Learning the fine points of encaustic painting with a Chattanooga expert
In recent years, Encaustic (wax) painting has been gaining popularity with artists and collectors alike. Though the medium has been around for several thousand years, its use was uncommon until the early 20th century, when it was rediscovered by the Bauhaus school.
Here in Chattanooga there are several artists who are working with Encaustics. Perhaps the most impressive of these is Nadine Koski, whose paintings are truly challenging the medium. She has developed an organic style that is perfectly suited for depicting nature, from animals to landscapes—the waves in her ocean pieces look like Winslow Homer could have painted them, and her birds appear as if they might just fly right off the canvas.
We sat down with Nadine to learn more about the process and her take on art in general.
The Pulse: What is your earliest memory of making art?
Nadine Koski: I made a stuffed doll when I was four. It had a body, extremities and a head, and by watching my mom sew, I saw how you could turn the pieces inside-out to hide the stitching. I was surprised that it impressed the grown-ups, because it disappointed me. Maybe because I wanted more detail than I knew how to provide, and maybe that is the way artists roll. Never fully satisfied, never knowing if a piece is actually finished. So we try harder and try again and we experiment and we learn.
TP: Who are some of your influences?
NK: My first crush was Monet, and he has staying power. Who influences me is driven by what they do, and what I love to look at is Impressionism and work inspired by nature - work that captures the light, movement, combinations of colors and forms that can transcend us to those loved and familiar places, and even capture the time of the day, without using specificity.
TP: What is your philosophy regarding art?
NK: Creating work that you love and creating work someone else will love, and perhaps even collect, can be mutually exclusive activities. If your audience understands and relates to what you love to create, then it is magic. Art wants an audience that understands and appreciates. It’s about being understood and validated. It feels risky to put it out there for this reason, and perhaps the best and most original works stay hidden for this same reason.
TP: What materials and processes do you use?
NK: Encaustic medium is primarily beeswax melted with a small portion of damar resin to harden it. Pigments can either be put into the wax or between thin layers of wax. Fusing each layer with a torch or heat gun is integral to binding the composition together and for archival durability, and it’s really fun. Some artists incorporate photographs and objects into the wax layers, but I only use pigments and it has kept me remarkably entertained so far.
TP: How do you choose your subjects?
NK: I tend to stare at things, so I think my subjects choose me in that regard. There are times when I can’t peel my eyes off of a subject, and I believe it has its way of working itself into composition and choices eventually. Encaustics, because of the layering, provide an opportunity to give a dimensionality and depth to the work. My favorite work has been that where you look past the obvious and see what is going on in previous layers of the work. If you are careful with the fusing process, you can capture various stages in the work and it shows as layers in the composition. Nature is great at inspiring this way, as there is always enough depth and layering to choose from.
TP: Any observations about Chattanooga’s art community?
NK: When I arrived in Chattanooga, late in 1989, I didn’t notice art as a theme in Chattanooga. Finding art then was intentional. Now it is integral and it amazes me every day how much is going on both in variety and in quality. It’s a beautiful city, and it inspires. It is wonderful to see how much people appreciate the natural beauty and how they want to be part of it.
TP: Advice for aspiring artists?
NK: Find your audience and share yourself. Listen to feedback, take compliments, watch others react to your work and ask yourself if it is your intention. Don’t worry about what other people are doing or not doing or how you compare. If you start worrying about how good you are or are not, it will paralyze you. For heaven’s sake, do not copy other people’s work! Be inspired but be yourself. You are enough.
You can see Nadine’s paintings at the In-Town Gallery, 26A Frazier Ave, on the Northshore.