Playing with fire is serious art and part of Whidbey’s weekend studio tour

Encaustics is hot in more ways than one

If you’re one of those people who likes to play with melting candles or put a flame to crayons, check out encaustic art this weekend during the annual Whidbey Working Artists Summer Open Studio Tour.

The word encaustic means to “burn in” and originates from Greek and Latin.

In the art world, it means mixing pigments with hot wax and melting, molding and layering images.

And getting to play with fire.

It’s trendy but also timeless, dating back to the first through third centuries when encaustic masks were placed over a person’s mummy as a tribute. They were found in caves still bright in color because wax protected pigment.

Two Coupeville artists, Leslie Stoner and Patty Picco, represent different styles of encaustic art. Stoner’s approach is abstract and ambiguous while Picco uses her own photographs and prints to reproduce familiar landscapes and natural objects. Picco’s been an artist on the tour numerous times but it’s a first for Stoner.

Kay Parsons, president of the Whidbey Island Arts Council, said the tour, showcasing 44 studios, benefits both artists and art lovers.

“People like to talk to artists about where the inspiration comes from because it comes from the oddest places,” she said. “People do like to make that connection with the piece of art. It deepens the appreciation when they can take a piece home direct from the artist.”

Leslie Stoner, who works in a converted garage five miles north of Coupeville, creates small and large abstract images that conjure up landscapes and seascapes and swirl in emotional outbursts of color.

“Fire is my preferred paintbrush,” says Stoner, who uses blow torches of many sizes to create layers and melt down her rainbow collection of wax pigments that she’s created over the years.

Patty Picco, who lives in “downtown” Coupeville, uses the encaustic technique to enhance scenes and objects of nature to create a collage effect.

“When I figured out 20 years ago I could put my photographic images and printmaking under wax, I stayed with it and have been doing it every since,” said Picco. “I start with a background and build on it.”

Encaustic artists use a variety of heat sources, such as heat lamps, heat guns, even hair dryers depending on the size of the surface and delicacy of the scene. Different brushes and tools are used to meld the wax.

It’s more fun than playing with a melting candle at the dinner table, said Stoner who switched over to specialize in encaustics her senior year at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts.

You won’t get scolded, just inspired.

“It’s so different from any other art form,” she said. “Watercolor is very precise but people find this very liberating.”

Stoner is represented by galleries in Boston and Sun Valley and her work can be viewed at Seattle Art Museum’s Gallery. She and her husband and two small children moved to Whidbey from Seattle in March.

“I like the idea of things in motion in nature, blooming, decaying, having a type of mystery in there,” she says of her work. “That there’s something in there but you just don’t know what it is but you like it.”

Picco’s work is familiar — the Coupeville Wharf, the Penn Cove crumbling dock you pass every day — but can also be fantastical. Her creations depicting single objects appear to pop off the surface.

“I’m known for my animates, fossils and shells,” she says. “I try and incorporate something from nature in my pieces.”

Event information

Whidbey Working Artists presents its Summer Open Studio Tour 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 26 & 27.

Maps, information and refreshments will be available at Pacific Northwest Art School, 15 NW Birch Street, Coupeville. Raffle tickets for artwork are available with at least a $30 purchase of art from along the studio tour. Bring receipt to Pacific Northwest Art School.

The free self-guided tour is open to the public. It features stops at 44 studios and small art schools showing the works of 61 artists, including pottery, printmaking, wood carving, ceramics, silk painting, jewelry making, sculpture, glass art, fiber arts, photography, pastel, oil and watercolor paintings and basket making.

For more information: www.whidbeyworkingartists.com

Photos by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times Leslie Stoner in her studio where she’ll be explaining the encaustic creative process during this weekend’s Whidbey Working Artists tour. It showcases 61 artists in 44 locations from Oak Harbor to Clinton.

Leslie Stoner dips her brush into wax and colors that are kept on a warming table to stay hot.

Patty Picco uses her own photographs and prints in her encaustic artwork.

Wax brings out the colored leaves in this detail of Patty Picco’s work.

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