Inspiration

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.

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