Friday, July 21, 2017

Dialogue with Alice Ballard and Janice Mason Steeves

Lake Logan, North Carolina

JANICE: I'm looking forward to teaching a workshop at Lake Logan in North Carolina  from October 25th-30th alongside Alice Ballard. Alice is a ceramic sculptor. You can see her work here:
Although we are teaching separate workshops, we will work together for part of each day, so students will have some experience with both teachers.  Together, our workshops are called: Considering the Natural World as Source.
Alice, I'd like you to tell me a little about your work and how you teach.

ALICE:  I am so excited to be working along side Janice Mason Steeves. You can see Janice’s work here:   Not only do I see wonderful opportunities to share what I will be teaching to her class but I get to be a student as well, as I learn about how Janice works with cold wax and oils along with the source of her ideas and inspiration! This is the richest of all ways to teach and to learn.  

Alice in her studio

In answer to Janice’s question I would say my work is a reflection of my relationship with natural forms. These forms come to me on walks in my garden, hikes, the grocery store or appear as gifts from friends who share my fascination with the beauty inherent in Nature’s abundant variety of forms. It is often the metamorphosis of nature’s forms, as they change from season to season, that attracts me. I am endlessly drawn to that universal world in which differing life forms share similar qualities.

Pod by Alice Ballard

As for my teaching style, I encourage everyone to take a deep breath, slow down, to be “open” to the possibilities... Creating art should be a joyful and fun experience or process, an experience which is all about learning to work with your medium and to open your senses to all the possibilities without fear of taking a chance...It is the process after all that is at the heart of art making that drives our ideas forward... 

Janice, my question to you is how you have come to choose cold wax on oils as your avenue for self expression?

JANICE: I came to cold wax medium at the same time I was moving into abstraction. I had been painting representationally for 25 years, and felt my work needed to change. I found Rebecca Crowell’s work in cold wax and oil in Santa Fe and contacted her about taking a workshop. She had just started teaching at that point. We have since become close friends. The medium spurred me into working abstractly, especially because the main tool Rebecca used was a 6” bowl scraper, which meant making large shapes. The only trouble was that I had no idea how to paint abstractly. So I bought books on the foundations of art and design, and gradually taught myself. I developed a workshop to help students learn about the structure of abstract painting much more quickly than I did. So I teach the fundamentals of abstraction, along with techniques of cold wax painting.

Janice in her studio

I also am influenced by the world around us, particularly landscape, and especially light. I try to incorporate that influence into my work in an abstract manner. I agree with you Alice that creating art should be a joyful experience and I encourage play. That’s how I begin each new series, by playing, trying out new ideas, experimenting. 

New Work 4 12x12" ©2017 Janice Mason Steeves

For the joint sessions in our workshops, I’ll begin each morning with a short contemplative coming together. Then I'll ask students to sit outside for 20 minutes, quietly and separately, coming in at the end to do 4 quick, small paintings in oil and cold wax. At the end of the week, we’ll gather as a group to discuss the questions I ask the students to contemplate as they sit outside, and to look at the resulting work.

Tell us how you’ll teach your joint sessions, Alice?

ALICE: My plan for our combined classes is to close each day with participants making a small meditation bowl in clay.  The meditation bowls will be made by pinching a small amount of clay into a form.  The form the clay would take on would be in response to something meaningful encountered during the course of each day…...

JANICE: I'm very much looking forward to working with you Alice. I think this is a very exciting idea. I love the idea of working collaboratively for part of each day.

To find out more information about these workshops and to register, contact:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Breathing in the Spirit of Place

How do we access the felt experience of place and recreate it in our artwork?

I love doing artist residencies because I can spend a few weeks in one place, getting to know it a little. In order to sense the land, I go for long walks alone, so I won't be distracted by conversation. I smell the air, listen to the particular sounds of the place, notice the colours and the light.  I take lots of photographs so I can keep those images in my mind. Sometimes I collect things: stones, feathers, odd bits and pieces. But mostly stones. I come home with my suitcase loaded with stones. For me they hold the energy of a place.

The spirit of place is called the genius loci. In her book The Soul of Place, Linda Lappin writes, "Most people today might define the term 'genius loci' as the atmosphere or ambience of a locality or as the emotion or sensation that it evokes in us. To the ancient Romans, instead, it referred to an entity residing in a site and energizing it. In other words, a guardian spirit with it's own personality, able to interact with human beings." 

Lappin goes on to say that, "Some anthropologists suggest that our attraction to (or repulsion for) certain places derives from a deep, unconscious attunement to our environment, hearkening back to when we were all nomads, in search of multiple habitats and dependent on our instincts to lead us to water, fertile hunting grounds or other sources of food..........That instinct is not dead in us today, but we may not pay enough attention to it."

When I was at an artist residency in northern Sweden a couple of years ago, I didn't realize how I was becoming attuned to the landscape until I made a colour chart one day. I looked at the world outside my studio window and made colour swatches of what I saw: the silver-blue of the lake under grey skies, the raw sienna of the bogland emerging from the snow, the colour of the pine trees on the distant shore.

And when I looked at the way my paintings had changed during the residency, I could clearly see the effect that the land and the light was having on me. 

The same occurred at my artist residency in Iceland in July  of 2016. Below are a couple of photos from there.

And three of the small paintings I did there:

I feel the genius loci present in each landscape, and work with it for a time while I'm there.

Once I come home, I seem to incorporate the images and the resulting  paintings, while influenced by a place, are not so site-specific.

Rebecca Crowell has done a lot of travelling to teach workshops in the past few years. In her recent blog post, she talks about how she is "attempting an integration of these experiences", rather than expressing the spirit of a particular place.

It's what I'm also doing, returning to my studio, invigorated by new experiences, having fallen in love with a new landscape, it's sights and colours. I return with some relatively site-specific paintings, and then I abstract these ideas. 

These paintings below are recent ones (each 12x12"), still influenced by Iceland:

"I know mountains because I have stood on precipices and breathed. I know prairie because I have lain on my back and been absorbed by the sky. I know the ocean because I have immersed myself in it and felt the pull of the current. If I want to know life, I need to experience it's wonder and breathe it in with every breath. If I want to know possibility, I need to see its immensity and allow it to absorb me. If I want to know faith, I have to surrender to it and feel it pulling me in its unseen direction."
Richard Wagamese from the book, Embers.