This artist conversation features encaustic painter, mixed-media artist and instructor Andrea Bird.
A personal note…
It was Andrea Bird who first introduced me to encaustic painting. I have taken many workshops with her from 2005 – 2018. Much of what I share on the All Things Encaustic Blog, I first learned from Andrea.
By way of introduction…
Andrea and her artist husband Daniel Beirne established The Hive encaustic studio, at the Alton Mill in Caledon, Ontario where they ran workshops and displayed encaustic art. They also started Waxworks Encaustic Supplies to sell encaustic medium along with other supplies online. In 2012 Andrea was diagnosed with breast cancer. Almost five years later, after having gone through all the recommended treatments, her cancer came back. In 2017, she received her stage 4 diagnosis. Andrea and Dan left the Hive to focus on the time they had left together.
View Andrea’s Website | WaxWorks Encaustic Supplies
My Conversation with Artist Andrea Bird
Welcome, Andrea! I’m so happy to be able to chat with you today about your journey with encaustic painting
Can you tell us about the first time you encountered encaustic painting?
In American Art Magazine, I saw a detail of Michelle Stuart’s Paradisi: a garden mural – and knew, deep in my bones, that I had to learn how to do that! Check out that piece if you can, it’s incredible. But I had young children, and it took over a decade to find an encaustic course, at the Ontario College of Art and Design. (When I was a student there, from 1980-84, there was no one teaching or even talking about encaustic.) I went back for a one day workshop that changed the direction of my life and art. Love at first sight/smell/blowtorch!
Open Source Images:
Why encaustic? What made you fall in love with the medium.
You know!! The texture, the smell, the luminosity, the transparency/opaqueness of the colours, the depth of it, how it can hold collage, natural elements, how it meets the artist where they’re at… and yet also gently guides them forward into new territory. Oh – even the laborious process makes my heart sing! The blow torch, how cool is that? The iron, heat gun, the flowing spontaneity of what the wax will do, pulling us into new territory. The process of building up and scraping back, love that. It is a beautiful, sensuous, sensory medium, that – 20 years later, still makes my heart sing. I still love it, but with less energy, I am now finding ways to simplify the process, so that I can still do it.
How did you go about learning the encaustic painting process?
After that one day workshop, I just dove in… experimenting on my own for months, a year. There was no one around me using it, or teaching it, so I was on my own. In retrospect, that wasn’t a bad thing. I completely immersed myself in this medium, and made lots of mistakes/missteps…. but that is all part of the learning. In 2007, I went to the first-ever International Encaustic Conference and started teaching there the second year.
How did you earn the title Grandmother of Encaustic?
I started teaching soon after learning… as soon as people saw what I was doing, they started to ask me to teach. Before that, I’d been casually teaching collage, and so I began to teach encaustic as well. Eventually, I was really teaching mixed media workshops focusing on encaustic, in our beloved art school, ‘the hive’ (which ran from 2010-2018). I started teaching encaustic in 2001 and stopped in 2018. I’ve taught a lot of students, the last count was around 5,000. Many of them have gone on to teach as well. That gave me the title: grandmother of encaustic! LOL. Truly, I was one of the first doing this in Ontario, so became known.
What/Who have been your significant artistic influences?
My husband Daniel (www.danielbeirne.ca) has had the biggest and most lasting and important influence on me. Collaborating with him on mixed media and then encaustic pieces taught me more than I can express. I highly recommend collaborating with other artists… it’s a great exercise to have to articulate, out loud, your own artistic process. And listen to another do the same. His artistic sensibility is so finely tuned, I’ve learned to see with ‘Daneyes’, not only art, but the natural world as well. His art, both for walls and environmental sculptures, inspire me.
Michelle Stuarts work still makes my heart beat faster, and I like to go back and revisit it. She’s incredible! I also love the work of Richard Diebenkorn, Paul Klee, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Joan Mitchell, environmental artists like Richard Long, Nils Udo, Andy Goldsworthy, Chris Drury, Christo and Jeanne-Claude… oh the list goes on. There are more, and many of my students and teachers brought into the hive have inspired me as well. Too many to mention.
Artistic influences: life itself.
Have there been recurring themes in your work? Can you talk about what inspires your work – how have you set an intention for your own work or for shows you have organized?
Yes, there are recurring themes… our shared humanity, what it means to be alive on this planet at this time, the cycles of the natural world. Love, in in all its forms, beauty found even in what is difficult, and now, impermanence, dying, the cycles of life/death/life, vulnerability, finding beauty even now. Whatever is going on in my world is reflected back to me and others – in my art.
How these themes show up is in series: use of the grid/grid breaking apart, use of natural items (seeds, fasciae from trees, plants, soil, earth, found objects), carving in ‘X‘’s (which represent blowing a kiss through time), colour experimentation, from subtle to exuberant explosions of colour, putting things in and taking them out, using facsimiles of items by photographing them with the actual thing, dancing on the wax with charcoal on my feet (to get me out of my head and into my body/subconscious), embedding clothing into the wax (started with my grandmothers wedding dress and continued with many other pieces including my christening gown/underslip), another series involved photocopies of photographs of trees with the ‘roots’ visible, using real roots embedded in the wax. Not sure I covered all the series and themes here, but you get the idea!
Encaustic painting has undergone a resurgence in the past few decades. You have been central in building a community of encaustic artists in Ontario. Can you tell me about your motivation in nurturing this community and the importance of this supportive community for new and emerging artists?
I didn’t set out to become ‘the grandmother of encaustic’ in Ontario, it just happened. I just kept following my inclination – someone asked me to teach: ok. Then showing my work: ok. Then opening a school: ok. Then exhibiting students’ work: ok. Co-Curating (with Lisa Beth Glassman) a group show at the Propeller Art Gallery in Toronto, the whole ball of wax: ok. Curating smaller shows at the hive: yes! Then nurturing the community of artists that gathered in the hive: ok! With abundant pleasure: ok! I just kept saying ok, and yes! Daniel supported this behind the scenes for years and then started teaching when I could no longer do as much when first diagnosed. He’s always so supportive of my dreams and goals. The hive was what it was in large part because of his belief in us and all the work he did to make it happen.
It became clear at some point that the artists returning to the hive for workshops – were a core group who were committed to and sincere in their artistic journeys. We brought in guest teachers to expand the kinds of courses available, and the students (and me) thrived in the rich soil that the hive provided. The women in those courses bonded, and especially so in the Connect + Create (C+C). This was a monthly gathering in the hive, limited to five students. Two groups met once a month with me, for a season, or a year, to talk about various aspects of creativity: inspiration, failure, vulnerability, showing/selling, you name it, we discussed it. These conversations were juicy, informative, transformative and healing for all involved. We gently supported each other in our individual creative processes, with positivity, kindness and a generous sharing of our encaustic ‘secrets’ (techniques we’d ‘discovered’).
The C+C’s were the hardest thing to let go of. My heart still aches and rejoices when I think of those Sunday mornings. It was the work I was born to do. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have said yes to so much that came before it. Paving the way for C+C to be a reality. To change all of us so profoundly.
In the Spring of 2019, you had a 35-year Retrospective of your work. It was a beautiful show. As you saw your older works hanging with your newer paintings did you notice any surprising threads or connections between the works?
Yes, I noticed recurring connections… it was like being at a party with friends from all different parts and times of my life. I loved it!! It was so healing, and the most beautiful present Daniel ever gave me. Anyone ever gave me, for that matter. The threads were surprising and also not surprising. Of course, these ‘friends’ are connected, are part of a larger story that takes in the decades and runs alongside my life—all the various stages that I was going through are visible in the art. Art reflects life. Who said that? Someone wise. I stayed overnight in the gallery during the retrospective, and this experience changed me deeply. By seeing, I felt seen. By acknowledging, I was acknowledged. By loving, and letting in love, I was loved. It goes way beyond words, this experience. I’ve taken to writing poetry as it is a way to express and understand what this time is both teaching me and asking of me. Poetry is so healing, so helpful. I think I need to write a poem about the retrospective.
How much have you been able to paint during your dying time? Can you talk about what painting brings to you at this time?
Good question, Ruth. I’ve not had the energy to paint much. The process is different, much, much slower. Simplified. I have to ask for help every step of the way, and as I’ve described, there are many steps to encaustic. Daniel – and now Conor (our 29-year-old son) are wonderful ‘studio assistants’. I could not do it without their help. Humbling to admit this, but also very grateful beyond measure. I’m finding that creativity is coming out in other ways, like writing poems. I’m working on a new piece right 4’tall and 2.5’ wide. It’s about moving from being well, being in our roles, to letting go, free-falling – like a leaf from a tree – until we return to the earth. I’ve collected hundreds of lacy magnolia leaves this spring from the tree I planted 20 years ago in memory of my mom. I hope that I get to finish this piece, it will take me a while. It’s big and complex… but not as complex as they used to be!! Good thing about not much time: simplicity.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Just this: I still love life.
If you have a comment or question for Andrea, please leave it below.
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15 thoughts on “Artist Conversation with Andrea Bird”
Andrea, your thoughts & comments through this interview are beautiful & so true to the gentle soul I remember.
I believe your “heart will be singing” forever in you & especially with those whose lives you have touched.
I fondly remember meeting you at the Muskoka Arts and Crafts summer show many moons ago. You inspired me to explore and enjoy the art of working in encaustic which is my favourite medium. Thank you for all your words and lovely works.
Very moving and inspiring and generous. Beautiful work, beautiful process……
We are the lucky ones.
First I saw her art.
I had never seen encaustic before.
I was transfixed by its beauty.
I heard her ( and it turns out , me) coming through the wax.
I understood that I felt something shift.
At that moment , the first little twinge.
Then I took a class.
Meeting Andrea was pivotal and monumental for me.Her generous spirit and unfettered enthusiasm for art, for life, for meaning , was the key to reopening myself up to really making art.I credit her gentle patience and kind unwavering support and encouragement for getting me past my fear of my true purpose.
To say I am grateful doesn’t even begin to cover it.
She is my key.
And, I suspect, that she will continue to guide and unlock me …forever.
She has become the dearest of friends and I treasure each moment I have with her.
Thank you Ruth, for this interview.
Thank you Andrea, for everything else.
Such a beautiful, compassionate, honest interview. I wish I could have seen the show but am so happy to see part of it here.
I loved reading this interview Andrea – and seeing your highly moving encaustic works. I am one of your students, whose life was changed by taking a few of your workshops many years ago. I have been using encaustic in my art since and still feel like I’m just scratching the surface of this incredible and sensitive medium. Thank you Andrea for all you have given me. You are an inspiration to me and to many, many others. xxxoooxxxxooo
What a wonderful encapsulation of your artistic journey Andrea. I regret not attending the Hive or that Retrospective. It would have been remarkable. I am so happy to hear art still finds a way to you! The world loves your life too, Andrea! You are still an amazing teacher.
Reading this brought grateful tears for having been nurtured in my creative journey by the generous, loving woman that is Andrea Bird. She continues to spark a creative longing – even now. Terry
Thank you Andrea. You are never far from my thoughts. I so enjoyed your conversation with Ruth. I felt as though I were there with you. I miss you, the hive; our collective. ❤️ Having been a part of this special place created by you and Dan, my art process reflects echoes of your organic creativity. My life is greatly enriched for knowing you. Always in gratitude and love, Laurie.
So inspiring. I’m recovering from stage four thyroid cancer and I’m currently divorcing my husband of fifty years. Life is not easy but I choose to do the best I can and live the rest of my life for me. Taking it one day at a time. I am finding peace and who my true friends are. I never would have made it this far without them.
I pray that I will get back to encaustic, oil painting and making jewelry soon. I will also pray for you.
Marlene, I am sending all good thoughts and prayers for you. May your creative gifts get you through this time and hopefully go forward. You are in my thoughts. Best, edith
Such a great artist and wonderful article. Love the ending quote. “I still live life “. Thank you.
I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea a few years ago at the hive. I am in awe of her work and find piece in her poetry. She is an artist I would have loved to have taken part in her classes! Next time around . Thank you Andrea
Thank you Andrea! You’re so gracious with all of your being. I’m glad to call you a friend. I am honoured to be able to continue the legacy of the C+C. I know your generous and creative spirit has deeply touched the lives of many, many artists from all over Ontario and abroad. You are an inspiration to everyone. Love you! ❤️❤️❤️
Thanks Ruth, for this. I got to relive some fabulous memories because of your questions and interest. If anyone has more to share, please do so! With gratitude, Andrea