encaustic

Sitting With the Questions

Encaustic mixed media. ©2015 Lee Anne White.

Encaustic mixed media. ©2015 Lee Anne White.

In my last post, I talked about the power of questions. And while it is generally important to answer those questions in order to move forward in your creative work, it may be equally important to learn to sit with them for a while.

One of the most often overlooked steps of the creative process is incubation. I suspect it is because we live in a world of immediacy. Everyone seems to want everything now. We feel rushed to make decisions and move forward. Creative work is expected to be delivered in a fraction of the time it used to be before computers, email and the cloud. We send off short, hurried emails to family and friends rather than taking time to handwrite thoughtful letters and carry them to the post office. Admittedly, there are times immediacy is nice. But in the creative process, taking some time to mull over the possibilities and to allow your brain to make new, unexpected connections is where some of your best ideas come from.

Among the characteristics of creative individuals is the ability to live with ambiguity--not being afraid of not knowing. And I've discovered through trial and error that when I reach the point in the creative process where the answer just isn't coming, where I don't know what to do, or when I feel really frustrated--sometimes that I'm may even be at a dead end, that's when I walk away from it all. Not forever, just for a while. Maybe for a walk with the dog. Maybe to sleep on it over night. Or maybe to set it aside and work on something else for a while. I've learned to trust my subconscious to work on the questions while I go about other business. So while it may appear that I'm procrastinating, I'm really just allowing ideas to incubate. There is power in going back to a project with a fresh perspective.

Why Questions May be More Important Than Answers

Encaustic mixed media. ©2015 Lee Anne White.

Encaustic mixed media. ©2015 Lee Anne White.

Over the years, I've come to realize that questions are generally more powerful than answers. They encourage us to explore, to dig deeper, to think and reflect. Sometimes in that digging process, what we find are more questions than answers. Yet those questions help drive us forward, to understand ourselves better, to identify ways in which we can continue to learn and grow. Questions tap our sense of curiosity about the world around us, the people we meet and ourselves. They help us see things in new ways.

As I continue my explorations into the worlds of encaustic and mixed media, I find I am asking many questions. Does this new work include my photographs or does it stand entirely on its own? Does it explore the same subjects in new ways, or new subjects altogether? In what ways does my sense of visual style carry over into the other media? In what ways might it be necessarily different? Is this an extension of my photographic work, simply a diversion, or a new direction entirely as a grow as an artist?

These are some of questions I carry around with me daily. I explore them in my journal, mull them over while doing the laundry or driving to yoga class, and even dream about them when I sleep. They follow me to the studio, where I ask these and many other questions that relate to individual pieces I'm working on. And there, I often ask a lot of "What if..." and "How might I..." questions as well.

What are the questions that help propel you forward in your work and your creative process?

The Art of Embracing Imperfection

Encaustic mixed media. ©2015 Lee Anne White.

Encaustic mixed media. ©2015 Lee Anne White.

I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, but intentionally embracing imperfection in craft does not come easy to me when I have spent years trying to improve my craft.

A year or so ago, I began a journey into the art of encaustic photography which, in its simplest form, involves embedding photographs in melted beeswax and Damar resin on a wood panel and then fusing with heat. Of course, the real beauty of encaustic medium is the ability to experiment—to print on different materials, integrate other objects, add paints and pigments, and create texture of all kinds. In the course of doing these things, the work gains depth and a sense of mystery, and is often transformed into something entirely different that only hints at the original image. It requires letting go of expectations, as the melted wax has a life of its own that tends to be unpredictable. It also means letting go of the attachment to my original photograph—the one I worked so hard to compose and expose properly, and that I likely spent a great deal of time spotting to remove the dust specs and imperfections.

It’s that letting go that I both love and hate, and which holds me back if I allow it. Another encaustic artist I admire had an interesting suggestion: Start with a photo you don’t really like. That turned out to be more difficult than expected, too. How to choose a photo I don’t really like? Why would I want to work with that? What would make me choose it?

Encaustic photo. ©2014 Lee Anne White.

Encaustic photo. ©2014 Lee Anne White.

I have screwed up so many encaustic panels attempting to embrace imperfection that the process itself has presented a sort of solution. I periodically take that stack of really bad pieces, melt the wax off, and start over—often on top of damaged images that remain glued to the panel. Sometimes I only melt off some of the wax and start there, instead. And then I give myself permission to experiment with new techniques—to play and have fun and make a mess rather than trying to create a work of art. Part of that process is distressing the panel—scraping, stabbing, scrubbing, pounding, gouging and such. In doing so, I find techniques, new elements and color or material combinations that work for me.

Admittedly, I’ve “wasted” a lot of wax this way. And I end up with odd pieces that don’t work together as part of any grouping or project. But that’s how I started as a photographer, too—“wasting” a lot of film by shooting anything and everything, mostly making bad images at first, but discovering glimmers of hope and excitement along the way. So I will continue embracing imperfection, letting go of expectations and playing in the studio.

View From Hot Air Balloon

For my birthday, my husband and I went on a hot-air balloon ride in North Georgia. We met at 6am, quickly shuttled to a nearby parking lot, and had the balloon unpacked and on its way in a matter of minutes--in plenty of time to see the sun rise near Sawnee Mountain. What we had not expected was the fog. Our guide kept apologizing for the fog (as if he had any control over such matters), but I loved it. Here's a shot I took that morning. It was printed in black and white on Japanese kozo paper, mounted on birch board, and coated in encaustic medium.

Photo ©2014 Lee Anne White

Photo ©2014 Lee Anne White