You learn by messing up. I think that's the truth for a lot of artists. For every really good painting that I make, there's probably several paintings that really didn't succeed in the same way behind there. I've also made really good paintings by continuing to paint over and over and over a painting. That's one of the beauties of encaustic. If it's not working, you can just keep painting on top of it. It's actually one of the ways I started working really thick was just painting on top of paintings on top of paintings.
My name is Dietlind Vander Schaff, and we are in my studio in the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook, Maine. I paint with encaustic and also teach encaustic workshops out of my studio. I didn't start off by wanting to be an artist at all. I went to graduate school to study history. And then when I was living in San Francisco, I actually pursued an MFA in creative writing. So writing was my first love, but while I lived in San Francisco, I saw this incredible painting. It was called Night Train to Amsterdam. It was by an artist named Andrea Maynard and I fell in love with it. I found out she was teaching these collage workshops. So I took a couple classes with her, and it kind of gradually became more and more something I wanted to do with my time. I moved from San Francisco back to Portland. I saw one of Gina Adams paintings and it was an encaustic painting. I was completely fascinated with how she was using it to embed and incorporate objects. So I wanted to learn how to work with this thing called encaustic, which I didn't know anything about. It is basically beeswax with a little bit of Damar resin in it to act as a hardening agent. And then there's encaustic paint, which is that same medium to which powder pigment has been added.
It's a Greek word. It's from the word enkaustikos or enkaienin. The word refers to the process. It means to burn in which has to do with the fusing. So it actually is this really ancient way of painting with pigmented beeswax that dates back to Greco Roman times, thousands of years ago.
If I was just to be totally honest, I love being alone in my studio. I love creating beauty and order. For me, it's definitely the process. I love working with the heated wax. I love brushing it on and fusing between layers. It's very tactile. You can build up a lot of thickness, a lot of texture. You can build up a lot of dimension. I feel like I can make these really thick paintings that have an object-like quality to them. I love repetition and order, maybe a little too much, but I do. The marks initially to me became like breath or thought. Breathing is a rhythmic activity. And then I love the act of repetition. It's one of the reasons why I love to build up thick surfaces, there's this process of building and layering and fusing that takes hours. What I realized is that I was controlling my paintings too much.
I needed more looseness and more gesture to come into the work. You overthink things or you try to do them from a formula. It doesn't work and I just needed to trust my own instincts. I'm trying to put in this energy, ideas, arrangements or compositions that I get from being out in the woods, hiking, looking at how the trees are shifting or noticing the way that the rain is falling on a pond or the light know shifting overhead. I'll use some elements of those composition and patterns in my work. I'm trying to create a feeling or tone in the work. I’m hoping you get a feeling when you look at it, there's a way of explaining them as inner landscapes. They're sort of like the reflection of what's happening on the inside. Sort of like the natural world. And then how you feel on the inside.
Like I said, there's this element of breath and movement. Breath, to me, means we're breathing in and we're exhaling out, taking air into our bodies and exhaling out. We're like part of this larger thing, right? Parts of us are constantly going out into the world and we're always taking this thing back in. I like making things. And I love when those things go off into the world and find homes with other people. I get to make something and then it goes off and it has this whole other life. And I love thinking of those pieces out there. A painting that just sold through Portland Art Gallery went out to Washington State to somebody I don't even know. There's just something kind of magical and special about thinking about something that you made going to live with somebody else and being part of their life and giving them pleasure and joy. And, you know, I love that.
*Directed and produced by Sean Thomas and Lamia Lazrak
Learn more about this artist:
Radio Maine podcast interview #5
Radio Maine podcast interview #81