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Queen Bee Sierra Barber

March 15, 2018

Sierra is an incredible self taught encaustic artist living in Dover, Ontario, Canada. Aged only 25 she is displaying incredible progress! One thing that I love about Sierra, she doesn't have a favourite encaustic artist who inspires her work, instead her inspiration comes from her dad. 


"His work is very meaningful, honest and beautiful and he has always talked to me about creating, and the ways you can communicate through art work."


I value this because instead of looking at the work of fellow artists, or even attempting to create something similar to others, she instead chooses to stay true to herself and the words  from her father. Exploring the natural characteristics of beeswax through the use of an ancient painting technique known as encaustic painting or hot wax painting. Sierra provides us with themes of preservation, transformation, the collection of memory, virtual nostalgia and curiosities of time retold in beeswax.


Graduating from OCAD University's Sculpture and Installation Program, Sierra is actually a self taught encaustic artist, yet upon close inspection of her work is it clear to see the program has had a small influence. Her process involves a repetitive build-up of thin layers of melted wax, that create mesmerising forms specific to how the material was applied at the time. The layered process allows the wax to gradually grow and change on its own, transforming into controlled chaos that appears to have happened organically. By fusing two styles together she is quickly cementing her place on my list of  'artists to keep an eye on!'


What was the deciding factor on teaching yourself instead of attending art school?

I began to teach myself before art school, and it became something that I did for myself, I didn’t know any other encaustic painters so teaching myself gave me the freedom to experiment. I didn’t take any painting lessons in school, I actually went to school for sculpture and made encaustic work in my own time. It was nice to be making art work for school projects but have this other creative outlet on the side. 

Do you feel being self taught has given you creative freedom?


I feel that I’m really lucky to have something that feels completely my own.

I taught myself and grew into my own style, it allowed me to find my own techniques instead of learning traditional encaustic techniques so I found my own voice that way. I think that when someone else teaches you something you start to think of your medium or your work in a particular box of how a method should be done or what it should look like. It might be harder to think outside of it once a technique has been presented to you in a certain way. 


How would you describe encaustic art to someone who has never seen it?
There are many different approaches to encaustic painting so it’s hard to describe encaustic art as a whole. It is an ancient technique of melting beeswax and using it as a liquid to paint with. Some artists work with plain beeswax, and others mix pigment in with theirs, it can be translucent or opaque, smooth or textured. My own process involves a build-up of thinly applied layers of melted wax, as it cools the wax eventually grows and changes under my control, it is a simple process that I only have so much control over yet it is repetitive and allows the wax to grow on its own.


What drew you to encaustic art?
When I finished high school about 10 years ago I was trying to build a portfolio to show to art schools that I was applying to. I wanted to try a bit of everything to show them versatility, and my Dad had suggested that I try encaustic painting. He described the ancient painting technique of using wax as a medium to paint with and I had never seen or heard of the process before but was fascinated by the idea of using hot wax as a liquid to paint with. So I started to do some tests in my family barn melting down wax that we had around the house like candles or crayons, and cobbled my own understanding of wax painting. When I started I had no idea what I was doing, or what it was supposed to look like so that gave me the freedom to teach myself and grow into my own style.  When I got into OCADU, I ended up making mostly all of my projects out of beeswax for the 5 years that I was there. The more I used it the more I realized how versatile it was and it kind of became my thing and now it's evolved into my full artistic practice. 

Tell us about the materials you use?

I use filtered beeswax, so that I am starting with a wax that is white/ clear in colour rather than yellow. This is so that when I stir in oil paint while the wax is hot, the yellowness doesn’t interfere with the colour that I’m trying to achieve. I separate the wax into tins and melt it over a hot plate. Sometimes damar resin is added to make the wax harder, it depends on what I’m trying to achieve at the time.


Do you make your own mixture?

Yes, I make my own mixture. It is much cheaper to buy your own beeswax and add pigment/ damar than buying encaustic that’s already been made. It also allows you to create your own colours this way!



What are the techniques you use?

I try to keep my techniques a secret as I’ve worked really hard the past 10 years to create something that is my own. My process involves layering thin layers of melted wax that create forms specific to how the material has been applied at the time. 


Do you have a favourite encaustic artist who inspires you?

I actually still don’t know that many encaustic artists! My Dad has definitely had the biggest influence on my work, he is an Aboriginal artist creating mixed media paintings and sculptures. His work is very meaningful, honest and beautiful and he has always talked to me about creating, and the ways you can communicate through art work. My process has also been inspired by the work of Aganetha Dyck, Betty Goodwin, and Louise Bourgeois. Lately I’ve been drawn to more contemporary abstract painters.

What are your top 3 tips for others who are interested in a career as an encaustic artist?
I would say, always experiment and develop your own techniques, and never try to copy what someone else is doing! 










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