From L-R: Connie Robbins at work on a Canada goose painting. Robbins used batik wax and watercolor to create this pileated woodpecker as part of her Beauty Bird series. One of the carousel horses that Robbins restored.
by Mary Kerns
for Burns Times-Herald
This week’s Artist Behind the Art is Connie Robbins.
She currently teaches at Crane Union High School and pursues her art when time allows.
“I have been an artist for over 30 years,” Robbins said. “Born and raised in Burns, my artistic influences came from my mother, paternal grandmother, and Burns art instructors Joe Hendry and Frank Tuning.”
She added, “I love science and art and love teaching both. I got interested in science when I worked at the refuge in the YCC [Youth Conservation Corps] program my junior year of high school. I loved all the birds! I’ve always had a knack for wildlife art, but particularly like to draw birds because they are so different from one another and they are so colorful.”
She said, “Over the years, I have practiced all gambits of art, including graphic design to collage to classical drawing and painting. At this time, my medium of choice is batik wax and watercolor.”
“I liked acrylics, oils, and airbrushing, but struggled to find an art form that would be my niche,” Robbins explained. “I took a class with Linda Petersen on watercolor and batik wax painting with Japanese fiber paper and loved it! From there, I have developed my own style using the technique. I like it because the watercolor is fast and easy to use, though the paper is challenging. I use a goya and an unryu (Japanese for dragon’s cloud) rice paper, which is sensitive to water, so great care has to be taken to not destroy the paper too badly. I’ve experimented with different wax consistency to find a nice cracking effect. I also find that with some papers, the paper becomes translucent allowing for layering of images. I really like the mixing of the colors and the affects the wax has on those colors.”
Robbins noted that, “Batiking isn’t an exact science, so you must be prepared for mistakes such as unintentional drips of wax and oozing color. Believe it or not, these accidents actually add to the look of the piece.”
An Indonesian art form, batik wax is a a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to whole cloth, producing unique patterns and designs.
Batik on paper uses the same techniques and tools as traditional batik on textiles, but the cloth is replaced with paper. Almost any kind of paper will work, as long as the hot wax and fiber dyes won’t destroy it. Watercolor papers, brown wrapping paper, and even newspaper offer a variety of surfaces to work with. Batik is a resist dying process. Hot wax is applied using brushes, droppers, and other assorted tools to resist the dyes that are applied over the wax in successive layers. The wax preserves the color where it’s applied and resists any additional dye applied over it. By starting with the white areas and working to darker shades, you can obtain a wide range of color, depth, and detail. Once the dying process is complete and the paper is fully dry, the wax is ironed out between layers of newsprint. With some types of paper you can obtain almost a fabric look once the process is complete. Batik on paper is a much faster process then traditional batik on fabric.
Robbins’ portraits of birds using this process are lovely and filled with movement and life.
Lately, Robbins has been taking commission work restoring carousel horses.
“It’s been a fun change of pace, and I get to work with my airbrush more. I finished a 40-plus-year-old one and will be starting a 100-plus-year-old Parker horse in the next month,” Robbins said, noting that C. W. Parker built many carousels in the early 1900s.
“I did a lot of studying about carousel horses when I began this project,” Robbins added. “I found family members on Pinterest and Facebook of the original carver and sent pictures of the progress for them to watch. It was a great experience!”
The project that inspired Robbins’ new artistic interest was refurbishing the Charolais bull that stood on the roof the Meathook restaurant in Burns.
Original article published in Burns Times Herald on January 6, 2021: https://btimesherald.com/2021/01/06/artist-behind-the-art-features-the-work-of-connie-robbins/