, is that I never read the book myself. I mean I may have unknowingly destroyed a masterpiece, but hey, I’m sure there are other copies out there.

I learned in a recent Painting with Fire course from Essence of Mulranny that encaustic can be done over a chalk paint surface. There was much discussion and a little debate over the type of chalk paint, but I went ahead and used the old can of Rust-Oleum Chalked I’ve had around for a few years. It worked just fine as the base, and I actually liked starting with a dark background instead of the usual white. I made some templates for the butterfly wings and flower petals from drawings on tracing paper. This allowed me to see through to the book page to make sure the lines of the pages lined up at decent angles on the wings.

When I created my first set of the wings series collages, I didn’t pay much attention to symmetry. The two pieces that sold were lined up symmetrically so I think that did help their overall aesthetic. I hand tore each piece from the book pages, taking care to not include inappropriate words and phrases, and excited to find some interesting ones.

After I glued down the pieces with Yes paste, I applied black ink lines and designs on the wings.

Next, I covered the piece with two layers of clear encaustic medium and fused them with heat. Once smooth and cool, I applied several coats of PanPastels to achieve the soft colors. The pastels need to be blended and fused after each layer. It’s really quite magical how the pastels from the bottom layer come to the surface when heat is applied.

Wings No. 6, Encaustic Mixed-Media by Rachel Rivas-Plata

For the following piece, I took photos of two of the collages and made negative films from them. This allowed me to create cyanotype images on wood, after prepping the raw wood with a couple layers of absorbent ground. The leaf in the middle is the cyanotype of an actual leaf, and the butterflies were done using the printed negatives. The image of the words on the pages came out quite faint, so if I do this again, I will want to experiment with that to see if I can create more contrast.

Wings No. 5, Encaustic Mixed Media by Rachel Rivas-Plata

So, as you can tell by now, I’m very resourceful in my studio. I often use and repurpose old items to give them new life. Reusing my favorite images in creative ways is something I plan to do more of in the future. To see what pieces are available for sale, see my Home page for the link to my shop.

Color

(posted 04/30/2021)

Today is the first day of a year long encaustic workshop I signed up for at Essence of Mulranny Studios in Ireland. The classes are online so I get the benefit of the classes without having to travel. Although, I’m sure it would be an amazing place to visit someday! The instructor this week is Kathryn Bevier and the first lesson focused on “a la prima” techniques.

I must admit I am not a wiz with color. My earliest art pieces were mostly done with pencil or charcoal and paper, not paints. I was more of a paint-by-number-kit kind of kid. I was so intimidated by painting in college that I dropped the class after the first one. The teacher was a bit too amused by my first go at it and I, being a 20 year old newbie, crumbled at the slightest hint of negative criticism when it came to my art skills. I was obviously not ready to come out of my comfort zone. Fast forward to 30 years later, and I am all about making mistakes in my studio. It really is the only way to learn!

So, for this lesson, I chose to use 3 colors (black and white don’t count). Enkaustikos was so very kind to send me these samples. As you can see, I ended up having to add a touch of red – that was in order to get brown. The object is to keep the color palette cohesive and work from the darkest values to light, adding grays in between. I think I need to try this like 1,000 more times! It is amazing how much you can learn just by mixing colors together and placing them next to each other. The eyes really do fill in the gaps and the colors work together magically at times.

Here are pics of my work from today. I am somewhat satisfied with the results, but realize I do need to control my color choices and plan more on future pieces. This pond study will be one of many before I get it right, I’m sure.

I loved this lesson. I had been meaning to paint a landscape that was reminiscent of the pond we had on our property when I was a kid. My father had the pond started but never saw it filled up because he died in a car accident soon after it was dug. It ended up being a very special place for my family as well as our extended family and friends. I doubt my father knew putting that pond in was going to such an enhancement to so many lives. I’m so glad he left it for all of us to enjoy.

The Battery Frame

(posted 04/10/2021)

I am truly intrigued and inspired by this image. My great-great Aunt Sade was the keeper of books and periodicals in our family, and she had cut it from some old newspaper or magazine in the late 1800s. I am certain, when she did that, she never in her wildest imagination thought that it would become part of some encaustic art pieces done by her sister’s great-grandchild.

Some of my first abstract encaustic pieces began with this image. I scanned it, then cropped it in Photoshop, and printed out some variations. They were then pasted onto wood panels and subsequently drenched in molten beeswax. The first two I did were called “Suspension.” When I look at the original image, it makes me think of the cross-section view of a building. I ultimately chose the name because to me the word “suspension” connotates some stress, but also a lot of strength. The paintings sold long ago, but the images still show the amount of labor that ensued by applying layers of wax, pastels, and carving and scraping the wax to reveal pieces of the image underneath.

Fast forward to roughly seventy artworks later, I revisited the old battery frame image and created a series of four from it. These were a bit smaller, and a bit simpler. I wanted the original image to take more of the limelight, and the texture created by the beeswax medium was a lot subtler. I found, however, they were just starving for some color. I added swipes of rust and golden yellow and looked at them for a few months, still unsatisfied with the surface. I recently purchased some metallic PanPastels in beautiful copper, bronze and gold shades. The minute I thought of using them, I knew it would give me just the right contrast I wanted. The illustrations are encased/preserved in the wax and the molten metallic liquid is floating on the surface. This changes how we see them, but does not overshadow the original antique drawing. To me, it speaks of the treasure that these images are to me. I named them “Articulation” in order to evoke a scientific feeling to my creative process that is quite unscientific and full of emotion and intuition.

Thank you, Great Aunt Sade.

Cyanotypes in Spring – Maybe a new tradition!

(posted 03/07/2021)

I have been researching cyanotypes over the past week or so and ended up ordering the chemicals and some really heavy watercolor paper. I bought Jacquard brand chemicals, which come in powder form in two decent sized bottles for $18.99. You just add water to fill each bottle, then use equal parts of both chemicals when you are ready to apply the base to the paper. A handy sponge brush comes with the kit. It’s super easy! The most important thing to remember is you must paint the solution onto the paper as well as let it dry in a room free of sunlight because UV (ultraviolet) rays are what make the chemicals on the paper react. I bought a very heavy watercolor paper because the paper needs to withstand being rinsed and soaked in water for quite a long time.

This morning, I mixed a very small amount of each of the chemicals in a plastic bowl, then brushed it on to five sheets of the paper. There was a lot left over, so next time I will use very, very small amounts. I closed the windowless bathroom door and let the paper dry for an hour. Yesterday, I had already gathered some interesting pieces from the yard and continued that hunt this morning in my house. I used some dried weeds, pine needles, strings, and even some netted material from a sack of oranges. I took all the materials, keeping the treated watercolor paper in between some cardboard so that it didn’t get exposed to light, into the dimly lit garage and quickly made each compositions. I didn’t have a solid plan, I was just experimenting. When do I ever have a solid plan? Good question but that’s getting off topic!

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you try this yourself, read and follow all the instructions that come with the chemicals. There are also several tutorial videos available online that give excellent instructions. I am sharing my experience – not directives.

I took the first ones out of the sun after about 12 minutes. The one I left out the longest (20 minutes maybe?) ended up overexposed and basically a dud. So, I learned it’s best to bring them out of the sun after 10 minutes. I rinsed each one under running water for a couple minutes, then let them sit in water for a couple more minutes. I then laid them flat to dry. Here are the compositions of the four successful exposures along with what they looked like after they were rinsed, but still wet.

I created 2 layers separated by glass.
The fainter images were in the top layer.

I used some old frame glass I had in my studio to hold everything in place. They really came in handy for this project so it’s a win for the studio pack rat ha ha.

I saved the best for last! This last one is my favorite. I am excited to do more of these and plan to incorporate these images into encaustic very soon! I highly recommend trying this yourself. This would be a super fun family project, but you would need an adult to mix, paint, and rinse the chemical solution. Wear gloves and eye protection as well when working with the chemical solutions. The kids can keep busy hunting and gathering all the natural materials.

Sailboat Saga

(posted 2/21/2021)

The site Pixabay has copyright-free images which you are allowed to download for free and use as you like. I often use their images as inspiration photos or digital pieces of my collage works. But, we need to step back a bit further. I was browsing Instagram one day and came upon someone’s post of art from Nineteenth Century French painter, Odilon Redon. In particular, his work called “Sailing Boat with Two Passengers,” which you can see by clicking this link. It was a colorfully moody, dark painting with a mixture of jewel tones and pastels. I decided to use the Redon painting as inspiration for my own colorful encaustic sailboat painting. I found this photo on Pixabay (linked here) to use as a reference and began to get to work. Maybe picking a monotone image to was my first mistake! Stay tuned …

I began with a titanium white pigmented encaustic medium layer, then added some black and blue R&F encaustic paint toned down with some other blue color mixes I had on hand. Here’s the first process photo.

Have I mentioned how difficult it is to paint with beeswax? I keep it warm on my hijacked pancake griddle so it’s constantly in liquid form, but when I brush it on the surface, I only have seconds to get it where I want it. The up side is that if I don’t like it, I can scrape it off or cover it with another color. The down side is that I don’t have much control over it, and I tend to want to work more quickly rather than deliberately which trips me up every time. Planning is key when working in encaustic! If I don’t have a good plan and experience with what I’m trying to do, things can start spiraling rather quickly, as you will see …

This next process photo above was saved only by the adorable aussiedoodle paw photobomb. Bijou saves the day! The pock marks all over the canvas are from the air flow in my studio. At this point, the window was wide open in the middle of February because of the built up fumes since I had been working on this for a couple hours. As you can see, I had added color with PanPastels, but it just wasn’t cohesive. I tried to save it by going in with more PanPastels, wiping it off, then even scraping with a sharp tool. This next photo shows the downward spiral continuing. *CRINGE*

But wait, it gets worse! The next photo shows the damage an artist can do with sharp objects when she is backed into a corner. I feel as though this needs a flashing “GRAPHIC CONTENT” warning …

Thankfully, at this point I jumped ship (sorry for the pun!) and scraped it all off and began at the new beginning.

This sailboat 2.0 above became a larger focus of the painting, as Redon had done. I liked this version much better, but I still felt as though it needed more bold colors in order to capture the emotive energy in Redon’s painting. Today, I went in again with PanPastels and added final touches. I think the end product is a bit more cohesive and definitely emits the colorful vibe I wanted from the very start.

I ended up gifting the painting to my husband because he loves it and says he wants to buy a sailboat “someday.” Now he has one 😉

The End

Blue Boy and Pinkie … sort of

Blue Boy Jonathon B. encaustic
Jonathan B.
Sarah M.
Sarah M.

(posted 02/12/2021)

I grew up in a small Western Reserve town in a very old home that had been lived in by my great grandparents. As the youngest child with few playmates out in the country, I spent many summer days snooping through closets and the attic. There were several open boxes of antique postcards, photos, books and periodicals. Luckily, I still have some of these items nearly fifty years later!

These two portraits began as illustrations in a magazine from the late 1800s. I digitally cropped and edited the illustrations, then applied encaustic and PanPastels. When I put the boy and girl together, it reminded me of two other old framed prints I have from the house. My mother always called them “Blue Boy” and “Pinkie.” The paintings she was referring to are (1) “Sarah Barrett Moulton: Pinkie” (1794) by Thomas Lawrence; and (2) “The Blue Boy” (circa 1760s) by Thomas Gainsborough. Their actual names were Jonathan and Sarah. Here is an interesting blog post I found that gives much more detail on those two paintings which inspired my titles. Link to English Historical Fiction Authors

What’s the Buzz? Art Event

(posted 02/11/2021)

The West Woods Nature Center in Novelty, Ohio, is hosting an art exhibit featuring works inspired by insects! I submitted five butterfly pieces – one is pictured below. I also made some butterfly ornaments which will be for sale in the boutique. The show opens on February 13, 2021, and runs through April 26, 2021. Social distancing and masks are required. Follow this link for more info