After creating ceramics and jewelry plus painting with acrylic for most of her life, four years ago Tigard artist Theresa Hirschmann honed in on the medium “that I connect with far and above the rest.”
She started painting using encaustic, which is made up of beeswax and natural damar resin from trees to which oil pigment is added for color. Hirschmann noted that the ancient Egyptians and Greeks painted with encaustic, and their sarcophagi and sailing ships are still colorful thousands of years later.
Hirschmann, who focuses on painting landscapes, seascapes and animals, loves the medium because of the depth and dimensions she can create with it. For example, a series of bird nests created on square wood panels (complete with tiny eggs) look real enough to imagine birds sitting on them.
“I am doing more nests, and I like painting water, and clouds are fun to do,” Hirschmann said. “When I started, I was trying to make the clouds perfect, but clouds are not perfect. I would like to do more detailed work. I will be hooked with encaustic forever, and I’m looking for more techniques.”
Hirschmann estimates she has created more than 200 pieces of art since using encaustic and looks forward to the day that she retires and can concentrate on her art full time.
She learned to make her own encaustic medium by watching YouTube videos because purchasing the pre-made product is much more expensive. Hirschmann melts beeswax and damar resin crystals into small cakes, noting, “When it is melted down, it becomes very watery, but as it cools off, it hardens.”
When creating a new work, Hirschmann heats up the colored encaustic and paints it on a wood panel, where it immediately hardens. To fuse each successive layer to the previous one, Hirschmann fires up her blow torch and directs the 200 degrees of flame over the canvas. “I used to use a heat gun,” she said.
Alternating between painting and blow-torching, she builds up the texture on the wood panel, explaining that if she wants a rougher texture, “I just use a kiss of heat to fuse the layers but not enough heat to make it smooth.”
She added, “The wax flows like water when I heat it, and I use the blow-torch like a paintbrush to shape it. It works really well for water motion like waves.”
Another technique involves a shellac burn in which Hirschmann adds a layer of shellac over the encaustic and after it has been heated, it turns into a web-like pattern.
“And I love how I never have to clean the brushes and pots,” she said. “I use a pancake griddle and heated skillet to heat up the wax, and I can just leave the brushes in when I’m done. The next time I heat it up, the brushes will be usable again.”
In addition to participating in the upcoming Washington County Open Studios, Hirschmann’s works are on display at the Village Gallery of Art in Cedar Hills, and she participates in the annual Lake Oswego Festival of Arts.
Hirschmann is experienced at fine detailed work, “and I’ve always liked to work with my hands,” she said. She originally was a cake decorator and then became a dental hygienist, and her art is on display and for sale in the Barney Family Dental office in Beaverton.
“I use some dental tools to shape the encaustic,” Hirschmann said. “There are so many different things you can do, like embedding copper wire, and I am experimenting with different ways of doing trees. My next goal is to have a gallery represent me.”
Not surprisingly, Hirschmann has won some awards for her work, noting that not many artists use encaustic. “Many people don’t know what it is, and most of the people out in public think it is oil,” she said. “People are nervous about buying it because they think it’s fragile, but you treat it like an oil painting although I encourage people to touch it.”
For one weekend only – Saturday, Oct. 19, and Sunday, Oct. 20, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. – more than 50 artists in Washington County will open their private studios to the public. Admission is free to the 2019 Open Studios tour, and people may stop by any of the participating artists’ studios and galleries to begin their tour.
Interactive maps and more information are available at Washcoart.org.