Encaustic uses hot wax as the paint binder instead of linseed oil. It can be lovely and mysterious, but with its warmers and pots it’s hardly portable. When I heard that an artist was using it en plein air at Olana, I had to go look.
Maria Kolodziej-Zincio visited Poland several years ago. Members of her family were keeping bees, and she was hooked. Returning to Hudson, NY, she acquired two hives and taught herself beekeeping. She has 17 hives now. The day I visited her farm, she was watching for signs of incipient swarming. “It’s how I’ve increased my bee population,” she told me.
“Bees are the only insects that produce five products for market,” she said. “Beeswax, propolis, venom, royal jelly, and of course, honey.” Bees also pollinate our agricultural crops. And while westerners do not generally eat bee brood, it’s what bears find so overwhelmingly attractive about hives.
Her impeccable small farm is devoted to her bees. The hives are located next to a small hay field, studded with wildflowers. A patch of buckwheat grows in her vegetable garden. I have heard that beekeepers are closely attuned to their bees, and that’s clear when you see Maria with her hives.
“I can tell what’s going on inside by how they behave,” she told me. That means that unless there’s a problem, she opens them only for seasonal maintenance.
The magic of bees led inexorably to the magic of encaustic painting. Of course she uses her own beeswax to bind her pigments. But this isn’t what she’s using in the field. There, she used R&F Pigment Sticks and Ceracolors water-soluble encaustic paint. It was so hot at Olana that more heat was hardly needed, but she can take work back to her studio and soften edges with a heater, just as a conventional plein air painter might go home and “tweak” his or her painting.
Leaving Maria to paint in peace, I continued down the fire road. A short distance away, I ran into artist Dominique Medici sitting with her back to the view. She was painting it—and her own self-portrait—in the reflection of a large antique frame that she’d lugged down to her painting site. The result was a most unusual tour de force painting that wittily commented on the artist in the landscape.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in August 2015. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.