Nov. 28 2012 12:00 AM

Lansing artist utilizes 2,000-year-old painting process to create indelible works of art


The Egyptians used it to stylize their mummy cases. The Romans picked it up from the Greeks, who used it to waterproof boats. And Sue Winkler? She uses it to make pretty, colorful paintings. Who says there’s no such thing as progress? 

“Encaustics have been a medium for 2,000 years, but it’s new to this area,” says the Lansing-based artist. “I love it for the beautiful colors and great depth you can create, but also partly because of the challenge involved.” 

Encaustic paintings consist of beeswax melted with pigments or other coloring — in Winkler’s case, it’s damar crystals. Heat is used at every stage of encaustic painting. Winkler says that to create her art, she paints one layer, hits it with a heat gun, works with it until it’s smooth and then adds a layer, starting the process again. 

She explains that it dries quickly and becomes very hard, allowing her to polish it to a high luster. It’s a lot of work and dangerous — the materials are highly flammable — but Winkler said it’s worth every minute to achieve the final product. 

“About 25 years ago, I was trying to do this with crayons, but I couldn’t get the colors to last — it just didn’t work,” she said. “But then recently I saw (the Fayam mummy portraits) at a museum in New York and found out that after all those years, all they needed to do to restore them was to wipe them off with a cloth. I was so intrigued by that.” 

So she took a workshop, learned how to do encraustic painting and never looked back. 

“I fell in love with the process,” she says. “It’s so freeing. I used to use watercolors, but this is more interesting because you never know what you’re going to get.” 

Besides the occasional workshop, Winkler says she received most of her art training at Lansing Community College, where she earned an associate’s degree in fine arts and a certificate in figure drawing. She is also a certified social worker and a registered art therapist, still seeing clients on a limited basis.  But she won’t reveal her age, only saying that she’s “a grandma.” (“I’ve never told anyone in the art community how old I am,” she says coyly.)  

Winkler’s work will be the December exhibit in the East Lansing Public Art Gallery, which is located on the second floor of the Hannah Community Center. Her show is entitled, appropriately enough, “Hot Wax!” and he says there will be approximately 30 pieces on display. 

Hot Wax!
Encaustic art by Sue Winkler
Dec. 2-27
Opening reception 1 p.m. Dec. 2
East Lansing Public Art Gallery
Hannah Community Center, 2nd floor
819 Abbot Road, East Lansing
6 a.m.-10pm Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday