KENAI — Sitting with Marion Nelson and hearing her talk about making her encaustic art makes a person want to give it a try. Since her interest in the art began, she has had her art on display at the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College and increasingly become more enamored with ordering the hard-to-find supplies and creating her wax works in her backyard studio.
“It is a wonderful work space,” she said.
Nelson’s hot and cold wax art is currently on display and for sale at Veronica’s in Old Town Kenai. The walls are lined with many of Nelson’s pieces, with color, lines, interesting designs and of course, salmon themes.
Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. The wax is then applied to a surface; Nelson uses wooded cradled paneled frames. The technique was used in the Fayum mummy portraits from Egypt around 300 AD.
The art takes several hours, many layers and patience.
At every table in the cafe, patrons have a great view of pieces with varied color, textures and lines. While some have been created to have smooth faces, several others have intensely intricate finishes.
While viewers may be tempted to feel the wax art, no touching signs accompany each piece.
“They are subject to damage,” she said, explaining that corner chips may be fixed with a heat gun, but fingerprints often make an impression on the surface.
For texture, Nelson likes to use natural fibers, including cotton, linen, silk and, interestingly enough, horse hair.
“Having strands of longer horse hair is always a goal,” she said. “It is compatible with encaustics because it is a natural material.”
She uses the hair in the warm wax, to make thin lines that other materials may not be able to produce.
“You can get these great fine lines, that you would not be able to get, pretty much any other way,” she said.
She has also incorporated shredded plant material to create eye-catching patterns.
While most are quite textural, two located at the base of the café’s employee stairs are smooth, with lines and blocks of colored buried in the many layers of wax.
“This one is flat discipline all the way,” she explained about her smooth encaustic art.
While she explains the work creating both textured and smooth is labor intensive, Nelson said she puts her all into both types, not able to choose a favorite.
“I don’t have a preference, it just happens,” she said
“It looks like a simple piece, but in reality it takes a lot of careful time,” she said.
“The cold wax process is entirely different,” Nelson said.
Nelson recently took a three-day workshop in Homer from an internationally known cold wax artist and said she found a new love with the art.
“Of course I love it,” she said.
Her studio is now full of supplies for both encaustic and cold wax supplies. Nelson said the cold wax supplies are totally different than the encaustic supplies.
She said semi-opaque cold wax medium looks and feels like a combination of cold cream and Vaseline.
The cold wax paintings have a whole different style, she said, almost a matte look.
“They look like regular paintings,” she said.
In the far back corner of the cafe, several cold wax works are displayed. Nelson explains that one work, with acrylic and cold wax, titled ‘Divits’, was a creation of the process, not intentionally designed.
She uses a silicone spatula-like tool to spread the wax, often times creating divits with the sharp edges.
“That’s the big decision making process on naming that,” she said with a laugh. She then explains that her works are generally named after the works creation.
As with the encaustic pieces, the no-touch rules applies to the cold wax works - mostly because the cold wax takes longer to dry. Many hanging in the cafe are still not entirely dry, even a week or two after the creation is complete.
Many of Nelson’s works have the ever-present salmon form often found in area art.
“I love the fish shape,” she said. “I love it. Obviously living here we cannot ignore it.”
She said she has always appreciated the fish shape in relation to her art, even featuring a ‘Salmon Worship’ trio to her show at the cafe.
“It presents a lot of options,” she said. “And what fun they are, what fun they provide.”