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Sinking In: strengthening the conversation with our art and ourselves

For the past two days, I’ve been “sinking in”, exploring the artistic process with Andrea Bird and five other students. I knew that a workshop at The Hive, Andrea & Dan’s beautiful encaustic studio, would be a great learning experience but I was not at all anticipating a profound art therapy session.

The Inner Critic Exercise

Sinking in: “Dear Inner Critic…”

We were each given a board and tasked with writing a letter to our inner critic directly on the substrate.

I had already heard from my inner critic that morning—we had written our names on nametags. I hate my handwriting and writing a name tag is something that causes me some anxiety at every conference and workshop I’ve ever attended. I wrote my name and heard Andrea turn to the woman beside me, commenting on her beautiful handwriting. My inner critic jabbed me in the side.

I didn’t want to incorporate my messy, hated handwriting into my art. But this was encaustic, there was safety here. I could write on the substrate and then cover it up with encaustic paint. It was hard to write on the woody surface, my handwriting looked even messier than usual. I glanced at the student beside me, her handwriting was indeed beautiful, flowing and even— “but she is a real artist” my inner critic goaded.

I wrote and told my inner critic that she was a bully. I gently asked her to stop bullying me and instead accept a role in helping me to become a better version of myself.

Sinking in: Beginning to Paint

I liked covering up my messy writing with encaustic medium, but as I did so I knew that I needed to let some words show or the inner critic would still be a bully.

Andrea encouraged us to take pictures of the letter and the piece as it progressed and to pay attention to our feelings. I took a photo of that first layer, looking at it on my phone the words “bully forever” jumped up at me. Woa! I had to deal with this bitch!

I scraped back the wax around those words.  Took a metal X stencil and placed it over the word bully. I turned on the blowtorch and scorched the X into the wood. That was so therapeutic. I would later use pan pastel with the stencil to restore definition to the X making it the focal point of the piece.

Sinking in: Checking in/sharing

I’m an extrovert so sitting in a circle and opening up with the other women comes easily. What is hard for me is writing my thoughts and feelings down. When I was young one of my brothers found my diary and read it, at supper that night he told the whole family what I had written. No wonder I don’t journal.

I added a photocopy transfer of a journal binding to the edge of my painting and I scraped back exposing a little more of my writing beneath the layers.

That morning, as I was getting ready to leave the house, I had noticed a scrap of paper on the floor. It was the torn sealing edge of an envelope. I liked the cross-hatch pattern so I’d kept it. Since this is a letter to my inner critic, I wanted this to be part of the piece.

Sinking in: Choosing our salient words

Our homework for the evening was an exercise to help us find our salient words. I did the homework but then at 4 a.m. I wakened—my mind filled with words.

  1. vulnerable
  2. open
  3. exposed
  4. revealed
  5. healing
  6. confidence
  7. transformed

Sinking in: The Show Shelf

Dan built a “Show Shelf” where students can prop up their piece in progress, stand back and get some perspective. Andrea brought out the Hive floater frame and put it on the shelf —just the perfect size. I popped my piece into the frame and stood back.

I had added a collage piece but it didn’t feel connected. Standing back I felt sure that this element wasn’t working. I removed it and sighed—yes…. better. I added a butterfly.

Sinking in: “Dear Inner Critic…”
Sinking in: “Dear Inner Critic…” Encaustic, collage by Ruth Martin-Maude

The day was nearly over. I stood with Andrea at the show shelf talking one-on-one. I told her that the word expose seemed to belong with the X, that I was pleased that the word reveal was in the process of being revealed (REV just visible beneath a layer of white). OPEN relates to a gouged rectangle as if it had originated there and invites you to look down into the layers. I felt that my inner critic had changed from a bully.

I was suddenly struck with the need to add the word transformed. I rushed to my seat, concerned that I might not have time for this and stopped. I didn’t need it… the butterfly was there.

Dare greatly

Last Sunday I watched the following TED talk about vulnerability, unaware that it was preparing the ground for this weekend’s workshop. Here Brené Brown talks about shame and explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. She says, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” In this talk Brené Brown challenged me to “dare greatly” and that’s what I’m doing: at this workshop, with this painting, writing this post.

I need to make this very personal post public to further speak to my inner critic. As I click Publish the bully no longer has this power to shame me because I dare to OPEN the page of my journal myself for anyone to read.


I want to thank Andrea and the other workshop participants for sharing this creative journey with me. I am profoundly grateful.

About Ruth Maude

I enjoy experimenting with a variety of encaustic materials, techniques and tools. Everything I learn pushes my creative journey in new directions. I share what I've learned with other artists through my blog All Things Encaustic.

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5 thoughts on “Sinking In: strengthening the conversation with our art and ourselves”

  1. You are quite an inspiration. Thank you. I am a full time studio artist working in encaustic. Everyday I learn and often struggle with technique, but always with the inner critic. I am fascinated with the idea, and soon the task, of welcoming that inner critic to my first layer of painting on the encaustic board. I anticipate that being a useful therapy tool & an ongoing exercise. Thank you.
    Merlyn Bost

  2. Denise Callaghan

    Ruth, it was lovely to meet you and share this sinking in experience with you – you have captured it beautifully in your writing . . . it was indeed transformative. And, I’m so happy to have found your blog – I look forward to reading your words and, hopefully, being with you again in The Hive. Hugs!

  3. The article today was very inspiring. I struggle with the “self-critic” also sometimes.
    I’m a photographer and have been combining my photographs and encaustics for about 8 months.
    My question is a technique question. I have a photo of a large oak tree and I want to build up the tree and trunk but leave the sky background flat. I know I can layer the wax, but how do I make the wax look like foliage? Similar to the texture you would get using a sponge and acrylics. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you.

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