beeswax

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!

Holly Days 2023 at The West Woods

(posted 11/15/2023)

On November 3rd & 4th, I was busy selling my art and jewelry during the Holly Days Artisan Boutique held at the West Woods in Geauga County, Ohio. I have done a couple markets per year since 2021, and this was another success!

The event ran a few hours on Friday evening and most of Saturday. This was the first time I used my new gallery wall (a white folding pegboard) which held many of my original pieces on cradled wood canvas. The table was then freed up to hold a few more larger works, some jewelry, and a white lighted tree decorated with ornaments.

All around me the other vendors had beautiful displays of some art and lots of Christmas themed decor and candy. It was great to get the holiday season rolling so soon after Halloween. My husband was kind enough to come along and help me unload, set up, and make small talk with everyone. He even picked me up a delicious burger from Manna Food Truck at the end of the night. He’s a trooper and I’m always so thankful for his help!

I debuted all thirty-one birds of the Birdtober 2023 project at the event and sold twelve of them. I even got some orders for more ornaments including a bluebird, two herons, and a monarch butterfly. Since I was asked to create these birds, I decided to list them on Etsy – currently there you can find the bluebird, the blue heron, and the hummingbird in the Ornaments section of the shop. They are made to order so if you want them for gifts, get your orders in soon!

I ran another art giveaway at this event. Two of those who signed up for my email updates got the chance to win their choice of Birdtober ornaments. One winner chose the common tailorbird, and the other chose the goldfinch. I sent those out this week. If you’re interested in getting my studio update emails (about one per month), click here to sign up. If you change your mind, it’s easy to unsubscribe.

Art that Sold

The art pieces that sold at Holly Days were quite varied in subject and process. Following is the bulk of them with a comment on each one – they are in no particular order.

“Woodland Raccoon,” 8×8 in. wood canvas. This is the 2nd or 3rd version I’ve done. People fall in love with the face of this masked creature.

“Generations,” 10×10 in. wood canvas. I like this one so much I want to do more versions of it in the future. Ever since I read about “Hibaku,” the ginkgo has been a favorite tree of mine. Click here to read more about Hibaku.

encaustic wax painting ginkgo leaves

“Hinterland No. 7,” 8×8 in. wood canvas. This is not a picture of the exact one that sold, but it is another one of which I’ve made multiple versions. I like to place the fox in different settings and keep it somewhat transparent and ghostlike.

“Lilies of the Valley III,” 8×8 in. wood canvas. This is a piece done with Midjourney AI. After covering it with wax, I embellished it with some oil pastel. I did a similar one which is quite popular on Etsy.

“Orphic Landscape I,” 10 in. round wood canvas. This was an encaustic painting I did using a Midjourney AI image as a reference. A lot of AI looks surreal and I think that aesthetic comes through clearly in this one.

“Summer’s Edge,” 8×10 framed. This one was hard to let go. It ended up selling before the show even opened! I absolutely love making suncaustic works and plan to do many more – they always seem to bring out the best of my creativity.

“Moreland Meadow No. 8,” 9×12 in. wood canvas. This landscape always made me think of Ireland since it somewhat mimics the colors of the flag. It’s got some gold and it’s just about to reveal a rainbow. Moreland Meadow was a favorite place of mine that was captured in a few photos in 2020.

These last three on 6 in. round wood canvas were part of a Female Bird Series I did last year. I painted them with watercolor, then covered them with encaustic medium.

As always, I’m very happy when people stop by and look and ask about my work. I’m so grateful to those of you who liked my work enough to take it home. If you ever see a piece you’d like me to recreate, or have a request for something new, please reach out to me via email: rachel@wolfpupstudio.com

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.

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.

Related Stuff

Midjourney AI Art Meets Encaustic, Part I

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.

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.

Auburn Arts District Holiday Market

(posted 11/30/2021)

I just finished up a fantastic holiday market hosted by Auburn Arts District and Cleveland Art in my little town, Auburn Township, Ohio. There was a daily admission fee of $10 that paid for appetizers and beverages. They even served food and beer from our local pizza place, bakery, and brewery. Here are some photos of the building and surrounding scenes – a very old, very artistically renovated space which was able to accommodate a dozen or so vendors and hundreds of patrons this past Friday and Saturday.

I had a space upstairs next to a lovely lady selling handmade soaps and a gentleman selling maple syrup goodies. Of course I bought some natural soap as well as some tasty bourbon maple syrup! And, I purchased a beautiful print from a nature/animal artist who was also among the group upstairs. Here’s a video of my setup.

Wolf Pup Studio LLC

And here is another short video showing some of the beautiful handmade glassware sold by Cleveland Art.

Cleveland Art Glassware

I sold quite a few encaustic pieces, but more jewelry and ornaments than I had ever sold. Some of my favorite pieces incorporated vintage buttons and beads. It was so nice that people liked and appreciated my unique jewelry creations. I began making them many years ago when I was at home full time raising my daughter. I never sold many on Etsy because of all the competition, so it was a great feeling to finally sell most of the pieces that have been in my studio for many years.

My relatives and friends came and bought some art too, so I’m really grateful for their support as well. It was a wonderful feeling to recognize their faces as they arrived.

Before the sale, my goal was to make enough money to buy myself a new printer, and that’s just what I’m doing this week. And, as always, to give back to my community I made a donation to NAMI of Geauga County today. It really is the best part of selling my work!

I have listed all my work on Etsy again for now. If you want to attend their next Holiday Market, it is planned for December 10 & 11, 2021. I will not be there, as I only signed up for one, but I’m looking forward to being among the vendors at an event again next year at this warm and eclectic space.

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.

Birdtober

(posted 09/30/2021)

I’ve been taking a bit of time off from creating new work, and I have just the project to get me back in the swing. I follow many artists on Instagram, dating back a few years when I first began to work in encaustic. One recently posted a challenge she calls Birdtober in which every day for the month of October she is asking everyone to create a work based on her list of birds. I don’t know her or a lot about her, but she is Andrea Holmes, her Instagram is @aholmesartstudio, and she lives in Texas. I’m thankful she has created the challenge and I’m eager to officially get started tomorrow!

I’ve done a few preliminary sketches this past week. I originally wanted to put them all on watercolor paper, but after a few tries, I realized the paper is too unstable, resisting in some areas, while completely soaking up the wax in others. Then, I had the brilliant idea of putting them all on bamboo cutting boards I picked up at the dollar store, but they are too big and I fear the size will be too difficult to finish a piece every day. I had some flat wooden circles left over from my previous ornaments series and figured that will be a great canvas to work on with these birds.

Stay tuned, I’ll be posting some progress photos over the next few weeks. If you want to follow along on Instagram, find me @rachel.rivasplata.

Nature Arts Festival at Big Creek Park

(posted 08/14/2021)

Last weekend, I had a wonderful time showing my art and jewelry at the Nature Arts Festival at Big Creek Park in Chardon, Ohio. Thankfully, my art was accepted into the juried event, which gathered many, many artists from NE Ohio and beyond. I had requested an indoor table and ended up sharing one large room with a jewelry artist, Anne Nelson, who does some incredible things with metal. I also met another encaustic artist, Stacy Cook, and I very much enjoyed seeing her work and hearing about her process. I had a great conversation with another jewelry artist, Cynde Hujarski, who has a really unique style. Many thanks to my husband, Raul, who is becoming quite the art show professional! Once the event began at 10 am, I was pretty much tied to my table. I was hoping I would get more time to venture outdoors to see the other artists – I’ll have to make it a point to do that next time. I did have a chance to see the work in Carlene Holtz’s tent outdoors. She had some really beautiful floral art done on glassware. She is also the owner of MC Art Studio on the corner of Bell and 306 in South Russell/Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Full disclosure: I have some pieces in the gallery there, and it’s a very charming space, so check it out!

Inside, we had a steady stream of visitors, some purchasers, some browsers, and some friends and family. It was very nice to be able to inform people on what encaustic is and the versatility that it brings to my artmaking. Being indoors was definitely a good decision on my part, because it was terribly muggy outside and I believe it rained for a bit as well.

As always, it was so nice that my friends and family came to see me – I appreciate it so much! And it was very nice to meet some fellow artists as well as local patrons who enjoy nature-inspired art. The beauty of our parks is irreplaceable and I love that people are so passionate about spending time outdoors and observing nature. I can literally get dozens of ideas from a few pictures that I take on a hike through the park. Here are some photos of my display, before and after, along with photos of some of the items that sold.

“Through the Trees”
“Pattern Revealed”

The best part of selling my work is that allows me to share a portion of my profits with NAMI of Geauga County. I gladly made the donation today. I’m looking forward to my next local show … I hope to see you there!

Renaissance by Fire

(posted 07/02/2021)

I love to experiment in the art studio. If you have seen much of my work, I’m sure you can tell by now I have multiple artistic personalities. One day I’m focused on abstract pieces, the next I’m working on a sketch of a beautiful butterfly. I used to feel bad that I don’t have one “style,” until I saw a TED talk from an artist who capitalized on that ability (rather than considering it a disability) when he made up a hundred artist personas with bios and created art pieces for them all. Genius. I found the link! Here is Shea Hembrey’s TED talk.

I. LOVE. ART. (in most of its forms), so I easily become distracted and inspired by new materials and techniques. I have seen many encaustic artists use alcohol inks to create these interesting floral-like pieces by blowing the inks through a straw. As you can see below, I tried one of these straw-blown flowers myself. I like it, but it’s probably not something I’m going to pursue. There are artists like Alicia Tormey and Shary Bartlett who do a fantastic job at making them if you want to see some really amazing ones. Check out their work!

So, when I went about creating “Renaissance,” I knew I just wanted an abstract form. I was experimenting with color, mixing the warm pinks and reds with blue. Alcohol ink is VERY vibrant. I can see why people love to work with it. The colors are supersaturated. The control or lack of it is another beast altogether. It’s nearly impossible to dominate it as a beginner. You really need to work with it for hours to get a sense of how to manipulate it to your liking. If you want to regularly work with alcohol inks, you’re going to need lots of time and/or instruction.

I began the piece by coating an 8×10 inch wood canvas with white pigmented encaustic medium to get a clean, white surface. I then added drips of the inks, letting them dry for a half minute or so before blowing them around with a straw. I have read suggestions to use an alcohol ink blending solution, but I didn’t have one so I used isopropyl alcohol to dilute it.

I found that adding lots of the alcohol gave it a much nicer flow, so I went with it.

These were made over a period of two days. I would add the ink and alcohol with an eye dropper, blow it around, let it dry, then come back in with more ink or alcohol to get the desired gradations of color. I think it necessary to mention the main reason it took me a couple days is because the fumes can be overwhelming. I found that if I spent up to about 5 minutes manipulating the inks, I needed to leave the room to let the fumes dissipate before coming back in a couple hours later.

When I fatigued of this process, feeling as if I should somehow elevate the image a bit, I decided to catch it on fire.

Here’s what it looked like after the initial burn or two of wet alcohol on the surface. (The colors aren’t as bright in the following photo because of poor lighting.)

You can see why the process is so intriguing. The colors seized together in places and also created some circular melted areas from the heated beeswax surface. The next thing I did was add some shellac. In order to get the webbing that is so often loved in encaustic works, you need to lightly torch the briefly dried shellac. I have taken one of Alicia Tormey’s workshops on doing such torch fuses. I’d like to use clear shellac pigmented with white or another color to achieve more dramatic effects in the future. The following image is showing the painted amber shellac just before the applying the flame.

And here is the final piece. You can see where the amber shellac separated to create the cells/webbed effect. Also note, I added (and scraped away) some rose metal leaf on the surface. With the vibrancy, effervescence, and viscosity, I think it’s what a brilliant star or divinity might look like if it were to die then be reborn into the universe. Hence, the name.

Yesterday on Auburn Road

Yesterday on Auburn Road, 8×8 in. mixed media encaustic by Rachel Rivas-Plata

(posted 06/19/2021)

This is one of the very first deliberately planned encaustic pieces I ever did. It began with a very old photo of my late grandparents’ home. I digitally altered it, then pasted the print onto a wood canvas. Then came the most difficult part – painting forsythia with beeswax. I knew I wanted to paint these particular flowers with the house. It is a long held memory of mine that when we used to visit my grandparents at Easter, my grandpa would cut a few branches for my mother to take home. It was such a small, sweet gesture, but it is one of the only memories I have of my late grandfather. We did not go to see them very often. We lived only about thirty miles away, but since my father (their son) had died when I was only two, we saw them only twice a year: Christmas and Easter. I pass the house every now and then, wishing I could stop in to see my grandparents to ask the dozens of questions I never had when I was young, but only the shadows of memories live there now with the new owners.

I had to look back in my Instagram posts to find that my first draft of this piece was in May of 2018. I had originally drawn the home on a blank canvas, then added photos of the flowers over the top. It wasn’t until I reversed the process and painted the flowers over the photo, that it looked to me more like my memory. I labored over the flowers, painting and removing them several times. This process actually ended up adding a worn, gouged layer that I really like. The flowers are close, but still unclear in their detail. The home is far and unfinished, but some details remain. Dreams and memories are so difficult to capture, but I think I did grasp much of what I wanted to portray. Below are images of the first drafts in process.

Fast forward to a few months ago, and I saw the call for art for Lakeland’s May Show. I had never entered an actual show and I decided that even though it was not finished in my mind, that I should just throw my hat in the ring. It cost $15 per entry, and I entered this piece as well as an abstract. Neither got into the May Show, but this one did get chosen for the Extended Show at Stella’s Art Gallery in Willoughby, Ohio. I found out after I entered the pieces that the juror was American postwar and contemporary artist, Jae Jarrell.

Yesterday, I browsed both the May Show at Lakeland’s Gallery and the Extended Show at Stella’s Art Gallery. I saw some works from local artists I have befriended on social media and was very happy to see they had been chosen. I saw many pieces that I thought were phenomenal, and others I thought were not nearly as good as mine. I have a feeling I’m not alone in this regard, and I learned that I need to develop more of a callous when it comes to being judged. For many reasons, it took a lot of nerve to start calling myself an artist. Now I have to really act like one and roll with the punches.

I have come to realize why this creative/artistic aspect of my being is so vital. It unlocks much of the confidence within myself. I also learned that how I see my work is often not nearly how others see it – For good or bad. I need to further research who my audience is and see more art shows to better understand what is expected and accepted in particular venues. And above all, I should not hesitate too much when putting my work out there. The more irons in the fire, the easier that rejections get and the more chances I have of getting my work and name recognized. No magic nor rocket science required. I believe hard work and gratitude will carry me along this artist’s journey.

Color

(posted 04/30/2021)

Today is the first day of a year long encaustic workshop I signed up for at Essence of Mulranny Studios in Ireland. The classes are online so I get the benefit of the classes without having to travel. Although, I’m sure it would be an amazing place to visit someday! The instructor this week is Kathryn Bevier and the first lesson focused on “a la prima” techniques.

I must admit I am not a wiz with color. My earliest art pieces were mostly done with pencil or charcoal and paper, not paints. I was more of a paint-by-number-kit kind of kid. I was so intimidated by painting in college that I dropped the class after the first one. The teacher was a bit too amused by my first go at it and I, being a 20 year old newbie, crumbled at the slightest hint of negative criticism when it came to my art skills. I was obviously not ready to come out of my comfort zone. Fast forward to 30 years later, and I am all about making mistakes in my studio. It really is the only way to learn!

So, for this lesson, I chose to use 3 colors (black and white don’t count). Enkaustikos was so very kind to send me these samples. As you can see, I ended up having to add a touch of red – that was in order to get brown. The object is to keep the color palette cohesive and work from the darkest values to light, adding grays in between. I think I need to try this like 1,000 more times! It is amazing how much you can learn just by mixing colors together and placing them next to each other. The eyes really do fill in the gaps and the colors work together magically at times.

Here are pics of my work from today. I am somewhat satisfied with the results, but realize I do need to control my color choices and plan more on future pieces. This pond study will be one of many before I get it right, I’m sure.

I loved this lesson. I had been meaning to paint a landscape that was reminiscent of the pond we had on our property when I was a kid. My father had the pond started but never saw it filled up because he died in a car accident soon after it was dug. It ended up being a very special place for my family as well as our extended family and friends. I doubt my father knew putting that pond in was going to such an enhancement to so many lives. I’m so glad he left it for all of us to enjoy.