Art school is about expanding your mind—and your repertoire—to include new ways of making art. For printmakers, one of those “new” ways is actually a very old one: encaustic painting, which involves adding colors to heated beeswax before applying it to wood or canvas. The technique is as old as ancient Egypt—and as new as the professional artists and students employing it today.
PNCA grad Jenna Reineking, whose installation Reconstructing Deconstructed Constructs appeared as part of PNCA’s MFA exhibit this year, is one example of a young artist who’s taken to this older art. On her website, Reineking notes that her recent art as a printmaker has “steered towards the combination of printmaking and encaustic painting. The ability to suspend my prints behind thin veils of wax allows me to achieve more depth.”
Encaustic painting, or hot wax painting, involves using beeswax and adding colored pigments before applying the whole thing to a surface—usually wood or canvas. Once the wax cools a bit, metal tools and brushes can be used to manipulate the wax, almost like sculpting. The technique was most notably used in the Egyptian Fayum mummy portraits in 100-300 AD and other early icons.
According to the Museum of Encaustic Art, “encaustic is arguably the fastest-growing art medium in the world.”
Of course, this isn’t the sort of technique one can easily pick up without any sort of instruction. That’s why experts such as Shawna Moore and Joanne Mattera are important not only because of their own art but because of the way they are passing on their methods.
Based out of Montana, Shawna Moore’s work focuses on nature, in particular horizons, where the earth meets the sky. Her classes on the encaustic method do more than just teach the basics; fellow artist and student Kellie Day notes that Moore’s workshops encourage students to incorporate their own style into their work as well. “The real magic of encaustics is letting your style flow through those layers of wax, floating up through the surface so all can see it,” Day writes for EmptyEasel.com.
For those seeking more than just hands-on courses, Joanne Mattera offers lectures as well as her book, The Art of Encaustic Painting: Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax. A master of the encaustic method, her work can be seen in museums, corporations, and private collections around the world. She’s also the founder of the International Encaustic Conference, which combines both contemporary examples and historical elements of encaustic painting. As if that weren’t enough, Mattera is currently the editor of ProWax Journal, a quarterly digital magazine for professional encaustic painters.
Encaustic painting may have been developed a long time ago, but it continues to live on, thanks to the educators and student artists who are actively embracing it today.
Photo: Butterfly and Teacup, encaustic and mixed media, by Kim McCarthy