Featured artist: Pamela Caughey
Jambalaya, 16x16, cold wax medium and oil on Ampersand Encausticbord
Pamela Caughey is an Ampersand Artist Ambassador who has an extensive background in painting with multiple mediums. Her passion is sharing her knowledge with others so they may become the artists they wish to be. Pamela is a full-time studio artist, instructor, mentor, and coach who teaches both in the U.S. and abroad.
The Silence, collage
Q: What are your favorite found objects to use in your collages?
That’s a great question! Sometimes the medium I’m working in dictates what can and cannot be incorporated (if papers are too thick, they do not work well in cold wax medium/oil or encaustic work), but I would have to say I use found objects more to create unusual mark-making tools rather than use them as collage material.
My personal aesthetic continues to evolve toward collage materials that have meaning to me personally, some connection to my life. I have found that collecting old books on topics I have familiarity with (Japanese kimono patterns, organic chemistry, botany, calculus) are fair game to tear pages out of and work into collages. When I use Ampersand panels, which work for all the mediums I work in, I can easily collage interesting book papers or do image transfers from photocopies of the content I find connected to my life.
Daybreak, 12x12, cold wax medium and oil on Ampersand Encausticbord
Q: Your earlier work was done in watercolor. When did you make the switch to your current mediums?
I started in watercolor as a young, full-time mother and decided to paint in watercolor because it didn’t require ventilation and was easy to tuck away. From 1986 – 1996, I approached the watercolor medium like a science. As I now look back, it required a lot of books to learn about technique, design, color, surfaces, brushes, and of course the attributes of watercolor paint itself: which paints are transparent, semi-transparent, opaque, or staining pigments. I was self-taught throughout this initial 10-year period and during this time, focused mainly on technique and creating pleasant florals, landscapes, and abstracts.
For me, without meaningful content, I plateaued and actually quit painting for the next 10 years. When I came back to painting in 2006, it was acrylic/mixed media that brought me back. In 2008, I took an encaustic workshop and loved it. I decided to go back to school to pursue art first as an undergrad, and then was accepted into the MFA graduate program in painting and drawing at the University of Montana (Missoula, Montana) School of Art. It wasn’t until 2016 that I learned about painting with oil/cold wax.
Fan, 12x12, cold wax medium and oil on Ampersand Encausticbord
Q: You have said that when you paint, you lean toward painting what you don’t see rather than what is in front of you. Tell us a little bit about this.
I find in my post-graduate years that I am seeking meaningful content that for me comes from within. While I appreciate my surroundings and nature, there is an abundance of potential topics I could use as my muse. I am deeply fascinated by my internal thoughts, my subconscious, and pulling content from my life in an abstract way that leads to mystery and wonder. This is a realization I came to after painting in many different genres, from photorealistic to total non-objective art, painting and drawing figures, landscapes, and everything in between. What gave me the truest inspiration that would stand the test of time was the life I’ve led. I believe it is our lives that provide perpetual content which for me is best expressed through non-objective composition and form.
Obstacle Course, 12x12, cold wax medium and oil on Ampersand Encausticbord
Q: Your portfolio of work is very diverse. How do the materials you use influence this?
I decided to present my work on my website in somewhat of a timeline. The work I originally did in watercolor was where I began, but as I learned and worked in new mediums, I learned the pros and cons, assets, and limitations of each medium. It is a challenge, to work in four different mediums (acrylic, encaustic, encaustic monotype, oil/cold wax medium) and find a way to express my personal aesthetic in a consistent way. It takes art “research” and experimentation.
As an instructor, I truly believe we can express ourselves in any medium as long as we have a solid foundation in design and color. With this knowledge, one can say anything, regardless of the medium, but it does require spending a good amount of time just playing around, experimenting, and making each medium comply to the artist’s visual language, rather than dictating to the artist what it can and cannot do. I love that we can manipulate any medium to do what we wish; it does come down to technical proficiency in the end, but technique for me is used to facilitate my voice, not dictate what I can say.
Walk in the Park, 12x12, cold wax medium and oil on Ampersand Encausticbord
Q: Given your work’s diversity, do you think of it in terms of “series”?
Working in a series is something I learned in my postgraduate years, and it has been a game-changer. My art is a method of personal exploration/expression. I believe we all can express many things and series work is important as “snapshots” of an artist’s stream of consciousness. I believe it is important to exhaust an idea through a series to give the thought process time to mature and complete itself. I now look back on the many series I did and see expressions of different aspects of who I was at the time and do not worry whether they are cohesive as a lifelong body of work. I hold experimentation and risk highly; they are what move my art forward and higher.
It wasn’t until I started working in larger series and gained a high enough level of technical proficiency in each medium that I was able to express more cohesively my “voice” across multiple mediums, which at least at the moment requires unusual shapes, complex color, and mark-making. I have had to develop my own method of making handmade masks and stencils, and finding drawing tools that work in each medium I’m working in.
Detour, 24x18, cold wax medium and oil on Ampersand Encausticbord
Q: You have a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry. Do you ever find that to carry over into your artwork?
Yes, absolutely! My entire MFA thesis required my science background to express the psychological, biological, and social ramifications of terrorism. While this was a weighty topic, it was a body of work that was a metaphor for the fear and anxiety I experienced while pursuing a BS in Biochemistry. I was never able, nor did I want to work in science again after four grueling years of striving for a degree that I had no passion for.
It was ironic that science became an important component of my art back then (2010), and now even after losing all of my textbooks in a fire that destroyed our entire home, I purchased these same textbooks not because I wanted to read them, but because the language in these books is part of my life and I wish to incorporate the jargon, symbols, words, pathways, lifecycles – into my current work! I’m quite excited about this. It is another chapter of incorporating my life into my art.
Evensong, 12x12, cold wax medium and oil on Ampersand Encausticbord
Q: You teach workshops from the beginner level to advanced. What is the most rewarding takeaway for you after each workshop?
Although I did teach the foundations of art as a graduate student, and then at the college level in my post-MFA years, I never thought of myself as a teacher before that. It was only after some students approached me during a cold wax workshop that I was attending and asked me to teach a workshop in cold wax and oil. The following year I decided to give it a try. That was back in 2016.
I found I cared so deeply about every student and wanted wholeheartedly for each one of them to grasp the foundations of color and design because that is what truly opened my world and gave me newfound confidence and ability. It has now become my mission: to focus on teaching what I know about color and design with the hope that others will find their voice more quickly and avoid the many mistakes I made for decades while scrambling without this vital knowledge. I believe art IS a science in addition to a visual language.
Color and design are part of the science of art. To go about a career in art without this knowledge is akin to writing a book without fluency in the language one is writing in. Words can be flung together just like paint, but if you don’t understand the language, how can you make sentences, paragraphs, and chapters? For me, it has taken an understanding of color and design to create work that communicates what I wish to say clearly. The most rewarding takeaway in any workshop or online course is the “aha” moments and discoveries students make as they start to see the fog clear as they grasp the fundamentals of color and design.
Q: How did you discover Ampersand surfaces and how do they complement your work?
I first learned about the amazing Ampersand panels when taking my first cold wax/oil workshop in 2016. I used Arches oil paper and Ampersand panels and absolutely fell in love with the smooth, velvety surface that my oils just glided upon with the panels. I found my oils and cold wax medium also dried more quickly on the Encausticbord due to the generous amount of R&F gesso. It is my number one surface for all encaustic and oil/cold wax medium work.
Pamela Caughey grew up in Wisconsin, where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from UW-Madison in 1983. After moving with her family to Hamilton, MT in 1986, she began her serious study of art, and in 2010 received her MFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Montana School of Art. She works in many media, with a special interest in cold wax/oil, encaustic, mixed media, and acrylic. Her work is in the permanent collection of several museums (Missoula Art Museum, Holter Museum of Art, Nicolaysen Museum of Art) and public buildings nationally and internationally and her work appears in the newly published book by Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin, Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts, Conversations. After teaching foundations courses at the University of Montana, Bitterroot College (Hamilton, Montana), she is now a full-time studio artist and teaches workshops from her Hamilton, Montana studio, throughout the country, and abroad. To see more of Pamela's work, visit her artwork website, workshop website, Instagram, and Facebook.