An Interview with Leah MacDonald

Leah MacDonald’s awe inspiring wax paintings capture the imagination. Here is how Leah got started in encaustic painting (laying down heated beeswax  then adding colored pigments) and how she does it.

AQA: How did you get started creating the art you make now?

Leah MacDonald: I got started working with wax in Graduate school, I was a photo major for my masters degree, but I really enjoyed mixed media and pushing the photo paper and what I could do with it.PD: What is your medium? Why did you choose it?

AQA: What is your medium? Why did you choose it?

LM: I use photographs and encaustic painting together.

AQA: Tell us about what you paint. (Subjects, styles, genre, impressionism vs, realism, etc.) Why?

LM: I started primarily using still life images and nudes, romantic and sensual images of women that I would add paint onto the surface. I was also very interested in collage and mixed media book arts and paper…

AQA: What kind of schooling did you take to get to this level of style?

LM: I have a bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s degree from the West Coast San Francisco Art Institute, California College of Arts. I Learned everything from other artists and I really got started with my style of work after an internship I had with a painter named Jeff Long, also teachers and friends.

AQA: Can you walk us through the steps you take to create a work? (Inspiration, reference, glazes, brush work, layer work, varnish, etc.)

LM: I mount a photograph onto a strong surface, I use wood , Then I pour a layer of thin beeswax over the photograph and then I paint onto that beautiful flat surface with medium and oil paint. I can change the mixture by brushing the wax when it’s melted or draw on the surface. I also paint in reduction. I apply paint and move it around to cover by adding medium and working the brush strokes, sometimes I wipe the surface and then work the paint until I am happy with the balance between paint and photograph.

AQA: Do you have a story you would like to tell about being an artist?

LM: I have many stories about being an artist, the greatest story is about happy accidents. I was collaging with kitchen wax paper and making books before I discovered encaustics. It was the answer to all my artistic needs and desires..I was really collaging a lot and experimenting with paper on wooden panels when I made my first wax piece.

I had a vision and went to the art supply to find some wax. I wanted to veil or cover the work and create another surface to work with… I like complicated processes and many layers in the work. I was never satisfied with just a beautiful photograph, I wanted the images and the paper to tell a story of age and time and have marks on it… evidence of my hand. I enjoy embellishing the photographs and watching them transform into something else.

I think my life experience really adds to my artistry and I am fortunate to have met some wonderful artists along the way, friends and teachers. I feel like a combination of all the great work that inspires me, photographers and painters and graffiti artists and sculptors. I love Kiki Smith, The Starn Twins, Todd Hido, Joel Peter-Witkin, Barry McGee, Tom Judd , there are so many artists and all my favorites come from many different media. I look at all the images and material I possibly can, from documentary, to fine art and even fashion imagery.

Right now , I am very interested in graphics and design work…and I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with an amazing painter, Carrie Ann Baade, and she has enlightened me to various brushes and medium mixtures and drawing techniques that have completely shifted my work in a new direction.. I embrace collaboration and thrive on working with other artists.

AQA: How do you publicize your work?

LM: I publicize my work through my website, and also through my galleries, GalerieBMG, and Rodger Lapelle Gallery. Also now I am involved with Waxworks and we publicize through conventions, articles and website,

AQA: What is the priciest work you’ve ever sold? (If you don’t mind.) Why did it sell for that price?

LM: The most expensive piece I have sold is $1500, that was a 20 x 24 encaustic piece in a gallery show in Philadelphia. My work ranges in size and is priced by size. All my works are one of a kind, because I paint on the photographs, that was also one of my motivations for becoming a mixed media artist, I wanted every piece to be an original.