Brenda Walker is an artist in every sense of the word. Although her path to becoming a full-time encaustic artist wasn’t always linear, she never stopped forging ahead in her artistic journey. First, there was the grocery store bakery leading to the successful boutique cake shop, where icing was her paint and cakes her canvas. But in 2013, Walker traded icing in a piping bag for beeswax and a heat gun when she discovered her passion for encaustics. From textural bird nests to birch trees and aerial ocean views, her themes pay homage to the natural surroundings of her studio on Salt Spring Island. With embedded rocks, shells and sand, each piece in her current “West Coast” series is a sensorial feast so authentically represented you can almost taste the salty air.
Currently showing the “West Coast” collection in a group show called “Molten” at The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm, Walker’s work is also shown at The White Rock Gallery, Gallery 8 and Just Imajan Gallery. Walker’s work can also be found in private collections across North America.
Were you an artsy child? Did you study post-secondary art? As far back as I can remember I was creative. I have a distinct memory of a drawing I made in grade two. It was a three-dimensional house on a hill, complete with flowers and perfectly colored-in lines. I recall everyone making a big deal of it. Art was the most exciting part of school for me. In high school, I spent as much time in the art room as I could and received a couple ofart awards at graduation. At that time, I bought into the idea that you couldn’t possibly make a living as a fine artist so graphic design seemed to be the career choice for artists to make money and be creative every day. My plan was to go to the Alberta College of Art but decided to take a year off before going back to school and worked in the bakery department at a grocery store. Little did I know that the universe had a totally different plan for me.
Tell us about owning your own specialty cake company. I heard many unfulfilled requests for custom birthday cakes at the bakery and inside my head, I was screaming. If I could be a cake decorator I could fill all those special requests. So I learned the art of using a piping bag and spatula and figured out a way to draw in icing. I eventually had a following and a few years later a friend and I opened a cake business in Calgary where we specialized in art on cakes. We started in the basement of my house and ended up in a 3500-square-foot space that employed 15-20 people over the years. Icing was my paint and cake my canvas. For 22 years I drew every day and surrounded myself with artists and creativity. There were times when we were creating 300 customs cakes per week. The cake company is still owned and operated by my friends in Calgary.
When did you make the transition from cake icing to encaustic painting? While operating the cake company, I discovered encaustic painting in a gallery for the very first time. I was instantly drawn to the colours and texture of these paintings and when I found out they were painted in beeswax, I was intrigued. Two weeks later, I had an encaustic “studio” set up in my garage and scoured the internet for all things encaustic. Three months later I was juried into an art show in Calgary and sold 19 small pieces. This was the validation I needed to confirm that I found my medium and the crossover from icing to encaustic was a natural one. There are many similarities to how it feels to work with the tools and apply the wax. It was as though painting in icing all those years was just a warm up to beeswax. The pull of encaustic painting was so strong, I eventually made the decision to be a full-time encaustic painter.
How has living on Salt Spring Island impacted your art practice? My husband and I decided to move to Salt Spring Island in 2016 so that I could be a full-time artist. We chose Salt Spring because of the “art energy” on the island. Now I paint at least five days a week year round. I have a studio with a gallery space in the lower level of our house. I pinch myself every day that I get to be in such an amazing space doing what I love. Just outside of my studio is a beautiful garden area where I frequently take breaks to stretch, take a breath of fresh air and feel grateful for my life.
How did you connect with The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm? What has your experience been like so far? I first met a few of Dawn’s amazing staff members on Salt Spring Island. They were so kind and excited about my work and suggested I get in touch with Dawn, the curator. I was fortunate enough to meet Dawn on my first visit to her gallery, I purchased some art and left her one of my business cards. The rest is history. Every time I visit Mattick’s gallery, the warmth, kindness and excitement of the staff is contagious. Her selection of art is so well curated, it all blends seamlessly to showcase a stunning collection of work. I feel so fortunate to be a part of her magical space.
Tell us about your current collection of encaustic paintings. My current body of work is the “West Coast” series. It was inspired by my favorite thing about the ocean: looking down at my feet and watching the waves roll in. I also love drone shots of the ocean that offer stunning views of the depths we don’t get to see from the shore. For this series, I’ve collected sand, rocks and crushed shells from several different beaches on the island. Encaustic painting can be used in a sculptural way and is amazing for embedding found objects and creating texture. Each painting begs to be touched. The viewer just can’t help but want to touch and investigate what they are seeing. Each painting has about 25+ thin layers of wax. I’ve even incorporated some of my favorite crushed shells from a beach that can only be accessed by boat. It is the best feeling to hear people say they “can hear and smell” the ocean when they view the “West Coast” collection.
How do you want viewers to experience your work? When someone views my work I want the piece to stimulate their senses and ultimately connect with emotion, stirring a feeling or a memory. Art to me is whatever makes your heart smile. My house is full of art I admire and it inspires me every day. I always think that my house is full of all of these amazing artists’ energy and even though I have spent money to purchase it, it is a daily gift for me to be surrounded by such beauty and inspiration.