Wax and smoke: Lakefield artist ‘exploring technique’ at the Art Center

“It’s so unlimited, and it gets me so excited, and somebody’s coming up with something new all the time.”

Orchids, by Adrienne Herbert.
Orchids, by Adrienne Herbert.
Submitted image
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WORTHINGTON — With methods and materials descended from ancient Egypt’s wax-based portraits of the dead and the delicate oil paintings of Europe’s Old Masters, plus smoke, a pasta press and photography, Adrienne Herbert of Lakefield creates.

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“I’m a lifelong learner. I have a master’s degree in library and information science, so I’m always drawn to learning how to do things,” said Herbert, who also has a degree in print-making and years of practice with oils.

Herbert originally hails from Illinois, but now resides in Lakefield. After moving to Florida and then Nebraska, she met Bob Wulf and moved to southwest Minnesota to marry him. She is a former secretary at the Art Center, too.

She will bring some of her prints and oil paintings to her upcoming show, “Exploring Technique,” which runs from Sept. 2 to Oct. 28 at the Nobles County Art Center. In addition, she’s bringing a selection of work she learned how to do more recently — fumage, in which smoke is applied to canvas or paper and removed to create an image, and encaustic, in which beeswax and resin are blended and used to paint and sculpt images.

Her show at the Art Center was originally scheduled for 2020, but was delayed due to COVID-19, and she was able to get a grant to help pay for the frames and the wax as well as taking a class in encaustics.


While encaustic is primarily wax, the damar resin in it helps the wax harden and stay harder rather than melting, Herbert said. Then pigments or other things can be added to the wax. Herbert often adds her photography and other mixed media to her encaustic pieces.

"Hairy," a fumage work by Adrienne Herbert.
"Hairy," a fumage work by Adrienne Herbert.
Submitted image

Encaustics can be placed on any hard surface that is also absorbent, such as wood or plaster. The warmer the wax, the easier it is to paint with, but there are different texture opportunities with the wax too, as it builds up as layers are added. Those layers can be carved, or the wax molded with one’s fingers. They can also be created to be transparent, a quality which often appears over time rather than showing itself immediately, and allows viewers to see the lowest layers of wax in a piece that might have 70 or 80 layers.

“It’s versatile,” Herbert explained. “Some people actually do sculpture with it.”

It might sound new, but the medium has been used for thousands of years.

“I just set out to learn this stuff, and there is so much to learn,” said Herbert, who started working in the medium about 10 years ago.

Her undergraduate degree in printmaking gave her all of that medium’s classical techniques, but it wasn’t until Herbert graduated that she learned she could make prints in other ways, without some of the toxic chemicals and costly machinery.

"Slope," by Adrienne Herbert.<br/>
Submitted image

“When I moved to Worthington, I started teaching a class on printmaking with a pasta press,” she said. “... and you don’t need a huge 2,000-pound press to print.”

She can use all kinds of things for printing, from plexiglass-like material to a discarded cereal box.


“It’s so unlimited, and it gets me so excited, and somebody’s coming up with something new all the time,” Herbert added, noting that all those mediums can also be combined to create new effects.

Adrienne Herbert
Adrienne Herbert
Submitted photo.

Her oil painting uses the old techniques of underpainting and then going over it with oil paint glazes, which make the colors and finish the work.

“And that’s fun too, and fun to learn,” Herbert said. “And I think you could just see the light go on in the students’ eyes when they’d realize ‘Oh, that’s how you do it.’”

Even more recently, she’s started working on the smoke-based fumage art.

“It’s a current interest and I am still learning,” she said. “It isn’t very forgiving, as one mistake and I need to start over.

“But I am enjoying learning it.”

The opening reception for Herbert's show will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Nobles County Art Center.

"Bridge," by Adrienne Herbert.
"Bridge," by Adrienne Herbert.
Submitted image.

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

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