An Artist’s Holiday

What do artists do for a holiday? They take an art workshop! I took a couple of days off of comics and making my inktober book to do just that.

Encaustic seascape.jpg

A watercolour glued to board, lightly coated with wax medium. 6 x 6 inches

Last weekend I was privileged to be part of an encaustic workshop taught by Carol Rae, a wildly inspiring teacher who gave me my start in printmaking many years ago. Carol is made of creativity, and just hanging out with her, it rubs off! Imagine how much more inspirational is a class, full of other people getting inspired—if creativity were particles, they would be bouncing back and forth so thickly you wouldn’t have been able to see! 

Encaustic is a kind of painting using beeswax as a medium for pigment, just as linseed oil is used for oil paints or gum arabic for watercolours. It has a long history going back to Greek warships and Egyptian tomb paintings—which, when discovered (and dusted off), were as fresh looking as the day they were painted. Check out these amazing portraits on Wikipedia!

Encaustic tiny abstract.jpg

This very tiny piece (3.5 x 3.5 inches) was the first one I did, and I reached a point I liked very quickly and decided to stop. It’s very fire-like, don’t you think? And there’s a horse head still barely visible. Can you find it?

The word encaustic comes from the Greek word enkaustikos, which means to burn in, and in order for a painting to be called encaustic it must use the element of heat. I must confess I was a bit daunted by that—I have been stymied in the pursuit of many of the crafts I have been attracted to over the years when I found out how close to powerful sources of heat or fire you have to get. Pottery and kilns, metalwork and torches… I’m even nervous putting a turkey in the oven! (I admit this is pretty strange for someone who likes to build campfires)

Encaustic abstract.jpg

This piece incorporates a wee bit of collage and embedded natural materials, an underlying ink drawing, pigmented and unpigmented wax, faux-gold leaf, and a final brushing of pastel powder.  6 x 6 inches

And—oh my!— this workshop involved both an electric frypan and a torch! Oh mercy me! But I marched down to the Value Village and bought a (seriously overpriced) dented old frypan, and over to Canadian Tire and got a torch kit (which was on sale, yay!), and to Opus to get some encaustic paint sticks. I rummaged around the house and found I had almost everything else needed (many years of being a teaching multi-media artist); this part was rather like a scavenger hunt.

Encaustic scribble.jpg

I have lots of “scribbles” around from my coloured pencil classes; it’s one of the exercises I give to get people comfortable with just using the pencils rather than feeling like they have to make a drawing right off the bat. I glued it to a board, then applied several coats of wax. 6 x 6 inches

Saturday morning, I drove my bleary self out to Sooke, an hour’s drive west of Victoria. I’m never at my best in the morning (and I was late to boot, which I hate), but managed to shift into learning gear fairly quickly, because it was all just so darn fascinating! It smelled better than any art form I’ve ever done before—and I’m one of those people who will grab a tube of oil paint out of a friend’s hand just to smell it—imagine a whole room that smells like honey! I was smitten!

Encaustic trees.jpg

Another watercolour on board coated with wax medium. I could have done these all day, but there was so much else to explore! 8 x 10 inches

I had seen Carol’s and others’ encaustic paintings before and really liked the results. Because of the layers of translucent wax used both as a medium and coatings between layers, the finished work has a softly glowing depth that would be hard to achieve with any other medium. I spent the whole weekend furiously attempting to try out every technique Carol showed us, even gleefully participating in the one where we painted on metallic-pigmented shellac and set it on fire! 

Encaustic flowers.jpg

This was a piece I tested a lot of techniques out on, “ruining” it several times in the process, and finally offered it up to the sacrificial fire. The bubbly effect around the edges is due to the copper pigmented shellac being lit on fire, which melts the wax underneath. It’s seriously spectacular to watch! There’s also lots of carving on this piece; it’s very 3-dimensional. 7 x 9 inches

By the time I drove home the second day, redolent of beeswax, I had managed to get over my fear of electric appliances and torches (and may even try making a creme brûlée sometime—I understand my torch will do double duty for that!). The class has clubbed together to buy some more supplies to make our own medium, and now I just have to find a well-ventilated space to do some more of this kind of painting. I have plans for encaustic comics (she says, with a glint of fire in her eyes)!

Encaustic cat.jpg

Wait! Is that Spam the Purranormal Detective? Well, maybe one of his relatives. This one started out as a deliberately cartoony drawing in oil pastels, then lots of coats of wax and carving and encaustic colour. 8 x 10 inches


2 responses to “An Artist’s Holiday

    • Thanks, Marcia! Well, I’m not sure any of these qualify as visually fabulous, but they definitely smell fabulous! I think I’m going to have to wait until next summer to do any more of it, when I can open the windows and not freeze — so back to making comics!


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