Melted Beeswax + Tree Resin = Fine Art

Shannon Mello Embraces Ancient Art of Encaustic Painting

Art has been a part of Shannon Mello’s life for as long as she can remember.  

Her mom was an artist. Mello has a master's in art education and taught middle school art for a decade. During a professional development day for work in 2018, another teacher happened to be teaching an encaustic course.

“I immediately jumped on the opportunity,” Mello said.

An Ancient Art

She was fascinated by the complex process of layering, using a base of melted beeswax and tree resin. Mello bought her own supplies that weekend and promptly began to experiment. Also known as hot wax painting, encaustic painting involves a heated wax medium to which pigments have been added. Rather than a traditional oil painter’s pallet, the encaustic painter’s primary tool is a sort of griddle that heats the wax.

The word encaustic is derived from the Greek enkausikos, meaning “to heat or burn in.” Encaustic painting dates back to the ancient Greeks, who used wax to caulk ship hulls. Pigmenting the wax eventually led to decorating warships. These days, electric heating tools have streamlined encaustic’s labor-intensive layering process.

Mello adds pigments, inks, string, charcoal or other elements to her creation, then melts the concoction with a torch. And her favorite ingredient: Words.

“It’s fun to add old book pages and work with them,” she said. “They add so much to the compositions.”

A Change in Direction

She had started to dabble in selling her work when a global pandemic closed schools. Mello and her husband saw an opportunity – she resigned from her teaching job to homeschool their own young children and to work on her own art on a more regular schedule.

It wasn’t an easy choice. She enjoyed teaching and says she learned as much from her students as they learned from her. But looking back, she’s glad she made the leap.

“It’s thrilling,” she said. “If it’s something that you want to do, it’s worth those scary times. Every day that I can walk into the studio and I can create something, I’m winning.”

Her kids are back in brick-and-mortar school, leaving her more time to dedicate to her art routine. After dropping the kids off, she heads into the studio with her coffee, turns on some music and digs into one of her creations. In addition to encaustic, Mello also works with watercolors as well as cold wax and oil.

“I can go into the studio and get these ideas out,” she said.

Inspiration from Nature

Asked where she gets her inspiration, Mello said, “Anything outdoors. We’re very big advocates for the outdoors. We are hikers. We are campers. We are climbers. We are geologist geeks.”

And her nature? She’s always moving – always having to do something. She regularly collaborates with other artists in Colorado Springs.

“I love to advocate for the arts,” she said. “I love encouraging kids and students and adults. Some people don’t have an outlet. Try the arts. … Anyone can do at their own level. It’s exciting.”

She recently participated in an exhibition with Becca Day at The LookUp Gallery in Colorado Springs and in the West By Midwest Exhibit at Bitfactory Gallery in Denver. She has a solo exhibition coming up at G44 Gallery in Colorado Springs in July. And she has works in the following galleries: Kreuser Gallery and G44 Gallery in Colorado Springs and R Gallery in Boulder.

Facebook: @encausticartbyshannonmello
Instagram: @melloencaustics

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