Q & A with Lorraine Glessner

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Lorraine Glessner is a Philadelphia based encaustic artist who uses the landscape as inspiration for her layered paintings that combine pattern, mark making and color to gorgeous effect. Lorraine is a gifted educator who teaches workshops all over the United States. We are so excited to be hosting Lorraine at Wild Rice Retreat for her exceptional Exploring Landscape Through Encaustic, Mark-Making & The Book Retreat, July 11-15, 2021.


1. For those of us who aren’t familiar with encaustic painting, could you share a little about the medium, and how it originated?

Encaustic is a mixture of beeswax, damar resin and pigment. It is used in the molten state and is applied and mixed just like acrylic and oil paints.

I fell in love with encaustic because of its versatility, luminosity and tactile qualities that I couldn’t find with any other medium and since beginning to work with it, I’ve never looked back. Although encaustic is a painter’s medium, I don’t approach my work as a painter, but as a craftsperson. To me, my work is not about the act of painting, but rather, to develop an engagement with my materials, to perfect my technique and support my content at the same time.

The use of encaustic is estimated to have begun in ancient Greece around 800bc when shipbuilders began using wax to caulk joints and waterproof ships. They soon began pigmenting the wax and elaborately decorating the bow with brilliant swirls and colors as an attempt to intimidate their enemies. From there, Greek artists incorporated encaustic into their easel painting or used it to polychrome clay and marble sculptures.

The earliest surviving examples of encaustic painting are the Fayum portraits from Greco-Roman Egypt, ranging from about 100bc to 200 ad. The Fayum portraits are named after the region of the Egyptian desert where they were found. The actual paintings were done on wood and set into mummy casings. They served as a remembrance or tribute to that person. Over 600 survive because of the nearly airless tombs where they were kept.

By the end of the 7th century, artists dropped encaustic painting in favor of less labor intensive mediums. It wasn’t seen again in any notable sense until the early 1950’s w/ jasper john’s well known encaustic work. Today’s resurgence of encaustic is attributed to Joanne Mattera’s book, The Art of Encaustic Painting, published in 2002.

Today, the encaustic community is rich and ever-growing with interesting and talented artists who are pushing the medium in amazing new directions.

2. What is your morning ritual and how do you set intention for your day?

I’m not a morning person, so I usually set my plan for the next day the night before by making a list and for the most part I stick to the plan. If I don’t have morning appointments, I usually spend a little time on social media responding to comments, etc., I write in my journal, do some yoga and then I’m off doing whatever I have planned for the day.

3. Is there a certain place in the world where you go to recharge your creativity?

I do a self-made artist residency every year in Florida, during the coldest months, usually January-March.

When I was teaching in academia, I would get invited to residencies and/or applied to them and when I did apply, I either got in right away or was at least waitlisted. After leaving academia I found that most residency programs weren’t really interested in what I was doing. This doesn’t mean that all residency programs are only interested in academics-this may have just been the programs I was interested in applying to. After applying for and being rejected by too many residency programs, I decided to save the application money, put it toward my own residency and I never looked back.

4. What does your workspace/studio space look like?

My studio is about 300 sqft in the attic space of my home, with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams. I have ‘zones’ all over the studio, each for different purposes. Sometimes these zones serve multiple purposes, so I have wheels or moving pads on all the furniture.

Zones include wet media painting, computer and video which is interchangeable with the sewing and collage zone, photography, encaustic, cold wax and my library. I have tons of storage and because of the vaulted ceiling I have most of my storage in the lower parts of the wall. Also due to the vaulted ceilings I didn’t have a place to hang work, so I had 2 walls built on either side of the studio.

I also have a Cabinet of Curiosities, which includes sentimental objects and bones, rocks, and other amazing objects I picked up off the hiking trail. My studio is my refuge, its compact and slightly cluttered, but it’s mine.

5. Tell us a little more about the process of creating one of your paintings. How does the work unfold?

No matter the creative phase of my life, I have always relied on response and process to guide the work and most of the time, these things are intertwined. I begin my making a mark, usually by some kind of natural process-my early encaustic work began with natural processes such as rust and eco-printing on fabric or paper and then I responded to those marks with encaustic, collage and other media.

I still work with these processes today, however, the media has varied over the years as well as the marks and thoughts behind the response. Off and on in the last 3 years or so, I have been working with inks and other mixed media on Duralar film, creating drips and manipulating the drying process, which can sometimes take weeks. I then respond to these marks with gouache, acrylic, collage and drawing media.

6. What is your biggest day-to-day challenge as an artist?

To stay focused, not become distracted by social media, house chores or life in general. To stay in a cocoon of paint and process for even a little while, is always the goal.

7. What makes your teaching style unique?

I have held positions in graphic, interior and textile design studios as well as served as an assistant professor for 16 years at Tyler School of Art, Temple University. I have an eclectic, multi-disciplinary creative background, which allows me to engage in creative conversation on many levels with many people.

I’m very experimental in my own work and with every mainstream technique I employ, I attempt to find an alternative to make it mine. I encourage this experimentation from my students, always asking the question, ‘what would happen if’. I teach from a mixed media, hands-on approach and as long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, I say…go for it!

8. If social media didn’t exist, how would your life be different?

I would likely spend more time doing more important things in life-painting, reading, spending time in nature, talking with people in real life. Although social media opens up vast opportunities to connect on so many levels, I sometimes wish that it didn’t exist. I know people who go off-line for a week or so every year or every few months and I so admire them! I have yet to acquire the discipline to do this.

9. What are you devoted to creating this year?

I have an ongoing series of encaustic sculptures that I’ve been working on since 2011. Every year or so, I add another to the collection. I’d really like to build on this body of work this year and add more than just one piece to the collection. I would also like to incorporate, more materials to the sculptures. For example, I’ve done a lot of hiking around my home in the past year and started collecting mica. I’m thinking it would be really interesting to somehow incorporate it into the work. I also have a huge collection of fiber related materials that I could see adding to these. I’m really excited about it.

10. If you were heading out on a road trip right this minute, what would you pack?

This question made me laugh. I’m on the road so much, my car is already packed with anything I would need. In my car, I always have a case of water, a beach blanket, a hunting knife, hiking poles, a straw hat, a cushion, a towel, a beach chair, a drawing board, a yoga mat, bungy cords, hand weights and my backpack, which houses my portable art materials. I know it sounds like a disparate bunch of stuff, but it makes total sense to me. In addition to what is already in my car, I would grab my kayak and away I go!

11. Is there something that people consistently ask you for help with? What is it?

Two questions that students and mentees ask consistently are how to create a consistent body of work and how to develop their own artistic voice. I tell them the same answer to both, you must consistently give a little to each of the following: Reading, writing, drawing, studio practice and time. I developed this plan a few years ago when I began mentoring other artists and I elaborate on it in my Art Bite Blog. It’s a pretty immersive plan and it’s not for everyone, but it has helped a lot of artists. It’s been fun to watch them grow and develop their work as a result of following this plan.

12. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

When I was teaching at Tyler, a student left a framed hand-written note on my desk at the end of the school year. I hadn’t seen her for a few years and she wrote that if I had not taught her, she wouldn’t be the artist she is today. I still have that note in its original frame and when I’m feeling down I read it and it always makes me smile. I still keep in touch with her and follow her on social media. It’s been 15 or so years since she wrote that note and she’s truly become an outstanding young lady-a fashion model, an artist, a positive light in the world admired by many. It feels good to know that I had a very small part in shaping who she has become.

13. When or where do you get your best ideas?

The best ideas come from doing the work, while I’m doing the work. The tables in my studio are covered in paper and if I get a great idea while I’m working, I just write it on the table so I don’t have to stop what I’m doing. I then add it to a list I keep on my phone.

I also suggest to students to keep a voice recorder in the studio so they can just speak their ideas while they work. I consult my phone list when I’m feeling uninspired and looking to try something new. The list I have now has been ongoing since 2001 and every once in a while, I ‘clean’ it out. I may never try all the ideas on there, but it’s nice to know the ideas are there should I need them.

Another way I generate ideas is to take a walk or a hike. City or country, I just start taking photographs of whatever catches my eye. I rarely look at these photographs, but the simple act of composing the image and pressing the shutter seems to record the image in my mind. I’m consistently astounded at the imagery that comes out in my paintings after I’ve gone out on these photo-taking ventures.