Forged with Purpose
Beeswax and Fire Art from Theresa Stirling Art Studio
by Alex Clarkson
Fire artist Theresa Stirling believes that in order to create great art, one must create a great life. “A fully engaged life means living and working from a place of feeling alive,” she says. Accordingly, Theresa tells her collectors’ stories through her luxurious, large-scale custom encaustic beeswax paintings.
Theresa’s art is an expression of a well-curated life. She is aware of the space it takes to be able to appreciate beauty, and she edits her environment and work accordingly. She works with beeswax and fire encaustics, and her paintings are dreamy, textured, tactile, and organic. They offer viewers an opportunity to go on a luminous journey as they explore new depths within their own experiences. The wax from bees and sap from trees make for a sensuous combination, conveying the artist’s enthusiasm through multiple layers of expression.
Theresa’s studio practice involves a photo-encaustic layering technique. She appropriates an image of any size, scales it, and adheres it to architectural birch panel. She then applies 20+ layers of beeswax and oil with her blowtorch. “This particular style guides my heart and my hand,” she explains. “It also helps me reach into the dreams of others and tell their stories.” Theresa has many repeat collectors who have become enchanted with her textured medium and concierge-level curating experience. Her style has become recognizable.
From the Pacific Northwest, Theresa instinctively draws on nature themes. Her unique style lends itself particularly well to abstract expressionistic landscapes. “I aim to create a soft and dreamy atmosphere,” she explains. “It’s also about connectedness. Our human interactions and experiences are our currency.”
“This particular style guides my heart and my hand. It also helps me reach into the dreams of others and tell their stories.”
–Theresa Stirling, Artist
She explains her creative process: “I was working on a nine-foot-tall forest piece involving the outline of the trees with backlit leaves when I observed my own heightened awareness for nature. I love the way bison fur corkscrews out, or the pattern of spots on a trout. I view my art making as a meditative practice, and I aim to add value by deepening the connection between viewer and subject.”
Theresa works in a sophisticated color palette of tonalities including cream, cashmere, and bone. The commissions she’s working on this season employ restraint and create a grounding effect with rich blacks, browns, slate blues, and forest greens peeking through the layers in differing degrees of intensity. The colors lend themselves exceptionally well to bison, moose, bear, and her signature abstract landscapes that complement contemporary interiors. With a deep love for well-edited interiors, collectors often ask Theresa to help pull together final design furnishings as well. It is a creative dream for her.
An example of how Theresa works is a commission she completed for art lovers who gave her an image of their favorite beach in Kona, Hawaii. They’d taken the photo on an iPhone, and Theresa scaled it to seven feet. She then made an abstract, painterly version of their special beach. She tastefully balances the expression of her artistic hand with themes that are highly personal to her collectors. She has painted literal underwater dreams as a Yelllowstone Club ceiling mural, and is currently working on art pieces for western Rockies mountain homes; Sun Valley to Florida and in between. She does site visits for scaled projects.
Theresa is a self-taught artist who has a degree in economics and a business background. She shares her story: “I feel humbled to be creating art at this point because I wasn’t raised appreciating fine art, nor was I that artistic kid or adult.” While working in biotech marketing and as a medical business owner, Theresa found herself asking, “How could I express myself creatively outside of corporate?” Galleries did not welcome her early work 18 years ago, so she forged her own path within the luxury market. She works with collectors directly, and takes on projects from interior designers, architects, and marquis home builders. The art world is shifting. Hence, for Theresa’s collectors, there are no galleries in the middle, no markup for them or for her to bear. This is an important aspect of her business model and brand today, a frictionless model, some might say in the business world.
Theresa creates art fearlessly and aims to bring that same spirit to her collectors’ homes. Working large-scale has been her hallmark, unusual in the labor-intensive encaustic medium. Each one of hundreds of thousands of brushstrokes must be fired to adhere to the layers below. “She can really open these pieces up,” notes another creative. In addition to her exacting process, Theresa donates art, proceeds, and time to animal shelters and teens.
The alchemy of melting beeswax while holding a blowtorch in hand is magical to watch, feel, create, and drive. The studio envelops me in warmth and the sweet smell of molten beeswax and naturaldammar resin.”
–Theresa Stirling, Artist
Theresa’s technique and style has evolved over time, but the constant is that she works from a place of continuous joy. Her work gives her pleasure and satisfaction, and in turn, she encourages the viewer to celebrate that feeling of aliveness. “We are all out there on the skinny branches trying to share our individuality,” she reflects. “Seeing beauty keeps us in the moment.”
Theresa has an extremely hands-on, physical process that involves working carefully with molten beeswax and organic materials. Unlike other fire artists, she also uses cold wax. Blending techniques and using common household tools such as knives, nails, scrapers, chisels, and twigs helps her achieve a sculptural quality that complements the look and feel of her collectors’ well-curated homes.
“The alchemy of melting beeswax while holding a blowtorch in hand is magical to watch, feel, create, and drive,” she explains. “The studio envelops me in warmth and the sweet smell of molten beeswax and natural dammar resin. As I work, I’m expressing what lives inside of me. I want to share my energy and enthusiasm with others who might want something that makes them feel alive even if they aren’t creating it themselves. I’m also honoring the inherent beauty of imperfection.”
Like the cigarette remnants hidden in Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, there’s an aspect to Theresa’s work that celebrates how things are perfect in their imperfection. She mixes natural beeswax on hot plates with dry pigments and oils. Minute amounts of organic matter remain and contribute to the painting’s provenance. Her studio has paint tubes and blowtorches all over the place. The artistic result is a nuanced, sophisticated statement piece unlike any other medium.
“We are all layered and under construction. It’s what makes us more interesting.”
–Theresa Stirling, Artist
Theresa’s commission process is highly collaborative and stems from her intuitive nature as a communicator. She appreciates her collectors’ investments and references any imagery they wish to create—representational or abstract—to help visualize the process. She offers Photoshop mockups rendering the proposed finished version on the wall in the home. She emails progress shots, FaceTimes, sends samples of the cradled panel and beeswax, and shares final approval photos so that clients have a deep understanding of the intended with no surprises. This process demystifies the unknowns on commissioning artwork. She also explains her pricing and labor of love involved. Hand-crafted slow art, admittedly, is not for everyone, but is for those who want the luxe conversation piece. Her collectors say “I am thankful daily for your art.”
Theresa’s attention to detail continues through delivery and installation. She recently completed a piece for a collector in Sun Valley. The painting took months to complete, and when Theresa shipped it in a palettized wooden crate, she included a letter to the homeowner and enclosed some of the tools she’d used. Her process is gritty and engaged, and her art is firmly rooted in the intention that, “We need to find that thing that sets us afire.” Love pours through her work. Honest and humble, she proudly acknowledges that course-correction is part of life and is ok for each of us.
“We are all layered and under construction,” she says. “It’s what makes us more interesting. I’ve had great wins, grand heartache, and hurt; tremendous doors open through hard work and fantastic pivots, all of it, really. As Miles Davis says, ‘It’s not the one bad note you played, what matters is the one you play next, after that.’ Showing up in the studio brings vitality and purpose. I’m creating from a place of gratitude. I celebrate this life and brand today and it feels fantastic.”
For more information on commissions, or consultations for residential and commercial spaces, in-stock art, and exclusive art-exchange (refresh) memberships, Theresa can be reached directly by visiting theresastirling.com, on Instagram @theresastirlingartstudios, and on Pinterest and YouTube.