ProWax Journal 4: Featured Article

Studio Practice: The Nexus of Content and Medium

By Maritza Ruiz-Kim

The studio draws me in.  For years I’ve had subjects that have sparked my curiosity and I’ve asked HowWhatWhy about the impact of the use of modern technology on our human connections. I’ve read related non-fiction books on the subject; I’ve studied the Fiction of Relationship (thank you and Brown University); I’ve watched not so brief lectures on the Brief History of Humankind (again thanks to and this time the Hebrew University of Jerusalem–it was fascinating!); I’ve read art curator essays on portraiture, voyeurism, and self-representation; I’ve read random articles that seemed tangentially related to my idea obsessions and I wish I’d kept track of them; I’ve used various technologies and social-media platforms and considered their impact on my own connections. I say all this to communicate that these are ways I’ve fed my mind with the concepts that I want to see materialize in my work.  I didn’t always think I was working; I was just following my distracting curiosities, unable to stop myself. I do not work in a linear way, deciding what my work will say, then making it. I have stuffed myself with these ideas and now the studio draws me in. I’ll see what happens with the lines, the contrasts of color, and the layers of translucency of wax. I love what I do.

There are so many ways to approach our studio work and what I’ve described above is one way I do it. Below are excerpts of quotes by various artists in the ProWax group page on Facebook as we discussed concept, content, and color in our work. –Maritza Ruiz-Kim, Editor-in-Chief, ProWax Journal


Elise Wagner: When I set out to make a body of work, it is initially very much about color and content. I spend a lot of time focusing on combinations and I completely immerse myself in their variances and subtleties.  I’d be interested to hear how some of you negotiate or set parameters when setting out on a body of work in terms of color, content or scale.

Howard Hersh: When building a body of work for a show, I try to keep everything up and visible in my studio. Then I can spot problems like “too much of this, or too little of that.” Clearly, we all have favorite colors, shapes, and sizes, but assembling a dozen or two of our works together in a room requires that we pay attention to broadening our scope as much as possible.

Susanne Kilgore Arnold: I am not a colorist, and focus on narrative and light and dark tonal forms and areas, so my work often ends up in the brown or earth color range. Last year, I determined to try color, primarily red, to see if it would change my themes and images. (It did.) I have found I am very sensitive to color and can’t wear or paint with more than one strong color, so this was helpful in pushing me beyond my comfort zone. But I still have a tendency to focus on light and dark tones rather than color mixes.

Lynda Ray: I actually don’t set out to do a body of work with set parameters. I work in the studio every day and then something makes my heart race. I then pursue that, be it color, texture, form, scale, space or line, exploring a visual idea fully. My visual vocabulary is fine tuned continuously. It becomes a body of work. Later, when installing an exhibition, I will edit for a cohesive group.

Elise Wagner: I work in terms of exploring a visual idea fully, sometimes editing in the end. My panel maker lives two doors down, so I always start with a pile of panels that are stored, then gradually, as Howard mentioned, they all become part of the walls and a dialogue emerges.

Ruth Hiller: What inspires you and how is your inspiration reflected in your work? What message are you trying to convey to the viewer? What is your vision/philosophy? How do your techniques and style relate to your philosophy? 

Krista Svalbonas: Architecture, space, and environment inspire my work. I aim to make individuals aware of their surroundings. My wall drawings are a way to directly engage the gallery wall in the conversation of phenomenology. When working with wax I consider the consistent building up and tearing down of material vs. the ever changing urban landscape. When working with felt I liken the material to the philosophy of Modernist Architecture, of using basic and cheap materials for a certain aesthetic response.

Ruth Hiller: The combinations of nature, manmade things, and technology fascinate me. They obsess and inspire me. I want to convey speed, timelessness, and space through bold minimal mark making. I examine and explore my relation to friends, the community, and society as a whole. Integrity, simplicity, truth, and beauty are the threads throughout my life and work. Using beeswax with exposed plywood allows me to infuse meaning through the simplest forms. I push the boundaries of the materials to create works that explore nature and manmade objects in unexpected ways.

Paula Fava: Nature, light, movement, the divine, color, absence of color, textures, rusted things: these inspire me. Creating layers allows the story to be hidden/revealed. I often use ‘healing materials’ embedded in my work for the specific goal of healing heartbreak. Staying in a place of risk allows me to keep my heart open.

Debra Claffey: I’m inspired by life forms, life mechanics, life interdependencies and interactions. The forms I use are biomorphic, fractal, and in concert with natural processes.

Tracey Adams: Science, organization within the natural world, music and philosophy of yoga inspire me. I seek to communicate universality, to simplify form to its basic essence, to be fully present in life. My work involves patterns inspired by nature and science and organized by musical structuring e.g. rhythm. I constantly explore and experiment with combinations of media and color, usually involving wax. I employ permutations of visual elements in each series, revisiting previous series as a springboard to the next.

Cheryl D. McClure: Opposites such as unstructured/structured, active/passive, casual/formal, and bold/subtle inspire me. I prefer to start without consciously thinking too much, then refine by looking and thinking about what is happening with the work. Luscious paint is the vehicle for my style of work. It can be gestural and casual as well as considered and refined.

Kate Miller: Why do you make art (in encaustic or other media) at all, what are your issues? Looking at the bigger picture, what do you see as the major issues (themes if you will) being seen in contemporary work today? Does that influence you in your work or have nothing to do with what you do?

Peggy Epner: Kate, I think about this all the time. I think my most basic answer is to achieve connection. By that I mean that I feel my work is a form of communication, perhaps to someone I will never meet. I feel artwork that stays in my studio and never finds an audience is incomplete because of that. I don’t know if I am seeing the need for connection reflected in the art world specifically, other than a lot of work that recognizes the connection between everything, humans and nature, for example. I see the desire for real connection everywhere, in spite of how “connected” we all are superficially, via technology. I suspect that I am reflecting the need I sense in the population at large, and also my own need, since I am a part of that population.

Toby Sisson: I consider my work an investigation and the very act of making art is a way to “think” about the world. I actually formulate my thoughts by making and interpreting images. My “issues” as you say, are varied but I’m often focused on transformations and relationships between one state of being and another (especially social and psychological). The concept of the “other” has been a consistent concern over the years. Whether I like it or not, my tastes are influenced by contemporary trends. Because I engage with the larger world, my work naturally responds to the era in which I live. That response, of course, can also be a rejection of what I perceive to be the prevailing winds. I find, however, that I’m becoming more and more attracted to the emerging “casual” aesthetic and even surprise myself with how much I enjoy work that not too long ago I dismissed.

Peggy Epner: Toby, I have to say that really resonates with me. I am also really attracted to work that very recently I would have disregarded. You put into words why that is, I think.

Toby Sisson: Thanks for your comment, Peggy. Isn’t it interesting how quickly we are enriched by new ideas when they are contained in an art form. That alone is reason enough to consume a steady diet of contemporary art throughout our lives.

Kate Miller: It’s very interesting here to note that not only are our reasons for making art and our methods of sharing it changing, but that the nature of those changes is also affecting our critical judgment of that work.

Nancy Natale: Toby, I am attracted to certain aspects of the casualist art making, but part of me sees it as just not being disciplined enough to go all the way into making a work of art. I don’t want to be old about it, but neither am I ready to embrace it.

Toby Sisson: I don’t think Nancy’s reservations about the casualist aesthetic are old. I’m not enthralled by all of the work either. But it’s also worth noting that the current trend toward less “disciplined” work has happened before, usually in response to and rejection of established structures. I think of Dadaism or Arte Provera as previous examples. A good description of the latter can be found on MOMA’s website. Just as the supporters of Arte Provera were opposing the conventions of modernism by embracing social issues and juxtaposing found objects to make “poor art”, I think casualists (at least some) may be rejecting the homogenizing aspects of globalism and technology.

Nancy Natale: Toby, Joanne [has] used a term “faux naive” [ed: Mattera’s blog post, Armory Week 2009: Salvage Operation] that I think sums up my objection to the casualist esthetic. A lot of the casualist work looks as if it has no intention behind it or compelling it into a finished work. I can understand the point of not overworking something or of finishing it to the nth degree in what is sometimes regarded as a craft esthetic, but sometimes the work looks like it belongs on the trash side of Mattera’s “Art or Trash” posts from Miami. Too much irony, too little ability, too little conviction, too little transformation? These are questions I ask myself about this work.

Cheryl McClure: I think I was drawn originally to the materiality of painting/art-making and I still am. Since I paint intuitively and abstractly, I have to let the materials speak to me until something clicks. I just love the look, smell, feel of paint. Some years ago, I would not have appreciated [casualist] work as I do now. This is all a growth process. Sometimes we lose a little of that freshness, casualness, improvisation as we grow. It is inevitable, whether we like it or not.

Toby Sisson: I think the Casualists, like all movements, will have more chaff than wheat. That said, I’m still very curious about how each of you views your own work within the larger context of contemporary art. Any more thoughts on Kate Miller’s questions?

Laura Moriarty: I make art as a way of engaging with culture. It’s the way I think about, process and contribute to what I see going on in the world. For me this practice has always been a material and conceptual investigation; they bleed into each other. Based on what I see in major surveys there seem to be many different ways that one could interpret current themes in contemporary art, but if I had to try to put a label on it, I would say we are in a moment of heavy questioning.

Kate Miller: Laura, I love your idea of heavy questioning. I agree with that, although I don’t think the idea of identity searching is totally gone; we see both in movies, books, art. I also think that the themes of isolation and fragmentation within the heavily technological transformation currently going on are still relevant. I find that making art helps me feel a part of this rat race world.

Laura Tyler: As someone who’s embraced the casual since college I’m all of a sudden finding myself pulled toward difficult, time intensive representational work. This is a weird experience for me and I’m not sure where it’s going. I toggle back and forth between painting and documentary filmmaking. Painting seems both more and less necessary than ever to me right now. It is paradoxical.
Joanne Mattera: I’m a painter. Abstraction is the umbrella. Reductive geometry would be the niche within abstraction, with (usually) an emphasis on color. My interests and my expression are bound up together. As to why I make art, I have been making all my life. It’s what I do. I stopped briefly when I arrived in NYC–needed to learn a new job, find an apartment, insert myself into the stream of the city–and although I viewed a lot of art, for three years I was without a studio and made almost none. I felt like a large percentage of myself was missing. So I guess I make art to feel and be whole.

Joanne Mattera: I’m a painter. Abstraction is the umbrella. Reductive geometry would be the niche within abstraction, with (usually) an emphasis on color. My interests and my expression are bound up together. As to why I make art, I have been making art all my life. It’s what I do. I stopped briefly when I arrived in NYC –needed to learn a new job, find an apartment, insert myself into the stream of the city–and although I viewed a lot of art, for three years I was without a studio and made almost none. I felt like a large percentage of myself was missing. So I guess I make art to feel and be whole.

Nancy Natale: I make art as a means of esthetic expression and because I am drawn to the materiality of working with my hands, making things. Art is my second career in life and I went to art school when I was just about 40 after an awakening experience. (No, I wasn’t Sleeping Beauty despite all the rumors.) I had always made things but never really made art, even in high school, so I had a lot of catching up and learning to do about how and why to make art. Contemporary art seems to be pretty wide ranging. I think I am most drawn to geometric abstraction but usually not the clean cut kind. I do love the messy, physical, dark, weatherbeaten kind of work that I find in my faves such as Leonardo Drew, Philip Guston, Lee Bontecou, Brian Dickerson and so on. They influence me in terms of what they have made and inspire me to keep making and striving to please myself with what I do. That may not always be the case, but I keep trying and am always learning and discovering.

Laura Moriarty: This discussion and these questions continue echoing through my mind, and there is something important I want to add to why I make art; because it’s fun. I enjoy every aspect of it, and when the going gets rough this point is the one that drives me back to it.



For further reading:

1.  Raphael Rubenstein, Art in America, on provisional painting

2.  Sharon Butler, Two Coats of Paint, on casualist painting

  • “The New Casualists”
  • Reader response to ‘Abstract Painting: The New Casualists'”
  • The Casualist tendency”
  • Good news: ‘Some of this work is quite good'”

3.  Brian Dupont, epononymous blog, on provisionalism & casualism

  • Provisional Criticism and the New Mannerism”

4.  Steven Zevitas, Huffington Post, on the art world

  • The Things We Think and Do Not Say, or Why the Art World is in Trouble”

ProWax Journal 3: Featured Article

Acquiring Skills to Support the Studio Practice: In This Issue, Photography

By Maritza Ruiz-Kim

Artwork that is born from intensive hours in the studio requires a wide set of skills to ensure that the work reaches an audience. These skills serve as the framework that supports the life of the professional artist. Additionally, artists need time and know-how to find a way to connect with fellow artists and curators. Seeing these connections as merely a gateway to finding venues for artwork would be cynical. It has so much more to do with fostering engaging dialogue, being an active member of an art community, and seeing those connections lead to real understanding in one’s own work & the work of others. For the artists, the richness of the community originates from the work each artist does in the studio, keeping the artwork alive despite innocent distractions and difficult obstacles.

Last November, artist David A. Clark shared on the ProWax Facebook page: “I don’t live in a place where there’s a lot of options for hiring a photographer that knows how to shoot art, so I have to find a better way to do it on my own. I am a firm believer that I can educate myself to do better.” He went on to share several tips he learned from a photography consultant; 90 comments later, many artists had added to the conversation with their own expertise, several of whom have backgrounds as professional photographers. I learned several new things as I read the thread. What follows in the lists below are my own notes on information gathered from that conversation, as well as additional clarifications from artists Elena De La Ville, Patricia Dusman, Karen Freedman, Sarah Rehmer, Patti Russotti, Krista Svalbonas, as well as from David A. Clark.

It takes multiple passes over the same information on photography (ISO? f-stop? white balance?) for me to retain the knowledge. I know that shooting in Manual mode allows me more control over the image, but I hesitate to leave Auto. Although I can make videos, somehow the technical work of capturing one image of my artwork seems so much more daunting since I know that once an artwork leaves my studio, a photograph of it may be all I have left. I have several bad pictures of artworks I’ll probably never see in real life again. I learned the hard way that there really are standards for images of artwork: during a graduate portfolio review, each reviewer commented on the same poor qualities of a photograph I’d taken of a piece. In a photograph of my artwork, I must capture the spirit of the physical piece I see before my eyes. When I’ve been able, I’ve used a professional art photographer. However, it’s time to really learn how to photograph my own work.

This could easily be a much longer article, several articles, or even a book!– however I have edited information to what is helpful to me in hopes that it enlightens fellow photography novices.

The Art of Creating an Image of Your Artwork

Just as it takes time to acquire painting, sculpting, or any number of studio skills, it similarly takes time to become proficient at creating photographs of one’s own work. This is especially true if camera use & photo editing are not familiar to an artist. Ideally, the best time to practice creating images of your work would be when there is no imminent deadline.

  • Use even lighting across artwork; no hot spots of light;
  • use soft shadows to show texture, not harsh shadows;
  • do not over expose the image;
  • do not skew the perspective of the artwork, take photo from front & center;
  • if showing edges of the artwork, wall must be neutral;
  • take multiple images from different viewpoints for three dimensional work; and
  • capture best representation of the artwork’s color in the photographic image.


After some discussion, most artists in ProWax agreed that Adobe Photoshop Elements provided sufficient control over image editing (straightening, cropping, color correction, light balancing, etc). Some artists who are more experienced with photo editing software still prefer the full Photoshop program, but concede that Elements is fine if that’s all that’s available. Lightroom, Phase One, Aperture and other pro-photographer software is best used by artists who want to shoot tethered, meaning the camera is connected directly into the computer to see one’s images on the screen as they are taken. Tethering the camera to the computer is used more by professional photographers than by artists taking pictures of their work.

Camera, Lighting, & Artwork Setup

Most photo stores have a setup like this for around $100-$150. It's at the very low end of professional but more than adequate for our studio needs. Photo credit: Joanne Mattera

Most photo stores have a setup like this for around $100-$150. It’s at the very low end of professional but more than adequate for our studio needs. Photo credit: Joanne Mattera

  • Know your camera; spend quality time with your camera & owner’s manual;
  • keep the camera manual handy at all times;
  • set the camera on the tripod directly in front of the artwork, center the camera lens in the center of the work and then back the camera up until the work fills the camera frame. That helps keep the images square when the image is captured, and prevents having to “skew” the image while editing in photo software.
  • Have levels for camera (side to side + front to back) and for artwork;
  • use tether remote or self-timer (pressing shutter can add to blur);
  • shoot in landscape mode if possible; hang vertically oriented work sideways & rotate when editing work in the software;
  • find the “sweet spot” for your camera’s lens (see online resources below for more info);
  • check the white balance (see online resources below for more info);
  • turn the flash OFF.
  • Natural light on an overcast day works well.
  • Indoor artificial light requires several components. (See online resources below for more info.)

An indoor set-up, blocking out other light sources. Photo credit: David A. Clarke

Workflow for Creating Images of Your Artwork

The following workflow is a suggested framework. Without a workflow, each time you create images of artworks, you will have random habits for working your files, and you run the risk of losing important digital information. You may use this as a guide and modify as you gain experience. Only you can create the best workflow for yourself.

  1. Never let artwork leave the studio without creating an image of the work.
  2. Set up camera & tripod.
  3. Position artwork.
  4. Set up lighting (see above).
  5. Capture at least 3 images of artwork.
  6. Upload images to computer.
  7. Keep the original RAW image; the file extension of the RAW image varies depending on the camera manufacturer.
  8. Correct the original RAW image by: straightening, cropping, color-correcting, light balancing, and leave it as large a file as possible. Do not merge layers. Save in the file format that is native to your photo editing software; in the case of Photoshop & Elements, it is “Photoshop” in the drop down menu. The file extension will be “.psd”. Save your file at the highest dpi possible. This file is now the master copy. Every time a jpeg image is adjusted or corrected, the quality of the image is reduced. This is why the master file is so important. Suggested title format in Photoshop & Photoshop Elements:
    Note: Some artists prefer to save in TIFF format rather than in the file format used by a particular photo editing software. In that case, the title of the master file would be: Title_InventoryNumber001_Year2014_Master.tif 
  9. Use the ‘save as’ command to generate the following versions from the master file. Suggestions for how to title these image formats are included.
    A. 300 dpi RGB (the colormode used in electronic displays)
    B. 300 dpi sRGB (optimized RGB color for web)
    C. In Photoshop/Elements, use “save for web” command or a 72dpi srgb file for the Web (a smaller size for faster online loading)
    D. 150 dpi 1″ thumbnail (to use for image lists and other misc needs)
    E. 350 dpi CMYK (optional based on your printing needs; the CMYK colormode is for images that will go to print. Printers prefer JPEG or TIFF files)
    Title_InventoryNumber001_Year2014_CMYK_350dpi.jpg or
  10. BACKUP all of these images to a separate disc (including all original raw, uncorrected images). Label the disk.
  11. Enter image and the painting info into inventory database
  12. Create three individual labels for each painting containing the image, title, size, date of creation, medium, retail price and contact information.
    A. Tape one label to the back of the painting;
    B. Tape two labels to the storage box (one on top; one on front).
  13. Upload new work to website.
  14. As you edit images for a particular purpose (submission for a show/grant/fellowship), create a folder for those newly saved images (adjusting for file size, etc), as they will likely be titled as specified by the receiving party. When possible, include your last name in the file title for any images that you are sending out, so that your name is always tied to the image.

Getting This Information in Real Time

Among many talks, demos, lectures & panel discussions offered at The Eighth International Encaustic Conference (Provincetown, MA June 6th – June 9th, 2014) two classes will explore this topic in depth: “Preparing Images with Photoshop” by Elena De La Ville, and “Digital Imaging for Artists” by Patti Russotti.

Online Resources for Software & Photographing Art

ProWax Journal 2: Featured Article

The Weight: Dealing with the Issue of “Encaustic Art”

By Joanne Mattera

In 1998 Gail Stavitsky curated Waxing Poetic: Encaustic Art in America for the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey. This was a landmark museum exhibition, a scholarly survey that placed  a historic medium within the context of contemporary art. The exhibition also introduced the phrase “encaustic art,” to a broad audience.  In an odd turn of events since then, while art made with encaustic has become ever more visible in galleries and museums, art fairs and art publications, “encaustic art” has gone in the other direction, coming to represent conceptually unsophisticated efforts with the medium.

By 2006, the antithetical divide between art in encaustic and “encaustic art” had become so great that I wrote an essay for my then-new blog. I called it I Am Not an “Encaustic Artist”. (It wasn’t a new idea for me—as a painter, no adjective, I intentionally did not use the phrase in my 2001 book—but after seeing the number of “encaustic art” shows and groups that had been proliferating since Waxing Poetic, I felt it was time to say something.) This is what I said:

“I love encaustic. I’ve been working with it for 16 years. I participate in, and go to see, “encaustic shows”—they’re a great way to see the wonderful variety of artistic expression in pigmented wax. (Though I make a point of participating in thematic shows as well.) And I admire and respect the work of many, many, many artists who work in encaustic. I just think we need to think hard about how we define ourselves and our work.”

The point was missed by at least one commenter, who assumed my intent was to distance myself from the medium. In retrospect I see that the commenter’s indignation was a harbinger of the defensiveness of wax-world identity politics that has continued to this day. The following question, posed recently by a well-respected member of our community has rekindled my interest in addressing the issue in a forum such as this:

“We all agree that calling ourselves “encaustic artists” is not helpful to our careers. And yet we have our Facebook page, our Conference, our medium-specific shows. I understand that educating the public about the medium is helpful, and raising the bar is a most worthy pursuit, but . . . while resisting calling ourselves “encaustic artists,” aren’t we doing exactly what we are denying?”

As the author of the book  that helped ignite the current interest in encaustic and founder of the first Conference devoted to the study of the medium, I have struggled with this question. I would say that we are not doing what we deny; in fact we are doing the opposite. My personal response has been to professionalize the standards for the Encaustic Conference, to broaden the scope of Conference offerings, and to exhort my professional colleagues to join with me in “raising the bar” in hopes that our collective example will inspire others. Last year I put those ideas into an essay, Encaustic: Art, Craft Hobby.  The essay was intended as a tool for discussion. The professionals rallied around it; the amateurs circled their wagons; the folks in the middle took sides. And yet, the issue remains, perhaps more pressing than ever.

I asked the ProWax group for their responses to the question posed above. Here’s some of the discussion, edited for brevity and organized for cohesiveness.

Howard Hersh: “This conversation is especially poignant to me because I have benefitted greatly from my association with the medium. In a crowded and competitive art world, standing out for any reason is a good thing. The problem, now that the world is flooded with artists using encaustic, is that the association with the medium connects us to a lower standard, the hobbyists’. I am all for raising the bar, but the question is: Can this mission be accomplished or are we inviting more (unwanted) attention to the medium?” 

Ruth Hiller: “I want to reiterate what Howard has said. I have found camaraderie, learned amazing things and benefitted as an artist through R&F and . . . the Conference. I have had many opportunities that I would not have had outside this arena. I have learned how to raise the bar.”

Jennie Frederick: “I only knew what I had seen . . . very bad, very thick and poorly conceived work done with encaustic paint. Then I saw Paula Roland’s work at William Siegel Gallery in Santa Fe. Talk about a different ballgame!”

Those three comments suggested several categories for consideration:

Our Venues/ Our Selves

There are many options for exhibition, but we’ve all learned, as Jennie’s introduction to Paula’s work makes clear, that the more professional the setting, the more professionally the work will be received. In no small part this is because the selection of works by a gallerist or bona fide curator helps separate the art from the “encaustic art.” Moreover, there are many ways we deal with exhibition options. Some voices:


. No more wax shows: “The issue of how I define myself and how I identify as an artist is central to my work, says Milisa Galazzi. “I have been a professional artist for 35 years . . . incorporating encaustic into my work since 2004. I am no longer applying to shows with “wax” in the title. That feels too limiting to me. I am thinking more about what I am calling my ‘crossover niche.’ I define this as where themes and materials interconnect with other ideas and forms in my work. For me this is gender, human connections, fiber, paper, wax. I am starting to see my career as a Venn Diagram and the sections that cross over are the places where I find the most opportunity and the most interest to me.”

. Context: “I call myself simply “an artist,” since my work is not defined by the material I choose,” says Maritza Ruiz-Kim. “I would never call myself an encaustic artist or a metal artist or a watercolor/gouache artist. I participate in communities that challenge my work and whose professional standards and/or aspirations are similar to my own. . . . I am interested in medium-specific shows to the extent that they provide the best context for my work, but I don’t think it serves my work or the medium to view work that is medium specific without some larger narrative or framework.”

. It’s just another medium, but . . . “As a painter for many years before being introduced to encaustic, I have always considered myself a visual artist,” says Cheryl McClure, whose “dominant medium” had long been acrylic on canvas.  “I still try to limit the mention of a medium when talking about my work unless asked specifically. I have also limited the ‘encaustic shows’ except for wanting to take part in those connected with the Conference.”  Why? It’s the association with the lower standard, says Cheryl. “Problems seem to arise when those who have not been artists start with encaustic and become ’encaustic artists.’”

Experience and Education

Elena De La Ville clarifies the problem that Cheryl has just noted: “One of the main differences that I see [between artists and “encaustic artists”] is that those of us who are established artists have studied. We have laid the foundation in our own practice and we are innovators. We have a long track record. We teach. A critical mass in encaustic is populated by amateurs who are drawn to the same medium we were drawn to but with hardly any training in concept or art principles.

“What I’d like to do,” continues Elena, “is set an example about good practice, about significant art, about concept and innovation. Being an artist is not a swift race to the top. It is a step-by-step process in which we learn from our mistakes as we find a way to communicate through our art. That is what raises the bar. I am sure some ‘encaustic artists’ will do that too, in time, but not everyone keeps at it long enough to make a meaningful contribution.”


I’d add that for self-defined “encaustic artists” looking to make a meaningful contribution, opportunities for involvement beyond “encaustic art” are available. Conference aside, there are a number of teaching professionals who offer entree to a higher level of thinking and achievement. They make their presence known on the various Facebook pages that attract those interested in encaustic. However the artists who reflexively slam the door on a way of engaging more broadly are likely to forever remain “encaustic artists”—more weight on a bar that is getting ever heavier to raise.

Raising the Bar

As we distance ourselves from the limiting identity of “encaustic artist”— it’s important we not deny encaustic itself. Nancy Natale offers perspective: “I really think my work would not have developed as it has without my using encaustic. It took me many years to arrive at a signature look and conceptual framework for my interests. I am still inventing new approaches to my work, and just about all of them involve encaustic.  The reason we are able to keep organizing shows, conferences and discussion around encaustic is that it offers a veritable infinity of ways to use it.”

I think of the comment by a visitor to the Swept Away exhibition at the Cape Cod Museum of Art this past June. Surveying the show during a panel discussion, he said, with aPullquote_visitorCapeCodMus_PWJ2 combination of awe and authority, “This is what encaustic can be.”  It was a high point in an exhibition with many high points.

Can we—as Jane Guthridge says, “use the power of a group to elevate the way encaustic is seen in the art world” –or will the collective weight of “encaustic art” connect us, as Howard fears, to “a lower standard.”

Jane Allen Nodine is realistic: “There will always be hobbyists using encaustic wax—and instructors promoting formulaic exercises for their workshops.”

Francesca Azzara is optimistic. “The medium is in an adolescent phase. These are growing pains. I believe the work of gifted artists working in encaustic will settle into the company of fine art done in any medium.”

Pullquote_Mattera_PWJ2I am ambivalent; call it pessimistically optimistic. I continue to pursue my personal, largely encaustic-based practice, and I’m directing the Conference into a more art-world-focused arena, supported by a visionary co-producer, an immensely talented ad hoc faculty, and hundreds of conferees over the past seven years who are invested in their professional practice or working toward professional goals. I have long said that one may arrive at the Conference an “encaustic artist” but leave an artist, with a broader sense of what is possible technically and conceptually.

But there’s no denying the huge organizational weight of mediocrity which supports, encourages and exhibits “encaustic art.” I don’t see that changing. (And I have no intention of trying to change it; if it serves its constituency, so be it.)

So to answer the original question, “Aren’t we doing exactly what we are denying?” I would say no, not at all. In ProWax we have gathered and identified as professionals who are working in encaustic. But to Howard’s question—which I’d paraphrase as, “Can we raise the bar without being pulled down by the weight of “encaustic art?”—sadly, I don’t think so.

But . . .

I don’t know why I it took me so long to realize this: Perhaps it’s time to disengage from the weight. Without it, there’s no limit to how high we can raise the bar! We are visual artists. Our efforts should be visible and they should be exemplary.

Each of us will determine how to be an exemplar in a way that is best for us personally, but I see many possibilities:

  • Present yourself in a larger arena. Say goodbye to the “encaustic shows,” or at least wean yourself on those with strong themes. And while you’re limiting, be choosy about the venues and organizers. These are ideas already expressed by Misa, Maritza and Cheryl in this essay
  • Speak about your work, limiting the tech talk in favor of the what and why. This raises your personal bar and, by extension the collective bar as well
  • Curate! Most of us won’t get the opportunity to curate in a museum setting, but there are plenty of opportunities in non-profits, libraries, historical societies, small commercial galleries, or pop ups. This is a chance to raise the bar for and with others
  • Write! Blogs, books and personal catalogs all help us stake out a broader space
  • Find a mentor; there’s always someone farther along the path than you
  • Be a mentor; you have much to offer someone who is not as far along
  • Collaborate on teaching or exhibition projects, as so many of us have been doing already
  • Organize, whether it’s a study group, a critique group, a retreat, a session to learn a skill like Photoshop or professional presentation. ProWax Journal is a fine example of raising the bar
  • Feel free to add to this list in the comment section, found to the left of the article title in most browsers

While we engage in a dialogue with encaustic in the studio, and in conversation with one another in ProWax and elsewhere, our larger interaction must remain in the art world with contemporary art.

“Encaustic art”, meanwhile, is free to find its own path, likely creating a place for itself alongside macramé owls, decoupage and painting on velvet.

Joanne Mattera is a widely exhibited painter who works in a style that is chromatically resonant and compositionally reductive. Chromatic Reasoning, her 29th career solo, will take place at Conrad Wilde Gallery, Tucson, in December. Joanne is responsible for two important firsts in the encaustic community: She is the author of The Art of Encaustic Painting (Watson Guptill, 2001) and founder of the now-Provincetown-based International Encaustic Conference, which she produces in conjunction with Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill and its director, Cherie Mittenthal. She made her first encaustic painting in 1969, but she is not now, nor has she ever been, an “encaustic artist.” Her coverage of the Miami art fairs can be found on her Joanne Mattera Art Blog in December.

ProWax Journal 1: Featured Article

The Artist’s Give and Take

 By Maritza Ruiz-Kim

“To create:
a.) to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes.
b.) to evolve from one’s own thought or imagination, as a work of art or an invention.”

High standards in professional practices, made up of proper give and take, bring out the best in a creative community. I’m not referring to give and take as compromise, but to the partnership of giving and taking. We give of ourselves as we share our ideas, work, resources, and professional standards. As members of a community, we bring our built-in values and skills as we forge an exchange. In an art community, there’s an implicit trust as artists share with one another. The understanding is that since creative artists all invest so much in their work, individuals will protect others’ work as much as their own. We take as we use resources from others to produce the best practices in our own studio work, such as relevant texts, safety and process information, as well as exhibition and funding opportunities. The ProWax Facebook group of artists who work in the medium of encaustic is one such group (see the About page here). This artist community thrives from rich exchanges and dialogues that not only clarify our positions on current art issues as we discuss them, but also challenge the content of our work, enabling us each to be more articulate. Here in ProWax Journal, we are offering to the public readership a “listen in” on some of the great discussions we’ve had.

Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums — they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on, at every level. – Michelangelo Pistoletto, in Art’s Responsibility

The give in the life of a working artist is constant. We strive to sustain ourselves and our studio work. Artwork is work in many senses of the word. We consistently engage with our materials and examine our processes, discerning when to solicit feedback and when to focus on personal vision instead. The output can sometimes be astounding, as it waxes and wanes with deadlines, day job conflicts, and the demands of our personal lives. The additional work of the artist—securing sources of funding, negotiating with gallerists, curators and so much more—is the necessary supporting component to the studio work of exhibiting artists. Many artists teach. Besides making the promotion of best studio standards an essential part of their lessons, they bring an exclusive take on whatever materials, technique, or information they impart to students. Collegial dialogue with other artists is an essential piece of the puzzle, and it also takes a time commitment. As we aim to better our artwork and practices, we seek out seasoned advice from others. An artist’s work—the creativity, teaching, community, and even the business of keeping it all going—involves so much more give before it involves take. Still, it is often a labor of love as creativity enters into every aspect of our work.

The future artist finds himself or herself moved by a work of art, and through that experience, comes to labor in service of art until he can profess his own gifts. –Lewis Hyde, in The Gift

The take is the half of the formula that is fraught with complications. In a specialized artist community such as one built around a medium, information shared becomes much more specific. Artists who work in encaustic carefully walk this line of giving and taking. Best practices for information on safety, archival work, display, and shipping matters should be published in the medium’s various forums in order to promote the highest quality artworks. Communities based on an art medium often share take-aways on intermediate and expert level processes.

Certain techniques might have a known lineage of attribution in a small community, yet there is a way to pass on technical knowledge without infringing on the creative work of other artists. Teaching artists who become experts in a new technique in their own work are able to go on to teach others what they have learned, easily citing the inspiration of other artists when teaching. Without the investment of time in perfecting the use of a technique, it is not only easy to pass on wrong information, it is easy to rely heavily on the visual imagery of a technique without knowing the intellectual and technical genesis behind it.

A serious artist does not look to the successful creative work of another and adopt it as his or her own. There is no creativity in working this way because the Art would be removed from the new work. It would look creative, but it would lack the supporting creative substance that makes it Art. Additionally, instructors should never use the name of an artist who is not directly associated with a class. These kinds of professional tools have more than a hint of pure marketing to them; they violate professional courtesies and boundaries. Creative communities that become rampant with “inspired by,” “in the manner of,” or “with the techniques of” take quite a short cut. They turn themselves and their students into product makers instead of promoting the use of true artistic practices. Imagery might sometimes become the provenance of particular artists in a specialized artist community, but if the highest artist practices are kept by art makers at all levels, an artist’s work will not be duplicated. An attempt at duplication is hollow and empty at best, plagiarism and/or copyright infringement at worst.*

As professional standards are assumed among a group of trusted colleagues, the freedom to share work and define the best practices for an art material such as encaustic can be achieved. Without this kind of artist community, the widespread understanding of the fundamentals of this specific medium can be misunderstood by professionals in each sector of the larger art world. With this kind of community, a healthy give and take occurs and high standards are discussed in a collegial manner, supporting us to make our best work. We can inspire the best in the work of our colleagues. Thus we will be able to see more of the kind of Art that moves, changes, surprises, challenges or quiets us in this medium we have made our own: Encaustic.

Ruiz-Kim is an artist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her BFA in New Genres from the San Francisco Art Institute. She enjoys exploring human inter-connectedness and she examines underlying sociological themes using diverse subject matter and materials. She has shown nationally in New York, Miami, Santa Fe and Provincetown. Her website is and she has an artist blog at  © Maritza Ruiz-Kim 2013

*These online resources can provide helpful guidance for ethical as well as legal matters in the visual arts:

1. Plagiarism vs Copyright Infringement, University of Connecticut
2. Exceptions to Copyright that Do Not Constitute Infringement, University of Connecticut
3. A Fair Use Printable Checklist, University of Minnesota
4. The Four Factor Fair Use Test, University of Texas
5. Visual Plagiarism, Academy of Art University
6. Visual Plagiarism: When does inspiration become imitation?
7. Plagiarius Awards