Terry Dowell, Encaustic artist and teacher Photo credit: Devi Pride Photography.

Terry Dowell, Encaustic artist and teacher
Photo credit: Devi Pride Photography.

Santa Cruz Encaustic Painter, Terry Dowell

I have been painting and creating all my life…at least 50 years now. As an artist I invented myself by way of workshops and courses throughout the United States. I have no formal art education other than a B.S. from San Diego State University. Largely self-taught in a variety of mixed media techniques I’ve tried every medium that was within reach: pottery, enameling, painting, plein-aire painting, drawing, watercolor, photography, assemblage, etc. I feel fortunate in having come to art by following this path because I’ve never had anyone discourage me.

Encaustic came my way more than seven years ago when I attended a demonstration of hot wax at Lenz Art Supplies. I knew that I would enjoy encaustic painting because I had an immediate sense of “I can do that!” resounding from my soul. Deciding I needed to dive into this exciting process, I took a basic workshop and an advanced workshop with R & F Handmade Paints… I was hooked!

I work largely from my surroundings which includes my conceptual imagination.  Being fortunate enough to live at the incredibly beautiful coastline of Northern California provides spectacular views in all directions and feeds my soul and artful spirit.  I love my work as an encaustic artist so much that I began teaching workshops last November.  It is so satisfying to “rocket” someone into the belief that they can paint and accomplish great things with a little instruction and a lot of passion.  It is a pleasure to change the words and thoughts, “can’t, don’t or won’t work” into “Wow, this is amazing, can you believe what I made?” mentality.

I enjoy the many possibilities while experimenting with encaustic painting:  collage, assemblage, 2d painting, photography, stencils, stamps and so much more.  There are so many opportunities to explore and create with great depth of color and imagination.  I didn’t follow the rules for very long before I moved into playing with possibilities with the beeswax.  Pushing the limits has been amazing and finding how far the medium will go has been an inspiration.

As I have become more accomplished the natural direction has been to share my knowledge.  Teaching the process of working with hot beeswax is very exciting and rewarding. I love to see the light in someone’s eyes when they first see the never ending possibilities of experimentation and discovery.

Now, painting and instructing, I define myself as a mixed media artist specializing in encaustic painting. My work can be seen in private collections nationwide and in juried shows in Northern California.

What is Encaustic Painting?

Painting During The Ancient Times

Encaustic painting is one of the world’s oldest art forms! The earliest applications of encaustic wax paint was done by the artists of Ancient Greece — hence, where the Greek word “enkaustikos” meaning “to burn in”. Greek artists were using wax paint to adorn sculptures, murals, boats, and even architecture. They also used wax paint to highlight the features of the marble statues placed around the Acropolis. Greek art spread to Egypt during the Hellenistic period and with a large Greek population, it didn’t take the Egyptians long to adapt to the use of wax paint. Greek-trained Egyptians started to incorporate encaustic paint into their paintings as well as mummification practices.The most well-known encaustic paintings from those Ancient Times are beyond a doubt, the very life-like Faiyum Mummy Portraits of Egypt. These portraits were created to be placed over a mummy as a memorial and had impressive details of realistic looking facial features. These portraits not only showcased the advanced skills of the ancient portraiture artists but also demonstrated the unique qualities of encaustic paint. It is also amazing to see how well these Faiyum mummy portraits have been preserved over time. Despite being over 2000 years old, they are still on display in museums today withstanding the test of time with minimal cracking and without having faded or darkened in color.

Whenever someone asks about the durability of encaustic paint, we often suggest they research these gorgeous portraits because they are a perfect illustration of how well encaustic paintings can hold up if properly cared for. As encaustic painting flourished in Greece and Egypt, it was also inevitable to spread to Rome. Pliny, the Roman historian, wrote in 1st century C.E. that encaustic wax paint was being used in the Roman portraits and mythology paintings done on panels. Pliny also noted that it was a popular trend of Roman aristocrats to possess encaustic paintings in their villas leading us to believe that encaustic paint did hold popularity and prestige. In fact, Julius Caesar himself commissioned an encaustic painting from the artist Timomakos. Archeologists have been able to discover some Roman encaustic paintings. For instance, a painting on slate depicting Cleopatra being bitten by the asp was found near the ruins of Hadrian’s villa. After the Roman Empire fell, artists began turning to other paint techniques instead of the encaustic paint because the ancient heating process was so laborious.

Encaustic Painting During The Renaissance-20th Century

During the Middle Ages, more artists turned to tempera, fresco, and oil painting techniques that did not require the cumbersome task of building charcoal fires which, was required to liquefy the wax paints. However, although encaustic painting declined, it was not abandoned completely. It did enjoy a minor revival with artists like Lucas Cranach and Andrea Mantegna who were both known to experiment with encaustic painting. It wasn’t until the 18th century when archeologists began looking into the process of encaustic painting and in-depth research began. It was during this time that the beautifully preserved walls of Herculaneum and Pompeii were discovered exhibiting encaustic paintings. Europe quickly caught on with the encaustic medium and artists like Joseph-Marie Vien, Alexandre Roslin, Louis-Joseph Le Lorain and Jean-Jacques Bachelier began exhibiting their own encaustic works in France. By the mid 19th century, encaustic techniques were commonly used in murals throughout Europe. However, without modern heating tools, encaustic paintings still included a long heating process and therefore, did not significantly rise in popularity. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Jasper Johns became one the first few artists who displayed his encaustic artwork in the “mainstream”. He helped bring the medium closer to the forefront of the art community and gained a lot of attention for his flag series of encaustic paintings. Most of his artworks featured simple schema designs like flags, maps, letters, and he has become one of the most widely exhibited artists of our time.

Encaustic Painting Today

What attracts artists to the encaustic medium? There are so many reasons, and with our modern technology, getting involved in the encaustic medium has never been easier. Working in the encaustic medium offers a whole array of opportunities. It lends itself to all styles of genre. Encaustic is a tremendously versatile medium. You can paint, print, collage, and sculpt. It is the perfect partner to many mixed media applications such as photography, paper arts, and digital art. Mix your own colors, create dimensional textures or surfaces smooth as glass, work in thin transparent glazes or heavy impasto; the choice is yours. Today, the encaustic medium is experiencing a renaissance. Encaustic is truly unique enjoyed by contemporary artists, students, and professionals alike as evidenced by annual conferences, and trade shows, and the development of organizations all with the single focus on the vitality of encaustic.