Monday, July 25, 2016

Rebecca Crowell's New Book on Cold Wax

 Friends, my work has been included in this new book on Cold Wax Medium and to help Rebecca and Jerry get the word out I thought I'd share the back story on their collaboration. I'm excited to see their dream come to fruition and I know some of you will want a copy of the book.

Here's one of my cold wax pieces, although not the one in the book.

  the back story

This has been an astonishing week for Jerry McLaughlin and me. Just last Tuesday, we launched the crowdfunding campaign for our upcoming book, Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts &Conversations.  Yesterday the funding reached $30,000, exceeding our goal and our highest expectations. The majority of the advanced copy books we offer have been claimed, the workshops that Jerry and I will teach in May filled quickly, and we have received wonderful contributions from 17 countries. The clear message we hear is that many artists are very excited about our project. They are not only eager to receive copies of the book as soon as possible, but many are also offering generous outright donations and high levels of support. To be surrounded by such affirmation, appreciation, and confidence in the outcome of our book is a beautiful thing. 

Our crowdfunding campaign continues, with additional funds earmarked to help with our distribution and retail pricing. Please click here to join in the effort. There are still advanced copies and signed copies of the book available as perks. Thank you, and thanks to all who have already joined the campaign!!

As we reach the last stages of publishing, I've been thinking back about the events that have evolved over time and culminated in this book. The idea took root in my own art practice, but the right partner and collaborator was necessary for it to grow. 

The story begins when I bought my first jar of cold wax medium in early 2002 at the suggestion of one of the helpful salespeople at Wet Paint in St. Paul, Minnesota. When I think of all the changes in my work and my life that came from that one impulsive purchase, I'm amazed. But from the start, I found that cold wax medium suited what I was after in my work. I’d just begun to find my way with abstraction, following an artist residency I’d had in Spain that fall, and in those first explorations with cold wax, I gained much firmer footing in my personal direction. The landscape-inspired color fields and textures that I had been rendering with straight oil paint now emerged organically from the process itself, due to the body of the wax and paint mixture. It was an intriguing alignment of materials, process and ideas.

Garden, 2004, 40"x24" 

Over the next few years, I experimented and came up with many techniques that involved brayers, squeegees, palette knives, imprints from textural objects, powdered pigments, and pigment sticks. I found that intricate effects were possible when digging back into my built-up layers with scraping and solvents. Through practice I began to notice how certain techniques worked best at certain stages of the paint surface’s drying, and developed patience for working at those optimal times.

my cold wax tools

For a number of years, cold wax was simply a part of my process, an ingredient in all of these explorations, but fairly unremarkable in itself. Then in 2009, Kathryn Bevier invited me to teach a workshop in Rochester, NY. The subject of the class was up to me, and I was casting around for an idea when a friend said, “why not teach about that wax that you use?” I dug back through some notes I had made in my sketchbook, and came up with enough information (barely) for a two day class.

If anyone had tried to tell me then that within seven years I would have a national and international teaching practice, or that I’d be co-authoring a 300+page book on the topic, I'd have laughed. But even in that first workshop, the excitement of the artists in the class, and their immediate engagement with the process was clear, and I was encouraged to continue. It wasn't long before I was teaching 10-12 workshops a year, and in 2012 I taught my first overseas class, at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo, Ireland. Since then, I've also taught in Italy and Sweden, and have had artists in my class from those countries and from Brazil, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, France, Denmark, and Spain. 

teaching in Ireland/ photo:June Durkin

Teaching has never been only a one-way process for me. Cold wax medium invites experimentation; most people who work with it come up with ideas and applications that suit their own needs, and are generous in sharing. Following my early workshops, the community of artists working with cold wax medium began to grow rapidly through online contacts (including facebook, and a website and discussion forum that I started in 2009.) Artists who had been using cold wax on their own for years also entered the conversation. Over the past few years, cold wax topics discussed online have become wide ranging and internationally based. Many artists are now teaching workshops and broadening the base of knowledge. Through the curiosity and dedication of thousands of involved artists, cold wax medium has evolved into a hot topic.

From the earliest days of my workshops, artists were suggesting that I could, or more urgently, should write a book on the subject. But while I enjoy writing about art and my studio practice in my blog, a book about cold wax medium seemed like an entirely different, and not very appealing, project. I was unable to envision it as much more than a how-to book, which seemed to me a tedious sort of writing. I did have a book in mind that I wanted to write someday, but it would mainly concern broader ideas about painting. So although the seed of a book focused on cold wax medium took root early on, it remained for years a tiny, badly nurtured seedling. (In fact, I kind of hoped the poor thing would die.)

This was my attitude when Jerry first contacted me with the idea of collaborating on a cold wax book. My response could not be called enthusiastic, but I agreed to hear him out. Fortunately, he is a persistent and persuasive person in all the best ways, and eventually, in February of 2015, we met in person to discuss the idea. That day, we talked for almost ten hours, and my skeptical outlook shifted. During this in-depth conversation, I was able to clearly see new and exciting possibilities for the book. Jerry’s vision was broad, and together we discussed how to include our shared passion for the bigger issues. We agreed from the start that the “why” of cold wax and art practices in general should carry weight equal to the “how.” 

In discussing our roles for the book, it was important to me that Jerry be the sole curator of the artists and images that we would publish in the book. There was no way I wanted to select and reject from among my many friends and students in the cold wax community. The prospect of doing this in the past had been another factor that stalled me from writing a cold wax book on my own. 

Jerry’s passion for the topic, his energy, research, and willingness to track down and communicate with artists from around the country and the globe has made this book a reality. I am forever grateful for his persistence and vision.

In a few weeks, I will join Jerry in Oakland, CA for the final stages of approving the book text and layout, and shortly after that, Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts, & Conversations will be off to the printer.  We have been working on it for over a year and a half now, and it has been a deep and engaging (and sometimes, exhausting) process. Just as teaching is not a one-way learning experience, working on the book has taught us a great deal--we've learned from each other (click here for an earlier blog post about our collaboration), from Jerry's considerable research, and from the many artists who have contributed images and ideas. 

We sincerely hope the book fills the high expectations that surround it and that the cold wax conversation will expand and grow as the result of its publication. Cheers!