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Wax Works West: waxing eloquent about encaustics

2011 January 24

pigments on the Wax Works West studio wall

This creativity junkie has a new medium: encaustics. The word “encaustics” is derived from enkaustikos, meaning to burn in. Artists work with layers of hot wax medium and paints, then fuse them with heat.

OK, I may not wax eloquent (yet), but I’m excited. I discovered three local artists run “a school for encaustic arts” called Wax Works West.

Marketing note: How did I discover them?

I’d done a Google search on “encaustics workshop” and found their blog. Yay!

I sent an email to the address listed on the blog. Nothing. Boo!

Then I caught them doing a demo at a local art store last summer. They were having a good time with the audience and with each other. It looked like a lot of fun because they were having fun. Being the creativity junkie that I am, when I got home I went to their website and signed up for a class.

(The blog and email has since been updated.)

bootcamps, play days & guest artists

Wax Works West was founded by artists Daniella WoolfJudy Stabile and Wendy Aikin.

One weekend per month, they host beginning encaustic art “bootcamps” on one weekend per month, plus a Monday “play day” where there is no instruction, but all three artists are there to answer questions.

In November, I snagged a seat at an encaustic workshop combining altered books and encaustics with book artist Jody Alexander. I’ve since learned they regularly bring guest teachers to their studio, such as Miles Conrad (3D encaustics) and Linda Womack (photography).

I walked into the November workshop a complete novice, but wanted to learn more.

I attended their January bootcamp + playday this weekend.

lots of laughter

Daniella, Judy and Wendy are a loose, well-coordinated team, taking turns teaching and demoing techniques. They’re clearly experienced teachers, having been trained by R & F Paints and taught internationally at industry conferences.

Encaustics is definitely a hands on medium, where you need to get a feel for how to work with the materials.

Each of them has their own specialty and techniques to address problems on the spot. As a student, I thought it terrific to have three different resources.

“Help! I gouged a hole in the wax.”

“Just heat it up again.”

*insert look of “Duh!” here*

“Oh. Thanks!”

Or, “How do you embed [insert object here, no pun intended] in the medium?” (Like most things, there are many different ways to approach this.)

The bootcamp chock full of demonstrations of techniques, which frankly, was a bit overwhelming for this beginner. Many of the other students had worked with encaustics before, but as a beginner I can tell you I was welcomed and encouraged to experiment to get a feel for the medium.

What’s also terrific about them is that they laugh a lot. A LOT…which is good when you are in a room full of butane torches and hot palettes set at 200F:

cool colors on a hot (200F) palette

the studio

Wax Works West is located in Corralitos, California, in Santa Cruz County.

Here is a photo of their beautifully organized studio, which is set up to hold up to 10 students.

the studio at Wax Works West

If you can gather five people, you can ask them to set up a private lesson.

Wax Works West provides all materials. As working artists, they have an extensive supply of materials to experiment with.

Wear old clothes and bring a lunch, but even then, you can just walk down to the Corralitos Market.

(They had bagels from the local bagelry with various healthy spreads available in the morning and yummy snacks available mid-afternoon.)

The ladies have supplies for sale, of course. If you want to set up your own encaustic studio, they’ll provide a “Top of the Line” supply list, or a less expensive version.

The trio is planning to teach in Australia and Italy later this year.

Rich colors, torches, and an extremely forgiving and surprisingly flexible medium, hot wax. What’s not to like?

photo credit: me

11 Responses Post a comment
  1. January 25, 2011

    Joy, thanks for your description and photos of the workshop! You mentioned to me that you were excited about doing this, and having used encaustics in my work many years ago, I was curious about how it would be taught. Sounds like a lot of fun, and the studio looks beautiful.

    I wish you could have seen my studio set-up for working with encaustics back then — a kitchen hot plate, bars of beeswax, powdered pigments, and a makeshift box to mix in — you know, so I wouldn’t get cancer from breathing the pigment particles! I don’t think pre-made pigmented waxes were widely available back then — at least I didn’t know about them at the time.

    I’d love to see what you made at the workshops!

    • January 25, 2011

      Thanks, Maryann! The less expensive version of the supply list to start your own studio includes a kitchen hotplate of sorts.

      I’m not a visual artist by trade–I’m just an enthusiastic perpetual neophyte–so my stuff isn’t that…refined or beautiful! But I was thinking of taking photos of portions of some of the stuff I was experimenting with to show more off. Trying to hit that “publish” button a little more often!

  2. Laura Friedkin permalink
    January 25, 2011

    Joy, how I wish I could make it to go to one of these things with you —- maybe someday! Thanks for posting. May have to do a little research up here and see if anyone in my area does this stuff. Sounds so interesting.. BTW, hope you’ll post pics of what you made!

    • January 25, 2011

      Thanks, Laura! Encaustics has definitely made a comeback, so there may very well be someone who does it up where you are.

  3. Sharon Landon permalink
    January 25, 2011

    Joy, I’m so jealous! I’ve always wanted to learn encaustic art, so really like that you’ve shared this info. Just wish someone up here taught a class. Good idea to do a search, so hopefully I’ll find someone, or I’ll just have to make a trip south to take a class at this studio.

    • January 25, 2011

      Hi Sharon! I’m happy to hear you found this worthwhile. I imagine you’d like the medium a lot. Some of my bootcamp classmates were from Dublin, Livermore and Mill Valley. I think they intended to set up studios, though I think they were personal studios, not teaching ones.

      And I think I someone said Daniella Woolf taught in San Francisco for R & F Paints–maybe check out for the teaching schedule.

  4. January 26, 2011

    I’d never even heard of this before–this sounds so cool!! Have you finished something? Will we be seeing it? Hint, hint…

  5. February 1, 2011

    Hip hooray for creative play! So glad that you’ve found a medium in which to frolic! The photos are fabulous and inspiring too.

  6. June 21, 2011

    The colors and your hot plate photos are totally doing it for me. I have to get to one of these bootcamps!

    • June 21, 2011

      it’s very addicting! having access to so many colors makes it hard to stay away. i’ve been meaning to set up my own studio, but it’s waaaaay too convenient for me to go there.

  7. charmaine Pathirana permalink
    September 25, 2014

    I’m from Sri Lanka Where do I buy this wax

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