Waxing Poetic: Spotlight on Encaustic ArtistsMar 01, 2023 12:00AM ● By Style
Encaustic painting, from the Greek word meaning “to heat or burn in” (enkaustikos), is ablaze amongst the art community. The tactile technique, which involves utilizing a combination of warmed beeswax, pigment, and dammar resin, has been around for over 2,000 years. Here are four artists making their mark in the medium.
Passing along her passion and talent through teaching, Linda Nunes has been working in encaustics for over 15 years, creating thought-provoking, visceral mixed media works. “I tell my students that encaustic is the only medium I know of that’s both painterly and sculptural,” shares Nunes. “It plays well with almost every medium, including photography and collage.”
How did you learn?
Through art history and a required materials and methods class. The only book (at the time) was one by Joanne Mattera; it seemed technical and scared me, so I got rid of it, only to repurchase it again down the road. I started playing with [the medium] and doing all the wrong things, but the more I played, the more I learned what works and what doesn't.
Describe your artistic process.
Even when I know where a piece is going, something [almost always] goes haywire. This is what makes a piece great, because you’re forced to place some serious thought into your destination and the possibilities to get there. Although I may start from a sketch or solid idea, my process is generally intuitive, letting the piece tell me what it needs. I've been told it must be like Disneyland up there (in my head) and maybe that's true.
Creating and showcasing an astonishing 270 originals last year, John Angell’s mysterious works are often from original photographs he’s taken over the years. “I’ve always been intrigued [by the medium]—it has depth and luminosity; its texture can be smooth as glass, ripple like a pond, or look like granite outcroppings.”
What drew you to encaustics?
Jaya King, the instructor that got me started, said it’s the most [rebellious] form of painting because you’re creating with fire. The heat moves pigment around on surfaces and can cause bubbles, interesting patterns, and flows. Unlike other mediums, it dries almost instantly, so blending isn’t easy like with acrylic or oil. I used to say art broke my heart, as it was a part of me I wasn’t using to its potential, but ever since taking my first workshop, I feel like I’ve found my way home.
Any advice for aspiring artists?
Just keep working. It helps to have a mentor and take classes so you can follow your own vision. Also, know when to stop. Too often good work is fussed with until it loses what made it good in the first place.
A single class hooked Monica Wilson, an encaustic artist whose colorful, natural-themed works spark joy. The artist never stops venturing out, visible through her newest series featuring more abstract, non-representational works.
The first time I saw [an encaustic painting], I bought it immediately. I’d never heard of [the medium] and didn't know exactly what it was—only that you could look at it a hundred times and see something new. It’s so unique; you can either do really intricate, detailed work or get wild!
How is it challenging?
The best attributes are also the most challenging—it’s unpredictable. You never know exactly how a piece will turn out; there are so many unique techniques you can layer in. It’s like a long drive on a highway with forks in the road at every turn— it’s exciting to take a new direction and see where it leads.
Do you have a favorite piece?
My first ambitious piece is incredibly large, and it wasn't so awesome at first. I reworked and reworked it; it took over two years and a few major alterations, but it currently resides in my dining room and reminds me of all the changes that took place, all that I learned, and how much better things are if you work at them.
After a career as a therapist, Barbara Harris journeyed back to her love of art, which eventually led her to encaustics. “I like to work with mediums that allow me to keep adding and subtracting, as the painting or print develops; it’s a matter of trusting my intuition,” says Harris.
How do you create an encaustic print?
I make my painting directly on a hot surface then lay a piece of lightweight printmaking paper directly on. The paper soaks up the wax, I press the paper, and voila!—I have a print. I can also add a bit to the composition by spot printing. I like the medium, because I never know what I’ll get until I pull the paper off the hot palette.
Do you ever suffer from artist’s block?
If I get “stuck” and don’t know where to go next, I’ll set the painting aside—somewhere I can see it as I walk by—and eventually I’ll get an idea as to what to do next. If it doesn’t work, there’s always scraping or adding so that I can move forward.
by Heather L. Nelson
Artist photos by Taylor Gillespie ©stylemediagroup. Artwork images courtesy of each individual artist.
Photos by Taylor Gillespie © and wholly owned by Style Media Group—please don’t steal our copyrighted photos. For more information about our editorial photos, please click here to contact us https://www.stylemg.com/pages/contact-us