Artist Communities: Ruth Hiller

By Milisa Galazzi

As a regular feature in ProWax Journal, this month’s Artists & Community is Milisa Galazzi’s (MG) interview with artist Ruth Hiller (RH) about her recent residency at the Golden Foundation Residency Program in “the beautiful rolling hills of central New York”.

Ruth Hiller at

Ruth Hiller at the Golden Foundation Residency Program

Milisa Galazzi: Ruth, thank you so much for taking the time to share with the ProWax Journal readership a little bit about your recent time spent at Golden participating in their residency program. Can you explain how the paint company and their residency program are connected? How long were you there, and how many other artists were there working with you?

Ruth Hiller: Golden Paint has a really interesting history. The founder, Sam Golden, made oils in New York City for famous artists in the 1930s to 1970s; it was Bocour Paint Company. Sam wanted to retire to upstate N.Y. and signed an agreement in the 70s not to make paint for seven years. After living upstate for a while, a lot of the artists he worked with in N.Y.C. were calling him to make paint again. He made mineral spirit acrylic for Louis Morris’s big spill paintings. Then he started the Golden Paint Company. It’s always been family run and now is run by his son, Mark, his wife, Barb, and their daughter, Emma, who runs the Golden Foundation. All are passionate about paint, quality, and artists.

They had a dream to run a residency because, since their dad’s time at the company, it was well known that their paint techs loved working with artists to fill special needs for products. That’s why they have so many products! They converted an old barn across the street from their paint factory into three small apartments, a huge kitchen, and five studios. They are so generous with their time and products. They came by the residency every day.

The residency was a month long and there were three artists there including myself.

MG: Ruth, you typically work with wax. Golden makes a tremendous amount of acrylic paints and mediums. Please share a bit about your interest in applying to a residency that was specifically designed to explore another medium.

RH: I love working with encaustic but had become frustrated with the fragility and the expense. I saw that Golden always had so many products that looked so interesting and I didn’t know how to use any of them! I had tried acrylic before and did not like the texture or the quality of the paint because I did not know how to work with it.

Some of Ruth's Work at Residency

Some of Ruth’s Work at Residency

The residency was appealing to me because the Golden technicians were available to help with any questions. It was a month with an unlimited amount of supplies and a fantastic studio. The technicians gave a few demos a week to teach how to use the products. The technicians formulate custom products for anyone and they are great at troubleshooting problems for artists. The demos consisted of:

  1. testing each and every ground and medium on a board to take home for reference,
  2. photo transfers, digital grounds
  3. pouring
  4. making skins
  5. working with Williamsburg Oils (which Golden bought a few years ago)
  6. working with glazing and varnishes
  7. visiting the paint factory
  8. working with their new watercolor line QOR

MG: As a professional artist, what was it like to have complete access to all of the materials that Golden makes? How, if at all, do you think you might use some of these materials in your future work?

RH: One of my favorite qualities of beeswax is the thickness combined with translucency. It was fun to be able to pour large quantities of acrylic mediums with wild abandon, not thinking about price or if it was going to work or not. As a professional artist I am always open to learning and experimenting with new products or techniques. Right now I am keeping my encaustic work separate from the work I do with acrylic. The mediums are not compatible. I will be exploring some ideas that deal with juxtaposition of the mediums and each medium offers different qualities that can complement the other.

MG: During your time at Golden, you had mentioned on Facebook that you experienced some frustration during your residency. Setbacks are a natural and common part of making art anywhere! If you are willing, could you share some of the challenges that you experienced?

RH: The biggest challenge for me was the isolation. Since there were only two other artists, there was not much interaction between us during the day. The factory and the technicians were down the street. I was working in the studio at least 12-hour days six days a week! I was learning a new medium and was doing a ton of test panels and not making what I thought was “real work.” I experimented for almost two weeks with the different products before I decided how I wanted to incorporate them into my work. Sometimes it felt like I did not know what I was doing or what message I was trying to convey through my work. I started to feel that maybe it was the medium. encaustic, that I loved more than the message.

MG: Looking back now, what do you think are the three most important things that you gained from your time at Golden?

RH: It confirmed my love of painting, no matter the medium. I gained time and space to play with any imaginable material for learning sake and not care about the outcome. I am excited to have the time to have learned a new medium to expand my horizons in my art making.

MG: Ruth, what advice can you share with anyone who is thinking about a residency experience, presently applying to residencies, or planning on embarking upon a residency in the near future?

RH: Do your research and make sure the residency fits your needs in your career. I was really interested in learning the mediums that Golden offered. A month is a long time but I feel that it is necessary to immerse myself completely. I have done workshops at Anderson Ranch for a week, and somehow that seems too short. It is also good to be able to drive with a car full of supplies to the residency. I would love to apply somewhere abroad, but shipping supplies is another consideration. There are other residencies that host more artists at once than the Golden residency, so one should decide how she or he wants to spend time during the residency. There was a residency going on at a nearby place, totally different vibe, writers, musicians and artists, but they didn’t have great studio space.

MG: Lastly, what else would you like to share with the ProWax readership on this topic? Again, thank you so much for your contribution, Ruth!

RH: I must admit that it seemed that acrylic was a lot less fragile and less expensive than encaustic. But, this isn’t the case. I poured liquid grounds on my panels that are just as expensive as the beeswax medium. I also thought that the working time would be less, but sometimes the pours and base coats took up to three days to dry. However, as a geometric painter, the taping situation is much easier with the acrylic, but it takes more coats to get the effects that I am looking for with the paint.

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