Essential Questions: Experimentation in the Studio


Following are some responses from a discussion among ProWax members.

What is the role of experimentation in your practice? Early on, it’s all about the materials, trying new paints and techniques, but once we get to the place where we understand what we want to say and how we want to say it, content takes precedence. Where are you at in the process?

Christine Shannon Aaron: I find I am constantly toggling back and forth. I have concepts I want to express through a certain process or medium, but as the series develops it invites new ideas. Then I find myself back on the material end. I need to figure out how to use new materials, where to source them, learn the properties of the materials so that I can combine them, all in an effort for the concept to speak through the materials. Goller_EQ_RRight now I am investigating more sculptural pieces with wood and shattered mirror. This has required a learning curve about adhesion properties, sealing and attaching.

Pat Spainhour: Currently I am experimenting on collaborative work with my blacksmith husband. This has lead to incorporating iron supports, as well as charring the wood panel prior to encaustic. I find it helpful to keep a journal. Everything I do is an experiment; that is the thrill!

Debra Claffey: Well, content is still part of the experimentation process, even after learning what the materials and techniques will do. I need to figure out which materials will express my content most strongly. Drawing or collage, paint or wax–the experimenting is an integral part of the constant decision-making.

Amy Weil: I’m using the grid as a jumping off place, thinking about a psychological space and interiors that invoke memories from my past. Color and composition are key to achieving these places in time and space. The technique is taking a back seat these days to my ideas. Maybe not so much a back seat but it is in the service of my ideas.

Jane Guthridge: I am currently working on a new series that I started at my residency this fall. It involves capturing and suspending light and shadows. While still trying to express the same ideas, I am always looking for new ways to do that. The new work is dimensional so requires experimenting with new materials and methods of display. It is a long and often frustrating process, but keeps my work moving forward.

Judy H. Klich: I continually push myself to dig deeper into my message and that has led me to look at developing the art to convey my intent more concisely. I have another side of me that wants to go in a whole new direction but I struggle to maintain my “style” so I am consistent with my work. I am also starting to work on making jewelry and crocheting as hobbies and today I had one of those ah-ha moments where I would love to incorporate [those materials into my work]. That idea is just starting to bubble.

Cheryl McClure: It is not a direct process, as we all know in art making. I am a ‘mature’ artist in age and time spent in the studio. I still do not know where I am going most of the time. I am also an intuitive painter using gesture and color, organizing it with line. I experiment, YES, when I need to. NO, I do not go looking for every new thing coming out. I use something new, I have to think about how I will use this and if it will be useful to my process and me. I still think of using a material and then analyzing if it will be appropriate since I do sell my work.

Krista Svalbonas: I’m constantly experimenting. The thesis of what I’m saying usually stays consistent but I find many ways and media to explore its potential. I never thought my photographic documentation, which I use as part of the painting process, would launch into the series of collages that I am making now. With this work, I’m finding new materials and new display methodologies. It’s pretty invigorating, sometimes frustrating, but really fabulous when everything comes together.

Hylla Evans: Being in a new place, I’m witnessing seasons that have lighting completely different from Northern California. Returning to colorist landscape work and pushing through a tendency to overthink combine to form new challenges. It’s unclear whether I’m documenting the light I see or capturing what I feel. Working initially outdoors and maintaining the emotional thrust of the sensory moment are harder than painting a scene. I’m pushing myself.

Rae Miller: I am experimenting for at least part of every day I spend in the studio. At times I am a voracious consumer of new materials: seeking, trying, casting away or totally adopting. Currently, I am in a reductive mode. I’m working on a series about “lightness” and am stripping down to basic elements. The push and pull of content and materials is what keeps me interested.

Miller_EQ_LJoanne Mattera: When I was writing my book, back in 2000, one of the questions I asked Jasper was this: “Over the past few years, encaustic materials have become increasingly available. Has this changed how you approach your work?”

He responded: “There has not been a change for me, because I formed my habits under earlier conditions and have stuck to the same procedures. I know now that there are catalogs of materials. I ordered some paint but haven’t used it yet.”

I understood it then, as I was 15 years into my own involvement with the medium, but I really understand it now, as I dig deeper and deeper into a small field of interest.

Cat L Crotchett: It’s rarely experimentation for the sake of experimentation. Even when I’m learning a new technique, the content of my work is consistent. That said, the content shifts and moves over time. I have found that during the summer, when my son is out of school, it’s hard for me to maintain a rigorous studio schedule and so I’ve accepted that by giving myself permission to do plein air work when we’re at the beach or on vacation. This work is entirely about experimentation.

Karen Nielsen-Fried: I still find that I am totally entranced by the endless possibilities of encaustic paints and oil sticks. I find that my experimentation has more to do with content than medium, because encaustic just seems to deliver the material needs I have and it is up to me to figure out how to transform it to meet my content needs. That’s a challenge I give to myself and I never feel that I am hitting a wall with it. I do occasionally go on exploratory side trips with gouache, cyanotype, cut paper, but I always come back to encaustic.

Lisa Pressman: Experimentation is key to my process and the content of my work. Beginning as a ceramist, turning to sculpture in various media and then painting with oil and cold wax in the 80’s, to encaustic and back to oil, I am always trying to think of my studio as a lab. I approach my work with the ‘What if” question not only with the materials but also in content. My process of layering while painting allows for the freedom of experimenting both with image and materials as I can always cover it up and use it as history. I find that my ongoing content–inside and outside spaces, mark making and abstract narrative –are the structure for my meanderings.

Krista_EQ_RHelen Dannelly: For me, experimenting can be very uncomfortable, but it’s the only way I stretch the boundaries of my work–jumping off into the void and wondering what will come of it. Sometimes it’s a lot of “failure” before I seem to land upon something. As Thomas Alva Edison said, ” I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Marilyn Banner: My work has always been content driven, starting from something that moves me deeply, something that makes me stop and hold its image–a certain light, a certain spot of sand, the ways two objects bump in the midst of flow. Encaustic has been my main medium since 2003. It is the perfect medium for my way of working, which has always mixed adding with subtracting, layering, mixing image with abstraction. I experiment and “muck around” until the “accidents” bring me closer to what some part of me is after, but I never know exactly what that is until I get it.

Nancy Natale: I feel that every piece I make is an experiment of one kind or another. Perhaps it’s not evident to others, but to me each piece presents problems to solve and reaching a solution is key for my relationship with the work. I also toggle back and forth between my tribal-looking work and something more conservative. The methods I use on all the work are pretty much the same but the content changes.

Laura Moriarty: I used to experiment like mad with materials, and I still approach every piece with some kind of question in mind. But as the content of my work has become clear and understood (I think) by viewers, I am challenging myself in that regard. So instead of resting on my geologic time/human time laurels, I am asking myself how my work might approach ideas that I’ve held myself back from, like human activities that disrupt the environment. I never wish to be didactic, but I always push my work as a form of communication.

Deborah Kapoor: I don’t think it’s necessarily an either/or answer. I think of the word ‘experiment’ as pushing oneself somewhere new. With encaustic, there are many options of ‘how’ to use it, which I now see as a great strength. If you spend time learning about new materials, I think you can afford to try something new as it serves your idea.

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