Spenard’s very own house of wax

Photos by Young Kim.
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Photos by Young Kim.

Spenard is home to several small art studios, but none of them are quite like Spenard Art Studio. Started by co-collaborators Cheryl Lyon and Gayla Ranf, the studio is unique in its focus on encaustic, or beeswax art. 

Lyon and Ranf opened the art space in July, and since then they’ve been offering beginning lessons for encaustic as well as a selection of specialty classes.

The pair met a decade ago, but it wasn’t until some mutual friends noticed that they were both looking to open up a shop dedicated to teaching that the pair became business partners. Lyon and Ranf sat down with The Spenardian to talk about their individual journeys into art, and how their paths crossed to create a working art studio for the neighborhood.

Q: Tell me about your artistic journeys and how you found your medium.

CL: I come from a long line of artists in my family. And so at a young age, I always knew I wanted to be a working artist. When I graduated from high school I did go to college, and for a long time oil painting was my medium. Then I got into encaustics around ten years ago. I'm back to oils as well, but I still work in encaustic as my main medium.

GR: I have always been very playful in the art world and experimented with lots of different mediums. I actually was a decorative painter for awhile before I found encaustics, and that was probably about 10-11 years ago. In fact, Cheryl and I came upon it close to the same time by the same woman who brought it to Alaska, Sheary Clough Suiter. When I had my first class on encaustic I was just in love and was sold. I closed my decorative painting business and moved on.

Q: How did you two come to meet each other? How did your relationship develop to what is now a business partnership?

CL: We met in Sherry's class years ago. I don't know how much longer [Gayla took classes], but we met in a class and we sort of slowly became friends. We belong to an international artist association, which has morphed into Alaska Wax. I think we were both sort of wanting to teach.  I was looking for like-minded artists that wanted to open up a working studio and then teach encaustic and searched out one of our fellow friends, and she told me that Gayla wanted to teach.

GR: We were talking in our Alaska Wax group, just some different members, and another member that said, "Hey, you know, you two are talking about doing the same thing." And so, Cheryl said, "Well, let's get together and talk." So we're the ones that sort of made that happen for each other. 

Q: What makes Spenard Art Studio unique is that you practice encaustic, or beeswax art. What is encaustic art? Is it just painting? Is it sculpting?

CL: All of the above. Encaustic painting is a very ancient medium and it's just really had a resurgence in the last 20-30 years or so. Right now what we really focus on is working on wood panels — art that you can then hang on the wall — so it's painting as if you would paint with oil or acrylic. Although it also lends itself very well to sculpture if you wanted to do something 3D. It really can go on any porous surface. I think it's a great medium because not everybody wants to be working artists; maybe they just want a craft. So they can take it any direction that they want to take it in. 

GR: And it's such an immediate medium. You can just keep going with it; there's not a lot of having to pre-plan a whole bunch of stuff and make sure things dry in between. It's one of those that you can just dive in and spend two hours, play, have a great time, and actually walk away with something and be done with it if you want. Or, go back and revisit it and keep going with it.

CL: It's a very forgiving medium. If you don't like it, you can just go over it.

Q: Once you decided that you wanted to start a business, did you always know you wanted to open the studio in Spenard? 

CL: Well, we both grew up on the west side. I grew up in Turnagain; I live down the West High hill by the lagoon. I wanted a place that was going to be in my home. I wanted to be able to walk there with my dog; I wanted my dog to hang out. I wanted my kids to come visit. I wanted to be on the west side in the area that I was most comfortable with. 

GR: I was also raised on the west side and it is home. We really enjoy the area. It's funky and fun and has a little bit of everything.

CL: I love it that there's so many places in Anchorage where you can have this beautiful house, or you can have this trailer. It's just so Anchorage.

Q: What types of classes are you offering? Do you teach classes for any other mediums?

GR: The way that the studio has manifested is primarily an encaustic studio. We really put a lot of time and effort into making it a premiere encaustic studio because it's best to have very good ventilation, and you need a pretty big power load sometimes, depending on how much it is for teaching, [as well as] being able to have all that equipment. So it turned out to be a really beautiful space and a great location for teaching. We envision as we're getting started and getting rolling here, really showing the community what encaustic painting is. 

But also, not just encaustic painting: art in general. We really want to promote bringing art to the community and sharing creativity and curiosity, and having it be a very uplifting place for people to come. Even if they don't want to paint with beeswax for forever, just come and have an experience. One of our goals is to really provide that for people.

Q: How do you decide on your class schedule? What are you currently offering?

GR: We're really finding our niche right now and seeing what people are wanting and needing as far as timeframe. We're very open to feedback on that front, as well. For right now we're both offering quite a few beginning classes because we want to get a good base of people that have the basics before we jump into too many of the next levels, and then we'll be offering encaustic II. We have a lot of specialty classes; Cheryl has a wonderful sunflower class that she gives, it's pretty very popular so far. I'll be adding some college classes in and we'll just see as we go what the need is and the desire and we'll morph and add some of our own specialty classes in there.

Spenard Art Studio is located at 2263 Spenard Road. To host a team building event, birthday, or sign up for a class visit spenardartstudio.com. Spenard Art Studio is on Facebook and Instagram (@spenardartstudio).

To see Cheryl and Gayla’s personal artwork, visit cheryllyon.com and gayladesigns.com.

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