Borderless Earth (Why Jammu and Kashmir?)

A couple months ago I had one of those self-limited moments that my husband is particularly good at shattering. I was explaining to him that I really wanted to paint the earth without borders, especially areas of the world where there are territory disputes. I think at the time I felt held back by some bizarre lack of understanding of those issues, but in true form, my husband simply said: "then go do it."

Of course. That's always the answer.

He helped me brainstorm a list of disputed territories and of that list I chose to work on Kashmir and Jammu first. In case you don't know (because I really didn't) Jammu and Kashmir is the mountainous region on the northern border between India and Pakistan. The area is disputed and despite it also being "heaven on earth" and a vacation spot for Indians, there is much fighting and conflict there. The photos I have seen of the area have blown me away every time. I started following a few Pakistani photographers on Instagram and am still blown away by the stunning scenery they post. (Check out @pakistan_amazing and @aq_abbaxi)

There are two main reasons I chose this particular part of the world to paint first.

Kashmir and Jammu, 3x4', encaustic and oil. View it at The Hub University in Reno for the month of May.

Kashmir and Jammu, 3x4', encaustic and oil.
View it at The Hub University in Reno for the month of May.

First, I am fascinated the geology of this region of the world. From satellite images, it is so obvious that India smashed into the rest of Asia millions of years ago and created the giant, wrinkly ripple that is the Himalayans and their surrounding hills. The impact the mountains have on weather is incredibly evident as well with a massive desert sitting behind them running into China.

Second, creating otherness and division is an obsession in this country and (as stated in my last post) I don't buy it. Jammu and Kashmir are regions with very different cultures than where I live and I am terrified of violence but, when I let go of my fear of our differences, I know we are all human and very much the same. I push myself to reach for the sameness through a mutual appreciation for beauty and painting somewhere you will never see in an American travel brochure.

Mexicali/Calexico, 8x10", encaustic and oil on Claybord

Mexicali/Calexico, 8x10", encaustic and oil on Claybord

Along with the giant Jammu and Kashmir painting, I have also recently been looking at the Mexico/USA border. Most of my fascination with painting the earth from satellite view comes from the fact that I can turn off all borders, but there are some places on earth where you don't need a superimposed line to see a border. That's how the Mexico/USA border is. Why? Because we've stolen all the water.

When I was studying resource economics (yes, that was my major...hence the fascination) I had a professor tell me that future wars will be fought over water. Not oil. Water. I believe this. Especially when you look at Calexico/Mexicali. The border between these two cities is so obvious it's shocking. Green, lush fields on one side; pale desert on the other. For a world where most borders can't be seen from space, it is a sad anomaly.

My challenge to you:
What region of the world have you ignored? Not even on your radar. Google it and find the beauty in it. It's there waiting to light up your day.

This work will be on view at The Hub University (941 N. Virginia, Reno, NV) for the month of May. Come say hello at the reception on May 19, 5-7pm!

Study of Jammu/Kashmir, 4x4"

Study of Jammu/Kashmir, 4x4"

Study of Jammu/Kashmir, 4x4"

Study of Jammu/Kashmir, 4x4"

Commission Story: Edinburgh

Eric Brooks is deeply immersed in the art scene of Reno, Nevada and his home is a reflection of that commitment to the arts. The walls that surround his life are filled with paintings large and small that each tells a story about a connection he felt to the work. Some of the artists I know as well, but others tell the story of Eric’s travels and the artists he has met along the way.

This winter Eric asked me to add another piece to his collection: an aerial landscape of Edinburgh, Scotland.

He sent me a screenshot of what part of the city he wanted in the painting, we agreed on a size, and I started painting.

Eric wanted to commemorate Edinburgh in particular because he says Edinburgh is where his life changed and took a new direction. He loves the city and would move back in a heartbeat. He lived in Edinburgh for a couple years and during that time he realized he wanted to dedicate himself to working in the non-profit arts sector. Now the painting of Edinburgh hangs on his wall, reminding him of all that the city taught him and the close friends he has there.

I loved creating this painting for Eric, in particular, because I knew I was commemorating something for him that was instrumental in his life. Also, Edinburgh is a fascinating city from above. Courtyards are secreted behind tall buildings and the port reaches out into the Firth of Forth like a claw arm. Edinburgh is also incredibly green and lush, which was a change from the alpine mountains and wind-blown deserts I often paint.

A few weeks after I delivered the cured painting I visited his house to see where it hung and talk to Eric a bit more about his art collection.

I found out that Eric grew up in Montpelier, Idaho, a small farming town of around 2,500 people in the southeast corner of the state. His parents would save up money every year to take the family vacation at one of the regional arts festivals, where they would purchase one new piece of art each year. Eric told me that it was always exciting to have a new piece of art to bring back to the house and this is where his love of collecting art started. We also talked about how Reno, Nevada is the perfect place to start collecting art. In his expert opinion, the prices are low and the quality of work is high.

Art changes lives. That’s why Eric thinks everyone should collect art. Buy work that speaks to you, he says, and you will be investing in your community in a very tangible way.  

If you were commissioning a piece, where would it be of and why? Comment below with your answer.

Find out more about the organizations that Eric Brooks is involved with at Art Spot Reno and Sierra Arts Foundation.

What is Encaustic?

Most of my work is painted in encaustic and oil. Often people are familiar with oil paints, but what is encaustic?

The term encaustic refers to the process of painting by capturing pigments in wax and setting them with heat. The medium, or base of the paint, is typically 8-parts beeswax and 1-part damar resin, though this ratio varies by artist and technique. The term encaustic comes from the Greek word enkaustikós, meaning “burning in.”

Encaustic is one of the oldest forms of painting, but it went largely unused until the mid-20th century. In 100-400 BCE the Egyptians used encaustic to paint the Fayum mummy portraits. Use was sporadic through the centuries until artists such as Jasper Johns, Esther Geller, and Karl Zerbe began utilizing the techniques again. In the 1980/90s the methods became more widespread and manufacturing of the paint began.  

Artists use encaustic for a variety of reasons, as it has a wide range of special properties. Some artists love encaustic for its luminosity. Some artists work with encaustic because there is no dry time, only cooling time which is practically instant. Some artists work with encaustic by pouring encaustic around three-dimensional objects. Some artists, like me, love encaustic for the way you can build texture and then carve back into it.

A couple technical notes...a complete guide and resources page are coming soon.

MEDIUM

I typically make my own medium to save money, but you can buy it pre-made as well. I go through 10lbs of medium every couple months between my painting and teaching encaustic painting workshops. I’ll film a whole tutorial on making medium soon, but the basic method I use it to melt 4lbs of non-chemically bleached beeswax from Swans in an old crock pot, melt 0.5lbs of the damar crystals in an electric frypan, filter the damar through cheesecloth, and then combine the two.

PIGMENTS

I buy all my colored wax rather than pigment my own wax, mostly for health reasons. R&F Paints in Kingston, NY does a great job of making incredibly pigmented paints. I love working with their products. I either melt the colors in large pots (if I want a lot of one color) or melt the bars directly onto a hot palette.

FUSING

The key to archivally create encaustic work is to consistently fuse between each layer of paint. This is extremely important. Your entire piece will delaminate over time if you don’t. I use a butane blow torch in my studio but teach with electric heat guns.

SAFETY

Encaustic painting does require a solid understanding of the safety issues involved. Encaustic paints should never be heated above 220 degrees Fahrenheit, as toxic fumes are produced at a high volume at that point. All heating of encaustic releases some fumes, so all work should be completed in a well-ventilated area. See these technical articles from R&F for more details.

Some people regard encaustic as a highly dangerous medium, but I’ve found that these people generally still think artists utilize the technique of the 1970s of thinning the medium with turpentine. Most artists I know do not use this technique, as the impact on your health is far worse. Some artists still use full respirators.

More on how I am currently using encaustic with oils in my next post. 

Until then, please sign up for my newsletter below. I'd love to share more inspiration and resources with you!
 

Why I Love Showing My Work (even though it makes me nervous)

A couple weeks ago I was standing in a large, empty room in Truckee, California as the snow relentlessly fell outside. It was the moment before my latest show reception started. I tapped my toes inside my boot. I pushed aside the nagging question, “what if no one shows?” I looked around, feeling pride at all the pieces I had finished in the previous months.

I’ve never been one of those artists who felt a ton of resistance to showing my work, but it definitely used to be a more nerve-wracking moment than it is now. After years of painting, teaching, and refining I’ve come to a place of having confidence in what I’m putting out into the world. And that night I really realized something: I love showing my work.

People did come. Curious, engaged, talkative people. New people who wanted to hear about my process and the thoughts behind the pieces.

One man and I stared at my painting of Los Angeles and contemplated how peaceful it looked from afar. We discussed the pollution problems and blamed the mountain range that rose up from the surface of the substrate in the top of the painting.

One woman and I had a great conversation about modern ideas of identity and boundaries as we dissected the meaning of Cradle of Humanity. I explained that Cradle of Humanity is a painting of the topography of Laetoli, Tanzania where some of the first pre-human footprints were discovered, which I punctuated with modern country names in between the topography lines. To me, this piece is really about asking the viewer to question the way we segment ourselves in modern times considering we all came from the same ancestors.

Another couple found islands and towns around Seattle that they knew while I confirmed the locations and names.

Another local artist and I discussed the relationship between the organic and the graphical aspects of the earth, and what story that can tell about human impact. We noted that I often represent roads and rivers in the same way, by carving the encaustic base. I shared that this tension is often what I want the viewer to consider.

These conversations are why I love to show my art. I contemplate these concepts and relationships in my studio as I work, but if they never reach anyone, if they don’t translate, if they don’t resonate with others, what’s the point?

Every conversation I have allows me to refine and encourages me to continue the conversation. The little bits of vulnerability and nervousness that remain just let me know that I’m still alive.

My work is up at Atelier in Truckee, CA through February 2017.