Kiddie Encaustics

When I picked my kids up at school this afternoon, I hurried them to the car because I had an appointment. “Is it a doctor’s appointment?” they asked. No, it was an artist appointment. I love the way that sounds: artist appointment. I had an appointment with Stephanie Hargrave, an encaustic artist who admired my work at the Ballard ArtWalk; she asked if I would be interested in arranging a trade: my felt for her encaustics.

We spent half an hour looking at her work and learning about her process as she showed us around the small house where she has her studio. Much to my delight, the kids were very interested in her technique. When she offered to complete an in-progress piece featuring a chrysanthemum detail I’d admired, Owen thought she was offering to fire up the wok and finish it on the spot. He really liked her acetylene torch. I think she opened some wide doors in his brain. Artists…shoot…flames?

At home, we had a brainstorming session to come up with ideas for Lance’s birthday card; Sophie was distressed that she still hadn’t made anything for him the day before his big day (this is the girl who makes cards for her friends’ fathers, and has memorized the birthday of every child and half the parents in her second grade class). As I tried to console her with my own tales of artist’s block and the sudden lightning strike of inspiration, the bolt knocked me on the head. Could we make our own encaustics minus the acetylene torch and toxic fumes?

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I pulled out our largest iron skillet, turned the heat to medium-low and pulled out a bag of broken crayon bits. Once the pan was warm enough, the crayons softened and the color flowed. It was like drawing with the saturation of markers and the smooth touch of oil pastels. Imagine coloring with butter. How fun! After trying my first drawing, I realized the skillet was making the job more difficult than necessary, and since our oven has recessed burners in the cooktop, I got rid of the pan and just put the paper right on the burner. Note: Sophie is resting her left hand on a coaster as a small concession to safety.

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It wasn’t long before Lance came home from work to find the table covered in crayon wrappers, sketch pads, construction paper, and art! After watching for a few minutes, he couldn’t resist trying it himself. In true encaustics, artists lay down multiple layers of wax, sometimes etching the wax or overlaying prints between the layers. I decided to try my variation of that idea by layering different colors of crayon in the leaves.

I can’t tell you how great it feels to be making art with my family again! It has been too long.

Ballard ArtWalk

In the flurry of work, I’ve neglected to announce an exciting event: Venue invited me to be the featured artist for the Ballard ArtWalk on Saturday, January 12th. In addition to all the art Venue has to offer, we’ll have wines from Januik Winery served with crostini and canap├ęs between 6-9pm.

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Sandy Petersen, a graphic designer in the Fiber Gallery’s knitting group, designed this postcard to promote the event and the classes I’ll be teaching at Venue in January. Class details are on the ‘events‘ page; register by phone at Venue, but don’t delay as the first Monday class already has nine students.

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These new pieces will be for sale at Venue, and as always, I will gladly take custom orders through my etsy shop.

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I love this new colorway commissioned by a customer; shades of olive, dark green and turquoise remind me of peacock feathers. There will be three pieces made with this colorway at Venue, though I wasn’t able to photograph the other two before dropping my camera. See you there!

Storage Out; Studio In

The longer I stay away from writing, the harder it is to get back into it. While the busy-ness of the business and holiday preparations forced me to take a blog sabbatical in December, now I’m having a hard time finding the right way to write. This used to be so easy. Instead of words flowing, I seem to be stuttering. I guess all I can do is start.

In the week between Christmas and New Years, my parents gave our family a wonderful gift: they took over parenting our two children at their home in Vancouver while we returned to Seattle; our kids got to try skating for the first time, they visited friends and played games for hours on end with my bachelor brother, who drew on an endless supply of energy to keep everyone happy.

The absence of children gave my husband and I the unusual luxury of speaking for hours at a time without interruption, completing thoughts and then sentences. With the freedom to converse, we embarked on a series of discussions centered around managing my growing business. What do I want out of it? What is the best way to manage the growth?

Early in December, I contemplated the idea of renting a studio at a retail boutique in Ballard. This would give me both exposure to the general public and a private space to work where I could leave projects in various states of completion, instead of cleaning up the kitchen table each afternoon to make way for homework and meals.

However, the realities of this particular studio were too much: the extra hours required to make my rent and work my share of sales shifts in the boutique would mean essentially abandoning my role as primary childcare provider outside of school hours, nurse when illness strikes and tutor for my children who are still developing discipline as students. As much as I love my business, I wasn’t willing to give up any of those roles, so the dream of a studio outside the home was shelved.

But what about that cluttered storage room in the basement? What would it take to create a studio out of that space?

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In short, it took one day of decluttering, piles of ‘free stuff’ on the curb, one trip to the recycling depot with bundles of crushed boxes, five hours at IKEA, four hours at Home Depot, two coats of paint on the dark wood-paneled walls, lots of scrubbing on the stained concrete floor, painting of the floor, a trip to the outdoor fabric store, a couple of hours assembling storage shelves, a couple of hours drawing plans for a workbench, and two days working in the garage to build the workbench.

A trip to Goodwill procured a 30-cup electric coffee urn so I can keep an eye on the hot vinegar bath instead of forgetting it on the stove upstairs, a large coffee carafe to keep 2 quarts of hot water ready for hours of felting instead of running upstairs to boil water on the kettle every ten minutes, and a Y2K aluminum ice bucket fitted with a colander for draining items when they are done in the vinegar bath and ready for the final rinse.

While this small room (8′x7′) room is still missing electrical outlets and permanent lights, I now have a functioning workspace with a beautiful workbench covered in sailcloth. Lance carefully designed the optimum surface, building a lip around the edges to trap excess water, a wide shelf underneath for extra storage, and supports strong enough to hold a couple of exuberant children who can’t resist climbing. Unfortunately, I dropped our camera on the concrete floor as Lance was installing the workbench, so pictures of the completed room will have to wait until our new camera arrives.

None of this would have been possible without the able assistance of my parents, who not only entertained our children for eight days, and drove them back to Seattle for us, but stayed several extra days to join in the work party. Thank you Mom and Dad!