A Tuscany September

A few years ago I began to dabble in oil and cold wax. I learned all I knew through the books and a video by Portland artist Serena Barton. I embarked on exploration at a basic level, not knowing what exactly I was doing. But who does when they’re learning?

Immediately evident to me was a heightened sense of engagement with the piece I was creating. Synesthesia, an overlapping of the senses. I wanted to smear the medium across the board with my hands. Cold wax invites it, even though I know I shouldn’t for safety reasons. It was no longer just color or line but movement. I’m glad I didn’t meet defeat at the start. I was happy about the first few pieces because, with the next couple, I gave up in pure frustration. Clearly, I needed more substance about the landscape than a map can give. Books and videos can only do so much toward knowledge. About that time, I discovered Serena was offering a 10-day art retreat in Tuscany through Lisa Statkus’ Gryphon Art and Travel. I didn’t hesitate to make the commitment. But I had a year to wait…

I anticipated this time of study with expectancy. It was part of my Annual Pause for 2017. Then September came. An unanticipated aspect though was the sense of pilgrimage, somewhat like a much abbreviated version of my Camino walk. No physical trials. But certainly I wrestled with myself until I didn’t. I met myself coming and going, and will admit to nearly walking out and calling it quits after the first few days. I was silent about it, and probably no one noticed my state. Of course, this had absolutely nothing to do with the teacher or venue. Both were stellar. I usually go through a hate-love process with my artwork (which I happily learned many artists do). But this took it to the nth degree. It clearly had to do with the fact I was in completely unknown territory.

Certainly it’s possible to create degrees of realistic artwork with this medium. But most oil and cold wax artists go for abstraction. New ground for me. Add to the mix, until you have a few layers on the substrate, it all looks like a horrible mess.

I have to say something about Serena. She works with pure abandon. In the moment. Picking up this and that to see how it will look. Flinging around paint, paper, incising, mixing in sand…you name it. Completely open to what spontaneity would bring. She would preface a demo by saying, “Let’s see what happens.” And be fine with whatever it brought. No perfection needed. What a relief. Just playing around that led to some beautiful outcomes. I learned a lot from her beyond oil and cold wax.

I began to relax, particularly after a statement was made, somewhere along the way, about the complexity of the medium. But it also offered so much flexibility in approach, I discovered. We worked on multiple pieces at once. Also different for me where I focus solely on one, start to finish. That’s due to the need to have one layer somewhat dry before adding the next. An unscripted movement between works. And it loosened things up so that serendipity happened…and the individual works began to make their statement. Here are a few I created during that September in Tuscany.

The Beckoning image
The Beckoning. Oil and mixed media, 11×14. ©2017 Carla Woody
That Time So Long Ago image
That Time So Long Ago. Oil and mixed media, 11×14. ©2017 Carla Woody.
Testament image
Testament. Oil and mixed media, 12×12. ©2017 Carla Woody.

I’m someone who tends to integrate what I pick up from different contexts. I thrive on melding what works to produce something new, at least to me. It holds my interest and sense of adventure. So I’ll see where this new learning takes me over these next months…in all ways. Not just art.

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