Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rodney Thompson: Redding California

 Lynette Haggard's Weekly Artist Interview

Thompson in his studio

Lynette Haggard (LH): Can you share with my readers a little about yourself?
Rodney: I retired from a career as a medical doctor about 1 ½ years ago.  Early on, in medical school, I realized I didn’t want to live the typical fast paced life of a physician, and that I needed time for creativity. At one point I considered quitting medicine and studying fine woodworking, but then discovered urgent care where I could work day shifts as a physician, and have time at home to pursue creativity. Over time, I managed to work fewer days per week at the clinic and spent more time as an artist.

LH: Where did you grow up and what (if any) were there any early influences on your work?

Rodney: As I was growing up my family moved a lot, averaging about 4 years in one place. We mostly lived all over California. I adapted well to the change and I believe it instilled in me openness to possibility and options in life. I also always did well in school and I developed a confidence in myself and a willingness to challenge myself with new opportunities. I believe this has influenced my interest in unusual materials in my art as well as themes that express openness and a sense of vast space which represents choice and possibility to me.

Basin and Range #40
encaustic, paper, oil, 6”x6”

LH: Where do you live now?
Rodney: I live in Redding, in rural northern California. I have a home with my wife, Kathy, and two salukis (dogs) on 3 acres in an oak and pine woods.  Early on I converted a 2 car garage into a woodworking shop and in 1994 I built a large art studio. Redding is a medium sized city and is 3 hours from Sacramento and 4 hours from the Bay area. It is very peaceful and quiet and Kathy and I have cultivated a home retreat conducive to a simple and contemplative life.

Bamboo garden gate


Studio assistants: Koa and Maka

LH: Did you receive any formal art training?
Rodney: As I was growing up I was encouraged in science and math and expected to pursue music. I was involved in a lot of music, but the closest I got to art was drafting classes. I recall walking past art classrooms, smelling the turpentine and seeing paint drips on the floor and wishing I could take art classes. I was always making things, however, and had an undeniable need to create.
It wasn’t until I moved to Redding in 1981 that I allowed myself to pursue “fine art”. I have been mostly self taught, but have taken some formal classes at Shasta College in Redding and I did a printmaking workshop at Crown Point Press in San Francisco and an R&F Paints workshop to learn encaustic.

Meditation Bowl #26
encaustic, charcoal, pastel, 36”x36”

LH: At what point in your life did you become interested in making art and was there a certain point when you decided you were primarily an artist?
Rodney: In retrospect, I have made art all my life, but perhaps the more important question is when I truly considered myself an artist. Some classes at the community college opened my mind to the vast possibilities that my creativity could pursue and I knew that making art would be something that I had to do. Deciding to build my studio was the defining act when I allowed myself to acknowledge that I was an artist and I deserved the investment of a sanctuary where I could develop my passion.

Meditation Bowl #12
4 color etching, 26”x21”

LH: Can you describe bit about your work, in general?

Rodney: I am fascinated by objects and materials that call to me. These are things of daily living that are overlooked, disregarded and discarded in which I find inherent beauty. In taking things out of their usual context and reconfiguring them in new ways I present examples of the simple beauty that is present all around us.

T&C #13
encaustic, teabag paper, coffee filters, 37”x29”

Rodney: The Japanese concepts of Wabi-Sabi are very dear to me and my art. Though hard to fully define, and at the risk of over simplifying, Wabi relates to things that are fresh, new, and simple. Sabi has to do with the beauty evoked by age, the result of natural processes over time. Thematically my work often suggests infinite spaces and unrestricted possibility. My work tends to the minimal in form and often evokes a sense of quiet simplicity and calm.

Small Earth
encaustic, earth, 6”x6”

LH: What is your media?

Rodney: Currently I am enamored with encaustic for my ability to imbed objects and marks on multiple layer of translucent wax. It allows me to utilize the materials that interest me and the layering creates a sense of depth and space unparalleled by other mediums. Some of the materials I have used are teabag paper, coffee filters, coffee grounds, electronic parts, chop sticks, hake brushes, rust and earth. 

Breastplate #4
encaustic, capacitors, chopsticks,
teabag paper, coffee filter, 18”x18”


LH: What is your current work about?
Rodney:I recently started a series of work using raw colored earth that I collect. I am finding ways to embed the filtered earth in layers of encaustic wax, creating a feeling of suspension and motion, as well as exploring concepts of transition and dissolution. I have been delighted with the brilliant colors available from raw earth and love the simplicity of materials; bees wax, tree sap (damar resin) and dirt. 

New Earth #5
encaustic, earth, 36”x28”

LH: What is your workspace like?
Rodney: My studio is a free standing building with one large room, about 1200 sq. ft. It is very modular with large tables that are movable on casters and plenty of storage and wall space. The size has allowed me the opportunity to share the space with other artists as well as being large enough for teaching classes.  The space allows me to really spread out with a big project or have several different things going on in different areas. We do our panel glue ups on a granite table and have another table covered with cutting mats for making shipping boxes. There is a sitting area with a desk and a computer, and a couch for naps or lounging dogs.

studio interior

LH: Are you involved with any arts groups or communities? If yes, what do you gain from that affiliation and what do you contribute to it?
Rodney: I am a member of the International Encaustic artists (IEA) and the Encaustic Art Institute (EAI). These groups provide me with the opportunity to interact and connect with a large group of wonderful artists. The chance to spend time with other artists and share creative excitement and ideas is invaluable.

Thompson's studio

LH: How do you develop a sense of community with other artists, and how do you support your art colleagues?

Rodney: Locally I have some artist friends that come to my studio for what we call “Art Day”. These are days devoted to working on our art in the company of fellow artists. We share ideas and discuss the trials and tribulations of being artists and making art. Emotionally it is food for the soul and the contact with others having similar experiences with art and life is often therapeutic. We also have incredible pot luck lunches!

" Art Day" in Rodney's studio!

LH: Describe how you work in your studio. How do you get "in a groove" and what inspires you? Do you ever get stuck with your work and how do you remedy this?

Rodney: It varies. When my art is going well or when I am starting some new work I am very excited to get to the studio to work. At other times when my art is not cooperating with my vision for it I tend to procrastinate and avoid the studio. I have come to accept that in the process of developing new ideas and materials it just takes spending the time with the work. In exploring unknown territory I often get lost, but it is discovering the new way home that precipitates insight and creative revelation and is the source of my excitement and passion. I have always been a good learner but making art does not fit the learning methods that I was trained in. Other disciplines simply require memorizing ideas and concepts and then applying them. Making art challenges me to face the unknown and forge ahead, experiencing a wide range of emotions from utter despair to ecstatic elation. Nothing else I have ever done has offered that range of emotional experience that making art does.

New Earth #7
encaustic, earth, 12”x12”

LH: Do you have particular habits that you think support your art practice?

Rodney: I have a meditative practice that helps me be in the present moment when I am doing my art. I often engage in rather tedious and repetitive processes and treating these as meditations, both mentally and physically, through an awareness of my breathing and slow, balanced tai-chi like movements, I can maintain the patience to accomplish wonderful results.

LH: Do you have other jobs other than making art?
Rodney: Kathy and I have a business making custom art panels. We make cradled and other specialty panels for artists all over the country. It gives us both pleasure to make these simple objects as beautiful and precise as possible, offering artists the joy of working on well crafted and aesthetically pleasing supports. Rather than being a large anonymous company we love getting to know the artists and their art, and we work intimately with the customer to help them achieve their vision. It is very gratifying to know that someone’s art will live on the panels we create.

Rodney routing cradled panels

LH: Where would you like to be in 5 years as far as your art making?
Rodney: I expect that my art will continue to mature and develop in new ways, solidifying while expanding my vision. While I am in many shows each year I do not have gallery representation and I would welcome that opportunity.

To see more of Rodney's work visit:
His custom art panel site:

Thank you, Rodney!


Eileen P Goldenberg said...

Very good interview. I love Rodney's studio, the envy of us all. And Rodney thanks for the insight into your process and work.

Angie said...

Great interview, Lynette!

I enjoyed learning a bit more about you and seeing where the custom art panels I order from you are made. Your art works are beautiful and truly unique. As a lover of nature and neutral tones,I love the earthy colors you use in your work.
By the way, your studio is fabulous! (Art day sounds wonderful!) I also need to note that you are simply the best when it comes to making the panels I need - thanks for ALWAYS listening to my very specific requests to provide me with the best surface to work on.

Wishing you continued success!

Nancy Natale said...

Thank you, Lynette and Rodney.

Rodney, your description of the working process in art is one I can really identify with - I get into the boom and bust of process myself as well as the mood swings depending on how the work is going. It's all such a fascinating trip. We artists are lucky to be so closely tied in to our work.

Terry Jarrard-Dimond said...

Great interview. I really responed to the "bowls" and the mark making on those pieces.

Binnie said...

Great interview Lynette and Rodney! I do have studio envy! Rodney, your work, process and space epitomize you. I like the peace in your new earthworks.

SuzyQ said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your studio and your work are truly inspiring.