Meet Paula Blackwell. Like many artists Paula was an artistic child, but she also excelled in science and physical fitness. Besides winning several Art awards she also won the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, a Science award and several Gold and silver medals as a short distance runner.
Her art education consisted of a college class in encaustic, private lessons in encaustic and professional faux finish and decorative painting classes. Before becoming a full time studio artist she was a professional faux finisher, creating decorative finishes on walls. She also worked creating displays for companies: faux finishing for the Street of Dreams, and creating displays for commercials. She once created a 1500 sq ft. Santa Fe village for an all-natural cigarette company “Natural American Spirit.”
Paula considered teaching faux finishing techniques after the housing market fell sharply. Just as she was envisioning what her studio should look like, a friend asked if she wanted to go on the Portland Open Studios tour. Paula agreed: she wanted to see artists who were teaching classes, so she could take a look at their studio set up. After the tour Paula convinced her friend to show her some of the encaustic techniques she had been learning. As soon as she started experimenting with the medium she fell in love. “I left thinking ‘I’ve got to play with this more – this is fun, it smells good and it’s amazing.”
Paula began watching every YouTube video about the art and trying to get as much information as she could. “I started producing lots of encaustic paintings, showing them to all my friends , and was in galleries after a month; after two months I had a website up and was making sales right away. This lit a flame and encouraged me to do more paintings and invest in a professional Encaustic studio.
Three months later, I was doing some on-line sales, and Jessica Beal Timberlake bought three of my paintings. I thought, “holy cow, that is so awesome” and decided to reinvest in this art and make sure that it was archival while honing my style.” One artist on YouTube turned out to live close to where she and her husband were going for Christmas. She decided to take take private lessons. “I wanted to just bang it out, get good, and make sure I had all the techniques.” And if Paula thought she was amped up before, “After the private lessons she was on fire: a girl on a mission.”
Then Paula got into PDXOS, a couple more galleries and a publishing company. The publishers sell fine art prints of her work, which they sell to designers, hotels, luxury resorts, and stores like Pottery Barn, ZGallery, and Arthaus. Per the publishers Paula is one of their most sought after artists; they are literally selling hundreds of her prints per quarter. And she recently signed her second three year contract with them.
Paula shared with me the history of encaustic art, which I found very interesting. Ancient Greek shipbuilders used wax to seal cracks in their boats; and then someone got the idea to pigment the wax and soon whole fleets of ships were being embellished. Soon a school in the mountains above the town of Faiyum was born where kids could go to school to learn the technique of encaustic. To make spending money, they would go down into the town of Faiyum where all the lords and ladies lived and would ask if they could paint their portraits. The young artists painted with the pigmented wax on wood. They would take an implement and put it in a little bowl that had coal in it to keep it hot. They had 4 colored bars of wax. They would take the tool out of the coal, touch it on the bar of wax, and paint directly on the wood with the tool. They mixed the 4 colored bars of wax & painted the most incredible portraits in beautiful colors. To this day they are in museums and they are as vibrant and colorful as they were then.
To see more of Paula’s art, and soak up her amazing enthusiasm, be sure to visit her during this year’s Portland Open Studios Tour.