Warm Hands, Hot Wax, Happy Artist

Who’s afraid of the propane torch? Not encaustics artist Kate Colclaser.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Local multimedia artist Kate Colclaser had a successful pottery studio in Blowing Rock, NC, before moving to Asheville. But the winters there can be fierce — especially when they’re spent massaging cold, wet clay. “It snowed so much that if I accidentally fell, they might not find me until the springtime thaw,” Colclaser jokes.

Craving warmth, some highlanders transplant to Florida. But Colclaser just moved a few whistlestops away, from the High Country to the valley — i.e. Asheville — where she also soon found a new creative home: within the medium of encaustics. 

Sultry Summer

Some artists use cold-wax encaustics, which involves fewer potentially hazardous variables. Not Colclaser. She likes it hot, and feels perfectly comfortable with a blazing torch in her hand, versus her hands in finger-numbing mud. She is also drawn to the flame because, she says, “When you heat the wax it often has a mind of its own, and you get some very happy surprises.”

Pretty in Pink

For encaustics, beeswax is blended with resin to give it stability at room temperature, and can also be mixed with pigments for color. The wax is usually applied to a board in layers — often with delicate, translucent Japanese rice paper in between. Some artists paint beneath the surface so that the imagery takes on an ethereal quality when viewed through the lens of the wax applied on top. They also incorporate printed text and collage work.


Colclaser has experience with not only ceramics but also drawing, sketching, painting, collage, fiber art, and more. When she was introduced to encaustics, she was excited to discover she could bring a lifetime’s worth of diverse creative skills and techniques to her newfound medium. But she still wisely exercises aesthetic restraint, allowing the subtle beauty of the beeswax to retain its sensitive visual voice.

Modern World

“I work from my garage, use the propane torch in the driveway, and am looking for the right kind of studio space with adequate ventilation. But I love it. And since I have limited room in my studio and exhibition space, most of my pieces are in smaller sizes — which allows me to keep them in a more affordable price range.” Further leveraging the multiplier effect, she may use inks, pastel oil sticks, and watercolors on gesso in her creations — as well as found objects foraged on nature walks or scavenged in salvage warehouses that sell random ephemera. But improvisation and experimentation has long been an essential part of her creative process. 

“I started out as a potter when I was six years old, using an Easy Bake oven as my first kiln,” she recalls. The young Colclaser would load it up with wet mud pies she decorated beforehand with flowers and fresh greenery. Then she’d crank up the oven to bake her impromptu art — smelling up the house, to the annoyance of her mother. She has since retired from a career in international marketing for AT&T — and retired from using a kiln to make ceramics. But she still has her trusty Easy Bake.

Kate Colclaser, Asheville. The artist’s work is sold at Marquee Asheville, 36 Foundy St., in Asheville’s River Arts District (marqueeasheville.com). For more information about Colclaser, see artfulldodger.net, facebook.com/artfulldodger.avl on Facebook and @katecavl on Instagram.

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