photo encaustic

Interview Posted on Photo Encaustic Blog

A couple of years ago, when I was just beginning to explore the word of encaustics (working with melted beeswax, damar resin and color pigments), I took several short workshops to get a feel for the materials, to learn about safety issues and setting up a studio, and to explore the possibilities of this medium. One of those workshops was with photographer and mixed-media artist Clare O'Neill, who offers an online course as well as on-site workshops in various locations.

I have continued to follow Clare and her work, as I really like what she's doing. She also has a great blog on photo encaustic processes. Apparently, she kept up with what I was doing, as well. (She's good about that with her students.) Recently, she reached out and asked if she could interview me for her newsletter and blog. This was different for me. As a former magazine editor, I'm usually the one asking questions. But it was fun, and the interview posted this week. Here is Clare's introduction:

You know when you’ve been told something over and over that you just blindly believe it? Well, that is exactly what happened as I was first learning and was told that black/dark images are not suitable for encaustic. That the black of the image would become muddled with the addition of medium and just look cloudy. OK. Great. I won’t work with images that have loads of black.
Then along comes Lee Anne White and she destroyed that theory. I was mesmerized when I first saw her work. What was she doing? She proved “them” wrong (whoever “they” are….). Black images DO work beautifully with encaustic, you just have to know how to treat them.
It was also Lee Anne who introduced me to the beautiful world of pan pastels. It’s one of the reasons I love teaching….sometimes I learn as much from my students as I think they learn from me.

It's one of the reasons I love teaching, too. Students share things and don't even know they are doing it! Anyhow, I hope you'll hop on over to Clare's blog and check out the interview itself. While you are there, be sure to explore the site and take a look at Clare's portfolio. It is sure to please!

Fading Glory . 20"x20" photo encaustic on wood panel.  If you look closely, you can see the texture added by the encaustic medium.

Fading Glory. 20"x20" photo encaustic on wood panel. If you look closely, you can see the texture added by the encaustic medium.

The Art of Embracing Imperfection

Encaustic mixed media. ©2015 Lee Anne White.

Encaustic mixed media. ©2015 Lee Anne White.

I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, but intentionally embracing imperfection in craft does not come easy to me when I have spent years trying to improve my craft.

A year or so ago, I began a journey into the art of encaustic photography which, in its simplest form, involves embedding photographs in melted beeswax and Damar resin on a wood panel and then fusing with heat. Of course, the real beauty of encaustic medium is the ability to experiment—to print on different materials, integrate other objects, add paints and pigments, and create texture of all kinds. In the course of doing these things, the work gains depth and a sense of mystery, and is often transformed into something entirely different that only hints at the original image. It requires letting go of expectations, as the melted wax has a life of its own that tends to be unpredictable. It also means letting go of the attachment to my original photograph—the one I worked so hard to compose and expose properly, and that I likely spent a great deal of time spotting to remove the dust specs and imperfections.

It’s that letting go that I both love and hate, and which holds me back if I allow it. Another encaustic artist I admire had an interesting suggestion: Start with a photo you don’t really like. That turned out to be more difficult than expected, too. How to choose a photo I don’t really like? Why would I want to work with that? What would make me choose it?

Encaustic photo. ©2014 Lee Anne White.

Encaustic photo. ©2014 Lee Anne White.

I have screwed up so many encaustic panels attempting to embrace imperfection that the process itself has presented a sort of solution. I periodically take that stack of really bad pieces, melt the wax off, and start over—often on top of damaged images that remain glued to the panel. Sometimes I only melt off some of the wax and start there, instead. And then I give myself permission to experiment with new techniques—to play and have fun and make a mess rather than trying to create a work of art. Part of that process is distressing the panel—scraping, stabbing, scrubbing, pounding, gouging and such. In doing so, I find techniques, new elements and color or material combinations that work for me.

Admittedly, I’ve “wasted” a lot of wax this way. And I end up with odd pieces that don’t work together as part of any grouping or project. But that’s how I started as a photographer, too—“wasting” a lot of film by shooting anything and everything, mostly making bad images at first, but discovering glimmers of hope and excitement along the way. So I will continue embracing imperfection, letting go of expectations and playing in the studio.