Halcyon: An Interview with Diana Majdumar

As a child, Diana Majdumar loved watching her father draw. She learned the basics of watercolors from him, and accompanied him to art museums in Estonia (where she grew up), Russia, and Armenia, and was honored to receive as a gift his large set of art books printed in Russian.

After immigrating to the United States, Diana graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in drawing and painting from Academy University in San Francisco. There she learned to appreciate and explore different subject matter from traditional landscape paintings and still-life to portraiture. She has studied clay sculpture, charcoal figure drawing, acrylics in mixed media, and, her personal favorite, oil and watercolor painting.

An opening reception for Diana’s show, “Halcyon—Encaustic,” will take place Saturday, Jan. 12, from 7-9 p.m. in PUC’s Rasmussen Art Gallery. The collection of Diana’s encaustic paintings will be on display through Feb. 10, and will be available for viewing every Thursday-Sunday from 2-6:30 p.m. Both the opening reception and admission to the gallery are free and open to the public.

Diana was gracious enough to offer us a glimpse of her world as we prepare to enjoy her work throughout the coming month.

What are encaustic paintings?

Encaustic is basically a beeswax with some damar resin mixed in as a binding element to provide elasticity to the wax, making it less brittle and more long-lasting. In order to apply encaustic, it has to be melted. I use a special electric plate that lets me keep wax melted and hot at a consistent temperature without it getting too hot and smoky or not hot enough. While it is melted it can be applied with brushes one brushstroke at a time like you would with regular paint, except wax starts to harden the second it leaves the hot plate so I have to work fast. After wax is applied it has to be melted on the panel once again; this step is called fusing. This allows for multiple layers of wax to be applied. As long as each layer is fused layer upon layer can be built up.

What is the space like where you work?

My studio is in rural West Petaluma, where we moved six years ago. We fell in love with mature California Coastal oaks and how remote and rustic it feels here, even though we are only few minutes from town. My studio is attached to the back of the garage, away from the house and facing the backyard. I have a few windows and one is very large. My view is of the oaks, a meadow, and a wood stack, but my favorite thing to see out of the window is all the bird activity. In one day, I can easily see up to 20 different kinds of birds: titmice, bushtits, and sparrows in the morning; towhees, crows, and scrub jays later in the day. I usually have my camera handy.

My space is pretty well organized—usually, I know where to find what I need! Though depending on what I’m working on, it can get pretty messy. Especially if I’m just in the collage stages of the process. Lots of boxes and baskets get pulled down from the shelves while I look for the right piece of wallpaper, scrap of fabric, or page from a book.

I’m fortunate to have a studio; not having one for a long time and having to use a corner in the garage instead, I know firsthand what a huge difference it makes to have a special space. And to me it’s not just space for creating art; it’s a refuge—a place I go to first when I get home, a place I go to get away.

What inspired you to become an artist?

It was actually my dad’s dream to become an artist, not mine. In fact, he planned on applying to art school upon graduating high school in Armenia where he grew up, but his parents insisted he pursue a more ‘useful’ profession, and he became an auto mechanic instead. He did some drawing and watercolors, but casually. Years later both my sister and I sat an entrance exam to an art school in Estonia which was the only way to study art with proper instruction. Both of us failed. Only my dad was devastated. From my perspective, getting into that school would mean spending hours with strict, unfriendly teachers (we met few during the exam) after school, coming home in the dark, having to take a couple different trams to get there, and learning art from the basics up, while all I wanted to do is doodle princesses and fairies. My dad’s dreams must have stayed with me, because when I moved to the United States and career choices were in front of me, somehow art was among the options, and I took it.

Every artist has a muse or muses; what inspires your work?

Nature! I know how cliché that sounds, but it’s true! I don’t mean the grandeur of Yosemite Valley or the awesome vistas of the coast. The most mundane and small objects of nature catch my eye and stay with me, like the Queen Anne’s Lace that grows freely on the side of the roads all over Sonoma and Marin. If you slow enough while driving, you will see the white blossoms glowing in the sun in the spring. Now they are brown and have the most interesting shapes.

My painting, “Oak Branch,” (above) was inspired by the impossibly bright leaves on the branch of a fallen oak tree in the Petaluma countryside. It seemed so strange something dead could be so bright, but the saturated yellows and oranges seemed to glow when the sunlight hit them a certain way. I dragged the branch to the side of the road where I was able to take photos of it. The graceful arc of the branch and the colors of the leaves, though dead, is what I tried to capture in the painting.

Who is an artist whose work you enjoy?

My favorite artist is Andrew Wyeth. There are a couple quotes of his that really speak to me; one is, “It’s a moment that I’m after; a fleeting moment, but not a frozen moment.” That captures exactly what I’m trying to achieve in my work. When I paint birds I try and seize a moment in time. How a perfect pair of finches is poised on the branch of the apple tree right outside my window—but just for a second. Of course, I paint from photos—the birds never sit still—but I hope that I can express how lively they are in reality.

In another quote, Wyeth says, “I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape.” Fall and winter and are my favorite seasons as well. I love the sculptural quality of it where you can see shapes more clearly, and the colors are more earthy and intense. Most of my paintings use elements of winter and fall: bare branches of trees in winter, red berries with all the leaves gone, brown leaves of late fall. The color palette of Wyeth’s paintings really resonates with me. At first sight, it might seem limited with its few muddy browns, but if you look longer you see his brushwork—the delicate lines. I especially love his winter landscapes.

What is the meaning of the title of your show, “Halcyon,” and how did you come to choose it?

“Halcyon” has two meanings. First, it denotes a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful, and second, it’s a tropical Asian and African kingfisher.

I love unusual words. English is my second language, and I always feel somewhat lacking in my vocabulary. A few years ago when my son had to study for his SAT, I was more than happy to help him with the 200 words that might show up on the test. I still get excited when I hear words like “boon” and “assuage” on the radio.

I especially love words that have anything to do with nature and often use them for the titles of my paintings. I have most of the books by Robert Macfarlane, who travels the countryside of Great Britain and collects the words and sayings that might be disappearing. Several years ago Oxford Junior Dictionary got rid of many nature words such as willow, pasture, and acorn, replacing them with tech-related words. I find that incredibly sad. I say we need more words like “smeuse” which is a gap in the hedge made by regular passage of wild animals, and “zwer:” the noise of the wings of a flock of birds taking flight.

Studies in Watercolor: Wendy Liang, Guest Artist

By Becky St. Clair

Wendy Liang is the guest artist at PUC’s Rasmussen Art Gallery in November. In 2018, she has won the California Watercolor Association’s 48th National Exhibition, The Artist’s Magazine’s 35th Annual Art Competition, and Southwest Art Magazine’s Artistic Excellence Competition. In 2017 she received the most meaningful recognition yet for her artwork: when she won the competition of Splash 19, The Illusion of Light.

Please join us for Wendy’s opening reception, including an artist talk, on Saturday, Nov. 10, from 7-9 p.m. Her show will remain in the Rasmussen Art Gallery through December 9 (note that the RAG is closed for Thanksgiving Break, Nov. 16-25).

We caught up with Wendy to get to know her as an artist and a person and enjoyed learning more about her inspiration, her passion, and her process.

When did you first feel that spark of desire to create?

I became interested in art as a child when I first noticed colors of objects would change depending on the type of weather and the different time of the day. I’ve taken lots of college-level art courses and private art lessons over the years.

What do you love most about painting?

I enjoy the solitude and the joy of creating something pleasant for others and myself.

Tell us about what inspires you.

My inspiration comes through interesting lighting, water and its reflections, and scenes that feel dreamlike or somehow ethereally familiar.

Once you get inspiration, how do you begin the creation process?

I start by playing with different compositions until I find the ideal. Then, I make a draft. Finally, and most important, I determine the dominant color and mood of the painting.

Okay, we’ve talked about what influences you; now tell us who inspires you.

I’ve been influenced the most by impressionists such as Monet and Degas.

How would you categorize the style of your art?

I usually refer to it as impressionistic realism.

What are some of your typical muses?

I want nothing more than to freeze the moment for eternity whenever I come across a scene that catches my heart, whether it is the first morning rays breaking through the mist or a sunset that turns the sky into a warm color pallet. Any scene that creates otherworldly or mysterious atmosphere remains one of my favorite subjects to paint.

Looking to the future, what kind of goals do you have in your career?

I am a dreamer, and my biggest dream right now is to turn my hobby into a professionI want to teach college-level art eventually. And, perhaps this will surprise you, but I would be a movie director or a writer if I weren’t an artist.

How about when you’re not in the studio? What are some of your hobbies?

When I’m not painting, I enjoy dancing, reading, and cooking for my family.

Resonance: Artist Carla Crawford to Exhibit Work at Rasmussen Art Gallery

By Becky St. Clair

The Rasmussen Art Gallery on the campus of Pacific Union College in Angwin welcomes Carla Crawford as the first visiting artist in the Rasmussen’s 2018-19 season. Crawford holds a double major in art studio and Italian from UC Davis and a teaching degree in art education from San Francisco State University. Her medium of choice being oil paints, visitors to her exhibition in the Rasmussen can expect to enjoy 23 paintings and drawings including portraits, landscapes, interiors, and still lifes.

The community is invited to join Crawford for an opening reception of her show, “Resonance,” at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13. There will be an artist talk and opportunity to chat with Crawford while enjoying her work.

We had the opportunity to speak with Crawford about her experience as an artist, her inspiration, and her aspirations.

Tell us about your experience with art education.

Well, I completed my undergraduate studies at UC Davis where I studied under the painter Wayne Thiebaud. While I had been painting for years, Dr. Thiebaud introduced me to color theory and composition design for the first time and encouraged me to study abroad through the UC program at the Academy of Art in Bologna, Italy, where I ended up spending two years in exchange, the most formative years of my life. There I was pushed with brutal critiques to work harder than I ever had as a painter.

While the Academy in Bologna is a postmodern-leaning school, in Italy I was surrounded by the rich history of Italian painting, something that completely captivated me. I stayed in Italy after graduating, teaching art and art history, but my love of traditional European painting eventually led me to realize I needed to go back to the States to get the classical training I so wanted as a painter.

Returning home, I moved to New York City to undertake a course of study at the Grand Central Atelier under the direction of Jacob Collins. For four years I spent 8-11 hours a day in front of the figure and the portrait studying drawing, anatomy, and classical painting techniques. I delved into the work. There was and is so much to learn about painting and in the Atelier I was able to immerse myself in rigorous visual training in tradition of mindful observation I so wanted. This is something I continue to explore in my painting practice in the studio today.

Going back even further, when did you first feel the spark of inspiration as an artist?

I have loved drawing and painting since I was little. I have always enjoyed working with my hands, and painting is such a physical and tactile activity. The ability of value, color, and texture to create a three-dimensional illusion on a two-dimensional surface has always been interesting to me.

What are some of your regular artistic inspirations?

I draw my inspiration from the natural world with all of its nuances and variations. As Edouard Manet said, “A painter can say all he wants to with fruits and flowers.” In a culture where we are constantly bombarded with images, I am interested in slowing down and mindfully observing my subject material with all its subtleties until I can really see it. As a painter, my interest is primarily in small scenes of daily intimacy and in the studio I find myself drawn to subjects that capture introspective moments: times of rest, naps, half-eaten food, or the face of a friend absorbed in thought. I work primarily from life which gives me the opportunity to connect in a personal and direct way with my models and subject material.

How does your personal history relate to the art you create?

I always paint subjects I have a connection to and resonate with me on an emotional level. Often this is my family and friends but also objects and places I find meaningful. My work often centers around themes of intimism and memory.

Who are some other artists do you admire, and why?

I am inspired by the work of many great naturalists painters but Vermeer continues to be someone I turn to again and again in the studio to understand light, color, and atmosphere in paint. The emotional connection and the empathy he conveys with his models is also something I deeply respect and aspire to in my own work.

Tell us about an artistic skill you’d like to learn or improve.

Painting is such a complex skill that the painter is never finished studying, the learning is never done, and you never “arrive.” This is one of the reasons why I love it. For me, it is a lifelong pursuit. After years of studying, painting, and teaching I still keep a long list of things I want to understand better and painters with whom I want to study. Currently, I am researching composition design in the studio, something that I believe the painter can devote years of study to.

My Internship at PUC’s Nelson Memorial Library

Ryan and PUC’s archivist Katy at the “Visions of the Holy” exhibit.

By Ryan Chang

My time at Pacific Union College has been one of the most challenging yet informative stages of my life. The funny thing is, I actually started as a biology major when I entered freshman year in 2013, but a year later I made the decision to switch to the history, political studies and ethics major while keeping my pre-medicine program (it is doable, by the way!). One of the main components of my major, also known as a capstone, is an internship for a minimum of 90 hours. Yearning for a worthy place of work, I looked through a variety of options to choose from, such as libraries or museums in Napa Valley. After mulling over my choices, I ultimately chose to intern at PUC’s own Nelson Memorial Library, specifically in the archives. With this decision, I wanted to be able to give back to the campus, and I figured this was a great way to do so. Accomplishing this internship has been one of the highlights of my student career. Yet, it is important to mention just how this can positively benefit prospective students as well.

I interned under Katy Van Arsdale, who is probably the most understanding supervisor I have ever had. The main components of my internship concerned the honored classes that were celebrated during this school year’s Homecoming Weekend and the special “Visions of the Holy” exhibit in the Rasmussen Art Gallery. Putting together slideshows, gathering images of students all the way back to the 1940s, and researching famous artists who taught at PUC are all just a few examples of the work I did for my internship, and it imbued in me a sense of awe at all the accomplished people who have attended Pacific Union College.

A woodcut from a 1519 Latin Bible in PUC’s archival collection.

The “Visions of the Holy” exhibit was a source of immense satisfaction, as being a part of an extremely well-done exhibit is quite exhilarating. Seeing your name as one of the contributors and knowing your thoughts and ideas went into the making of an exhibit seen by hundreds of people is not easily replicated in life, and so I highly recommend all future and current students take a break from their studies and try to be a part of something bigger. Of course, being able to list an internship along with a concrete exhibit will look great on any student’s resume, but the experience that came along with it is, in my opinion, even more important.

As I graduate from PUC this year, my time at this institution has given me many memories and experiences I would not trade for the world. Without a doubt, the internship was a learning experience that was not only educational, but also provided a great work environment. There were some challenging moments, along with some unexpected ones, but overall it has given me a new perspective on how to better myself, and I know for a fact it will be a positive experience to anyone wishing to learn.

Editor’s Note: Many majors at PUC require an internship. Even if your program doesn’t require an internship, it still may be recommended for you to complete one. You can learn more about the benefits of an internship by reading our “What an Internship Can Do For You” blog post, and by browsing through the Internship category on the blog, which features several experiences from biology students who recently completed internships.