Playing With Fire

I do not set the table on fire accidentally. I set my piece on fire intentionally

Summer vacation is a time for exercising my art muscles. I spend long hours in my basement studio playing with clay, alone with my thoughts and prayers as I practice being still and strong. Centering, opening, pulling up the walls, pinching the rim, trimming the feet, decorating, glazing. It is a process that is meditative and restorative.

While I enjoy the quiet solitude of my studio, I also feel compelled to take a course and learn something new during the summer, when I am unrestrained by the fast-paced schedule of teaching high school. This summer I discovered a new medium–an ancient medium that is new to me–called Encaustic Painting.

Encaustic comes from the Greek, meaning “to burn in,” and is a method that was practiced as early as the 5th century B.C.E. Artists added color to melted beeswax, applied it to a surface (often wood) and reheated the pigmented wax to fuse the paint into a smooth or textured finish.

After doing a little research–asking my art teacher friends if they’d ever tried this–I sign up for an all-day workshop at the Spruill Center for the Arts. Kim, our instructor, spends the first hour explaining how to set up a studio with a particular focus on safety. She predicts one of us will set the table on fire and demonstrates how to extinguish fires calmly, and immediately, by using the bottoms of our propane tanks. Thanks to many summers of working in glass and metal, as well as running the kiln at Camp Ramah Darom, I am not anxious about playing with fire. I am ready to enjoy the experience.

We begin by fusing a thin layer of clear beeswax to each of our four wooden boards. This is followed by the experimentation with color and the application of heat using a Benzomatic TS4000 self-igniting propane torch. Adding layer upon layer, scratching in texture with metal tools, adding lines with oil pastels, leaning in closer to move the wax with bursts of heat, burning the wood “canvas,” illustrating the process in the product.

I do not set the table on fire accidentally. I set my piece on fire intentionally.

Just before I pull the trigger of my Benzomatic TS4000 a third time to complete the fusing of the top layer, I draw a breath and utter a blessing of thanks for the opportunity to learn and to create. I am grateful for this time to recharge my spirit.

I register for another Encaustic Painting class in August, so I can spend summer vacation playing, and praying, with fire.

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