Wax and Paint Converge in Art by International Artists at Art Center Morro Bay | Arts | San Luis Obispo

Painting with hot wax is difficult. You could burn yourself. You need the right tools. And you need patience.

“It’s a very versatile type of material, but it’s also pretty unforgiving if you don’t know how to use it,” said Los Osos artist Kay Burnett. “I think people who work with encaustic either love it or hate it, and I’m obviously one of those who love it.”

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  • Image courtesy of International Encaustic Artists
  • LOVE KNOWS NO COLOR Janel Pahl’s encaustic wax painting of two birds is part of the Convergence – Wax on the Water exhibition of encaustic works on display at the Art Center Morro Bay until May 23.

The president of the International Encaustic Artists Association (IEA) described the moment she saw her first encaustic painting as “love at first sight”. She never looked back after taking a class in 2008 from Patricia Baldwin Seggebruch, someone Burnett described as a well-known member of the encaustic art community who helped get people really involved in the art. medium by giving lessons. Seggebruch led a workshop as part of the recent IEA retreat in collaboration with Art Center Morro Bay – ConVergence – Wax on the Water – where she also received an award for her contributions to the encaustic art community.

With over 300 active IEA members from nearly 20 different countries and six continents, encaustic artists from around the world gathered in Morro Bay in April to participate. They attended workshops by local and international artists, and the retreat ended with a juried exhibition of encaustic paintings and sculptures. Burnett said about 90 artists submitted more than 200 artworks for the exhibit, which Los Angeles-based artist and juror Pamela Smith Hudson narrowed down to 46. Convergence – Wax on the Water will be on display at the art center until May 23.

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DEMO ON WAX Irish artist Lora Murphy leads a workshop on encaustic art at the Art Center Morro Bay during the IEA's retreat, ConVergence - Wax on the Water, in Morro Bay in April 2022. - PHOTO WITH THE PERMISSION FROM BARBARA SITAR

  • Photo courtesy of Barbara Sitar
  • WAX DEMO Irish artist Lora Murphy leads a workshop on encaustic art at the Art Center Morro Bay during the IEA retreat, ConVergence – Wax on the Water, in Morro Bay in April 2022.

“Convergence in art is defined when parallel lines connect to a point, creating a sense of depth. Convergence can also mean a coming together of people. People who come from different places, have backgrounds, perspectives , different ideas and values,” Hudson said. in a statement about the exhibition. “The past three years have brought us a pandemic like no other in a century. It has created a self-isolating divergence, both physically and mentally. … I have been touched by the artists’ stories of finding their voice and motivation to overcome health issues, trauma and feelings of isolation to create their work for submission.”

Barbara Sitar, who has a piece in the exhibit and was the art center’s gallery manager until a few months ago, said the exhibit also acts as an educational tool to introduce others to this unique technique. She added that the art center has hosted a few encaustic workshops since the retreat, and they have been well attended by local artists.

“It’s a very old technique, but because it’s so demanding, people don’t practice it much,” Sitar said, adding that encaustic was invented by the Greeks in the fifth century. “You really have to know what you’re doing, unless you want to set your house on fire.”

Encaustic means “to burn,” Burnett said. Using an electric griddle or other heating element, artists melt the encaustic wax before using it. Because wax hardens fairly quickly, encaustic artists can only work and melt a little at a time. Once the wax has arrived on a painting or sculpture, Burnett said, it needs to be fused with whatever’s underneath.

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BEES AND TREES: CONVERGENCE Encaustic wax can be fused with other mediums to create sculptural pieces like this one by Cheryl Lewis.  - IMAGE WITH COURTESY OF INTERNATIONAL ENCAUSTIC ARTISTS

  • Image courtesy of International Encaustic Artists
  • BEES AND TREES: CONVERGENCE Encaustic wax can be fused with other mediums to create sculptural pieces such as this one by Cheryl Lewis.

The most common method is to use a torch, like a crème brûlée torch that chefs use. Artists can also use a heat gun, Burnett said. But they must control the speed and level of heat they use because too much heat can melt the wax and destroy an artist’s work.

Although you can use wax to paint almost anything, Burnette said it won’t stick to non-porous surfaces. Sitar said the artists mix the wax with resin and pigments before applying it to the surface they are using as a panel.

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RIVER OVER ROCK Gina Loutian-Stanley introduced river rocks into her encaustic wax painting now on display at the Art Center Morro Bay.  - IMAGE COURTESY OF BARBARA SITAR

  • Image courtesy of Barbara Sitar
  • RIVER ON ROCK Gina Loutian-Stanley inserted river rocks into her encaustic and wax painting now on display at the Art Center Morro Bay.

Typically, Sitar added, artists use encaustic in two ways: either to create portraits or to create abstract works of art. Both are currently on display at the art center, as are sculptures, relief-style paintings, and mixed-media collages.

Sitar said she enjoys working with encaustic because it merges with mediums such as wood, ceramics and sandblasted glass. She can create layers on top of each other and then etch them or move the wax at any time by applying heat.

“I became completely addicted to encaustic because of the magic that this medium provides,” Sitar said. “The wax hardens very quickly. You can do one or two strokes of the brush before you have to dip it back into the hot wax. … The wax is not obedient, it’s like a dance.” Δ

Editor Camillia Lanham thinks words aren’t obedient either. Contact her at [email protected]