Artist uses ancient form in modern ways

Published 10:04 pm Thursday, December 11, 2008

When Eloise Shelton-Mayo started taking some graphic design classes as part of her job, she didn’t realize it would lead to the discovery of a whole new art form for her.

“I always loved art when I was younger, but I thought I was a better writer,” she said. “The artist was always there, although not necessarily tapped.”

Shelton-Mayo currently has an encaustic paint show at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. It will be available for viewing on the second floor through Jan. 5.

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Although her degree was in English, she started working as an advertising designer at the News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C. When she took some graphic arts classes to further her education, she met someone who introduced her to the world of encaustics.

Encaustic painting is an ancient art form, most notably used for funerary portraits in Egypt. It has regained popularity in the last 20 years, however, as many American artists have begun to use it.

Encaustic painting uses heated beeswax, colored pigments and resin to form a painting on wood or canvas. Shelton-Mayo heats her paint in a skillet on the stove and applies the paint on wood. Encaustic paint dries very quickly, which is both exciting and challenging, Shelton-Mayo said.

“It’s so exciting,” she said. Oftentimes, the paint will begin to dry before she even gets it from the stove to her workspace.

Encaustic paint has many pros and cons, she said. While it’s not very difficult to clean up, it requires plenty of ventilation because of the resin in the paint, she said. It also can’t survive extreme hot or cold, which makes storing paint and completed works a challenge.

Shelton-Mayo’s subject matter ranges from country scenes to abstracts. Lately, she plays with rectangular shapes in abstract works, as well as a city landscape.

“Uptown” was inspired by a trip to Philadelphia, Pa., she said.

“It looks so contemporary, and yet there’s this Old World charm about it,” she said.

Shelton-Mayo rarely has a plan when she begins a work, she said.

“I’m not too preconceived about the final product,” she said. “I want to be open to all possibilities.”

Shelton-Mayo has lived in the area for about 9 years, and currently resides in Virginia Beach. She is married, and she and her husband have a 14-year-old daughter.