Wednesday, April 30, 2014


    A few weeks back, I got to spend time in the studio of my friend Jamie McPhail. I am fortunate to know many talented artists, many of whom work with relatively little thought to fame, riches, or even basic sales related to their artworks. I admire them, but I do think it is a shame to keep these treasures under wraps. Jamie has a gallery full of gorgeous encaustic wax paintings in her home and studio, and I want you all to know more about her, the paintings she has created, and the medium that is one of the oldest and most durable ways to paint with pigment.

     First, Jamie McPhail stands out for her devotion to the medium, which is tricky to work with and as prone to hot mess as it is happy accident. Hot beeswax is dangerous, as its melting point is much higher than paraffin, and it requires heated tools to manipulate. The tools are difficult to clean, the heat from the griddle is uncomfortable, the melting wax is a little smelly and each step requires breaks for cooling the wax to see how the work is coming along. Oh, and the pigments are extremely pure, therefore very expensive, and inexpensive substrates like paper and canvas won't support the paint layer. Why would anyone bother with this demanding material?

    Well, it is just irresistible. The wax is glossy, suspending the pigment perfectly at any saturation level from transparent to opaque, and it is virtually timeless. Encaustic paintings have been found in perfect condition at over 1000 years old, since normal extremes of cold and heat will not damage the pigment. It is a natural adhesive, which makes it ideal for collage elements and inclusions that are embedded in the hot wax. The surface can be textured with tools and printed with stamps or carved away when cooled. The possibilities for surface treatment allow for the exploration and variation that artists crave.

    I leave you with some links to Jamie McPhail's work, including a piece which Maria Shriver's webmaster "borrowed" from Jamie's Etsy Shop. I include a link to a site for artists* that seemed helpful after that incident, and which  may help others protect themselves when publishing or using artwork in the future.  One of my favorite pieces, "The Moon Landed Safely in the Garden" is below. Spend some time looking at the lovely pieces Jamie has for sale, and enjoy the depth and breadth of her wonderful works in wax!

*Lot of good info on this site, but "Copyright Information for Artists- Registering and Copyrighting Your Art" is the relevant article.