Ask an expert - MAJA BOSEN, ARTIST

How do you create encaustic art?

Maja Bosen's paintings look taken right out of nature - probably because most of the materials have been.

Bosen blends pigment and organic elements with heated beeswax, a discipline called encaustic art, resulting in provocative tableaus depicting the natural world. Her exhibit, Clinging to Fire, is on currently display at in Hinsdale Public Library's Quiet Reading Room.

"I make them just a little bit more layered so they break the plain of the surface of the canvas," Bosen said.

A poster welcoming visitors conveys the collection's underlying roots in ancient Chinese philosophy to "highlight the interconnectedness of past, present and future and offer insights into the dynamic relationship between all things in the world."

Bosen said the encaustic style has a rich history.

"It's something that they were doing in ancient Egypt and Rome, using wax as a medium with pigment," she related.

The Art Institute of Chicago graduate was long fascinated by the process and eventually made it her artistic pursuit about a decade ago.

"It stuck in my head, and another artist here in Chicago was instrumental in providing me a lot more knowledge on the process," she said.

She orders her beeswax from a West Coast candle manufacturer.

"I get it raw or already mixed with damar crystals," Bosen said. "The crystals help to bring the chemistry all together, and they make (the wax) more resistant to the elements and heat."

Bosen prefers non-pigmented wax so she can add her own hues.

"I put it on a hot plate or electric casserole pan, and the wax starts to melt so you can start working with it," she said.

Meditative walks activate Bosen's creative impulses, as they did for the bird nest pieces in the exhibit.

"The series was inspired by my walks along the Chicago River and in Colorado, noting at that time of year nests being built up in the trees and the patterns that birds would fly in and out as they built their nests," she explained.

A painting takes about three months to make.

"I use brushes and do very light, circular, repetitive, rhythmic motions so that the wax catches and builds up from the surface of the canvas," said Bosen, comparing the effect to stalagmites. "I might start with a texture already on the canvas or use netting to create textures. There's a lot of building up layer over layer and adding organic materials into the pieces."

Bosen likes to have three pieces in development at a time.

"It's important not to overwork a piece. You can easily destroy it if you're trying to push the medium to respond against its nature," she said. "They're fairly soft pieces. They invite you to become more intimate."

Bosen looks forward to meeting with local art enthusiasts and teaching a tutorial on encaustic art at an artist's reception on July 20.

"What really brings me a lot of joy is when the art sparks their curiosity, when they look at it and say, 'Wow, how did you do that?' "

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean