Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Christy Diniz Liffmann, Painter, Tells Her Story


My first exposure to making art was more about a way to live – by doing. Juracy Diniz, my Brazilian grandmother, was a power-house of a woman …. all 4’11” of her! She was a professional artist and teacher of porcelain painting for many years. It was from her that I learned to truly look, to appreciate beauty in all of its forms, whether man-made or natural.

Most of our time together was spent at our family farm – a magical place in the middle of a tropical coastal forest not far from Rio de Janeiro, up in the mountains. There was an exuberance of plant life; flowers, trees, vines and fauna – it was a never-ending visual feast. Having spent most weekends and all vacations there gave me ample opportunity to commune with nature.

Making and doing was part of the daily routine; gardening, cooking, painting, drawing, as well as doing all types of needle work. One media led to the other and one of my favorite things was to paint designs on fabric. Then I embellished them with embroidery, sometimes incorporating local seeds from marsh grasses.

My interest in Asian arts had its beginnings under my grandmother’s guidance: the seed was planted way back then. She studied with a Japanese master porcelain painter and later spent many years sharing her knowledge with many dedicated students. Researching designs used in Chinese and Japanese painting and porcelain decoration was an ongoing activity on the farm.

Later, the path to my artistic career was hardly direct. My first obstacle came early on when I came to the United States for college. My choice of major, Art, was emphatically rejected by my father. He said I needed to pursue something that would support me, such as the study of languages. He also admonished me that college would not be paid for if I got married during college. So, I studied Spanish and French, which turned out to be quite useful when I left college early to get married. Ha!

It wasn’t until many years and two sons later that I was able to go back to college and get my B.A. in Painting and Drawing. With much support and encouragement from my family, I continued my studies, received my M.F.A. in Painting and Drawing, and delivered my daughter (my most creative effort), within weeks of one another!

In time I was able to practice my craft. With three young children I somehow made the time to paint, show and teach. Forty years after my first exposure to Asian arts, I had the opportunity to study with an acclaimed Chinese artist, Wan Ding, who was a guest teacher at Louisiana State University.

After our initial studies, I was selected to be part of a study group that traveled to his Art Base near Xi’an. We spent a month filled with cultural sightseeing, being introduced to the practice of Tai Chi, brush painting, calligraphy and seal carving, as well as having the opportunity to make prints from ancient stele. This amazing life-changing experience continues to influence the work I make today.

Then, ten years ago my world became filled with the endless possibilities of color, texture, translucency, the aroma of beeswax and instant drying time when I took a week-long encaustics class with Paula Roland, a superb teacher and accomplished artist from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

With Paula, I learned safe studio practice, was given examples of a myriad of ways to make marks, textures and patterns on a “hot box” (an insulated box heated with 100 watt bulbs and topped with an anodized aluminum top).

Pigmented wax “sticks” are used to draw on the heated surface. Paper is put on top - burnished and voila, a print is born! This was a great instant gratification experience for me. I was pulled in hook, line and sinker ... I literally could not pull myself away from the studio.  

With Joanne Mattera’s book on encaustic, The Ancient Art of Encaustic Painting, I proceeded to spend countless hours experimenting and then painting in earnest. This painting process is incredibly forgiving – paint on – scrape off – paint again!

The not-so-forgiving part came in the fusing stage. Every mark you make with encaustic (Greek : meaning, “to burn in”) must be fused with heat – from a heat gun, or a torch, or even from the heat of the sun. This is definitely a challenging experience but once you become familiar with the process, it has its own unparalleled alchemy. Combining the ancient media of Chinese brush painting with that of encaustic became my preferred way of working.

When I start a mixed media landscape, I use quick ink or gouache sketches from nature. These studies become my “painted papers” which I then use for collage. Working with gouache, I build up surfaces before I switch to encaustic.

Using a heated stylus, I make myriad marks to create a textured surface not unlike a translucent tapestry. The ability to stop and start at will, without having to clean a brush is a very freeing experience. I often find myself losing track of time as layers are built, scraped, scored, and fused. Every time I do this, new and enticing opportunities present themselves.

These “archeological digs” keep me searching and discovering the endless possibilities inherent in the medium. When I finally come to a stopping point, an encaustic medium (beeswax and Dammar crystals), can be applied over the surface to create a smooth, glass-like finish, or it can be left as is. Stopping is so very hard to do!

Perhaps one of the most satisfying aspects of being a painter is to see people drawn in by my work. Encaustic pieces have a special light – one that invites the viewer to not only see but to touch. It is that very draw that keeps me warming the paint and giving thanks to the Greeks and the bees.

Observation and interaction with the natural world are crucial for me on a daily basis. Visual meditations become notations on place, space, color and pattern. I work on location or in the studio. When on location, I document en plein air through quick sketches.

Recurring concepts in my work come from my emotional connection to nature, thoughts on impermanence, life cycles, growth and renewal. When observing my work, I invite the viewer to revisit similar connections.

To see more of Christy’s work, please visit her website,

This is Week 10 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Christy’s story today!

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