Fire & wax: Ludlow artist shares new approach to old craft


When Theresa Stirling discovered beeswax, her quest for the ideal medium was over, but her adventures in storytelling through the ancient technique were just beginning.

“There’s an industry saying: ‘Once you go wax, you never go back,’” the Port Ludlow artist said.

And she hasn’t.

Stirling set out to embrace an expressive life after withdrawing from a marketing career in biotechnology in 2002, and for the past 14 years has been practicing a contemporary variation on an ancient art form known as encaustics.

Each of her pieces begins with a specially prepared image or photograph, over which she paints many thin layers of beeswax mixed with pure pigments to create works that are textured and luminous. Stirling said she is one of the only artists in the country working with hot wax and cold wax mediums in combination.

Her work is currently being displayed at Conservatory Coastal Home. Stirling is set to demonstrate the art of painting with wax and fire during Art Walk on Saturday, Jan. 7 at Conservatory Coastal Home in Port Townsend.


“I think the wax pulls people in because it’s tactile and it’s visually intriguing,” Stirling said. “One can really see the layers.”

“Encaustics” literally means “to burn in,” and the subtle, textured nature of her work is born out of the influence of heat on the malleable wax.

Stirling uses four different-size blow torches, tools with which she manipulates the wax and oils, and moves them around.

“I’m really trying to be more of the observer of my practice,” the Port Ludlow artist said, “letting the pigments and the materials go in the directions they want to go.”

Another visually captivating component of encaustics is its luminous quality, created by light dancing off the thin layers of beeswax.

“They sort of glow,” Stirling said. “I think that’s really enchanting for the eye, to see that luminosity.”


Stirling lives with her husband, Eric, and their two daughters on a bit of land along the Hood Canal, and is inspired by the nature that surrounds her.

“I’m endlessly fascinated with the nature and texture that I see around me,” she said. When out in nature – hiking in the forests or the Olympics, walking along the beach or watching the clouds, she said she always keeps her senses aware.

Drawn to imperfection and the handmade, her work is also moving away from tight lines and toward fluidity and simplicity.

“I am completely enchanted with atmospheric landscapes right now,” she said, “atmospheric landscapes” being the term she uses for a series of pieces that demonstrate her artistic approach: that of being an observer in her practice and letting the art form on its own.

Depicted in these pieces are loose representations of hills and water; some viewers may see a seascape, she said, others a sky. Stirling calls the effect “a little loose, a little hazy and a lot dreamy.”


Stirling has been showing her work at Conservatory Coastal Home for almost a year.

She and shop owner Heather Pollock met through a mutual friend, and Pollock welcomed Stirling’s art into her downtown waterfront store.

“She has such an enthusiastic personality and way with words,” Pollock said. “Her lifestyle is as eloquent as her paintings.”

The two have collaborated on projects and become friends. “It’s been a really nice seed between us; it just keeps growing,” Stirling said.

Pollock also greatly admires Stirling’s ability to understand and interpret customers’ specific desires, and to help tell their stories.

“Her capacity to transfer people’s personalized and bold ideas into her paintings is one of her greatest skills,” she said. “She’s just such a delightful soul; it’s so fun to hear her talk to clients.”

From 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7, Stirling is set to demonstrate her work with hot wax and fire so that people can watch the process unfold. She’s also happy to further talk with people about her work, and if someone brings a photo precious to them, she’ll talk to them about how that photo can be transformed into a work of art.

The Art Walk event also includes a drawing for one of her miniature pieces. Stop by and enter your name between 5 and 7 p.m. The drawing is set for 7 p.m.; participants must be present to win.

Stirling donates 20 percent of all proceeds from her sales to area animal shelters, education and arts.

For more information about her work, visit


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