Visual Anthropologies in Encaustic Wax: Alison Fullerton

Published January 24th 2024
By Alison Fullerton

Alison Fullerton is an artist painting and sculpting in the ancient art of encaustic wax. She discovered that by layering wax, she could create portraits with a surface that mimics human skin. Alison builds up rich layers of translucent wax, alternating opaque and transparent colors, to create a luminous, skin-like effect.

Alison Fullerton in the Studio - Courtesy of the artist

“I learned that I could create a surface that not only looks like luminous skin, but it also has depth—like when you can see purple-bluish veins through the membranes of one’s skin. This is why encaustic is my love. It’s impossible to achieve this in any other medium. I build up layers of opaque and translucent wax using a combination of additive and subtractive painting techniques. I can substract and blend by scraping, fusing and even ironing the wax. The top layers are translucent and become reminiscent of human skin membrane. Human skin actually has 1000’s of colors in it, so I’m not afraid of lots of color. If you get up close, you will see violet, celadon green, and lots of blues in the faces that I paint.”

In 2016 Alison left the world of consumer marketing and research and she started painting people. Curious about cultures and human behavior, she calls her works Visual Anthropologies. “I’ve always been interested in anthropology. My career in consumer marketing frequently took an anthropological approach.  We conducted ‘ethnographies,’ observing how people lived and shopped.”  Alison moved to Germany in 2016 and started observational urban sketching as she traveled. She discovered European encaustics and studied with master artists in various countries. Alison’s career kicked off when she was invited for membership in Germany’s oldest art guild, the Künstlerbund Stuttgart, founded in 1876.

Alison couldn’t find encaustic supplies in Europe so she learned to make her own paint and to use non-traditional encaustic tools.  “Europeans have a more organic approach to painting—many make their own paint using powdered pigments--all the tube paint is in the back of the store. You can’t find hot plates or the art blow torches in Europe, so I tried other things. I discovered that I love using an iron, and I prefer my hot plate that my husband and I made. I can control the temperature and it has an anodized aluminum top, which is better for me as a portrait artist, because it’s smooth and as I can use it like a painters palette.”

images from the studio - courtesy of the artist

Alison’s works have been showcased in galleries, museums, Vanderbilt University, Nashville Airport and she has an upcoming solo at the Customs House Museum in Clarksville. She teaches and has authored articles about painting with encaustic wax.

“Alison Fullerton is an award-winning, internationally recognized master of encaustic portraiture. The art of painting figuratively with molten beeswax is a highly technical challenge, and Alison’s ability to skillfully capture the spirit of her subjects in wax is remarkable,” said Shary Bartlett, encaustic artist and past board member with International Encaustic Artists, Vancouver, Canada.

Alison is a feminist narrative artist. Her Visual Anthropologies focus on women who’ve defied traditional female roles, such as her “Native Women Warriors,” “Protest Singers,” and her current exhibit “FLY GIRLS” showing at the Nashville Airport. “FLY GIRLS” celebrates the WWII WASP, the Women Air Force Service Pilots, who were forgotten by history. The WASP were denied military status and were disbanded without benefits in 1944. Many of the WASP spent decades fighting for the recognition they deserved. Cornelia Fort, a former debutante from Nashville, was the second woman to join the WASP.  “FLY GIRLS” is at Nashville’s Airport’s new international terminal lobby and is open to the public. The exhibit runs through February 28.

Fly Girls on display at the Nashville International Airport - Courtesy of the Artist

Alison Fullerton lives in Nashville, Tennessee and has been a full time artist since 2016. As a teen, Alison studied art at Rochester Institute's School of Craft, and the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a Master's in Advertising, and pursued careers in marketing and teaching. By 2016 Alison married and moved to Stuttgart, Germany where she lived for 3 years and immersed herself in European encaustics from 2016-2019. She traveled extensively studying with artists in many countries and worked in a sculpture atelier with Birgit Feil in Stuttgart. Her work can be viewed at

Alison has exhibited in the US and Europe, has work in collections at Vanderbilt University, John Wesley Powell Museum in Utah, and has authored articles about encaustic wax. Her work was on 10 Nashville billboards, on the cover of Wax Fusion magazine, and has won many awards. In 2023-2024 Alison's "FLY GIRLS" portraits will be at the Nashville airport and travel to museums across the U.S., returning to Nashville for a solo exhibition at the Customs House Museum in October 2024.

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