Starting with on-site sketches and
photographs, RPK makes a preliminary drawing on paper, often
refining it to a completed pen-and-ink composition,
depending on the difficulty and detail required in the
Canvas Selection &
RPK carefully selects a steer hide whose natural
character and grain are suited to the subject, much like a
sculptor would choose a particular block of marble.
Before the carving is begun, the leather is moistened
with water. If an under-painting effect is desired, the
leather is worked while it is very wet. The depth and angle
of the carving allow a burnish to emerge as the natural oils
are released from the leather. If this effect is not
desired, the leather is worked when it is dryer.
Using traditional tools of saddlery and implements of his
own creation, he sculpts each square inch under dozens of
forceful blows of a rawhide mallet. Ten square inches of
relief takes hours of hard physical labor.
This technique of carving compresses the leather,
allowing the sculpture to emerge. It is a precise art, for
one incorrect cut can ruin an entire piece. When the carving is finished it stands alone as a
Using variations of the encaustic process created by Robert Pace Kidd.
Perhaps the most unique of RPK's processes', encaustic is the process of mixing pigments
with molten beeswax, is perhaps man's oldest formal method
of easel and mural painting.
It was first perfected in
ancient Greece. Noted examples of the technique survive
today. Fayium burial portraits on wood and decorated Roman
shields of leather are still brilliant after fifteen
A genuinely lost art in the Medieval and
Renaissance periods, encaustic was revived through literary
and laboratory research during the 18th and 19th centuries
by artists searching for a medium that would permanently
endure destructive conditions. These artists found scant references in
Greek history to a cold wax process. However, they were
unable to reconstruct the technique and settled for hota-ax
A student of art history, RPK became
intrigued by the prospect of a cold wax process.
Experimenting with a variety of waxes and oil pigments, he finally
developed a workable cold wax medium that was highly
compatible with the leather.
Preservation Technique and
Suspending fine-art pigments in a
specially prepared wax, RPK applies a succession of
transparent glazes to the sculpture, creating the basic
tones, shadows and deep shadows.
Each glaze is worked
separately back against the carving according to the
direction and source of light, allowing the angle and depth
of the relief to dictate how much character of the color
will remain and where the leather's natural color will
emerge as highlight.
In addition to the subtleties of color
available with the technique, the wax medium has proved
superior to most other media in that it repels those things
that have traditionally destroyed works of art... dust,
moisture, and pollutants. The wax effectively preserves the
leather, sealing it from the ravages of time and ensuring
each piece will survive for many centuries.
As with any experimental art form,
research is ongoing. As the demands of subject matter
dictate, new carving tools are created, and new colors are
added to the palette.