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Encaustic nirvana

Encaustic is hot! This ancient artform is making a modern resurgence, and it's a dream to work with. Like acrylics, encaustic dries/hardens quickly. But, like with oils, you can keep changing things around as many times as you like.

I first learned of encaustic a few months ago. Mixed-media sculptor John Frame has long been one of my top favorite artists, after I first heard of him in Art Daily a few years ago. Well, I kept seeing encaustic listed as a component in Frame's work. Finally my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to find out what it was all about. So I Googled it.

I learned that encaustic is hot wax mixed with pigment and damar, a type of resin used to harden the wax. You bond each layer of wax to the medium, or to the previous layer of wax, with a blow torch. I love torching stuff, so I was right at home with this. You take your blow torch and lightly lick the surface with the flame. Too much heat and your wax puddles into goo and your colors all run together. Too little, and the wax just sits there and fails to bond.

I had to try it out. So off to the art supply store I went, in search of encaustic supplies. I went to my favorite Seattle art supply store, the affectionately nicknamed A&C, short for Artist & Craftsman Supply, in the U District. Encaustic medium comes in a little brick about the size of a small bar of soap. I was shocked to find that it costs about $35 per color. That could add up reeeeeally fast. Needless to say, I didn't buy any.

Soon my Googling resulted in finding an encaustic place in Portland. This led me to wonder if there was an encaustic studio here in Seattle. Sure enough, there is! Northwest Encaustic, my encaustic nirvana. I signed up for the "Get Your Feet Wet" class, an evening of encaustic for only $65. That included all the supplies needed (including numerous colors, already mixed and ready to go) - plus the expert tutelage of most-excellent encaustic artist Shaun Doll.

Shortly after that I took the Beginning Encaustic weekend workshop, also taught by Shaun. It was during that class that I made the piece above, which I've entitled "The Observer." That piece took me all day Sunday, because I kept changing it around. There are about eight paintings underneath this one. I ended up doing a photo transfer (a technique I learned about in the class) of a photo of my Aunt Elizabeth taken in the 1940s. She was holding her dog Missy. My great-grandma took the picture, and Missy was looking up at her, with her head cocked quizzically.

After that I was hooked.

Stay tuned for more!