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.
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!
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)
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.
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!
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!
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)!