Six students with blow torches is a pretty cool sight.
“That seems to be my popular class,” laughs Susan Nuttall.
Nuttall is an award-winning artist whose work is on exhibit in galleries across the U.S. and at Wilmington’s Gallery of Fine Art. Her class on texture relief in her Carolina Beach studio involves an encaustic overlay painted not with brushes but rather blow torches. Encaustic is a material made of beeswax, tree resin and colorant. The technique of painting the material with literal fire dates to ancient Greece.
“It’s a 3,500-year-old art form I studied in college. You have to have the proper ventilation, that’s why I can only have six students at a time. It’s really fun,” Nuttall says.
Nuttall grew up in a family of artists and was always encouraged to explore and create. At a young age, she started adding texture to her paintings out of love for her grandfather.
“When I was 10 years old, my grandfather went blind. I started making things three-dimensional so he could feel my artwork,” she says.
Intentionally dimensional art, Nuttall discovered, is complex. She has a degree in art and art history from the University of Utah, but it was an additional degree in engineering that came in handy when she invented a material that would sculpt and mold the way she wanted it to for a mural at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
“I couldn’t find anything on the market that would work. I ended up creating a product and sold the formula to a company,” says Nuttall.
The material, called Divino, is sold through USG Corporation. It’s used in most of Nuttall’s work, including her textured paintings of the historic Airlie Gardens oak tree. There are several versions of the tree, each unique, and the bark and branches can be felt. They are a top seller at the Gallery of Fine Art at Mayfaire.
“People recognize the tree, the leaves look like they are glistening in the sun, it brings it to life,” says gallery director Michael Golonka. “That’s what makes Susan’s work unique, using the encaustics. It adds a whole other dimension instead of it being a flat canvas. It’s exciting to see the return of encaustics used in such a modern way.”
Nuttall and her family have lived in California, Charlotte and now Carolina Beach. A large body of her art is of seascapes and sea life, a reflection of her love of the beach, scuba diving and kayaking. She uses photographs to capture the great outdoors and then goes to work in her studio, using texture to bring out features.
“There’s a whole flock of egrets that live here and the ibises that hang out in my yard and the crabs on the beach, how can you not love that,” she says.
Nuttall’s sculptures include seahorses inspired by her visit to an exhibit at the Birch Museum at the University of California San Diego, and Octopoda on Rock, a coral red octopus that travels to different public venues for display.
Her sculptures are made of wine corks, wire, epoxy, clay and resin.
“I use multiple mediums in my work and sometimes I combine the mediums together to come up with the story I’m trying to tell,” she says.
Nuttall has done lecture series at the Cameron Art Museum and has taught classes for the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. She is on the board of directors for the Carolina Beach Mural Project. So far, 13 murals have beautified the town.
“I’m blessed to do what I love,” Nuttall says.