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Savina Mason

Coming from a graphic design and computer science background, Savina discovered a passion for analog art in encaustic paintings, installations, and sculptural works that challenge precision and complexity in her designs. Experimenting with colour, texture, and the demands of the encaustic process, she combines her years of design experience with the understanding that amongst careful planning and design, imperfection is still valuable. Discover her work at savinamason.com.

What do you enjoy about being in the Good Arts Building?

One of the great things that has come out of this is, honestly, friendships. I’m great friends with my next door neighbor Dara, and we both just happen to be encaustic artists, which is like, what are the odds of that? We are next door to each other. And we do share a power breaker, which is a problem because we both work hot (i.e., on a hotplate). But it’s really great to have someone who’s working in the same medium because encaustic is a special, special beast. You’re working with a natural material, it’s not always the same consistency. One batch of medium is going to be different from the next batch. It’s not like acrylic where it will take the tints. So seeing someone else and how they work with it, we exchange a lot of technical knowledge. And sometimes it’s just really good to have someone whose shoulder you can cry on when things go wrong.

I come from a graphic design background and so we work with color in different ways. We conceptualize mixed color in a different way. But I have been here since 2011, so almost seven years. So, you know, we’re kind of approaching and crisscrossing our experimentation and that wouldn’t happen if we weren’t next door to each other.

In general, just being in this building and seeing what everybody else is working with and coming up with is inspiring. Plus, there are a lot more shapes that you see and a lot more materials. I’ve never met a material that wasn’t interesting. So I will go over to the jewelry people and scope out their tools and I will think “Whoa, how can I use this?”. It’s just really cool to see people working in different media with completely different skill sets and tool sets and just see what they’re doing, see what they’re using. So I will squirrel things away for future use because when you work on an installation, you need to think about what’s at hand, and what makes sense for the space.

What is your artistic process?

My colors change depending on the season, and so I know they change depending on light. Being in a space that’s got a really high ceiling it’s open and I can’t imagine working with a lot of muddy colors in a space like this. I think that there’s a lot of interplay between what you see and how you feel and what actually ends up going down. The Pacific Northwest is definitely a special beast. Seeing all the mountains definitely has an impact on me. But I have also traveled a fair bit. And so a lot of times the colors are taken from where I’ve been. When I was in New Zealand we were kayaking down the dark river and it’s a glacier river and it’s summer over there. So there’s a ton of glacier melt coming down and it’s almost like celadon. It’s slightly green, not super transparent because of the glacial material, a little bit gray . . . just this incredible color. Right now I want to get as close to something which is solid and has real depth to it but feels like watercolor. That takes a lot of experimentation.

Sometimes you get something and you think “Oh, I know exactly what to do with this!”,  and sometimes you kind of wonder because it ends up not being a project for anything. You think to yourself – I just want to make this because I can. When I experienced things like that, there’s a lot of fun and play to those types of projects. I mean that’s kind of the goal for me in doing studio work versus previous work within graphic design. It’s an interesting edge to be on. Sometimes I get obsessed with just one color or I just want to draw lines. Like, “I’m sorry, I just feel like drawing lines for three weeks.”

How did you arrive at encaustic work?

I started taking art classes about eight years ago because I thought maybe it would help with my practice. It was in those classes that I realized I really liked making things with my hands. A lot of things that I had done before for work, there was a repetitive element oftentimes. If you do something on a computer it’s going to be perfect. Perfect. Every time. Whether you’re writing code to generate the image or whether you’re working in Photoshop, you can make sure everything’s spaced the same. But when you’re doing it by hand you can’t. And a lot of times you’ll see emergent things happen because of that. It was a very interesting thing to try to make a pattern as perfect as you can, but you’re still making it with your hands and so variations creep into it and change it. There is a kind of a quality of life, the magic of finding out what happens when imperfection creeps in. In a way there’s more of you in the work because you’re physically making it.

One of the last classes I took was an encaustic class and it was eight weeks long, mostly with retired ladies who just wanted a hobby. But it was such a magical moment for me where I felt, “Oh my God, I want to do this”. Within several weeks of that I was trying to work at home and I knew it wasn’t going to work. I knew I needed a studio if I was going to do it full time.

How does encaustic art work?

You work hot, basically your palette is on your hot plate, and your brush is melted. So you mix your color with the medium. Its a little bit different because of the nature of the material. Then once you have it on your brush you have about maybe 10 seconds of work time at which point, it’s going to go solid. So then you’re back to the hot plate. That’s one of the wonderful things about it is that it does cut down on your working time, but it means that you can work layer upon layer upon layer upon layer.

With encaustic, it blooms over time. So when you fuse it, you’re essentially forcing to pigment back into the layers of the caustic. So it will kind of pull the colors further away from you so it’s a little bit less bright. Over time, it takes about two years, the color will slowly swim back up to the surface. If you’ve managed to hold onto a painting for two years before you sell it, it looks awesome because it’s really bright: fresh and clean and shiny. So for the first two weeks it blooms constantly so there’s this white dust coating that develops. Once you clean it properly, you can get that candy shine.

What is your goal looking forward?

As an artist, you’re always learning and expanding. I think that’s my goal for everything I do. I don’t want it to be like something I’ve done in the past because why repeat things? I want to make sure that I benefit in terms of my practice, right? My goal is, you know, when I’m 80, I think at that point I might be able to do some really cool things.

Painting is a type of critical thinking. It’s a type of questioning: questioning your environment, responding to your environment. But it’s not simply making an image – it’s actually making the image that is going to clarify the idea in your head.  For me, it is so much about the process of making that happen.

Responses edited & condensed from comments made during an interview.

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