Friday, July 25, 2008

Indie Artist Spotlight: Shelby Crutchley, Encaustic Painter

by Monique Phillips of Three Muses

This week, I had the chance to chat with Shelby Crutchley, a member of Etsy's Visual Artist Street team, about her work and online art business. Shelby and her business partner Beth own BS Art Studios, and the online store by the same name. Ironically, Shelby and Beth met working a a creative arts firm,
where, Shelby explains, "we learned you can actually make a living by doing art".

A long-time artist, Shelby has recently taken the plunge to working full-time for herself as a professional artist. "About a year ago I resigned from my job as a sales person for a creative arts firm and had been working a part-time job. I just recently quit the part time job to focus on this full time." She admits, "It is so scary, but exciting and liberating."

Shelby is a talented artist, working in a medium that may be unfamiliar to some. I've always been an admirer of encaustic work, but like many, had questions about the process. Luckily, she readily explains some of what goes into encaustic painting.

Where did you study art? How did you learn?

Most of my learning has been self-taught. Thankfully I did have some amazing teachers in high school that helped me understand color theory pretty well. I do try to take classes at the local art league just to see what other people are doing and to find new techniques and such. Art is a lifelong learning process. I hope I never stop.

Can you tell us about your creative process?
What I love is color. Something may catch my eye, like a magazine ad, a comforter, a towel, a flower, the ocean. I try to remember those colors. Then, when I am in my studio, I start by mixing a bunch of colors. Once I have completed the mixing process (most time intensive part) I just play.

What exactly is Encaustic?
Encaustic is the process of using wax, resin, and pigment to paint. An artist will heat the wax and fuse it to an absorbent surface (like a wooden panel or canvas). The artist must heat the paint to apply it to the surface, which is the tricky part, because it begins to cool almost instantly.

Encaustic painting is actually an ancient art. It started with the Romans and Egyptians around 100 CE. They would use wax to caulk their ships, and this progressed to using decorative pigments in the wax to create elaborate designs on the ships. If done correctly, encaustic painting can last thousands of years. It is very sturdy.

Like many, I've always wanted to experiment with encaustic painting, but have been half afraid I'd set my home on fire, and half afraid I'd breathe in something hazardous. Is is dangerous? Toxic?
I can completely understand. Working with encaustics isn't too dissimilar from working with oils. Stay within some parameters and you'll be fine. Just don't eat the paint!

But seriously, I make sure to do my work in a very well ventilated space. If you keep the paints under their flash point (depending on the type of wax, anywhere from 150 degrees to 250 degrees) you will avoid noxious fumes that happen when the paint begins to smoke. A temperature controlled hotplate or heat gun is the best way to do this. I also try to use a hue of some of the toxic pigments rather than the actual pigment (cadmium red hue, instead of cadmium red). Other than that, just make sure you take the same kind of precautions as you would when working with solvents and paints when you oil paint, and you should be fine.

Note: If you ever do smell fumes, or get lightheaded, make sure all heated surfaces are turned off and leave the room immediately. That probably means you did something incorrectly and the air needs to clear. If you're unsure about starting with encaustics, I believe R&F has a good listing of workshops across the country to attend.

Above right:
Fiery Passion by BS Art Studios

Who, or what, are your artistic influences?
Artistically speaking, I find a great amount of influence from the Abstract Expressionists. Color wise, I am in love with contemporary impressionists and the color choices they use.

What about your professional influences?
In life, the people around me both influence and inspire me. My parents have an amazing work ethic and have always pushed me. I am always striving to do as much as my husband seems to be able to do - I swear he is superman. Someday I hope I have the wealth of creativity that he does.

What do you do besides make awesome things?
I love movies. Especially summer blockbusters with lots of action. I love to read, and actually have to limit how much I read because I lose track of reality.

What is your favorite handmade possession?
A silver color platter in the shape of an oyster shell. It is so elegant and beautiful. Truly a piece of art - but completely functional and practical.

What is your favorite creation from your shop?
Herding Fish. I took the colors from my honeymoon (we just got back on July 5th). We were snorkeling and taking pictures, and my husband kept having me "herd the fish" towards him by swimming through them. The colors in the fish and the movement they has was so spectacular. I cannot even begin to depict it, but it is fun to try.

How do you promote your business?
I'm doing a lot of social networking online. I'm telling everyone I know and meet about my work, handing out business cards constantly. Blogging, sharing blogs, writing articles. I've also entered some local art fairs, and I'm looking at possibly entering the festival circuit. It's a tough life sometimes, but I think it would be worth it. I'm very lucky to be able to paint for a living, to do something I love.

Do you have any advice for other indie artists?

Just keep your head up and keep going. I think a positive outlook is the most important part. People will pick up on it and be drawn to you. Negativity drives people and customers away. Do what you love, and the sales will come.

Who are some of your favorite Etsy sellers or indie artists?

That is hard. Th
ese are two sellers that were amazingly helpful when I first started on Etsy, and their work is very close to my mentality on life. Have fun and enjoy it

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I don't quite know yet, but I think I'm doing it. Painting for a living. Maybe professional traveler too. Then life would be perfect.

Breaking Through by

You can see more work by Shelby and Beth at and on Shelby's blog at

by Monique Phillips of Three Muses


studiovirgo said...

Fantastic work!! I've never tried encaustic, but it looks like so much fun.

Marionette said...

Wonderful article! Very informative and absolutely gorgeous art! Great job by both the author and artist!!!!