The Loop of Abstraction: Amy Ellingson at San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art

By Maritza Ruiz-Kim

Amy Ellingson’s artwork probes into what we’re experiencing now: the use of digital tools to understand our world, which exists increasingly online. Ellingson uses illustration software to begin her abstract paintings; from these, she discovers and creates additional work. It’s this loop of abstraction that we’re living. As with big data, where computers are used to grasp the breadth of information that’s created as our lives increasingly take place online, Ellingson uses the computer to reach what she terms “essential abstraction”. In archeology, ancient tools are excavated; Ellingson uses the ubiquitous tool of our time to reveal marks that exemplify our changing cognitive landscape. Her work with computer graphics, and later with the materials of painting and sculpture, involve a tangible participation in understanding what is abstract. Below are questions I posed to Ellingson just before I visited her current solo show at the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art. (Iterations & Assertions is up through September 2014 at the San Jose ICA.) – Maritza Ruiz-Kim

Artist: Amy Ellingson Photographer: John Janca

Amy Ellingson, Installation, Iterations & Assertions. The show features a painting diptych, a site-specific wall mural, 1700 cast encaustic forms, oil on linen on shaped panel, and oil on prepared paper. San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, June 7-Sept. 13, 2014. Photo: John Janca © 2014

MRK: I’m excited about the ways that your marks reference the development of written language. They mimic that sense of grasping for ways of communication that are imperfect yet persistent; I see both the beginning of line and its destruction. Your particular marks additionally lend themselves to meaning as you translate them from a digital world to a human one. Well, those two worlds are really merging these days. Which do you feel more drawn to now that you have completed your work at ICA?

AE: Many people see text fragments, of a variety of languages and alphabets, in the work. I don’t deliberately add text fragments. It is merely a byproduct of the process. The forms I use (straight lines, curved lines) is the very stuff of all letter forms. I have always been interested in typography as well as word play, and my early works from 1990-98 utilized text and typography in a very direct way. I love that this has come back into the work through the back door.

Artist: Amy Ellingson Photographer: John Janca

Amy Ellingson, Installation, Iterations & Assertions Photo: John Janca © 2014

As for mark-making and gestural image-making, I am drawn to it, fascinated by it, and appreciative of its place within the history of abstract painting. People have gotten lazy about looking at and thinking about gestural abstraction. It’s easy for viewers to focus on the emotive aspects of the work–to regard gesture as merely a record of mood or state of mind, and to be dismissive of that. But all of the great mid-century Abstract Expressionists were dealing with headier issues. Abstraction has been given short shrift lately, even as contemporary abstraction surges in the today’s art market. I am very interested in the current scuffle over “Zombie Abstraction,” which implies, among other things, that artists are merely trying stylistic strategies on for size, untethered to the lengthy, historical, philosophical debates about the intrinsic issues of painting. Remember, Joan Mitchell was wrestling with Cézanne. Bridget Riley was thinking about Seurat. A sense of personal urgency and the impetus to grapple with historical precedents is necessary.

The digital (virtual) versus real (human) is such an interesting subject in general, and it greatly informs my work. I want the human aspects to win the battle, but I fear that they won’t, in light of the seductive ease of all things digital. My paintings are very much a process of reifying the digital image. The digital is dead, flat, lightning-fast, facile, endlessly variable. The decision to make a painting based on a flimsy digital file is about commitment, time, labor, effort. So, I translate a sketch I make in an hour or two to a painting that might take 500 hours to complete. I see this dichotomy as a means of furthering the philosophical project of abstract painting. How do we make relevant abstract paintings, now, that relate to the great history of abstraction, while also confronting the enormity of contemporary virtual experience? The digital/virtual is the antithesis of the humanness of painting. I suppose my use of digital tools and imagery is a means of keeping the enemy close.

MRK: What role does the transcription of the abstract mark play as you bring the simple abstract lines into complicated physical surfaces in your work?

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AE: The transcription/translation process is essential to the work. There is an evolution from beginning to end. Things are lost along the way, things are gained. Each shape is rendered in five steps: design, projection, transferring, taping, painting. At each point, minute decisions are made. Each of the thousands of shapes is working hard to assert itself, though many of them are covered up when all is said and done.

MRK: You have described your 3D forms as “artifacts liberated from the physical plane”. Do you sense a linear progression between the “wireframe interpretation” of the mural grayscale lines, the layered paintings, then the sculptural forms?

AE: Absolutely. For the San Jose ICA show, Iterations & Assertions, the diptych, Variation: Apparent Reflectional Symmetry, Parts I & II, was conceived first. Everything else keys into that piece. The mural was designed shortly after the diptych. It is essentially a wire-frame version of the diptych, for which I went back into the files for the paintings, selected shapes and outlined them, removing all of the high-key color and using only warm and cool grey tones. The mural isn’t inclusive of every shape in the painting. I see it as a suggestion, a diagram or a map. I’ve never done a mural until now, so a big part of the process was figuring out a means of production. We used vinyl masking to paint the mural, in five complete and separate layers; every little glitchy pixel is captured in the image, whereas the in my paintings, the imagery is more refined by the hand.

Amy Ellingson, [detail] Variation: Artifacts, approximately 1700 cast encaustic forms. Dimensions variable. Photo: John Janca © 2014

Amy Ellingson, [detail] Variation: Artifacts, approximately 1700 cast encaustic forms. Dimensions variable. Photo: John Janca © 2014

I knew I wanted to make a sculptural piece. Again, so much of the process was determining how these fragments would be made. I carved forms out of styrofoam, keeping them similar to the forms in the paintings. I had silicone molds made, and my assistant and I did all of the encaustic casting in the studio.

The mural was produced on-site. The diptych took many months to complete, and all the while, we were also casting forms for Variation: Artifacts. The smaller pieces in the exhibition were completed during the final months of production.

For many years I have created groups of closely related paintings for exhibitions. Until now, the progression was more literal in a sense. For this show, I wanted to tease out particular qualities, elements, characteristics in a more fragmented way. The diptych is the “mothership.” Everything else relates to it, but in a more exploratory way. As the work progressed, I felt that a creative cosmology of sorts was developing. In a sense, one could deduce that anything in the room might be the seed of the large diptych. One might conclude that the diptych is the ultimate crescendo, all of the pieces coming together. But in fact, Variation: Apparent Reflectional Symmetry, Parts I & II is the beginning point; everything else is a deconstruction of that piece.

MRK: You’ve explained that you have work that is based on what you’ve termed a “hermetic” language. Does that refer to each series or to your works as a whole?

AE: It refers to the whole of my work. Most of the forms and shapes appear again and again. The language of forms was initially rendered in Illustrator. It is a very simple vocabulary: straight lines, curved lines, an oblong form, as well as the repetition of these forms into grids. In earlier works, the geometry was quite intact. Recently, it is all but lost. But the DNA of the work never changes. It merely manifests in different ways.

Artist: Amy Ellingson Photographer: John Janca

Amy Ellingson, [detail] Variation: Large Delineation, Site-specific mural on two walls, 13′ x 40’8″, 10′ x 12′; acrylic. Photo: John Janca © 2014

The basic forms are further manipulated in Photoshop. They are stretched, nudged, pulled, scaled, etc. Sections are erased. Pixels are added or subtracted, shapes are outlined, etc. When I arrive at something interesting, I will often use it dozens of times, in many paintings, over a period of years. At a certain point, I began to feel that these forms took on a larger presence: they have become personal gestures in a strange way, even though they were originally conceived via keystrokes rather than the hand. There are many procedural steps and points of translation between the digital rendering and the final painting. There are varying degrees of both digital and material mediation, throughout the labor-intensive process of making a painting. I feel that the imagery is imbued with some power along the way, via the investment of time, attention and physical energy, belying the humble beginnings of the digital imagery.

So, the language is hermetic, in that it is essentially and absolutely a self-referential system, with each part of the image related to every other part of the image in a very literal way. Further, it has become very personal and idiosyncratic, even though the means of devising it is seemingly impersonal.

MRK: Do you consider sets of works to be worlds unto themselves, or are they pieces of a larger abstract world that you are constructing?

Both. There is a connectedness throughout all of the work. When I start a new body of work for an exhibition, I will open a bunch of old files, and start grabbing layers out of them, laying them down into new files. It’s an organic process. But I also see each body of work/exhibition as a contained system. In fact, it is a little difficult for me to make a painting that isn’t part of a larger context. I’m making a couple of new paintings now, for an art fair later this summer, and they feel rather orphaned. They’ll go off on their own, without the context of a particular exhibition space, without a full complement of companions. I don’t do this very often. It disrupts my sense of the work.

MRK: How does encaustic inform your process of translating the digitally composed lines into the physical? What role does transparency play in your work?

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AE: The clear encaustic layer that covers the oil underpainting acts as windowpane in sense, like a glaze in an oil painting. There is a “looking through” that happens. The background is pushed back and it is unified. The top shapes, which are pigmented wax, are really the ultimate manifestations of the other forms–they have pushed up through the surface, asserting themselves with edges and dimensionality and texture. They create subtle shadows. They have a different kind of presence.

In the earlier works that were comprised of intact geometric compositions, transparency was perhaps more important, but it is still very much in play. One of the most challenging aspects of making the paintings is managing the transparency of each layer. If it is “off” it really changes everything. And then one must evaluate and perhaps compensate.

MRK: I’ve read that the history of painting plays a large part in the concepts that you spend time investigating. Do you have in mind to be in conversation with certain artists (or artworks or art movements) of the past, or is that something you see taking place once your works are created?

Artist: Amy Ellingson Photographer: John Janca

Amy Ellingson, Installation, Iterations & Assertions, Photo: John Janca © 2014

AE: I am always thinking about art history, particularly the history of abstraction–its chronology, its digressions, its overlaps. There are artists that are in my mind all of the time, such as Pollock, Mitchell, Al Held, Bridget Riley, Jonathan Lasker, among others. Of course, some of it is more apparent after the fact. Sometimes we don’t realize how deeply embedded our influences are.

MRK: You’ve moved away from abstracting appropriated material, and the digital rendering mitigates your gestural interaction with line. Now having removed the human hand in the development of the line(s), has computer manipulation allowed you to achieve essential abstraction?

AE: That’s an interesting question. My raw imagery has no “hand” in it, but some of it is actually pretty rough and unkempt. The way in which I paint the forms is neutral and precise, not expressive. But I think (hope) the overall effect is one of the hand trying to be perfect, more perfect than the the digital, more mediated by processes and materials, more real, more human.

I strive for a more pure or essential abstraction. I decided to create a vernacular of rather meaningless, noisy imagery, and I try to make it into something bigger, through accretion, repetition, accumulation, processes, materiality and scale. Through time and labor.

I have issues with a lot of abstraction today; though I might like it in a visual sense, there is a lot of painting that loosely ties itself to a subject although the subject might not be apparent or even very significant. I won’t name names… The larger question is: how do we deal with dead ends? Okay, so Abstract Expressionism is over. What do we do about that? Can we still be in dialogue with the movement? It was a point in the continuum. I just want to be a participant in that ongoing dialogue.

Amy Ellingson’s paintings have been exhibited nationally. She is the recipient of the 2009 Fleishhacker Foundation Eureka Fellowship and the 1999 Artadia Grant to Individual Artists and has been awarded fellowships at the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. Notable group exhibitions include Bay Area Now 3 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Neo Mod: Recent Northern California Abstraction at the Crocker Art Museum; and Nineteen Going on Twenty: Recent Acquisitions from the Collection at The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu. Her work is held in various public and corporate collections, including the Crocker Art Museum, the San Jose Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum of California, the Berkeley Art Museum and the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. Ellingson’s paintings have been reviewed in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, NYArts Magazine, and Art issues. She received a B.A. in Studio Art from Scripps College and an M.F.A. from CalArts, and was Associate Professor of Art at the San Francisco Art Institute from 2000 to 2011.  She is currently working on a permanent large-scale public commission for the San Francisco International Airport, due to open July 2015.  Amy Ellingson lives and works in San Francisco.  

Wax at the Miami Art Fairs

Text and photography by Joanne Mattera

I love the week of Post Conference, when I get to slow down and spend time listening to artists. This is what I’ve heard them ask over and over again: Where can I see good work in wax outside of the Encaustic Conference? How come there’s so little figuration in encaustic? Why is there so little sculpture? Where are the men?

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Marina Abramovic at ABMB, 2012, showing with Lia Rumma, Milan and Naples: All sculptures are titled The Communicator, dated 2012, black or white wax with embedded quartz crystals on glass pedestals

Visiting a large art fair would answer some of those questions, as I hope this photo essay will. At Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) and the 20 or so satellite fairs that take over the town the first weekend in December, there’s plenty of figuration, a lot of it sculptural. There’s plenty of painting, a good deal of it abstract. There’s plenty of wax! And beyond our hearty band of Conference colleagues, there are many more men working with wax. Indeed, exhibiting at this level there are at least as many men as women, sometimes more.

The artists showing at these fairs—such as Wolfgang Laib, Johannes Girardoni, and Amy Ellingson—do not define themselves by medium as they do not work exclusively in wax. Besides, it’s no coincidence that when the adjective gets chucked the career gets bigger. (I’ve said the same thing about fiber, here and here.) These artists don’t deny the stuff of their artmaking, but they use it as a means to an end rather than a badge of identity. I’ll add that the art fairs are not only chockablock with wax but with a huge number ofunconventional or challenging materials—from foam, concrete and Astroturf to beads, wood scraps, and carpet squares.

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Wolfgang Laib at ABMB, 2012, with Buchmann Gallerie, Berlin: Untitled, 2007, beeswax, wood

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Detail. From the identifying placard: “The triangles refer to the shape of the pollen mountains and together form a landscape.”


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Johannes Girardoni at Pulse, 2013, with Tomlinson Kong Contemporary, New York City: Dripbox-Blue, 2013, beeswax, pigment and wood; 12 x 44 x 6 inches

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Corner detail.

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Amy Ellingston at Art Miami, 2013, solo installation at Eli Ridgway Contemporary, San Francisco: Variation/Mutation (scribble), 2012, oil and encaustic on two panels, 42 x 132 inches.

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Surface detail. Showing image built in layers.

Work at the bigger venues, such as ABMB and Art Miami, is sophisticated and ambitious, typically large in scale or big in idea, because artists and galleries know a viewer may see 10,000 artworks over the course of four days, and they want to stand out. At the satellite fairs—such as Aqua Art, Context, Miami Project, NADA, Pulse, Scope and Untitled—where work is more likely in the low-four to high-five figures (as opposed to six and seven at the bigger blue-chip venues), the scale is typically more modest, but no less interesting. This is where many of the artists and galleries that are not “big names” (and some who are, or will be) get to show.

While there are many ProWax artists whose work has been included in the fairs, large and small—and ProWax gallerists, such as Kenise Barnes, Miles Conrad and Marcia Wood, who have been participating exhibitors—I’ve made a point of mostly going outside our group to show work that you may not have seen before. Here’s a look at a tiny slice of work in wax or encaustic that was exhibited in Miami in 2012 and 2013, plus one impressive piece from the Armory Fair in New York City in 2012.

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Francesco Sena at Pulse, 2013, with Eduardo Secci Contemporary, Florence, Italy; Mille Rivoli, 2011, wax on polystyrene forms slightly larger than life size. The translation of the title into English is A Thousand Streams.

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This sculpture and painting are part of the larger installation, which received the Pulse Prize, one of several annual jury-awarded cash grants “given to an artist of distinction featured in a solo exhibition at the fair,” according to the Pulse website.


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Richard Dupont at the Armory Show in New York City, 2012, with Carolina Nitsch Contemporary Art, New York City: Untitled, 2012, cast beeswax, 24 inches high

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Catherine Jacobi at Context, 2012, with the Packer Schopf Gallery, Chicago: Hive, 2012, wax, honeybee carcasses, 28 inches high

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Berlinde de Bruyckere at ABMB, 2013, with Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Italy: Romeu “My Deer” V, 2010, wax, but no additional information provided

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Domenico Bianchi at ABMB, 2012, with Galleria Christian Stein, Milan; Untitled, 2012, wax and palladium on fiberglass

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Rana Rochat at Art Miami, 2012, with David Lusk Gallery, Memphis: Untitled L804, 2012, encaustic on panel

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Sandra Vasquez de la Horra at ABMB, 2012, with Kewenig Galerie, Berlin; Various titles, graphite and watercolor on paper in wax; various dimensions, installed with straight pins

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  • Photography: Wherever possible I’ve tried to give you an installation view so that you can see how the work was presented and, not incidentally, to gauge scale. The lighting varies wildly from venue to venue, and often there’s daylight in the mix, which confounds my little point-and-shoot camera. While the frames suggest a fair devoid of people, it’s only because I’ve shot in the brief moment between hordes. I’ve cropped and Photoshopped the images to eliminate distracting elements.
  • Additional artist information: Most of the galleries and artists can be found on Google.
  • Art fair information: Eight years of art fair coverage can be found on my blog. If you’re thinking about going, there’s a plenitude of useful information—along with expansive coverage of most venues each year.


Artist Communities: Jane Guthridge

By Milisa Galazzi

As a regular feature in ProWax Journal, this month’s Artists & Community is Milisa Galazzi’s (MG) interview with artist Jane Guthridge (JG) about her upcoming residency at the Jentel Artist Residency Program in Wyoming.

MG: Jane, thank you so much for taking what I am sure is precious time to share with the PROWAX Journal readers a little about your preparations for your upcoming artist residency. You are in the process of preparing to go on your first artist residency, is that correct? Which one is it, how long will you be there, and why did you pick this particular residency?

JG: Yes, this will be my first artist residency. I will be at Jentel Artist Residency in Banner, Wyoming for one month starting in mid September. I was interested in a residency at Jentel because it will offer me the gift of natural beauty and time. My work is about the changing quality of light in nature and the transcendent experiences light creates. Being in a beautiful natural setting with expansive skies away from my day to day routine will offer me time to think, try new things and push my work forward.

MG: Talk a little bit about the application process. How long did it take to prepare the application and would you do anything differently now that you have gone through the process of applying?

Jane Guthridge in studioJG: At Jentel you are selected on the basis of your work and “the development or promise of a personal vision or voice.” This residency is about process not product, so I didn’t have to show a specific project that I was going to complete while there. My main concern was having good photographs showing a cohesive body of work that expressed my personal vision. The written application is very short. Most of the process is trying to edit your thoughts down to two or three sentences. I did call them a couple of times because I didn’t understand what they were looking for in their question. I was glad I called because I completely misunderstood the question.

MG:As you are presently preparing to leave for this residency, what are the kinds of things that you’re doing to “bank down” and leave your day to day life to make room for this extended period of time away from your home and studio?

JG: I have a show in Chicago right after I get back, so I am busy preparing for that. My plan is to have all the work shipped before I leave. I want to be able to use the residency as a time to explore and try new things (and the inevitable failures that go along with that) without the stress of an upcoming show.

MG: As you are packing for this exciting trip, what types of things are you bringing and why are you choosing those things, both studio supplies and personal items?

JG: My biggest question is what studio supplies I am going to take. I am currently working on small studies, experimenting with other media to see what I want to take with me. My current work is created on a large 40×60 heat table that I can’t take with me, so it is a bit of a forced change, which is one of the reasons I wanted to go to Jentel. There aren’t any art suppliers near Jentel, so this is a big concern for me. I did get a great tip from another artist who was just at a residency in the area – Amazon Prime – art supplies in two days, free shipping. For personal items, I got some new headphones (required in your studio), new music, I’ll take a yoga mat, a good book and I’m thinking about stationery and postcards. Jentel is pretty isolated, no phone reception etc, so I’m think about taking up the lost art of writing letters.

MG: As you set out on this art adventure of a lifetime, what kinds of things are you thinking about and how are you feeling? Could you summarize all that is going through your mind and your heart right now?

JG: I feel a little bit like a kid going to camp for the first time – excited and a little bit nervous!

MG: What else would you like to say about your preparations or your anticipation for this artist residency?

JG: One of the things I did to prepare for this residency was to reach out to ProWax and ask for advice. I found some people took very little with them as supplies, some everything they could, some just sketched and came up with ideas and others created entire bodies of work. The one thing I did hear from many, and will take to heart, was to go with an idea in mind and be prepared to completely let it go.

Galazzi is an artist living and working in Providence and on Cape Cod in the summer. Her graduate degree is from Rhode Island School of Design where she especially focused on her lifelong interest – art and community. Her website is and she is represented by ERNDEN Fine Art Gallery in Provincetown, Mass.



Essential Questions: Expectations for Teaching Standards

by Jane Guthridge 

Questions were asked by Joanne Mattera after listening to the 90-minute panel on teaching at the 8th International Encaustic Conference (“Raising the Bar: Standards and Practices in Teaching Encaustic” with Milisa Galazzi, Sara Mast, Cherie Mittenthal and Toby Sisson):

If you are a teacher, what kind of experience do you bring to teaching? Just technique? Technique with some encaustic history? Technique and history with an understanding and articulation of where encaustic fits into the mainstream of contemporary art? Do you hold an undergraduate or graduate degree in art? Are you an experienced teacher? Do you exhibit regularly?

If you are a student, what do you expect of your instructor? Technique only? Or a guide to larger issues in encaustic and the art world in general? Do you look for a teacher with exhibition experience, a degree in fine arts, teaching experience? Or is it about price and proximity?

A: I look at the description of the workshop, lecture, or demo to determine if I want to attend it. I want to know that the person presenting is knowledgeable whatever that might mean determined by the description. I respect all the education the presenter might have but it is more than just formal education. For a workshop I look to see what the work looks like, what the artist actually says about her work and what s/he will bring to to workshop. What will be covered in that particular workshop? Sometimes it will be a particular area of their expertise. You can’t cover everything in one day, one week, etc.
Cheryl D. McClure

A: For me, it’s less about encaustic and more about formal art considerations – how do you make a painting, how do you look at your own work and evaluate it, what makes a good painting specifically, etc. How to use the medium enters into the conversation but only as an aside, not as the primary focus.
Nancy Natale

A: When/if I’m looking at learning something new, I look for an arts center with an established professional standard (Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA is one). No matter what I’m setting out to learn, I want to learn from someone with extensive experience in the subject matter. Otherwise I’d probably be disappointed and be wasting my money. Being picky serves the quality of my work.
Maritza Ruiz-Kim

A: I think first someone has to have an interest in a workshop. There may be fine artists with interest in a workshop, and there may be people who are just in a position to pursue knowledge about something that interests them. The exchange of ideas is vital to keeping forward momentum. Techniques without ideas and the understanding of art in a larger sense and development of a personal vision will only go so far. The pursuit of more and deeper knowledge will depend on the individual. There will be a natural falling away of those who just jumped in because it seemed like a fun thing to do and those who are truly curious and seeking more ways to express their artistic visions. I do not think an art degree necessarily makes a person a good teacher. Some people are born teachers and do not have a degree. To get back on subject, the level of teaching professionalism in a workshop will attract a similar level of student. I appreciate the discussion you’ve begun here, Joanne.
Rae Miller

A: The level of teaching professionalism will also inspire a student to reach higher than s/he might have thought possible.
Joanne Mattera

A: I have a BFA and MFA and have taught studio and art history courses at the college level. My favorite part about teaching is finding ways to help the students locate their voice. That is the point. There are many ways of doing this, including but not limited to technique. I always have a slide show component in my teaching as a reference point about how other artists may have approached an idea. It is meant to provide a ‘jumping off point’ for students to begin their ideation/brainstorming process and I feel it is a successful way of framing what it is we’re doing. I also don’t spend a ton of time doing demos in the classroom. I prefer working one-on-one and having that face-to-face dialogue – as each student is unique and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ style of teaching doesn’t work. This is why YouTube videos on working with encaustic are a joke! (Talk about ‘no standards’…) As a student, I learned the most from a mentoring kind of relationship. I have been on hiring committees for faculty and someone who ‘looks good on paper’ does not always translate well in person, so it’s not just about having degrees.
Deborah Kapoor

A: I realize that a lot of un-degreed artists who teach may be feeling defensive, but education is in large part what makes a good teacher a great teacher. Because of their BFA and MFA, they see a world–and live an art life–that is broadly scribed. They maintain a studio practice, show regularly, interact with other artists. They know art history, they keep current and–really important–they know how to talk about art, something they can convey to their students. In selecting presenters for the Encaustic Conference, I look to the university model. Most of our presenters are degreed with college or university experience, or many years of entrepreneurial teaching. Deborah Kapoor states this well. I also know that there are gifted teachers who do not have a broad personal practice, or those with an established practice who do not have academic degrees. But, but, but, right now in encaustic there are way too many artists teaching after having taken one workshop. They are doing a disservice not only to their students but to the encaustic community, teaching watered-down versions of what it takes good teachers years to learn.
Joanne Mattera

A: Printmaking is by it’s nature a fairly technical enterprise, encaustic less so than intaglio and other disciplines, and the root of learning printmaking, whether artistically or simply technically is information and enlightenment. I always tell my students that there will be lots of technical information coming at them, but the key is how they put it all together and the “why.” It’s akin to learning a foreign language. One studies vocabulary and grammar, but it is how one puts those components together that governs how well one is able to communicate and communication is key. One has to have ideas and a need to say something in order to fight through putting the fragments of language together and forming a phrase. Teaching art is no different. One is instructing students how to communicate utilizing a visual language. And printmaking can, at times, be a demanding technical exercise. Anyone can string a few words or some technical skills together, but it is learning to communicate that takes time. Communication begins with having something to say and then taking the tools of language and putting them together in a fashion that communicates one’s point of view. But, it all starts with the idea and the why, the need to communicate. Ideas and a point of view are essential. All students share the need to communicate in varying degrees; the key to great teaching is guiding that student toward putting the tools together in a way that translates the ideas more fully, either technically or artistically, and connects them more organically, articulating those ideas and communicating them to others.
David A. Clark

A: As a student or teacher, I think “informed feedback” is the key, i.e., constructive critique and dialogue. A process of working, talking, working talking – both sides of the brain – both parties involved. Inching and leaping forward.
Deborah Kapoor

Q: We’ve heard a lot from the teachers. Now how about from the students? What do you look for in a teacher or workshops? Can you describe a great workshop you’ve taken?
Joanne Mattera

A: I know artists without an art degree who are strong artists and teachers. And the skill to teach does not automatically come with having a BFA or even a strong studio practice. Teaching is it’s own skill. As a student, learning/brushing up on a new technique (by which, I mean a new skill: bookmaking, printmaking, using my digital camera better). I don’t want an instructor to spend half the workshop talking history, etc before focusing on the skill I want to acquire, but good discussion is part of the foundation of a workshop. It also depends if it’s day-long or several classes. When a teacher has a depth of knowledge and experience, it’s communicated even in the little conversations that happen. I’ve been to two versions of the same class: one was taught by a gifted teacher whose knowledge of the material went deep. The other class was also taught by an artist; although her work and teaching style were adequate, I wasn’t inspired.
Maritza Ruiz-Kim

A: I’ve taught for 25 years professionally and have recently found that there are certain things I look for in a workshop. I am usually familiar with the artist’s work and in many cases the artist. When I’m not, I will contact the organization hosting the workshop for additional information. I recently considered taking a local plein air workshop by a visiting artist. When I contacted the organization to get more information (materials list and painting sites), it took them a long time to get back to me. When I did get the information, I could tell that the artist was leaving a lot open ended and I didn’t see much in the way of visible structure for how the workshop would be conducted. This made my decision easy; this workshop was not for me. I look for structured learning experiences that are thoughtful, organized and knowledge based.
Cat Crotchett

A: I have always sought out teachers with expertise in their fields, whom I consider to be masters in their fields, who have art degrees, exhibition experience and teaching experience. I also hold undergraduate and graduate art degrees and I’ve apprenticed with some of the best. As a well seasoned college art faculty and chair, I have taught many techniques while interjecting historical and contemporary exemplars. I also give assignments that challenge students conceptually and personally. Of course “the principles of art” are always a part of it. Proximity means nothing to me. I have studied with mentors, artists, as far away as California, New York, Indiana, and New Mexico and Provincetown of course.
Jennie Frederick

A: Following up on Jennie’s comment: I took a Post-Conference workshop with Patti Russotti on “Imaging for Artists” because I wanted to learn more about preparing my images in Photoshop. From the moment I walked in I could see that Patti was prepared (she had installed a particular version of Photoshop on every Castle Hill laptop), organized (she covered her topics point by point) and generous (she allowed us to download a huge amount of information to take home). She took material that was difficult for a non-mathematical thinker such as myself and made it understandable. I came away with an enormous body of knowledge about what I need to do next.
Patti is a professor in the Photographic Arts and Sciences at RIT. Her education, training and experience were present in every word she spoke. When you have a good teacher, this is apparent.
Joanne Mattera

Jane Guthridge’s work is inspired by the natural world – the rich colors of the land, the play of light on water, the way light and shadows continually change.  A fascination with light and it’s transcendent qualities has shaped her work.  Guthridge’s work is represented by galleries around the U.S., is contained in numerous corporate collections in the U.S. and abroad. She was selected as the 2008 artist of recognition for the State of Colorado and her work was recently added to the U.S. Department of State’s collection of American Artists.