Meet artist and painter Elise Wagner.
Wagner is an idea-driven and exploratory painter, printmaker, and teacher.
Moving to the Northwest at a young age led to a fascination with the geologic history of the Pacific Northwest where she pursued a Bachelor of Science Degree while studying painting at Portland State University.
A 2015 recipient of The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Wagner has been invited to teach her innovative encaustic collagraph technique—a printmaking technique that merges encaustic painting with collagraph printmaking—at institutions throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
Wagner nurtures and grows her passions—painting, art history, printmaking, geology, physics, and satellite photography—through her art career.
See more of Elise Wagner's artwork on Discovery.
We chatted with Wagner about everything from when she knew she was an artist to her business management approach. Elise’s personal art practice, even her process, and philosophy intersect with her business mentality.
You innovated the Encaustic Collagraph. Can you tell us more about that?
I work in the ancient medium of encaustic painting which is a combination of beeswax, resin, and pigment. The medium allows me to build layers and depth as the paintings emerge, creating geologic-like imaginary terrains that match my interest and love of satellite, cartography, and aerial photography.
A lot of forethought and planning goes into my process because I often mix my own colors and, since encaustic is done on a rigid surface, I have to have panels made and at the ready.
I combine oil painting along with working with the encaustic medium. The Encaustic Collagraph is a way to marry the techniques of encaustic painting with collagraph printmaking. So, I am also a printmaker!
Each approach I take with my work requires a certain amount of meticulousness and organization. In this way, my business practice relates to my studio practice. The main philosophies behind my studio practice and business are to keep working and being true to myself, identify and seize opportunities when they come, and continue planting seeds for new ones.
Pluto Atlas Study, Encaustic by Elise Wagner
When did you first know (or decide) that you were an artist?
I was always drawing and painting as a kid. I would say I knew when I was around 15 years old that I wanted to become an artist. I had been training to become a professional dancer but was in a car accident in high school that smashed eight bones in my nose and my knees. A career in dance was not advised.
As a result of not being able to take gym class for the rest of high school, my art teacher, who was fresh out of Cooper Union, decided to add a two-hour studio class on Fridays for me and a few interested students. We made a darkroom and went to NYC museums to take pictures to draw from and later develop. It was a thrill. A whole new door opened to me. My teacher encouraged me to enter competitions, some of which I won. He also encouraged me to read Art in America and go to the museums and galleries in New York, which I did.
What inspires you in your art?
As a transplant from Jersey City, New Jersey, living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, I would say the main thing that inspires me is the nature and geology around me. The skies and cloud formations here offer up endless inspiration for my work.
Contemporary discoveries in science, especially astronomy, physics, and the celestial continually spur my curiosity. I strive toward synthesizing these elements into my work to evoke beauty, provoke thought and invite a sense of wonder.
Is there any advice you’d give to emerging artists or people who might enjoy practicing art but don’t yet consider themselves to be artists?
Like many artists, I have had to be malleable to the changing currents of the art world and it takes a certain amount of tenacity at times. My advice would be to love what you do, hone your skills with regard to social media, and nurture an audience for the art you most enjoy making.
I was able to quit my day job, but it was only after I had a solid history of sales and built my teaching business. If you are thinking of taking the leap—and it’s a big one—be sure that you have revenue streams in place and resources for more at the ready. It is a constant hustle.
I live very practically and simply. I keep my personal expenses and debts low in order to always invest back into my business.
Find your people, surround yourself with like-minded individuals, and get involved with professional development groups and resources for artists in your area or on social media. I was introduced to Artwork Archive as a result of being part of the Art Next Level group which is very helpful no matter where you are at in your art career.
Try not to be too attached to the outcome with your art and career objectives and remain open. Continue to grow through the process as the purpose and meaning of your art changes and evolve over time.
Setting the stage to create my work requires a certain amount of meticulousness and organization be it encaustic or printmaking. In this way, my business practice relates to my studio practice. The main philosophies behind my studio practice and business are to continue working, stay attuned to the changing world around me both figuratively and literally, seize and identify opportunities when they come while also keeping my creative mind open and curious.
Tributary Meridian encaustic and oil on panel by Elise Wagner
How does art management software like Artwork Archive elevate your practice?
Using Artwork Archive gives me a whole new ease of organizing my inventory. I don’t have to spend nearly as much time as I previously did on generating reports or inventory sheets. It allows for more time in the studio and less time on the computer.
Specifically, I can organize timelines and be aware of deadlines. This keeps me on track with everything that I am planning on a weekly, monthly and annual basis with Artwork Archive’s calendar feature and reminders.
I love being able to list what exhibitions and galleries certain pieces are in with the Locations feature. I also like being able to track my studio inventory versus the inventory that is at various galleries. I can get a clear picture of the vale of my art that each gallery currently has as well as my income from sales from each.
Artwork Archive also encourages me to evaluate where sales are lacking and communicate with my galleries more frequently than I would otherwise.
I especially love the Portfolio Pages when preparing my work to ship, as it is encaustic and has certain temperature sensitivities. After having a painting that froze and came apart in transit during a winter storm, I like that I can list what the painting is made with, the substrate and instructions for proper packing and transportation. The painting had a happy ending, though, I was able to restore it and it sold, which you can read more about in “Restoring a Frozen Encaustic Painting".
I also like that you can make just some portions of your inventory public with pricing which I have yet to do!