Get over the creative block by switching media. I was lost with acrylic. Over the past years, you have built layered covers that evoked natural series. But the artist started to feel that she was drawing the very picture repeatedly. The choice to leave acrylic for oil and cold wax was possibly hastened by episodes of physical pain and subsequent medical examinations. In any case, she Watson felt that.
The problem was: what am I failing to do immediately? This crisis echoed a precedent. Twenty years ago, Watson had undergone a related block when she shifted away from representative watercolor and landscape genre because she was repeating the same thing. Then and now, change is not without risk. You say of the previous era: Money is tempting; it’s hard not to sell, but I didn’t need to be an artist who based her work on traffic.
Watson trained as an audiologist and speech therapist and didn’t start as an actor. When she went with deaf kids, she usually connected by cool drawings pictures. Once she had her children at home, she looked for a hobby and found watercolor. She moves on to abstract meditations in acrylic from the first representative landscapes in transparent watercolor.
In shades of dark, grays, and light blacks, the acrylic works often incorporated remains or photocopies of natural bird retreats in a method that converted increasingly speculative and cumulative. With its highly layered surface and toned down in chroma, they highlighted what the Japanese call wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is a theory that clears the beauty of fault in both strength and art; it is an aesthetic that embraces the vagaries of climate and age: more beautiful than a youth is the proof of the tunnel of time.
On their own
These new oil and cold waxworks are in continuity with that aesthetic. But the transition from acrylic to oil is more drastic than the transition from watercolor to acrylic. Although she now conducts seminars, Watson has taken very few and prefers to learn independently. It was fortunate that one of her three children was an artist in New York City. She gave some tips on mixing the cold wax medium with the oil. It turned out to be incredibly simple. Just combine the hard wax with the oil paint in equal parts.
In addition to giving brightness, cold wax slightly alters the drying time. It makes the paint surface very manageable for longer. Watson prepares the wood surface with layers of black or white acrylic plaster. Once he learned the secret, he bought some old boards and experimented.
Structure of the instruments
A quirk of Watson’s practice is that she never uses brushes. Instead, she fixes the plaster and paints with Catalyst rubber tools from the Princeton Artist Brush Company. The wax medium makes the oil thick enough to create texture quickly. When you paint with a cold wax medium, it leaves a mark.
She could finish a painting in a few hours; the oil takes much longer. Scrape the surface. After a night in the air, the feeling is still sticky; but it dried enough for you to put on another coat. I discovered that I love oil: it has a depth that you can’t get with acrylic; it creates thin layers of cold oil and wax, transparent layers. Watson says the oil and cold wax blend could also be placed on top of a layer of oil. It creates textures and an overall feeling of depth and warmth that I can’t get any other way. Instead of using turpentine, Watson avoids fumes by using baby oil to clean her painting tools.
Secrets and symbols
Most of the products in this latest group have small royal scrolls attached. To the surface. The scroll dates back to ancient times: a papyrus roll recorded a contract or decree. Therefore, a scroll is a document that represents a covenant or a message, equivalent to a letter. However, the scroll is only meaningful if it is received and opened. The advantage of Watson’s writings is that the document stays rolled up. The secret within the parchment is the reason for the work.
The scroll, called kakemono, also has a role in the Japanese tea ceremony. It is split into four divisions, each answering a world segment: two comprise the upper part representing the sky; the bottom is the earth. The surface-glued roll in Watson’s works can function as a horizon line.
A subtle palette
Japanese parchment is usually edged with a silk cloth on a flexible backing to be rolled up for storage. Part of the thinness of the scrolls we see in museums is age. But Watson found that the washed-out color is more resonant than a brighter version. The more I explored my expression, the softer my colors became, the more limited my palette, and my surfaces became more structured.
A scroll hangs in the tearoom alcove in the Japanese tea ceremony custom. The choice of parchment is determined by the season or by the theme. What the scroll says is just as important as its appearance. The calligraphic inscription can enunciate the four principles of the Tea Way: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. One of Watson’s work features is its relationship with calligraphy, a graphic language similar to the poem. Space – empty or absent – is a way to slow down reading and, consequently, time. My approach is not driven by technique but by thoughts. As important as the choice of medium is, more important is the need to express complex emotions.
Working with cold wax
For these recent paintings, Watson begins by preparing the wooden support with a coat of acrylic plaster to dry overnight. The rate of cold wax to oil colors is half and half. The hard wax will change the color of the oil from a shiny to a dull look. It will also thicken the paint mix. I usually use brighter colors like orange, red, and yellow at this early stage to add some warmth to the bottom layers. Let this first coat dry during the paint.
The next day he starts working with the texture created by the Catalyst combs. On top of the original gloss coating are dark paint blends. The colors are all muted, mixed with raw amber or black to suppress the luster of the stain before mixing it with the hard wax. He tries not to completely cover the warmer colors of the first coat of paint on the second coat, allowing some of those colors to show through here and there. Use a brayer or rubber spatula to apply cold wax/oil coats. Sometimes I crumple a piece of wax paper, open it, put it on top of the oil mixture, and use the brayer to remove some of the paint, a step that will add subtle textures. This layer dries overnight.
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