By Natasha Ala, for the Redoubt Reporter
There are very few forms of painting that require blasting your artwork with a blowtorch, applying 175-degree burning hot wax and carving into your paint with sharp objects. However, that is exactly what local artists learned to do at a recent encaustic painting workshop offered by Anchorage artist Janet Hickok in Kenai.
The first order of business in an encaustic workshop is reviewing the safety procedures: Don’t set your heat gun or blowtorch down near flammable materials, have a fire extinguisher close at hand, make sure your wax stays at below 210 degrees as to avoid toxic off-gassing, make sure you are working in an area with proper ventilation, and wear gloves at all times to reduce the pain of hot wax dripping on your skin.
Encaustic painting is a process of applying layers of pigmented hot liquid beeswax to a hard surface — usually a wood, terracotta, cardboard or other such firm, organic, porous surface. Encaustic art is an ancient form of painting used by both the Egyptians and Greeks dating back over two thousand years. There has been a recent resurgence of interest in this art form popularized by the work of contemporary master artists, such as Jasper Johns and Diego Rivera.
There is certainly a unique esthetic quality to an encaustic painting.
“Working with heated and pigmented beeswax is captivating because its fluidity, translucency, luminosity and inherent charm leave countless opportunities for inspiration. I relish interacting with the painting by working and reworking the wax, most often in an unstructured and impulsive manner, until it feels finished,” Hickok said.
Hickok began working in encaustics seven years ago when she reluctantly attended a workshop in Girdwood. Yet she was immediately captivated by the expressive qualities of the art form.
“I feel as though I can completely express myself and my ideas with a zeal and lack of restrictions that I’ve not experienced in other media. Encaustic paints allow me to let go of my usual reticence and set methods of painting — to work without restraints, all out, with no reserve. It is astounding and inexplicably liberating,” she said.
In the workshop, local artists were able to experiment with some of the basic processes involved in layering wax and working the layers of pigment together using heat guns and blowtorches. Local artists also learned how to transfer images onto the wax surface and embed objects and fabrics into the wax.
There are currently only a few artists working in encaustics on the Kenai Peninsula, one of which is Marion Nelson, of Kenai, who graciously hosted the Hickok workshop in her private studio. Nelson recently exhibited a solo show of her encaustic artwork at the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus. A review of Nelson’s exhibit can be found in the November 2012 archives of the Redoubt Reporter.
It would be accurate to say that all workshop participants were greatly inspired by the passion for encaustics shared by Nelson and Hickok. It is highly likely that local patrons of the arts will begin seeing encaustic artwork showing up in galleries and exhibits all over the peninsula.
Hickok’s work is currently on exhibit at Doriola’s Café in Anchorage. Hickok also will have an exhibit of her encaustic paintings in Kenai, in May, at the new café opening in Already Read Books. To learn more about future workshops by Hickok, visit her website at http://www.jchickok.com.
Natasha Ala has a bachelor’s degree in art and serves on the board of the Kenai Peninsula Art Guild. Ala also is the executive director of a Kenai Peninsula nonprofit organization.