Wax on Wax Off

April 23, 2015 4 Comments »

Encaustic painting

Painting with Wax

Home of Olympic athletes, adventure sports, a world-class community center and gym – it was clear that Canmore was a mecca for adventure and sports lovers. However there was another whole side to the town that I had yet to see, until now. I met her for a brief moment at the ice-carving contest during Canmore’s Winter Carnival. Her creative ‘team’ was working on Easter Island Ice Sculptures. She saw me taking pictures and asked me if I wanted to try some carving myself. She had me at “Do you want to try….” . I eagerly climbed over the rope that blocked off the artist areas and she handed me one of the carving tools and gave me some instruction.

The ice was soft due to the warm day and chipped away easily. As families milled around art the festivities it was weird to be on the other side, actually part of the art as opposed to just a spectator. Pascale introduced herself and I explained that I was staying in Canmore for a month to try new winter adventures and write about them. It’s a town of athletes and artists she said to me. It was then that I realized that I had been exposed to the athletes in all of my adventure activities, but not really the artists.

Later that week I had an email from Pascale inviting me to her studio to learn more about the artistic side of Canmore and specifically her style of painting – encaustic (painting with hot wax). This is the great thing about traveling slow and staying in places longer, you are able to build local relationships and take the time to actually meet people and see where it all leads as opposed to running from sight to sight, snapping some photos, and leaving. I certainly had no idea that attending the local Winter Carnival would lead me to an artist studio, but I was excited to take this opportunity to learn more about the artist community. Canmore’s Main Street is full of galleries, the city puts on a number of free exhibitions, and they are in the process of building a new arts center that I expect to be just as impressive and used as the athletic center in Canmore – Elevation Place. Art is clearly an important part of the community.

The Tools to Creativity

Artist Bigoudi Canmore

Pascale working on her latest canvas

When I arrived at Pascale’s studio in her home it was the first time I was able to see her real artwork. The ice carving was simply a fun hobby; her real passion was a quirky, colorful, contemporary take on farm animals. I loved it; the abstract backgrounds with every day farm animals painted in the foreground certainly captured my imagination and made me smile. And she painted it all in a medium I knew nothing about – wax.

I walked into her studio, a bedroom with attached bathroom, completely transformed into what looked like a mad scientist’s kitchen! Her tools were all traditional kitchen objects – a griddle, muffin tins, and saucepans – all used for art instead of food. I quickly learned that painting with wax is complicated – and toxic. She turned on the ‘handmade’ venting system in the bathroom, consisting of duct tape, a fan, and cardboard, put on a mask, and then she started walking me through the process of how to actually make the hot wax ‘paint’ in muffin tins. It was a complicated process of starting with petroleum or bees wax, adding powdered pigment, heating and mixing until you got your desired color.

encaustic paintng

Hot wax with pigment

encaustic painting

When she’s done with the wax painting, she pours the hot wax in muffin tins to harden and use the next time

Art in Canmore

Pascale showing me her latest work

What’s in a Name?

I noticed all of her canvases were signed by Bigoudi, not Pascale. She explained that Bigoudi is her artist name. It’s a French word that means hair curler. She chose this because the French word – le bigoudi – takes a masculine article (le) and she thought it was funny for such a feminine object to have a male article. However, ultimately she didn’t want to sign her very generational French female name, Pascale, because she didn’t want people to know she was a female artist or her age. Instead she wants people to look at the image and not have any feelings of her age, gender and just simply love the art.

Motivation and Creativity

“I was born with the need to create”, she said when I pried into where her motivation came from. “As a kid they would call me ‘the artist’ at school growing up. I’d really like to do more crazy shit, like with the backgrounds, but that has to go slower.”

“Slower?” I question.

“You have to make sure what you are doing is right and that you feel strong about it,” she replied. “If you do it too quickly and your first response from the public is ‘no’ then you stop. But the more you think about it and the more certain you are about it then your work is stronger and people believe you. Plus, you build your own confidence in your work by taking your time.”

So apparently slow is good in travel and good in art.

She had just started to play with a new idea with photo backgrounds for her animals. Juxtaposing a weird city feel to her animals – making them feel oddly out of place, but intriguing. I loved this line of her work. It was surprising finding rural animals out of place in an urban setting. True to her style she was slowly working on the new ideas letting them develop over time.

Different Strokes

“I’m not sure how creative you are, but I have this piece started and you can then put wax on it and finish it in any way you want and then take home,” Pascale offered. Of course I would jump at this opportunity to try wax painting. I had spent the last 3 weeks being athletic playing in the mountains; it was time I got more in touch with my artistic side, which typically lies dormant.

She handed over a small square canvas with a background of a flying bird already started. My type A, logical perspective all of a sudden fogs my brain as I look at the canvas I am supposed to paint on and wonder – where in the world do I start? I place the brush full of hot wax onto the wooden canvas and immediately question what in the world I’m going to do next. I have no plan for what to do on this canvas, and that makes me self-conscience.

Things to do in Canmore

My wax art

My first few strokes are heavy as I get used to how the hot wax coats the brush. She tries to teach me how to have light and feathery strokes, but in a quick manner. Even though Pascale develops her ideas slowly, she actually has to paint quite quickly as the wax cools down and soon the consistency is wrong to paint. She has to put the color back on the griddle to warm it up again and chooses a different color to work with. I think about how this creative process would work with writing; instead of writing a paragraph and finishing it in a timeline fashion, it would be as if you started 4 paragraphs at once in a story and had to go back and forth between them in order to finish them – a bit manic.

With Pascale’s guidance I create art. And in the process I get to learn more about the town’s art scene. I took my new purple and yellow piece back to my condo and hung it on the wall as proud as I used to be when I brought home artwork projects from school and gave them to my mom. This would be a real memory and souvenir of my slow travel time in Alberta.

More Information:
You will find Bigoudi pieces at Elevation Gallery in Canmore or check out her website for other exhibitions.

The new Canmore Arts Place is still under construction, however when it’s done you’ll have more opportunities like this to be hands on in the Canmore art scene

Want to see more of the Canmore art scene, then check out the Canmore Studio and Gallery Tour

Encaustic painting

Pascales finished piece – Harlequin Green


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