For these Park City photographers, taking the shot is only half the story
Jared and Trish McMillen of McMillen Fine Art Photography continue to seek new ways to present their work in elegant ways.
A few years ago, the husband and wife duo premiered their series Winter Horses, which captures images of horses from Peoa, Kamas and Francis in winter storms.
Before completing the project, McMillens began experimenting with ways to display these photographs without mounting them behind a sheet of glass.
“We wanted to come up with something that would protect the print and also give it a unique finish — an encaustic finish,” Jared said.
They came up with the idea of covering the works with an encaustic coating, a wax-based paint composed of beeswax, resin and pigment that is heated on a palette, he said.
“The encaustic method was practiced by early Greek artists as far back as the fifth century in Egypt,” he said.
Some of the earliest surviving examples of encaustic works are the Fayum Funeral mummy portraits — some of which are in the Smithsonian collection.
“We heat the mixture up to about 190 degrees to liquify it, and then we apply it to the print,” Jared said.
The melted mixture is applied over and over again in a process that takes three to five weeks.
“We use the cheapest brush from Home Depot to do it,” Jared said. “The reason is because the cheaper the brush, the more texture we’ll get.”
The wax protects the print and the resin cures the wax so the finish hardens in time.
“It takes about six month to cure,” Trish said. “So this is a time consuming process.”
The curing isn’t the only step in the process that takes time, she said.
“The photographs, which are developed on paper made from bamboo and cotton, are mounted on hand-pressed Hahnemuhle print,” Trish said. “Once the print cures, we lay it out and seal it to a base wood block.”
The trick is spreading out the photo straight on the wood, because once the artists lay it out on the sticky glue tape, there is no pulling it off and trying again, she said.
“You have to make sure you’re not even an eighth of an inch off at the start, because it will really be off the mark when it’s laid out,” Trish said with a laugh. “We’ve had a few that didn’t work out and we swore a lot.”
The encaustic finish itself, however, can be reapplied as long as the photo remains intact, she said.
“If we have a blow torch, we can melt the finish down and reset it,” Trish said. “The problem of doing that, however, is that the paper is fragile. And if things get too hot, we would burn the paper and the image. So it’s very risky to do that.”
Even the burned photo looks interesting, Jared said.
“We had one of them in storage that we showed to our friend, and she kept telling us how beautiful it was,” he said.
Adding to the encaustic-mounted photographs’ mystique, the McMillens are only offering one-of-a-kind originals.
“We decided if we were going to do all this work for just a single photo, we weren’t going to do prints,” Jared said. “That’s nice for our clients, because they know that no one else will have the same image.”
Offering originals also means the sizes of the works are also unique to the image, Trish said.
During the past few weeks, the photographers have photographed wild horses in the West Desert and bison in the Grand Tetons.
“Getting the horses in the West Desert proved to be a bit tricky,” Jared said. “While there are three big herds out there, getting close enough to take photos is hard. They tend to move away when you approach them.”
The bison was the first photograph the McMillens took without an equine subject, Trish said.
“We went to the northern part of the Grand Tetons, and the photo just lent itself to the encaustic finish and its soft-color palette,” she said.
The encaustic photographs range from 24-inches by 24-inches to wall-sized blocks that measure more than nine feet wide.
“The only thing we ask is that our clients not to hang them too close to their fireplaces,” Jared said. “If the piece heats up to 180 or 190 degrees, the finish will start to melt down.”
For information, visit http://www.mcmillenfineart.com
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The recognition left Jewish Family Service Executive Director Ellen Silver speechless, which she joked “doesn’t happen very often.”