Some artists like it hot
Jeffrey Hirst in his studio
Silkscreen and Encaustic Workshop
La Grange Art League, 122 Calendar Court, La Grange
9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22 and Sunday, Sept. 23
$275 members; $295 nonmembers. All materials included.
(708) 351-3101; lagrangeartleague.org
Encaustic painting is hot these days.
“It seems to be coming around more and more,” says Pat Mroczka, artist and member of the La Grange Art League. She recently noticed three works in encaustic during visits to three different galleries.
In fact, Mroczka recalls, “We had a piece here (the League gallery) a few months ago and it was just gorgeous.”
The La Grange Art League offers basic classes in encaustic painting, and on Sept. 22-23, Minneapolis-based artist Jeffrey Hirst will present a Silkscreen and Encaustic Workshop exploring its versatile nature.
“Hot” is a literal description of this kind of art, as well as a nod to its growing popularity.
Simply put, encaustic painting is a technique in which an artist paints with pigments mixed into molten beeswax on a porous, rigid surface, usually wood, then reheats the painted area, usually with a heat gun, to fuse it to the surface.
When you paint with encaustic paint, Hirst explains, you build up layers. He keeps his paints hot — 150 to 175 degrees — on a big, flat, metal plate, a kind of electric pancake griddle, and after he’s applied as much paint as he chooses, he zaps the area with a heat gun. “That’s when you make it “encaustic,” which comes from an ancient Greek word that means “to burn in.”
The result is a luminous surface. It can be polished to a high gloss, or left rough.
As Hirst will show in his workshop, encaustic painting can be used with many artistic techniques. “I’m working on a sculpture right now that has encaustic on it,” he says, adding that encaustic combines well with oil painting, collage, photography or printing techniques.
Hirst will teach a technique of using silkscreen with encaustic that he’s developed, and hopes his students will integrate encaustic painting into their work. “Like anything in art, encaustic painting takes a bit of experience,” he says. “But once you’ve got that experience, you can build on it.”
With roots in ancient Greece, encaustic is one of the oldest painting techniques in the world and one of the most durable. “I’ve seen some (encaustic) paintings over 2,000 years old, and the colors are still vibrant,” says Hirst. “That’s because the wax preserves the pigment, and wax is tough. It won’t deteriorate like oil.”
Some of the best-known examples of old encaustic works are the Fayum mummy portraits created in Egypt about 100-300 B. C.
Over time, watercolors, oil paints and finally acrylics displaced encaustic painting, but it never died away entirely. “Jasper Johns in the 1950s put encaustic back on the map,” Hirst says. “He was looking for a paint that would dry fast and could be textured.” Encaustic, which dries in 15-30 seconds, was a fit.
Despite all that heat, Hirst believes any artist can enjoy encaustic painting. “I’ve taught a lot of people over the last six years, and most of them have fun working in it.”
More information on encaustic, visit jeffreyhirst.com, fusedchicago.org (Midwest Encaustic Artists) or international-encaustic-artists.org.