Chandler Thomas on Showing Her Encaustic Work and Experimenting with Dimension

Chandler is a Bull City Encaustic artist who recently had two solo shows of her encaustic work. We hope that her accounts of experimenting with encaustic medium and recycled materials to create large, often dimensional pieces bring you inspiration as well. 


Who are some of your biggest creative influences? Are there any particular encaustic artists whose work inspires what you create? 

One of the most influential contemporary artists who inspired me to get into wax and wax sculpture is Rebecca Stevenson. Although she doesn’t call herself an encaustic artist, most of her sculptural techniques are applicable to encaustic. Martin Kline's  work has also inspired me to let my paintings grow off the panel. 


Pieces from Chandler's show in Holly Springs

Pieces from Chandler's show in Holly Springs

What is it like to have a solo encaustic show? Can you provide details about the locations and dates where people can see your work?

Having a solo show was a great experience. I wanted to have a show to experience creating and establishing a cohesive body of work that I’m proud of.  The Holly Springs Cultural Center was a great space to show the work as well. The center has a large number of child-oriented attractions, and it was rewarding to be able to tell children about the medium and even bring out a few pieces for them to touch. Although this show ended in August, I have a few assemblage pieces in the Carrboro ArtsCenter Instructor Show until September 30th, and I have 3 encaustic and oil pieces in Duke University’s new West Union Building for the Fall semester. I update my current shows page as this changes.


"Dirty Wax" melting down

"Dirty Wax" melting down

You came up with the concept of "dirty wax." What is it, and how do you use it?
See below.
You seem to currently have two distinct yet similar styles; both are painterly and movement-oriented; both use minimal color palettes. Yet, one style is nearly sculpture, complete with armature and hand-built lava splashes. How did you begin making dimensional/high-relief pieces?

The evolution of my dimensional/high-relief pieces goes hand-in hand with my use of “dirty wax."Dirty wax is the scraps of encaustic paintings that I melt down and use as the basis of my dimensional pieces. I still embed fabric, rocks, wire, ceramic, etc. into my pieces to build as much dimension as possible without medium, but since the dirty wax would otherwise be discarded, I give myself the freedom to use it as a means towards a 3D terrain on which to paint. I see these steps as necessary, as my new terrains have reached up to 20 inches, and I’d like to go far larger. 


A hand-built piece in progress.

A hand-built piece in progress.

What inspired you to incorporate ceramic hand-building techniques into your encaustic work? 
I wanted to take advantage of the translucent nature of the wax while allowing it to exist in a 3D form. I like that this technique feels similar to working in say, polymer clay (with a few more wax burns), but brings a final product that resembles glass. It is important to note that when I use this technique, I add microcrystalline wax to my medium. It allows the warm semi-solid form to stay more pliable than with the encaustic mixture alone.

What is it like being a part of Bull City Encaustic?

Working with Bull City Encaustic has given me endless insights into how one can push this medium further and how I can communicate my love for encaustic. I’m happy to be a part of a group of artists who prize being generous with their time, resources, and most importantly, knowledge. I go so far as to live stream my studio time 8 hours per week with Twitch Creative because a) I see the process of creating encaustic work as an art form in itself, b) I practice communicating about my art and techniques, and c) I see no need to keep secrets. Libby encourages this generosity and I strongly believe that she builds a better art community through it.


You can find Chandler's work here and at chandlerthomas.com

Photographing Encaustic Art

Capturing good photographs of encaustic is difficult.

You may have heard, or discovered, that encaustic is notoriously difficult to photograph. The deep, ghostly layers of pure medium on top of a black and white photo collage go on for miles to the naked eye, but a camera lens can't seem to capture that depth. Glass-like coats of wax with a glossy sheen don't render properly in a film or digital image. The textural shifts of color in a thick stroke of paint have a magic in them that you can only see in person. This makes it a challenge to capture all aspects of an encaustic piece.

Is scanning the answer?

I asked a photographer friend of mine how they achieved a particular photograph they'd taken of an encaustic collage. It looked like an encaustic collage. You would have noticed that, too. There was something tactile and tangible about the depth achieved in the picture. The secret? "I scanned it," my friend said. "Good luck finding someone with a high-end scanner who will let you do that." So far, I have asked one person, and they laughed. Scanners are expensive, but they can achieve more depth in an object - most encaustic pieces have an object-like feel to them - than any camera I've seen.


Tips for Photographing Encaustic Art

We've compiled some of our methods for photographing encaustic work.

General Rules

  • Bright, non-diffused overhead lighting is too harsh for encaustic photos.
  • Cloudy, indirect sunlight or cool light is often the best lighting.
  • Use diffused side-lighting to get rid of shadows, but don't be afraid to play around with shadows for more textured pieces.

Methods

  • The zero-equipment method: Photograph your piece outside on a cloudy day to achieve the best results. 
  • The light box method: Use rice or tissue paper taped over a clamp-light or standing lamp with a daylight bulb to create a make-shift light box. Clamp lights and daylight bulbs (at your desired coolness) can be found at hardware stores like Lowes or Home Depot.
  • The scanning method: Celebrate your luck that you have, or someone let you use, their high-quality scanner! Lay piece face down on glass and scan. 

Post-shooting tips

  • Adjust over/underexposed pictures in your phone's built-in photo editor.
  • Use the sharpen tool to accentuate line work.
  • Increase saturation to add color.

Have you discovered any tricks for photographing encaustic art? Let us know in the comments!