The SOWA artist district studio where Linda Cordner creates her encaustic paintings is strikingly tidy. The work table is clean, and the pegboard of tools and paintbrushes behind her has a balanced geometric orderliness about it. There is a hot palette on one end of the work table. The palette’s surface is covered with little tins, each containing a compound of beeswax, damar resin (from trees), and pigment the same as found in oil paints. The goal is to reduce them to liquid on its 175 degree surface. These tins are where she mixes colors and thins the medium with plain beeswax until translucent. She decides on her colors before starting to paint, and working on a flat surface, begins by applying a chalk gesso for a stiff and chalky absorbent surface. A heat gun and iron are on hand to melt the surface of the paintings and keep them smooth.
“If you heat too much, it will turn to liquid and run,” says Cordner. “You want it just to fuse layers.” The heat gun is good for covering larger areas at a time, and the iron works for smoothing more isolated areas. The paintings are buffed with a bare flat hand, and the translucence of the paint brings light forward from the white gessoed board.
Cordner painted with oils in college. She first began to see encaustic paintings about ten years ago and they always jumped out at her. After taking a 3-day workshop in encaustic painting, she realized she loved it. She set up her own materials and began painting with it. “It’s like getting a tube of oil paints,” she says, in describing the medium which can be purchased in colored blocks. “There’s a whole learning curve —you experiment with technique first. Once you get that down, you can go on to making paintings.”
In recent years, she has stamped shapes into the wax paintings with wood blocks, sometimes filling the lines in with oil paint, as well as incorporating patterning, collage, floral stencils and geometric images. Currently her focus is on landscape-inspired images.
Early on, she was influenced by some of the encaustic paintings of Jasper Johns. And the graphic elements of many of her works come as no surprise given her background as a graphic designer—“It has a lot to do with the colors I use and the images I like.”
Cordner belongs to New England Wax, an organization of about 80 professional encaustic painters in the New England states. The group was started by Kim Bernard, another New England based encaustic painter. Artist members trade ideas and information, and exhibit and network with one another. Cordner says there are so many more encaustic painters out there now than ten years ago. More groups have been starting around the country. Once, R and F Paints was the only company to buy supplies from, but paint companies and suppliers are more accessible now. A fifth annual International Encaustic Conference will take place this June in Provincetown, MA. “The conference is great, “says Cordner,”and they have demos of different techniques. There are lecturers, too. This year, Jackie Battenfield (nationally acclaimed artist and author of The Artist’s Guide: How To Make a Living Doing What You Love) will speak on making a living as an artist.”
When she moved into this South End studio nine years ago, the view out her windows was of a trash-strewn alley. That has changed, as has so much of this South End neighborhood, and now she looks out onto a pleasant, if not particularly fascinating, section of the otherwise charming pedestrian way known as Thayer Street. The building’s original 450 Harrison Avenue entrance eventually gave way to a spacious high-ceilinged lobby off Thayer Street, with art galleries and shops occupying the lower levels. On Sundays in season, the building’s back lot abutting Albany Street is filled with white tents occupied by artists, bakers, farmers and honeymakers selling their wares.
Linda Cordner is in a group show called “Luminous Landscape” now through July 8 in Charlestown with five other regional artists working in encaustic. For details on that, and to see more of her work, visit http://www.lindacordner.com.