December 9th, 2019

Shawna Moore, “Great Divide,” encaustic, 40″ x 60″

By Veronica Vale

Our ongoing series, “The Sketchbook Diaries,” aims to reveal and showcase a different Gallery MAR artist’s process and artistic journey through the use of sketchbooks. For this next piece, we talked to Montana-based encaustic artist, Shawna Moore, to get her take on the practice.

Shawna Moore began using sketchbooks “as a way to chronicle thoughts and practice drawing” when she began architecture school in 1983. Since then, she’s used sketchbooks “to keep the creative wheel moving forward when out of the studio.” Occasionally, her sketches serve as studies for future paintings, but more often, they serve as visual diaries of her travels.

A watercolor plein air painting and encaustic painting color study in one of Shawna Moore’s sketchbooks


For a busy artist like Shawna Moore, sketchbooks become a “portable and easy” solution to a hectic schedule. She observes that “when the studio is out of reach or I am away from home, I can easily capture ideas, future titles, and diagrams or sketches of a visual representation of a place or concept.”


A pile of sketchbooks in Shawna Moore’s studio


Her pile of well-loved sketchbooks proves this point. A few sketchbooks sit stacked in her studio, their seams worn and faded with time passed and distance traveled. These books trace Shawna Moore’s travels, reading as the most beautiful emblems of stamps on a passport, from rock climbing adventures in Smith Rock, Oregon to surfing trips in Hawaii, from annual treks through Costa Rica to travels through Delphi, Greece.


Sketches and musings dot the pages of Shawna Moore’s sketchbooks


“Lately when I travel, I do one or two gauche or watercolor studies per day,” Moore explains, “They are simple and relatively quick. I don’t think too much about it.” This practice in spontaneity translates to the page, each one overflowing with the intuitive mark of the artist’s hand, from watercolor studies to handwritten entries to pasted images of inspiration.

“The best work is done in the liminal space between planning and painting where you throw an idea out into the studio and follow where it leads.”

Moore reflects on how this trust in her artistic intuition has carried over into her encaustic paintings as well: “I try not to hold on to sketches or the encaustic painting too tightly. The best work is done in the liminal space between planning and painting, where you throw an idea out into the studio and follow where it leads.”


A page of Moore’s sketchbook from 1984


Sometimes her sketchbooks serve as more than a release of creative energy or catalogs of her travels. Moore muses on how “at times when I get stuck on a painting, I may return to preliminary sketches to refresh myself on what I was trying to describe. Other times, I will create a new sketch or sketches to see if I can resolve issues on a small scale.” In this way, sketching allows Moore an opportunity to experiment without “the physicality of the panels and big blocks of wax.”


A small study for an encaustic painting in Moore’s latest sketchbook



A new encaustic painting, “Rogue Wave,” 60″ x 60″ by Shawna Moore, similar to her sketchbook study


This practice enables Moore the freedom and courage to constantly evolve her artistic style. It may not be shocking to learn that an artist as adventurous as Moore would have such a strong appreciation for change. In fact, her collectors see this “shape-shifting” as a signature element of her body of work, and Moore is grateful for that.

“Paintings are an outpouring of your own curiosity and your interpretation of the world.”

She explains, “I get bored very easily, and I would be very unhappy doing the same thing over and over. The nice thing about the way I paint or the way I think is that one thing just seems to lead to another and one idea sparks the next. So every time I do a painting (big of small, encaustic or sketch), opportunities are presented to reinvent the process, change the formal arrangement or to shift the color palette. That is the fun of it: when you get a sense that the paintings are an outpouring of your own curiosity and your interpretation of the world.”


Watercolor studies for future encaustic paintings



Shawna Moore, “Beach Break,” encaustic, 45″ x 45″


When asked what advice she might offer to someone wanting to keep a sketchbook, Moore’s advice is clear and sage: “Make a commitment to not tear out pages. Someday you will look back and even the silliest ideas or the worst sketches will mean something to you. It also silences the critic, which is important as you develop as an artist.”

This advice to work towards silencing the inner critic is something, aspiring artist or not, we can all take to heart.