After the Fire

When I finished The Mark of the Thunderbird, I still had ‘more’. Not being one for meticulous planning, I started with the idea of presenting the beauty of the aftermath of a wildfire. The desolation is palpable, but there’s something just stunning about the charred remains of life that hold life within them yet.  That’s what these two pieces are all about.

That was the start.  

Just to mess things up a bit, I tossed in a different medium – encaustic. I’ve been burning myself with wax for a couple years now and finally have an inkling of where this medium can take me.

Waxing Poetic…

To this point, I only use natural beeswax. I filter it, cool it on a cookie sheet and put it outside in the sunshine for a few days to lighten it but, even though I read that that works, it doesn’t work for me. I still do it though, because what if it did work and I could use whiter wax…

White wax. Yeesh. It’s cost-prohibitive for this stay-home artist so in the interest of eating and having running water, I prepare the beeswax from it’s natural state.  Lucky Ducky that I am, I have friends who keep bees!   After melting and filtering the wax several times, I mix it with damar resin to help the wax harden and also give it some shine. It’s time consuming but it’s definitely not a chore. I think it’s the smell of warm beeswax that makes it one of my favourite ‘must-do’s’.

This panel is titled ‘Nourished’.  I’m hoping that I can give the viewer the impression of life still below the surface.  I saw a Ted Talk by UBC Professor Suzanne Simard recently.  In her talk she describes Mother Trees and Interspecies Cooperation.  It’s a concept that I’ve thought about a lot ever since and it’s definitely in my head while I’m working on this panel.

Adding white oil colour to my wax, I’ve started painting around the ground and sky.

Typically when I fuse my wax layers together, I just lightly ‘kiss’ the panel with the flame and that brings a little shimmer to the wax without moving colour around.  Not this time though.  When I fuse this wax layer to the one below it, I will actually melt this layer of white so it spreads out and blends itself into the background.

This panel is titled Renewal.  When we got back to our cabin after being evacuated, there were charred pinecones and burnt needles everywhere.  I was particularly interested in the open cones that will release their seeds now that they have been burned.  Nature is pretty amazing.

The charcoal layer that I sketched in at first is barely visible, but I know where I’m going next.  Because I want detail and texture in this piece, working on this panel will be finicky and time consuming and will probably hurt my fingers.


Focusing on the pinecone for a bit, I’ve started to etch lines into the wax and fill them with oil colours.

Here’s the thing about adding oil colours – the wonderful smell of them coupled with the melted beeswax is like tangy oranges and milk chocolate.



Alternately, Nourished is going quite abstract.

It’s a nice juxtaposition between the panels, and working simultaneously on the two is both challenging and motivating.

Working through the creative process, I feel like the roots in Nourish are complete, there’s nothing more I need to say there.  Up top though, I added hints of a few other trees to suggest a forest while the painting remains abstract.

The pinecone in Renewal is developing now with the addition of oil colours as well as coloured waxes. This panel will have a lot more texture carved into it, particularly in the area of the pinecone.


Fast Forward to the finished pieces. The edges are waxed and the paintings are polished with a soft cloth to a beautiful sheen that shows all the intricacies in the wax

Encaustic pieces take about 18 months to fully cure. Because the paintings are made with natural beeswax, the surface shine on the wax will diminish slightly over time but if buffed with a soft cloth its lustre will be restored.


A Last Word…

Layers and layers of wax are added, subtracted, melted, cooled, rubbed and scratched in encaustic painting.  I find I get swept away with the ambiguity of the medium. There’s nothing I like more than a project that takes me away somewhere, and when I land again hours have passed. Every artist knows what I mean.