Encaustic Collage Workshop

This was my first workshop of the year at Random Arts in Saluda: an encaustic collage class with Janet Lasher. Janet is a textile and fiber artist primarily, but also works with encaustic medium. She was knowledgeable and a good teacher, and I felt comfortable from the start. Could it be that I'm finally relaxing about making art? Possibly. I know a little more about the process -- not necessarily the process of making an encaustic collage -- but about the creative process. And/or maybe I'm developing confidence in my abilities (what a concept, eh?). I was really pleased with the results, which I think is the first time I've ever experienced that after a first-time effort at any art activity. There are things I'd change if I were doing it over again, but overall, I'm happy with how things turned out.

It's fairly monochromatic in tone -- an aged amber color contrasted with brown and black ink and a bit of gold accent; what little color I used was much softened by layers of wax. I used tissue paper, silk organza fabric and rubber stamps (script stamps along with one of the set of Alice in Wonderland stamps that I'd been looking forward to using -- I really do need to start posting images of my work here). I haven't decided whether this technique lends itself to book covers; perhaps to a book that wasn't meant to be handled much -- more an object than what I usually think of as a book, something to be handled.

The basics of encaustic collage are fairly simple, but as with most simple things in art, the mastery is in refining the basics. To keep things simple, we worked with white encaustic medium, so we didn't have to deal with incorporating pigments into the wax. We used clayboard as a substrate, but Janet said her favorite substrate is 3/4" plywood. Since you don't want flexibility in your substrate, paper is a viable foundation only at a 300-400 lb weight. Some students painted their substrate completely before applying their first coat of wax; others liked the look of the white of the substrate peeking through; and yet others, like me, made a background of papers and fabric.

For me, the most difficult part of the process was maintaining evenness of texture/depth. Since to apply each new layer you have to heat/melt the wax, you can melt through the layers of wax you've already laid down, displacing it to other parts of the collage. You don't want to find that you've removed most of the wax from a certain spot, since what keeps the collage material in place is the fusing of each subsequent layer of wax to the layer below. I used a craft iron throughout rather than a heat gun, and I may try the latter next time so that I can compare the two.

A great day learning new things. It's always fun spending time with the Random Arts folks. Jane Powell, who owns the shop with her husband Paul, is a fount of creative enthusiasm. One of the students is a member of my book club at Malaprop's, and another student will be in the Secret Belgian Binding workshop I'll be taking at BookWorks in May. Small (creative) world.

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