New Home, New Work

Well, hello there.

It has been far too long.

I apologize for my long absence from here. I have missed posting images, art, and cataloging the process of the creative life. The reason I’ve been gone so long, is that we moved.

Yes. Me, my husband, my daughter, my pets and ALL my art packed up and moved from North Carolina to our new home in Dallas, Texas. It has been a whirlwind of a summer, packing with a toddler not being the least of all my challenges.

But now that we are here, I’m delighted to share some new work with you.

“Etching”, Encaustic Medium and Paper Sculpture on Clayboard, 2012

This is actually the encaustic piece I have been working on for awhile now. It’s the first of what will hopefully be many years of working with encaustic, as I fell in love with it. Encaustic, in its most basic form, is painting with beeswax. It was also a painstaking exercise in patience as I forayed into a completely new medium. Complete with days of total euphoria and utter, bewildering frustration as I learned how to use it.

“Etching”, Detail, Encaustic Medium and Paper Sculpture on Clayboard, 2012

Encaustic is an ancient process that is experiencing a kind of revival by current art makers. What was once an almost-forgotten technique is now being explored by the contemporary art world as an exciting and seemingly limitless medium.

“Etching”, Detail, Encaustic Medium and Paper Sculpture on Clayboard, 2012

The way I created this piece was by melting a combination of two types of wax, so that they became liquid. I then painted the hot wax onto my surface. After it cooled (almost instantly) I painted another layer of hot wax. I then took a blow torch (Seriously? So fun!) and gently used the heat of the flame to fuse the two layers of wax into one. The entire piece of art is created this way, so that by the end of it, it is one large piece of wax held together through layering.

“Etching”, Detail, Encaustic Medium and Paper Sculpture on Clayboard, 2012

Encaustic is remarkably versatile–one can color the wax, carve into it, pigment the surface, or imbed objects into it. It is endless in its forms and such a joy to work in. The studio smells like honey, and I leave feeling immersed in the art making process because the creation of it engages all my senses.

“Etching”, Detail, Encaustic Medium and Paper Sculpture on Clayboard, 2012

In addition to building the surface up layer by layer, I also created paper sculptures which I imbedded into the final piece. I simply cut shapes of paper, dipped them in wax and manipulated their form. I love the light, organic feel they bring. Almost as if they are growing from within it, or about to take flight.

“Etching”, Detail, Encaustic Medium and Paper Sculpture on Clayboard, 2012

The wax takes on different qualities depending on its treatment. In some areas it is rough and textured and deeply colored. In others it is light, and almost nude, with a shine to it. Cared for properly, the work of art is archival and can last hundreds of years.

“Etching”, Detail, Encaustic Medium and Paper Sculpture on Clayboard, 2012

I’m so excited to finally share this piece with you–it’s been a labor of love. I’ve also been keeping a new body of work up my sleeve, so stay tuned.

As I slowly un-pack my house, figure out where the grocery store is (and the rest of my shoes) I’m looking forward to art making in my new city, and sharing all that I discover here.

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A Cardinal On a Rooftop In the Rain

I have some dear friends who just moved away.

This is a hazard of living in a University town.

We’ve spent the last three years living life together, and now they are off for their next adventure. But before they left, they commissioned me to make them a painting.

“Sustenance”, Acrylic and Charcoal on Canvas, 30″ x 30″, 2012

I had been thinking about their time in Durham–our time in Durham.

Reflecting on the kind of painting I would want to send them off with.  I do most of my reflecting in my kitchen, making dinner, washing dishes. Looking out my windows.

“Sustenance”, Detail, Acrylic and Charcoal on Canvas, 30″ x 30″, 2012

It had been raining for days. It’s my favorite weather in this part of the country. When it feels a little like I live in a rain forest.

Day after day, I watched a cardinal alight on a rooftop outside my window.

It would hop, almost skip as the rain came down. I could see his crimson reflection mixing with the cool reflections of the trees blowing over him. It was all dancing colors flecked with red.  He didn’t mind, almost seemed to enjoy, the rain.

“Sustenance”, Detail, Acrylic and Charcoal on Canvas, 30″ x 30″, 2012

So this is what I painted.

A snapshot of three years of friendship.

Of a city. Of a bird.

Because there is no concrete imagery for that. Just colors dancing.

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On Imperfection

I have told you before that I kind of have a crush on french macaroons.

French macaroons are delicate parcels of crunchy/chewy/light/exotic all in one. They have a certain mystique about them, not least because they are incredibly tricky to bake.

I have told you before about my wild success with the muse of macaroons. But this is a different story.

I made some. They were for guests, on a special “everything should be lovely” day. I followed the recipe carefully, methodically, almost tremulously.

I failed.

Or shall I say, they didn’t work.

To this day, I’m not sure what happened. Rather than forming the smooth shiny top and crinkly foot on the bottom of the cookie, they puffed up and cracked all the way through. Every single one.

I was crestfallen. (They take a fair amount of planning, and a lot of mental energy, these blasted cookies) and they didn’t work.

I didn’t have time to make another batch.

I almost didn’t serve them.

When my husband said, “But Skyler, how do they taste?”

“Fantastic.” I replied.

Vanilla macaroons with salted caramel gnache, topped with a chipotle cinnamon sea salt. Recipe courtesy of this genius baker….(thank you.)

They really did taste amazing.

So after what probably should have been an unnecessary conversation, my amazing partner convinced me to indeed serve my puffy, cracked, delicious, “failed” macaroons.

And they were a hit.

So there is this.

There are times when our best efforts, our careful planning and execution, the best of what we have, will come up short. Imperfect humans we are.

Let’s serve it up anyway. It may even be delicious.

 

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An Announcement

Everyone has big moments in life, and well, this is one of mine. I want to be a cool-headed professional, but to be honest, I’m so excited and giddy, I would rather do a little dance.

I am thrilled to announce that one of my pieces is included in the show “Crafts National 2012” at the Mulvane Art Museum in Topeka, Kansas. This show features 100 works by 87 artists working in craft based mediums. This show gathers together artists from all over the country into a small space, and says that the art of craft is alive and well, intriguing, explorative, and worth our time and attention. I am honored to be among these artists.

My piece, “Grasping Flight” is a drawing on fabric, stitched together to create a quilt. The drawings juxtaposes a peacock with scarab beetles, with turquoise embroidery linking the two. In the upper left hand corner is a transparent overlay with drawings of the world on a cellular level—botanic imagery under a microscope. All of these elements combine to create a commentary on our globalized world. The compressed nature of the world we live in is symbolized through the compression of space between these elements, all sharing space in one drawing.

 Rooted in the highly communal tradition of American quilt making, “Grasping Flight” references the communal nature of our globalized world and asks the viewer to explore that reality.

This is what I love about craft. Rooted in history, it asks the viewer to look again. As Maryanne Rodmacher says…always, always look again.

I was struck by the words of the juror of the show.

“I seek to discover the exquisite object, the presence of the hand, the mastery of craft materials and processes. I relish anticipating and acknowledging media specific works of focused and accomplished exploration. I marvel over works which exceed preconceived media limitations and offer daring risks and expanded possibilities. And mainly, I seek ideas- explicit or enigmatic- to mull over and to return to. I was not disappointed.”

Gail M. Brown

Please, if you’re in the Kansas area, go see it.

And quietly thank all the other artists, from me…….

for looking at the art of craft, and looking again.

 

Crafts National 2012, May 5–August 19

Mulvane Art Museum
17th&  Jewell Streets
Washburn University, Topeka, KS 66621

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A Birthday Cake

I have already said before that I love cake.

I also love birthdays.

And I really love baking.

This, in my opinion, is a perfect combination.

On my birthday I had the excuse (as if I ever really need one) to make a huge mess in my kitchen, to be covered in flour, to pour over my cookbooks and to have friends at my table.

Admittedly, this is not terribly different from my normal life.

Yes please. And thank you.

Yet in my normal life, I’m not eating six layer cakes with three decadent fillings.

Yes, that is special. That is for birthdays.

I even bought new cake pans for it.

And for a new decade, these were the flavors:

Vanilla cake, sturdy enough to hold up the layers, yet light and crumbly and soft. Drenched in still-warm citrus simple syrup, to keep it moist all the way through.

And those layers hugging thick, bright lemon curd. Tart enough to make your lips pucker, with a sweet finish.

Then silky lemon mousse, light and creamy.

Then a plum-berry sauce, deep purple and studded with the seeds of the berries, so it looked a little bit like glitter.

(For my fellow color theory nerds: The inside of this cake was a glorious complementary color scheme.)

And for the outside, thick and glossy buttercream. I filled my pastry bag and tried all sorts of things. Everyone should learn a new piping skill on their birthday. Well, maybe not. But it was fun for me, at least.

And flowers. Picked from outside my house. Obviously.

It was yummy. And happy.

As birthdays should be.

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What I’ve Been Doing.

Well hello there.

It feels like it has been awhile. As I said before, I’ve been hanging out with my painting.

One huge painting to be exact.

A short time ago I was given a great opportunity for my work.

Here’s the thing: I’m not going to go into details until all the loose ends are tied up, which will be several months. “Exciting opportunity” is enough for now.

And as with most opportunities, there came a deadline.

And in this case, it was a very very tight deadline.

And so I painted. And painted. And painted.

Through the day, and well into the night. Bleary eyed and ecstatic, and terrified and overjoyed all at once—-as one should be, when they are in the center of their passion.

Surviving off a diet of kombucha, water, my favorite chocolate bar and lots and lots of encouragement from people I love.

Twelve days later, I arrived at this: a fully realized five by ten foot painting.

The largest painting I have every made; and I was/am positively beaming.

So here is just a preview.  A “sneak peek” if you will.

These are like paragraphs out of a chapter. It’s not the full story, but a glimpse into some of the moments.

You’ll get the full story, in time. And with proper lighting and photography that will be worth the wait.

But until then, here are some of the movements of the piece, ones I particularly like, the ones that kept me going at midnight.

There is something to be said for the combination of realism and hope. I was sandwiched between the those two dynamcis for many, many hours.

The very real fact that I had a deadline. The fact that painting is complicated and a lot can go wrong. The simple truth that there are only so many hours in a day.

And the hope that maybe within me, there was something deep and beautiful that could come from standing in front of a canvas for hours, and giving it everything I’ve got.

So here’s to you:

And my desire that if you see nothing else in these details, that they would infuse your realism with a little bit of hope, on this very day.

 

 

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An Easter Feast

Welcome Spring.

There are yellow wild flowers in my back yard that I just tied into a bundle and are now smiling in my kitchen. My herb garden has miraculously come back to life. And I stopped for a whole minute while shopping the other day, just to watch this bird sing the most interesting little warble.

And there is an Easter feast to be had.

I love cooking for Easter. It’s cause for simultaneously light and decadent food.

I also like the process of gathering up the hodge podge of linens I own, picking wild flowers as if they were mine, and making an Easter basket which, if I’m honest, may be more exciting to me than it is to my daughter.

This year I made individual quiches bursting with artichoke hearts, roasted red pepper, caramelized onion  and creamy goat cheese. I’m not sure which part of baking these was my favorite.

I love roasting red peppers. It’s such a simple process, blistering the skin over heat, and then peeling it away. But it transforms the vegetable into this heady, deep flavor that lingers for hours.

Or was it blending the pastry, cut with lots of velvety butter and liberally studded with Herbs de Provence, giving it the subtle scent of lavender.

Or maybe it was that I knew, after all the blending and rolling and baking, that my table would be surrounded by people I love, laughing and drinking wine and my daughter smearing watermelon all over her new Easter dress. And knowing that meals have a powerful way of bringing people together—of making good things happen.

Yeah, it was probably that.

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Hanging Out with Artwork

There are so many things to tell you.

Like how spring is finally here, and how in North Carolina the light green pollen has settled like a dust over everything. And how with this dust comes…..life.

And also about how my camera has been broken, and how I am finishing up my encaustic pieces, and how I want to make lemon and basil souffles to bring in the spring.

But mostly, I wanted to tell you that I am working on a large painting. Very large. And how some exciting things are brewing here in my small studio—-more details to come. But for just a little while, it will be quiet here on my end….I have to go hang out with my painting.

 

Much love to you all, on this rainy springtime Saturday.

 

 

 

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Weeping in Art Museums

This weekend I had the honor of going to the North Carolina Museum of Art.

It is a lovely, smallish museum with a very strong collection.

My husband and I were celebrating our belated five year anniversary. We had lingered over lunch and were meandering through the art work. We turned a corner and I saw it.

“Tim!” I whispered/shouted (as one does in a museum) “It’s a Hung Liu!!!”

Hung Liu, ""Captured", Oil on Canvas, 66" x 66". 2005

Hung Liu. She is a Chinese painter working in the States, and has been my greatest inspiration for my artistic life. She paints in large scale, working with the figure, using loose, gestural marks that sing.

This was my first time seeing her work in person.

It is large. Thick. Dripping with so much paint that I had the inclination to run my fingers across it to feel the texture. (This, by the way, is frowned upon. Thus, I kept my hands in my pockets.) There was so much more than I ever expected beneath each layer. Every inch of it was lovingly worked, rich.

Hung Liu, "Richter Scale," oil on canvas, 2009

She can say, much more than I, what her work is about. Read more here. (Visiting this site is worth it. The images here are small, but her work is large and complex and worth investigating.)

What I can say is why, on a normal Saturday in an art museum, I stood weeping in front of a painting.

Imagine if you will, that you had spent your life studying classical music. And one day, very unexpectedly, you wander into a place where Beethoven himself is playing. The truth is that reproduction, copies, images, echoes….can only take you so far. Good music, good art needs to be experienced. Breathed in. There is something powerful about hearing or seeing an original.

Hung Liu’s work is very sad. Much of her imagery is that of oppression, hunger and war. Yet it is infused with images of birds, flowers, fruit, abundance. It is achingly and terrifyingly beautiful. When I see her work, I see a snapshot of the human story, fraught with heartache and awe, all in one breath.

Hung Liu, I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, 2001, oil on canvas, 80 x 80 inches

And paintings, very much like music, can move through you and change you, if you let them. Not every painting–actually very few paintings. But if you look hard enough, and for long enough, there can be moments where to look at a piece of art can be a very spiritual experience. It is a different painting for different people. It’s a subtle moment and has to happen in the exact right way. But for me, standing in front of Hung Liu’s work, I was reminded of one of the reasons I think art matters.

Hung Liu, "Great Leap", Oil on Canvas, 78"x114", 2003

I paint for the act of painting. Painting for me is a meditation, a way of life. Yet I was reminded in that museum how a painting can reach across miles and miles, and literally hundreds of years. It can take the thoughts and experiences of one individual, and in a moment, impact another individual without ever meeting.

Hung Liu’s work means something different to her than it does to me. But the fact that it means SOMETHING to me is a profound truth of the human experience. She paints for herself in her studio.

Years later, what she has done reverberates in me, a stranger.

Thank you Hung Liu. Keep painting for us all.

 

 

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Some French Macaroons

It’s been awhile since we’ve talked about food art.

Mostly I’ve been making in-edible things. While melted beeswax smells amazing when I’m making encaustic work, it is by no means delicious.

These, however, are.

French Macaroons. Voila!

I’ll be honest, making french macaroons REALLY intimidates me. They are a tricky business. A good french macaroon has a smooth top and a crinkly bottom (otherwise known as a “foot.”) If over-baked, over-mixed, or with too much humidity, none of these lovely things happen. The french macaroon (or so I have read) is a good test of a baker’s skill, because following the recipe is not quite enough. You must respond to the ingredients, the environment, and know just how to execute the dessert on that given day.

I don’t actually know how to do any of that.

But I’ve been trying. And I’ve kept trying. Would you believe me if I told you this was attempt number nine? It is.

You know what changed? I bought a kitchen scale. (I’m not kidding. It was the scale that did it. My eight previous attempts were utter failures, and then I bought a kitchen scale and came out with perfectly smooth, footed macaroons.)

Aren’t they pretty?

And they are delicious to boot.

Apricot, white chocolate and ginger. Lovely.

My inspiration (and terrified step by step instruction) came from this lovely food blog. Please do look at it. It is fabulous.

I did a little happy dance when they were done.

They really are a marvel to eat. Light and crunchy and almond scented, with the tart fruit filling, mellowed by creamy white chocolate, with just a hint of sharp ginger. Heaven.

Ah, french macaroons. I think we’re friends after all.

 

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