Above, Elizabeth Davis with some of her work in her studio at the Contemporary Art Center
“I never really know where a piece is going to take me,” says Peoria artist Elizabeth Davis of her encaustic paintings. “I have a vague sense of what I want to do and a color palette, but the medium really dictates where the painting will go.” That medium, she adds, is an ancient, versatile and compelling one.
Also known as “hot wax painting,” encaustic painting involves the use of heated beeswax and damar resin, to which colored pigments are added. “The addition of pigment creates paint that is vibrant and luminous,” she explains. “Encaustic pieces are built up in heat-fused layers, scraped back, built up again—a process of conceal and reveal. The transparency of the wax allows previous marks and layers to show through.”
This close-up of Elizabeth Davis' "Fish Tank" reveals the layers evident in the encaustic process.
The resulting images are not only rich and vibrant, but have a raised, tactile quality that beckons one to touch it—which Davis encourages. But achieving this level of work is much more challenging than it might seem, requiring patience and trust in the process. “You’re never really in control with encaustic because you’re dealing with heat and wax,” she notes. “You have to learn how to nudge it along.”
Davis likes the idea that you can see the “history” of the piece as she adds, modifies and removes layers. She admits that she often revisits older paintings, recycling them in order to create something new. “I’ll go back and rework them, build more layers and see what happens.” What tends to result are “happy accidents”—and an entirely new take on the image. Only when she is completely finished will she name a piece—an often-challenging task due to the abstract nature of her work.
Light captures each groove in Davis' encaustic paintings, providing a tactile lens into her layered process.
Though Davis was already a practicing artist doing sculpture and acrylic paintings, a weeklong class in 2006 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago turned her on to encaustic—and she hasn’t looked back. “It was a very intense week, but I immediately fell in love with the medium,” she recalls. “Learning how to use the heat source as a paintbrush and thinking differently about painting really helped me learn and grow as an artist. It’s really a challenge.”
At left, two of Davis's paintings hang alongside a photograph by Jim Burnham in the Peoria Magazines office.
Davis works from her studio at the Contemporary Art Center in downtown Peoria, where she also teaches classes on encaustic. “I learn so much from the students,” she notes. “As I prepare to teach a new group of people, I like to find out why they are taking the class and learn something about their backgrounds. This helps me give them the best-quality instruction.”
Several of Davis’ encaustic paintings are on display and for sale in the Peoria Magazines’ office at 4736 N. University Street in Peoria. We encourage people to stop in and view her work, along with that of photographers Jim Burnham and Natalie Jackson O’Neal. For more information, call (309) 683-3060.
Below, more encaustic works by Elizabeth Davis, on display at Peoria Magazines.