Inspiration

Influential Artists Part 1: Alicia Tormey

(posted 07/05/2024)

Occasionally people ask if I teach encaustic – currently I do not, but wouldn’t turn down a request for a demonstration of my own techniques. This is the first of a series of blogs where I will highlight why I found each of my online teachers so influential. First up has to be Alicia Tormey. As you can see from her web site linked here, she’s a knowledgeable encaustic artist who currently provides several resources and courses to artists.

Source: aliciatormey.com

I discovered Alicia on Instagram years ago after I had followed just about every encaustic artist who appeared in my “encaustic art” Google alert. At the time she was doing a Q&A series every Tuesday where she shared her experience and answered questions not only about encaustic but also regarding the business of art. Watching her invaluable live streams helped me understand various techniques, how to care for encaustic, and how to present my work. She’s simply an amazing teacher with the utmost business sense.

In my early years of working with encaustic medium, I religiously watched her posts every Tuesday and took her Learn to Burn course. She pioneered the shellac burning process herself decades ago. People love her vibrant, bursting florals, but I’m more enamored with her vast, ethereal landscapes. Her ability to make an abstract image have realistic properties has me in awe.

Here is one older piece I did that shows the shellac burning techniques I learned in her class. I haven’t gone too far in that direction with shellac (yet), but I still have my Bernzomatic torch on standby for when the mood strikes.

“Renaissance” by Rachel Rivas-Plata, 8×10 in. Encaustic Mixed Media (SOLD)

Negative to Positive

(posted 05/11/2024)

Untamed is the best way to describe my process of creating cyanotypes. Sources for the images I develop outside with sunlight are quite varied, and the possibilities are so endless that I really have to reign it in every time I work on these. My cyanotypes are not just created with found objects like leaves and flowers, but I also create photo negatives from various digital images and then make the sun prints using the negatives instead. These negatives can start as photos I’ve taken with both my phone and digital camera, images of my finished art works, and some scanned images of antique ephemera. I also recently began to use photographs rendered with Midjourney Ai.

To make the process even more complex, each time a cyanotype is made from a negative, I usually change up the sun exposure time and/or the treatment of the paper. Manipulating the surface of the watercolor paper with additives like soap, salt, or vinegar can create really cool textures and effects. There is risk with additives though, since I don’t use them often I’m less sure of how the images will turn out. But that certainly adds to the fun of it all!

My creative process tends to be more intuitive than scientific, so I rarely keep detailed records when I change things up. “Mistakes” don’t bother me a bit. I’ve had several instances where I take a “bad” cyanotype and after adding beeswax and pigments it becomes a favorite Suncaustic piece. I scan most of my cyanotypes too, so that I can digitally alter them and use in other composite or mixed-media works. I’ve built up quite an interesting collection of digital images on my laptop over the years. You might even notice some of my favorite images show up time and again in different pieces.

Several of my recent cyanotypes began as digital negatives I made from Midjourney Ai images. I recently learned the technical term for creating these synthetic pictures using Ai: synthography aka synthetic photographs. My turning them into negatives and letting sunlight develop them gives them new life as cyanotypes. I like to think of it as a reincarnation of the Ai generated art when I take those images and put them through the age old cyanotype development process.

Here’s a sample piece I’m currently working on. It’s a self-portrait, inspired by how I felt as a young girl. Here’s the original photo I directed Midjourney Ai to generate:

Here’s the image after I digitally altered it on my computer. I flipped the image horizontally, cropped out some branches, added more cattails and the blue heron, and changed the whole color scheme.

This is the negative image I printed on a special translucent film:

And finally, the cyanotype image developed by the sun in 5 minutes just the other day.

The setting is similar to a pond we had on our property when I was young. It was always a big deal when we saw blue herons or cranes flying over the house on the way to the pond. I can still recall the stillness experienced whilst gazing up at the long, quiet flight of a crane over the meadow toward the welcoming water.

What Is Encaustic Medium?

(posted 02/22/2024)

I’m interested in finding a detailed answer to this question myself, actually. I’ve worked with encaustic medium for over 6 years now, and thought it’d be a well-deserved homage to my favorite art supply to delve into its history and how the medium is made and used.

Brief History of Encaustic

Beeswax is a preservative and has been used as such for thousands of years. We know the Greeks used it to protect and decorate their ships’ hulls as early as 500 BC. Going forward to the 1st-2nd centuries A.D., the Romans in Egypt used pigmented wax to paint portraits of the deceased, covering the faces and bodies of their affluent mummies. The 900 or so famous Fayum mummy portraits (one pictured below) are said to be very well preserved, retaining much of their brilliant color. Eventually, the use of encaustic in portraits gave way to a less expensive and easier alternative, tempera paint.


Mummy portrait of a young woman, Antinoöpolis, Middle Egypt, 2nd century, LouvreParis.

A resurgence of the wax painting came about in the 18th century, after archeological discoveries sparked interest in encaustic techniques. What ignited the use of the medium by artists even more in the 19th century was simply the invention of portable electric heat sources. Famous artists such as Jasper Johns, Diego Rivera, and Robert Rauschenberg are just a few who incorporated the medium into their work in modern times.

Encaustic Combinations

Since the 1990s, encaustic medium in art has become more attractive and popular as artists have discovered the myriad of ways to incorporate it into mixed-media processes and even into pottery and sculpture. This is what I personally find most fascinating about encaustic. It can be used with various other media to give an artist several paths he or she can take when attempting to master it.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a dozen different combinations to use encaustic in art:

1. Over a dried watercolor painting
2. Over a dried ink illustration
3. Over an inkjet print on matte paper (including photos)
4. Combined with cold wax
5. Combined with oil pastel
6. Combined with oil paint
7. As a ground for alcohol ink
8. Over fabric such as linen or silk
9. Over a collage
10. Over pottery
11. Over sculpture
12. Over a cyanotype (what I call “Suncaustic”)

The most important guideline I find when working with encaustic is the need to avoid pairing it with acrylics. But even that rule can be broken since I successfully use acrylic chalk paint as a ground at times.

Grounds for encaustic art vary widely according to artist preference. I usually use parchment or watercolor papers pasted to the wood canvas. Aside from that, I’ll occasionally paint encaustic gesso or acrylic based chalk paint over the wood surface before laying down the molten medium.


Encaustic Medium Sources

Image by CJ from Pixabay


I am pretty sure at most every art sales event, a beekeeper has kindly asked if I have need of beeswax. While I’m in awe of the beekeepers’ work and grateful for their care and service to the bees, I solely buy refined encaustic medium made by R&F Paints. It comes in tiny pellets which are easy to store and melt in small batches. The “refining” process filters out the organic matter left by the bees so the medium is quite clear.

Some artists create their own medium by mixing melted beeswax with melted damar (or dammar) crystals, then filtering out the organic matter manually. Damar resin (or gum) is a natural tree sap from lowland tropical trees in India and Southeast Asia. Adding more or less of the damar resin is known to result in a respectively harder or softer wax surface. I’ve never used a brand other than R&F, but will eventually to see if my surfaces end up more luminous with a different brand. I have seen some artists use only beeswax over a photo, and that works too, but the cooled surface won’t be as hard and resilient as when it contains damar resin.

While I use the clear encaustic medium in my art, I also use pigmented encaustic paints made by R&F and Enkaustikos. Very little of these go a long way since they can be diluted with clear medium. Combining pigmented wax with clear medium is also a great way to tone down bright colors or add translucency.

Care of Encaustic Art

Most of my art work made with encaustic comes with a label giving care instructions. Typically any fine art that has pigment will eventually fade in sunlight, so keeping all your art out of the sun’s rays will help them look their best for the longest period of time. Unfortunately, it seems encaustic has been avoided by some who fear it’s too fragile for them. I find it quite resilient once the wax cools and hardens. Sure if you take a sharp object and puncture or carve the surface, it won’t be the same. That would most likely be the case with an acrylic or oil painting too.

The worst thing in my opinion you could do with encaustic is leave it in a hot car. (Well, THE worst is to take a blow torch to it, but most people won’t accidentally do that.) Unfiltered sunlight can quickly cause the surface to glisten and perhaps even liquify, which is a good sign you should move it to the shade.

The melting temperature of beeswax is around 140F degrees, so I recommend avoiding storage in any area with such high temperatures. Encaustic medium (with the addition of the damar) melts closer to 200F degrees, so it’s a bit more resilient. Keep in mind some attics get very hot in the summer.

Avoiding storage in temperatures below freezing should be avoided too, some say. I’m not sure what will happen though. Right now I’ll stick an encaustic mini in the freezer overnight to see the results … I’ll share my findings with you at the end of this blog.

I’ve been asked if it’s ok to hang encaustic art in the bathroom – the short answer is yes since the beeswax acts as a protective barrier to whatever it covers. But that’s not the case with ALL encaustic art. For example, if you have a watercolor painting that’s only partially covered in encaustic, the humidity could do some damage to the unprotected watercolor. Rest assured, if I ever do make something that can be damaged by high humidity, I will note that on the label.

I believe wrapping encaustic art in tissue paper or wax paper and then bubble wrap is the best storage option, taking care that all the edges and corners are protected. I have seen a few encaustic artists on social media repairing chipped edges and corners for clients. Life happens, and maybe you end up accidentally damaging an encaustic piece. Chances are if you contact the artist or any experienced encaustic artist they can take a look and let you know if it can be repaired.

Cleaning encaustic art will really depend on the piece. As long as any art you bought from me was not covered with metal leaf, you can wipe it with a silky soft cloth (old nylons work great). Doing this can also bring back the shine on the surface should the piece lose its shine over time.

The results of the freeze test are in:

My encaustic mini looked the same as when it went in the freezer 8 hours before. I did a little more Google research on freezing encaustic art while I was waiting. I found that freezing them is a good test to see if the ground is compatible with the medium. If the surface easily chips or flakes off when frozen, an incompatible ground was most likely used. I think I can safely say that keeping them in a unheated area wouldn’t affect my pieces, but that can’t be said for encaustic art from all artists.

Sources:

Thanks to Wikipedia and R&F Paints web sites for many of the facts I shared above. Here are the linked sources I used, in case you want to read more. In fact, you can find many encaustic art teachers have very in-depth, interesting information about encaustic on their web sites.
Wikipedia: Fayum Mummy Portraits
Wikipedia: Dammar Gum
R&F Paints History of Encaustic

Making Encaustic Magnets

(posted 01/27/2024)

Over the past few months I have made several 1-1/2 inch encaustic magnets. I like to present them as gifts or a small items to sell at events, and a lot of people like them! I began with bee images created in Midjourney, then I added butterflies. I thought I’d share how I make these little pieces.

First the round images are digitally honed using Midjourney AI and Photopea (basically Photoshop). I like to change the backgrounds to showcase some of my other work, including landscapes, florals, and botanicals.

After printing them on plain white paper, the next step is to cut them out and adhere them to the round wood pieces.

Once dry, I carefully paint the edges and backs – usually black, but in this case I’m using gray chalk paint.

After the paint dries completely, it’s time to adhere the little magnets. I have tried a couple different brands and finally found some with good strength – weak magnets are no fun. One thing I didn’t think about when I did my first batch was that it was necessary to place them far enough apart, otherwise the magnets will travel a bit to get closer to one another until the glue dries.

The next day, the pieces are ready for the encaustic medium. It’s brushed on lightly twice, then fused with my heat gun.

Since I can put any image on them, you can see just how versatile these are. Contact me for pricing if you want me to make a custom set with a photo of your choice, or even a logo. Wouldn’t these make the most unique wedding and party favors? I think so!

Encaustic + Cyanotypes = Suncaustics

(posted 10/14/23)

You’ve probably learned one of my favorite combinations in the studio is cyanotype plus encaustic. I refer to them as my “suncaustics” since cyanotypes are images developed with sunlight. I dedicated one of my first blog posts (linked here) to the topic of cyanotypes. Over the last couple years I have successfully used a few different techniques I’d like to share. As with other encaustic mixed-media art, the variations of these two media put together can really be mind blowing!

This piece began as a photo I had taken looking up at some trees in the spring while on a Girl Scout hike with my daughter’s troop several years ago. I made a digital negative of it and printed it on a clear plastic sheet, then made a cyanotype. After covering it with encaustic medium, I applied some orange and yellow alcohol inks to the surface, then fused it with heat.

The next piece was created with another negative photo I had taken of some of the plastic net bags used to hold onions, of all things. After I rinsed the cyanotype I knew it had to be an aquatic image since it looked to be underwater. I added an image of a koi on top, layered with encaustic and here’s the result. The man who purchased it reacted with so much admiration for it, I’ll never forget that!

The above pieces were part of the Beachwood Arts Council Small Wonders show in 2021.

This little bluebird began as a watercolor painting I did, then scanned it to make a digital negative. I added some metallic copper PanPastels then fused with heat. I love the simplicity and contrast of the copper, white, and dark blue. It sold at the 2021 Holiday Market at Reithoffer’s Gallery in Auburn Twp., Ohio.

This next piece was sold at a former local gallery MC Studio in 2021. They put out a call for art with the theme of the moon, and I got to work drawing seed pods of a lunaria plant aka money plant. I printed a negative of my drawing to create the cyanotype. After the encaustic medium was applied, I carved some lines and added metallic pastel to give it a pretty moonglow to go with the plant’s name.

The next suncaustic had a very humble beginning. Every spring I like to take a day and create a whole batch of cyanotypes from botanicals I find walking around my yard. Here’s what the sun print looked like as I rinsed off the developing chemicals.

I really didn’t like the print, so I covered most of it with powder and oil pastel. The resulting blue undertones of the green background and vibrant flowers were a wonderful surprise to me when I was done. It sold at the last Nature & Arts Fest at West Woods in Novelty, Ohio.

And this one was pushed a bit farther. I painted over the wax with some pink, green, and gold set in carved lines, then mounted it on another cyanotype image to give it a unique backdrop in the frame. The acid wash blue effect in this piece also keeps it really interesting!

My latest suncaustic was made from one of my backyard prints. I covered the white leaves and some of the background with oil pastel – I love the blue and green combo. Then to put more life in it, I painted some yellow leaf stems on the surface. The final framed piece is listed for sale on my Etsy site linked here.

I can’t wait to see what my mixed-media experiments in the studio will bring in the future – stay tuned!

For the Birds

(posted 09/14/2023)

I have done a lot of bird art over the past few years. Why the birds? Whenever I think of my first drawings I’m always taken back to my grandparent’s house in Chardon, Ohio. They were bird watchers, and the couple always had full feeders outside the window and bird books on the shelf. In their bathroom behind the door was a huge poster entitled “Birds of North America.” It felt as if I was in a museum when I gazed up at all the colorful illustrations. 

I recall watching my brother place a piece of carbon paper under an illustration in one of the bird books, then trace it with a pen to draw an outline of the bird underneath. It was pure magic to me. I eagerly tried the trick too of course, and that seems to be where my love of drawing began. Most often, my subjects were houses, horses, butterflies, and birds. Whenever I went to their house as a young child, I would sit on the floor and pull open the bottom desk drawer which always held a stack of gleaming white paper. The top drawer held a collection of pencils and pens and a big, well worn eraser. I remember also drawing cross sections of houses too of all things while I sat on the floor – I think stemming from my love of doll houses and/or Richard Scarry books. 

So now that I think of it, that explains why I made an image of a bird the first time I ever tried encaustic medium. And I go back to them as a space of comfort and unending inspiration. The shape of birds is such a familiar, simple, curved form. It makes me think of stylistic cursive writing, in a way. Their color palettes can be simple or complex and vary as much as a bouquet of flowers. When I don’t know what else to draw, I draw birds. Here’s my first attempt at encaustic. It’s oil pastel covered with clear encaustic medium. I keep this little piece of wood on my shelf in my studio. It’s a reminder of 1) how nervous and unsure I felt when I first tried it; and 2) that trying something different can end up changing the direction of my life and revealing what’s important to me.

Of course the symbolism of birds appeals to a lot of people too. The meanings and feelings that come with images of eagles, owls, peacocks, storks, crows, swans, and doves are strongly attached. I like bluebirds and goldfinches the most, since every now and then I’ll see a bright blue or yellow one darting about our yard in the summer, my favorite time of year.

In October 2021, I embarked on an Instagram challenge called Birdtober. The directions were to follow a list made by a Texas artist, Andrea Holmes, and create art pieces of each bird for every day of the month of October. I gained a lot from the experience, and you can read about it here if you missed that post. After two years, I feel ready to take the challenge again and have started some preliminary work on the 31 birds. Next month I’ll be able to show you the complete collection of these one-of-a-kind creations. As they’re finished, they’ll be listed on my Etsy site linked here, along with some 2021 editions currently there too. I will be making the round ornaments again since they allow me to work more quickly and keep up with the daily goals.

Preservation

(posted 08/19/2023)

Encaustic medium is made from beeswax and damar resin. When working with the medium, I’m reminded of the connection to nature just by the sweet scent of it. I don’t keep bees, but looking at a photo similar to this one inspired me to pay some homage to the work of the bees.

Photo by pagala on Pixabay

I was not only struck by the beautiful pattern, but by the tones and contrast created with the empty and full cells. It got me thinking how the honeycomb itself embodies so much work and history of the bees that is so beautifully preserved by the structure and the beeswax.

In my studio, I keep boxes of antique books and periodicals which were left in our attic in our house in Windsor, Ohio. My dad’s family were descendants of the original settlers (Griswolds) that came from Connecticut to the Western Reserve in Ohio after the Revolutionary War. My late great great Aunt Sarah (Sade) Griswold was an active member of Windsor’s Historical Society and collected and donated many artifacts to the museum there. She also collected newspaper clippings which look as though they were gathered when she was quite young. She was born in 1886, became a nurse who never married, and lived to be 100! When I was a kid I used to poke around the attic and remember seeing many dusty letters, postcards, books, and photos but never really studied them. Now I take the time to really look at what Aunt Sade and my grandparents collected and think about why they thought them valuable enough to keep. Perhaps they were just hoarders? Perhaps they wanted their descendants like me to find and study them? I’ll never know.

So this piece began with some of the antique clippings from our attic. I scanned them to create digital copies which were then printed. As I cut the images from the copies, I was immediately placed in Aunt Sade’s shoes, looking closely at each clipping, literally reenacting her process. Once they were cut out, I decided to randomly paste them onto my wood canvas with no organization or reason – I suppose that represents the mystery that exists between her life and mine since I never knew her. I did not take a photo of this part – I really wish I had – but alas my composition will always remain a mystery as well since my next step was to cover the clippings in encaustic medium.

Once covered in the milky, slightly pigmented beeswax, I dusted areas of the surface with oil powdered pastels called PanPastels. I liked how they added to the mystery of what was hidden beneath the wax.

To apply the honeycomb pattern, I had first printed it onto paper then poked hundreds of holes with my needle tool into the surface, as shown in this process video.

The final step in the process was to choose some cells to carve out and reveal parts of the clippings underneath. Even though revealed, the images are still highly unrecognizable, strengthening the veil of mystery.


I called it “Preservation” since the beeswax will help to further preserve the history my Aunt Sade so fervently valued. I’m very happy this piece was awarded by the Geauga Arts Council, placing 3rd place in the Other Media category. It’s currently being shown at the West Woods Nature Center in Novelty, Ohio until October 3, 2023.

Starfish

(posted 07/15/23)

In late June we went on a trip to Emerald Isle, NC. It was my fourth time visiting North Carolina beaches, but my second visit to that particular area of the coast. I like it because there is lot of vegetation and trees there – I think that’s why they called it Emerald Isle in the first place, but I’m not sure about that. The coastline is called Crystal Coast and at times it looked like the Caribbean with white sand and jade greenish blue waters on the best sunny days. When the waves were too rough we stayed close to shore due to rip current warnings, but luckily the conditions got better as the week progressed and lots of boogie boarding ensued.

We visited the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and I loved every minute of it! One highlight was the huge tank that had an actual old sunken marine vessel in it, surrounded by several species of fish, including sharks. I also loved to see the otters playing and various ethereal looking jelly fish in some other displays. When I was a kid, we had neighbors who had a huge aquarium in their living room – I remember being excited to see it every time we visited. I was a bit frightened of some of the creatures but mostly in awe. I still feel that way when I go to an aquarium or the sea, as I’m sure many people do. It really is like being in another world when you take time to be still and closely watch.

I was so inspired I created some encaustic pieces to commemorate the experience. They can be found in my Etsy shop linked here.

After traveling to many different beaches over my lifetime so far, it’s interesting to recall the various types of landscape, vegetation, and creatures I’ve come across with each vacation. New England beaches had a lot of rocks to explore at low tide when I was young, but the water was numbing from what I recall. During trips to the Caribbean I remember seeing the most sea life on a glass bottom boat tour and a snorkel outing, and seeing an iguana asleep in a tree is a sight I’ll never forget. On our honeymoon in Jamaica, we actually went on a night snorkel that was exhilarating, but we didn’t see much other than some bottom feeders. (When you are snorkeling at night with a flashlight, you just know a shark is following your every move!) Virginia Beach had lots of crabs scurrying across the sand and it was a lot of fun to stop them in their tracks with our flashlights. Holden Beach in North Carolina is a turtle sanctuary so there were no lights allowed after dark – that place is where we unfortunately discovered “no see ums” – if you know, you know! Florida is beautiful, but I can’t remember seeing a lot of nature on my trips there other than dolphins and the occasional gecko on a wall. Hilton Head is so full of people, I think the sea creatures have long gone – or at least left the areas where we stayed – it is interesting to see their birds and the occasional alligator there. On our trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia, last year we saw sea turtles at the local aquarium as well as several dolphins that came quite close to the boat.

Back to Emerald Isle – life on the beach there was enjoyable to me in so many ways, but mostly by combing through sea shells every day. Many shells are small and broken, but they are plentiful. Occasionally groups of pelicans flew by, but I didn’t see very many birds on shore. On a boat we took to an island near the Rachel Carson Reserve we did catch a glimpse of some wild horses. And during a sunset boat ride our last day there we saw several dolphins, and a couple of them did flips!

I didn’t go too far in the water for fear of the creatures I ironically love to watch. My favorite beach pastime was looking for what I call “sand puppies” (also called sand fleas or mole crabs). You can find them by digging under air holes left in the sand after a wave subsides – the sand puppies tickle your hand trying to get back to the wet sand. At low tide the tiniest fish get trapped in warm pools and my daughter was mesmerized watching dozens of minnows nibble at our legs. We tried catching some but they’re so small they went right through the net.

One very memorable day my daughter ran up to me carrying the net and dropped it to show me what was in her other hand – a big, beautiful live starfish. I asked her to put it back in the ocean after we took some video. You might think this a bit wacky, but whenever I see shooting stars I believe they are sent to me by my father who died when I was a toddler. When that happened I really felt like he was sending a gift to us and telling me he was glad to see me enjoying life with my husband and his granddaughter, both whom he never met.

Neighbors

(posted 05/20/2023)

I painted a piece inspired by one neighbor who happens to be a horse. It’s interesting to me that “neigh” is part of the word “neighbor,” and I have a horse as a neighbor. I’d like to know the connection between the two words if there is one. But that’s not very important to this story.

When I was a kid, I used to walk along route 534 and other roads in Windsor, Ohio, quite a lot. One of my earliest memories is when I ended up one early morning at our Amish neighbor’s farm up on a hill, west of our place. I was probably 4 or 5. The kids must have taken me on a tour of the farm because I remember coming very close to a massive bull behind a fence – I can still picture his huge head and the shiny bull ring in his wet, fleshy nose. I also remember being in their dawn lit kitchen and seeing a few of the young Amish girls. They were standing in a row at the sink in gauzy white gowns with their long hair draping their backs. They must have been washing the breakfast dishes. It was like seeing a row of angels in real life to me, and I’ll never forget it.

We had another neighbor down the south side of the road who was a retired history teacher, Mr. Loomis. He and his wife lived in a beautiful brick century home. On days I roamed, I would end up at their house more often than they probably liked. I sat next to Mr. Loomis in their front room while his wife made dinner. I even stayed once and ate with them, although it could have been more than once since I barely recall. He would mostly talk to me about history of course, especially local history since he was a descendant of a pioneer family in Windsor; my family were original settlers there too. Across the road was a barn where they kept a horse – a white pony actually – named Starfire. It was a real treat if he took me to the barn to see Starfire, and I would often stop to see her when I was older riding my bike past their place to Mespo.

I had some other neighbors who caught my curiosity as well. A teenage girl invited me to play with my Barbies while she smoked and played records in her room. To this day when I hear “Tiny Dancer” I think of her. Another Amish neighbor gave me ripe strawberries from her garden when I walked by as she was weeding. I barely ever see my neighbors now. I need to get out more.

When I lived in Hudson a decade ago, I craved living in the country again. We lived in what I call a fish bowl since all the back yards faced each other. One neighbor seemed friendly, but became less liked when he reported us for having an uncontained pile of yard debris. A teenage girl behind our house spent some time with my daughter, which gave her some fond memories. I would often drive by areas with pastures and farms longing to live among the peace and beauty, raising my daughter in a more laid back community. We finally found the perfect place in Auburn Township in 2014. And to make it even better, our neighbors happen to have two horses. For years I’ve been able to look out my window and see horses grazing behind the white fence – it’s quite picturesque.

Earlier this year, I noticed our neighbor across the road was putting up a fence. I figured they might be adding livestock or maybe even goats or llamas. But, I was so happy to see a few weeks ago a new horse was there behind the fence. This horse seems very friendly though. Every time we are outside with the dog he stops eating and comes to the fence to watch us, like he is saying hello. One early morning I saw a man walking down the road stop to interact with the new horse, most likely feeding him too. Even though he’s a tall chestnut colored horse, he reminds me of Starfire in his demeanor.

This new neighbor has been my obsession the last couple weeks in the studio. I set out to make an image that is simplistic with the calm, country feeling you have when you’re in the most beautiful parts of northeast Ohio. The piece began with encaustic medium over an encaustic gesso base. I then did most of the image in oil pastels and a bit of walnut ink.

As you can see, it has taken me a lot of time and trials but I’m happy with the result. The encaustic painting “Country Neighbor” represents my gratitude for all the farmers, horse and other livestock owners that are in our community. They make our surroundings so much more enjoyable, tranquil, and serene. I hope by painting this it will bring that same feeling into someone’s home. Follow this link to my Etsy Shop.

I’m excited to paint more horses. I drew them a lot when I was a kid. When I sit at my computer in my studio, I have a great view of my new neighbor – I can see him right now grazing between the trees. One of these days I’ll have to go introduce myself.

AI Meets Encaustic, Part III

(posted 05/14/2023)

If you have followed me at all lately, you can tell I am having a lot of fun working with the AI system called Midjourney. I’ve “conjured” well over 200 images using it. I’ve had it create patterns, botanicals, landscapes, round images, abstract art, portraits, and the list goes on. Quantity over quality is definitely where I’m at in the process. I have experimented enough to find a niche of a certain style that feels right, for now.

Painting with words is how I can best describe the process. You type in descriptive words on your own or copy those of the art pieces you like – they are constantly being produced by other subscribers out of the general system. Most of what I see on Midjourney when I scroll through other artists’ work has a futuristic/science fiction look similar to the first one below, but I do my best to avoid those results because my goal is to be unique of course. Overall, Midjourney is to an artist a brilliant way to quickly draft an image of a piece one is thinking of, but can be frustrating when the words aren’t interpreted the same way by AI.

Midjourney Images

What makes AI fun, but like a roller coaster, is the rapid pace at which I can create images. But, to make art that truly represents my purpose and aesthetic has taken me a very long time and quite a few errors. I’m excited to continue to share what I’ve conjured using AI. The work I’ve done lately has a strong visual presence. I don’t like these enough to use them in my encaustic, but they’re quite appealing and show yet another avenue of my individual creativity.

Related Stuff

Midjourney AI Meets Encaustic Wax Part I
Midjourney AI Meets Encaustic Wax Part II

Midjourney AI Art Meets Encaustic, Part II

(posted 05/11/2023)

A few months ago I forayed into using an AI art generator called Midjourney. I tread very lightly into it, using basic image prompts and then referencing the output for three encaustic art pieces.

In this post I highlight the first which came from an AI image that is a watercolor of a pond in a field. When I was a kid, we had the most beautiful, tranquil pond in the acreage behind our home. This is the best I could get from AI to render an image of my memory.

Midjourney Art

Midjourney Art by Rachel Rivas-Plata

So I went to work covering a wood canvas with white pigmented encaustic medium. Then as you can see I carefully added powdered oil pastels called PanPastels. I also added some more white medium to bring texture and movement to the clouds. I wasn’t happy with the cattail-like weeds in the foreground, so I dropped in a great blue heron. In an attempt to render a more peaceful, quiet feeling I opted to remove the bird and went back to the blurred, blowing weeds.

Encaustic Process Photos

The last photo above shows how easily you can rework the wax once it cools. Scraping it off and then applying new layers has saved many pieces in my studio, and that’s another reason to love working with this medium. On one had one has to work very quickly while it’s melted, but after it cools it can be changed.

Encaustic Art

The final product is called “Adrift.” It’s on an 11×14 inch wood panel and if you don’t find it listed on my Etsy shop linked here, that means it has sold.

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Midjourney AI Art Meets Encaustic, Part I

This Artist’s Way – Know Thyself

(posted 04/08/2023)

I took some time late this winter to read and complete some tasks in the excellent book “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron.

I discovered it while watching a YouTube video on plant based eating of all places. (I’m no vegan, but dabble in it due to reported health benefits.) A guest on the video was an artist who described following her passion of creating glass jewelry. She recommended the book. She was able to wean herself from emotional eating by immersing herself in artistic pursuits.

Among many, many other topics Cameron discusses the inner child – the innocent, creative being in all of us. What has also stood out to me are these topics: Showing up in the studio. Paying attention to our emotions and reactions. Relationships that either contribute to or contaminate our creative selves. Self-care as a priority.

I’m taking notes in the book as well as in the journal she requires. I have kept up with most daily writing sessions and many tasks – there are a lot to choose from. However, the seven weeks I covered so far have taken me a couple extra weeks – it seems my earlier momentum slowed a bit.

Favorite Quotes

One aspect I love of the book are the quotes she includes on nearly every page. Here are a few of my favorites so far:

"Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent." -C.J. Jung

I found two ways to relate to that. First, my father died when I was only 2, and that left my mother a shell of herself who never really lived many days since without sadness. I took the torch from her in a way and have lived a life of safety rather than risk, which has been observed by my own child.

"To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive." -Robert Louis Stevenson

Amen to this! I remember so often in my twenties being unable to tell if I liked something or just went along with it because my friends did. This is where I learned trusting my gut and believing in myself has only gotten stronger and more reliant with age.

"I have made my world and it is a much better world than I ever saw outside." -Louise Nevelson

I interpret this as saying to myself: I am an adult and can create the environment I want, without worrying what others think it should be! Maybe one day I will build that Hobbit house in the country!

"Look and you will find it. What is unsought will go undetected." -Sophocles

So this seems to be an understatement when I consider all I have gleaned from her book so far. She talks about serendipity – making discoveries when not looking. Ironically that’s what this book is doing for me. All these years I have felt I needed a guide to follow in order to be an artist. Now I discovered this guide was always within me – to sound totally cliche!

As Socrates said: “Know thyself.” Without even finishing the course yet, I highly recommend it for any person like me who yearns to create more in a world that doesn’t always give rewards for the work. Finding acceptance in how I’m wired has been well worth my time and effort so far.

AI Meets Encaustic, Part I

(posted 02/11/2023)

I do live in somewhat of a vacuum, or bubble as some call it. I work at home, do my encaustic art at home, and most of my social interactions nowadays consist of texting friends and hanging out on Instagram. I get quite a lot of social stimulation through observation. I suppose the reason I bring up my limited social interactions is to let you know how seeing one post by an artist on Instagram has led to a vast opening up of art that never would have imagined. Literally.

I was looking on Instagram one day in January and came across a beautiful image uploaded by an artist I follow. Her name is Annemarie Ridderhof and you can see her art on Instagram: @annemarie33. It had a futuristic, surreal quality that was very intriguing. Her post mentioned that she created it using AI (artificial intelligence), particularly a program called Midjourney. Well, I have just enough spontaneity and curiosity in me that led to my downloading and playing with that program within a few hours. Within days I had created a reference photo using AI, and over the last few weeks have finished an encaustic work based off that interaction.

The first few images I prompted Midjourney to create were some memories from my childhood I wanted to solidify in 2D. I put brief descriptions of the scenes I wanted portrayed and in less than a minute, four mockups show on the screen. At that point, I had the option of creating different versions of the four, or creating higher resolution versions of them which are suitable to download.

After spending a day or two on those types of images, I ran out of my freebies. By then I was hooked, so I bought a limited subscription.

My next experiment was having Midjourney take elements of images I had created to see what AI would come up with. Here are side by side comparisons of my art vs. Midjourney.

Next I uploaded some 19th century images that I scanned several years ago.

As I became more comfortable with the program, I decided to upload a few of my own images to see if I could make something more of my own from them. I wanted AI to make new or stylized versions of them. This didn’t quite pass my gut test though, since uploading the photos pretty much gives the copyright away to Midjourney. I made a few images by combining some, which turned out very interesting, I think. See below.

Then things began to get a little weird. I was using the terms like “realistic photo” and some creepy images were born. If you peruse many of the images AI creates, they have a darker mood than I prefer. I know my images aren’t all that “happy” but I noticed AI seems to default to the macabre on its own.

To incorporate AI into my art, I decided to use Midjourney to create a reference photo which I would then use to create an original encaustic work. You’ll have to read my next blog post to see what transpired.

I have read more about AI art recently and found there is quite a lot of controversy surrounding the whole idea of AI in art. If people are using it and not sharing the fact an artwork is mostly made by AI, that is simply fraudulent. I might have a stronger opinion if I made a living as a professional artist, but I really don’t see it as a threat but a dynamic new tool to help with visualization. I look forward to seeing how it moves contemporary art in a new direction.

To be continued.

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Midjourney AI Art Meets Encaustic, Part II

Jekyll Island

(posted 11/28/22)

Here are some of my favorite photos from our Thanksgiving getaway to Jekyll Island, Georgia. The weather was cold and cloudy all week, but we made the best of it, taking in the scenery and touring some of the old cottages.

The Jekyll Island Clubhouse pictured here with some men playing croquet on the green. Designed and built in the 1880s by Chicago Architect Charles Alexander, it’s the most iconic building on the island.

Jekyll Island Clubhouse

This is one of the two cottages we toured. There were 16 unique cottages built by wealthy families on the island and 11 remain. Its name is Hollybourne and was the winter home of Charles Stewart Maurice, a civil engineer and bridge builder. The architecture incorporates bridge trusses and the exterior walls are made from tabby, a mixture of concrete, lime, sand, and shell.

A surprise to us was the abundance of seasonal decor and wonderful lighting done on the island – we were able to do the self guided Holly Jolly light tour with 7 of us packed into a golf cart. Sipping an Irish coffee in the middle of the tour was a necessary highlight.

This photo was taken from the pier where we boarded a boat to go dolphin watching. We did see several dolphins, and they came fairly close to the boat which was exciting.

Historic District Pier

Here’s one of several butterflies we saw one day walking on the shopping mall grounds on a warmer day. And the gopher tortoise’s shell had me in awe when we stopped in at a nature center.

Here’s the pristine beach on a partly sunny day. Unfortunately most days were too cold or windy to be on the beach but we were able to spend some time there.

Jekyll Island Beach Pavilion Park

I brought my Canon DSLR to take some photos at the eerie Driftwood Beach hoping to incorporate them into encaustic art in the coming months. I’ll leave you with some of my favorite photos from that beach in the rest of this post. Thanks for looking!

Moreland Meadow 2020

(posted 09/11/2022)

In spring of 2020, when society contracted and we eliminated in-person gatherings, I started a habit of walking each morning at dawn before work. My job in data analysis was sitting at a computer for eight hours or more, so the walks really helped me mentally and physically feel energized each day. In every direction from my house there is beautiful scenery, since I’m lucky to live in a rural community. My route quickly became ingrained down a side gravel road with overhanging tree limbs that provided some pretty canopies as I approached.

What I loved most was catching glimpses of creatures I don’t usually see or hear. An occasional car would drive by, but often times it was just me on the road with busy birds, camouflaged rabbits, and the occasional running deer. One day I found this young orange newt crossing the road and so I helped him to the other side.

I vaguely remember watching for a solar eclipse over the tops of the trees once. I sometimes would see a cat crouched by the side of the meadow on his early morning hunt.

Early last year, I was devastated when tree cutting services swept down the road and cut many of the beautiful trees lining each side. On one walk, a little bird became very aggressive with me, swooping over my head several times. I can’t help but wonder if it thought I was what took down those trees. This year, some homes were built on the meadows of Moreland Road where I often stopped to snap photos of wildflowers, sunrises, morning mist, and dewy spider webs. Now the gravel road is paved, and I stopped the walks.

I am fairly certain the lot where my current home is was once a meadow or forest. I am not guilt-free of this encroachment on nature, but it has been very sad to experience the loss. What I do still have though are many photos I took on my strolls in 2020. Here are a few.

I made several encaustic art pieces from them and have sold a few. The ones in frames are my favorites, and I don’t plan to sell them. As I look at these and enjoy the beauty of the photos and the memories they hold, I can’t help but be grateful for this silver lining to the cloud that came over us in 2020.

Heavy

(posted 05/19/2022)

I’m very pleased to announce that my encaustic piece “Heavy” has been accepted in to the 12th May Show at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio. The show runs from May 19 through July 15. Here’s a link to the Lakeland CC web site where you can see gallery hours along with the option to purchase the pieces in the show that are for sale.

Once in a while a piece will take on a life of its own, and that was really the case here! It began as a playful portrait sketch I did after watching Eschwan Winding create one of her beautiful figure drawings. I did the sketch with white pencil on a black background just to try something different. I liked it, but was not nearly satisfied – I continued to add some oil paint, then encaustic medium. I mounted it to a larger wood canvas, then covered it more encaustic medium, a crazy amount of texture, and then some panpastel matte and metallic pigments. Once the wax was slightly heated again, the oil based paint and pigments set in and became part of the medium.

“Heavy” by Rachel Rivas-Plata. Encaustic on Wood, 11″x14″ (2022)

The results incessantly interest me – the mysterious expression, various textures, bright orange hair against the dark, weathered background. There is also a subtle contrast between smooth and rough wax, and matte and metallic finishes seen as you move left or right of the piece. I deliberately compounded the 2 pieces of wood with the medium to seem as though they were one. She’s a bold and bright figure, and forever bound to some darkness and wounds, both physically and in her neutral gaze. 

I paid close attention to how the piece made me feel rather than how it looked as it progressed, which I find very interesting and gratifying. That signals to me that the art work transcended its physical state.

Here are some process photos and videos.

The initial sketch

The painting in process

After mounting to second wood canvas

Covering with encaustic medium

Texture in the cooled medium from brush strokes

“Heavy” by Rachel Rivas-Plata. Encaustic on Wood, 11″x14″ (2022)

The show at Lakeland’s Gallery in Kirtland, Ohio, runs through July 15, 2022.

The Jewelry and Some Old Scars

(posted 04/30/2022)

If you have seen my table set up at local events or looked at my Etsy shop, you will undoubtedly always see some beaded jewelry for sale. When I was in high school, the art room was my escape from being the target of some bullies who picked on us fat kids for sport. My teacher allowed me to go there during gatherings like lunch and study hall where I would otherwise mostly pretend I was reading a thick novel to avoid eye contact with anyone. As part of the art curriculum, I remember making a silver ring and a brass pin. I still have the pin, here’s a picture.

When cutting the metal for this piece, the blade slipped and I put a pretty big gash on the side of my finger. I desperately tried to hide the nonstop blood and avoid attention but was ultimately sent to the office where they dressed the wound (and I of course lied when asked if I had a tetanus shot ha ha!). I can barely see the scar anymore, but it’s there. The bullies are gone from my life thank God, but the mental scars never fully vanished either.

Fast forward to around 2010 when my daughter was a toddler. I was a stay-at-home-mom who quit work when she was born because I wanted to be the one to raise her. Even though I knew it was the best decision for me and her, I felt an enormous amount of guilt and shame for not “working.” That’s when I decided to go to the local craft store and purchase some jewelry making supplies so I could start blooming where I was planted at the time.

I created an LLC called Raeca Jewelry, using a combination of my name and my daughter’s, Camille. Well, not knowing much about the principles of business, I am sure I spent more money on supplies than necessary and it quickly became a hobby rather than a business. I created the Raeca Jewelry shop on Etsy, had business cards made, then sold a few items to family. A friend suggested I try selling it in person, but my anxiety about being in public (stemming from high school no doubt) always made me shudder at the thought. I ended up giving away most of what I made as gifts.

Fast forward to 2018 and beyond. By this time I had gravitated toward doing wall art work again and discovered a new medium called encaustic which is painting with a mixture of beeswax and tree resin. I closed the Raeca business and opened Wolf Pup Studio. My studio became filled with beeswax, heated tools, pastel pigments, brushes, and wood panels. In 2020, a great friend (and art buyer) introduced me to a lady hosting a local art event where I could set up a table outdoors. Up until that point, I had sold a few encaustic pieces through some local shops. Being my shy self, I figured there wouldn’t be many people at the sale due to the pandemic so I took the leap. Happy ending – I sold lots of my art and jewelry that day! And after attending a few more art markets over the past couple years, I’m much less anxious when selling in person.

My jewelry supplies are still on a shelf in my studio, and I pull them all out occasionally. I think I’ll always make time for the jewelry. It’s meditative and fun, and that’s simply why I still like to do it.

January Blues (and Reds and Yellows, etc.)

(posted 01/23/2022)

January is not one of my favorite times of year as a resident of the Snow Belt in Ohio. Cleaning up the holiday decorations, shoveling snow, and struggling to zip up my pants are just not very uplifting moments in my opinion. Observing nature has always been my respite for when I need a boost. A walk in the park, a drive down a country road, looking out the window at the birds or even just watching the snow drifting and falling as the sun rises brings a sense of wonder and excitement to my hibernating state.

I bought a nice digital camera many years ago. I also bought several books on how to use it but honestly never learned about all of its functions. I do like taking photos with it and manipulating them digitally, though. Photopea is an excellent, free web-based photo editor. Since I discovered it, I’ve used it dozens of times. Try it out if you are ever looking for basically a free version of Photoshop. It even has templates for creating banners for social media sites which is always a help when you need to create the best size image for those platforms.

Here are some examples of the types of changes I make to my photos. These pictures were taken from my kitchen window over the last few days. I keep my camera on the counter in case I see some interesting birds when I’m there. I cropped and slightly edited the photos, adjusting mostly size, hue and color saturation. The picture with the black and white bird had a branch in front of the bird’s head, so I used the clone tool to cover the branch with pieces of the surrounding image.

In the next example, I cropped the bird so it was in a more interesting position on the canvas. I also played with saturation and brightness to make it more appealing to my eye.

I plan to use these in encaustic pieces, so you’ll probably see them again in the future. Thanks for looking at one part of my artistic process!

I hope you enjoy the season in whatever way you can. I’ll continue to take photos from the window until the temperature is above freezing.

Time

(posted 12/28/2021)

2021 ended up being a really good year as far as my taking the leap to sell in person. I’m a card carrying introvert but the shows have given me wonderful experiences when I see how people react to my work. And, it’s the best feeling in the world when they hand over their hard earned dollars for what I create – Every sale sparks a celebration! Pictured below is a cyanotype encaustic (or what I call “suncaustic”) that sold at the holiday market a few weeks ago. I hope to never forget seeing the buyer’s excitement when he saw the piece and knew he wanted it.

I remember when I was in my twenties, feeling angst about my occupation in publishing and wanting to make a living at something that felt more in tune to who I am. Working for other people, you eventually realize you are serving their goals, not your own. I do have a day job in the tech field now (and love it), but I use the income and experience to serve my goals as well. I’m lucky enough to work with people who encourage me and appreciate my creativity, too.

As my beloved Dr. Phil once said, “The difference between a dream and a goal is a timeline and accountability.”

What is my goal? You will just have to stay tuned and I will tell you when I get there. For now, art work keeps me grounded, present, and fulfilled. Happy New Year! Looking forward to what I can manifest in 2022. There is no beginning or end to artists, we always have been and we always will be.

Lessons from Birdtober

(posted 10/30/2021)

I am happy to announce I have completed my final bird of Birdtober 2021, a chance for artists of Instagram to show off and/or improve their bird art skills for each day of the month of October. This challenge came from a super talented Texas artist who has my gratitude for the inspiration and education: Andrea Holmes, whose web site is linked here. She brought awareness to the TCA Texas Lights Out for Wildlife campaign, which encourages turning off non-essential lights from overnight during the four months of peak migration, September, October, April, and May. More information can be found at tcatexas.org.

If you are interested in purchasing any of my encaustic birds done on 3 inch wood ornaments, you can find the remaining few in my Etsy shop linked here. Encaustic is something that is far more interesting to experience in person. It has a glow, texture, and scent you obviously don’t glean online.

Here are the 31 birds, keep in mind the photos are in descending order:

Artist choices: 2. Painted Bunting; 9. Short-Eared Owl; 16. Oriole; 23. Piping Plover; 30. Cardinal

Thank you for looking! This ended up being a super rewarding challenge, and I will probably do another one next year. Here are some of the valuable lessons I took from the month’s work –

Work at art. I often create new pieces just as experiment or “playing” in the studio. It’s quite different in a good way for me to have assignments. I’m not often motivated to create lots of art, so this has helped me generate a lot more items to sell than I normally would in a month’s time. I think I should pay attention to that and set more goals for myself in order to bulk up my inventory.

Don’t rush. I didn’t make many mistakes, but I did when I rushed through the work and/or was not “in the moment” but thinking of something else. This proves the fact for me once again that multitasking does not work, and the ability to focus is a wonderful asset. Lists help me stay on track and not forget steps such as signing my drawings. Yes, I forgot to sign one before applying the wax – hopefully just one. I also forgot to paint the edges black on a few.

Be prepared. This was probably my biggest lesson learned. In order to post daily, I created a system to work on groups of birds, usually four at a time. The encaustic ornaments required several steps, including drying time for the paste, so it was always better for me to repeat each step four times in a row rather than work on the entire process at once. My brain is wired that way and I work efficiently like this at my day job, so it was easy for me to create a system and follow it. Giving myself the time to do it was the challenge. I had to look at my calendar weekly and plan which days were available to spend a few hours at a time in the studio.

Don’t compare. If you search the hashtag #birdtober or #birdtober2021 you can see the beautiful work posted by all the participating artists. I’m not the best and I’m not the worst. Where I fall in the middle does not matter to me because when someone looks at the work I create I know mine stands out as unique. Encaustic medium also gives the pieces distinction. I think most encaustic artists have their own unique style and process and that’s one of the reasons I love the medium. My pieces are truly one-of-a-kind.