Robyn Emerson

The Process

Exploring the Artistic Process: From Inspiration to Creation

For many years I painted in watercolour, I used to love painting outside which you can do with watercolour, and I loved the vibrancy and immediacy of the medium. I started painting when I taught for a year at Wycheproof in the Victorian Wimmera. I lived out by myself in a huge old farmhouse underneath miles of sky and vividly remember the moon coming up so huge and yellow, so close. I had a real sense of being on a rapidly moving planet on that flat paddock underneath the sky and its really what started me off on the painting journey.

I was always focused on the actual surface of the work, even in watercolour, I would crinkle and soak the paper to get different effects with the saturation of colour. I think the surface of the work is where it all happens, where the whatever it is that is art happens, so as soon as I saw encaustic painting where you can reveal many different surfaces within the one painting I just fell in love with it and knew it was what I was meant to be doing.

The encaustic medium uses layers of wax, oil paint and acrylics to create the paintings. Encaustic refers to the mixing of colour with wax to create the painting. Encaustic work has been found as far back as ancient Egypt where some portraits are preserved using wax which preserves the work in glorious colour, so much so the portraits could have been painted yesterday. The layers of wax and colour in encaustic works gives the paintings dimensionality and reveals different surfaces which then disclose different histories of the painting within the one work.

Many artists are quite precious about the recipes for the wax combinations they use encaustic works and I am no exception. Encaustic painting is such an alchemy, in the using of all the different elements over the heat to create something different, it becomes quite magical and its very personal. I have an old sunbeam fry pan in my studio and use old pots and muffin tins to mix the wax and colours. At the moment my pride and joy is a new heat gun, a German model, the Mercedes of heat guns! I use different combinations of beeswax, paraffin wax, damar, stand oil and shellac at different times and to create different effects, I have no one set method that I use all the time. Sometimes I use the heat gun to seal the different layers of wax together, sometimes I leave the wax in the way its applied to the canvas for a more visceral and muscular feel to the work, depending on the effect I want to achieve.

I think all painting is an attempt to express what can’t be said in any other way, and an attempt to reach out for the more intangible aspects of experience and reality. My paintings have always been an accumulation of the emotional and visual aspects of responses to landscapes, memories and feelings, meditations, experiences, so many different things. In many ways they are landscapes of spiritual or emotional realities more than just an interpretation of a physical place.

My paintings are really just intuitive interpretations of an inner landscape, or an instinctive response to my world. Even the way I work is mostly instinct, and for art to have validity in its own terms it must be like that. I think Julia Cameron said that no artist ever really knows, you just take leap after leap in the dark, and thats true of the way I work as well. Sometimes I get into that wonderful place where it all just flows effortlessly and I dont have to think about it, but mostly I have to just almost force myself to get out there on the edge and go for it, to move ahead.

There is still so much I want to explore through the encaustic medium, I feel Im only at the beginning of what can be discovered and what it can do.

Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.

Robert Bresson