Sometimes an idea is so simple it can be genius. That’s what happened to artist and photographer Leah Macdonald. While at art school in California, Leah was exploring ways to manipulate the surface of photographs when she picked up a bar of beeswax at an art supply store. She melted it in a pot, poured it over a black and white photograph and fell in love with the result. Taking it one step further, she blended in colored paints — a 5,000-year-old technique called encaustic painting — for an even richer, layered texture. The thick, natural wax combined with the paint transformed the photograph from a flat print to an ethereal, almost mystical piece of art.
Her technique: Leah uses organic grade beeswax in white or yellow, which she melts in a pot and applies to the photograph with a wooden paint brush. Other must-haves include a pancake griddle, a heat gun, photographs (printed on canvas or paper), pigment sticks and pottery tools. She uses the pottery tools and paints to layer, scrape and color the photograph. The unpredictable nature of beeswax poses challenges, and creating beautiful encaustic photographs is not as easy as it might look, but embracing imperfections are part of the process.
Her photographs: Leah is a longtime film photographer — she also shoots digital — who teaches darkroom photography at the Philadelphia Art Institute. Having worked as a professional printer for five years, Leah has a deep understanding of the beauty of film and the art of photography.
Leah and Elizabeth recently completed on a project called Mariposa, where Leah mounted twelve of Elizabeth’s photographs onto wood panels and painted them with beeswax and oils. You can see more of the project here, and learn more about Leah at her website.
All photographs by Elizabeth Messina ©2013.