Makers Series: Dietlind Vander Schaaf


Above bustling Congress Street in Portland, Maine sits Dietlind’s bright and airy studio. Dietlind is an painter who works with encaustic. She fuses several layers of thin wax together and incorporates different colors and textures to produce beautiful art. Dietlind, wearing jewelry and a dress made by friends, explains: “I find the slow, repetitive aspect of applying and fusing encaustic deeply meditative and calming”.

The studio is serene, open and shoe-free. The small detail afforded a feeling of home. I had the pleasure of spending some time with her observing her painting and asking her questions about how she became an artist.

Q: What experiences led you to where you are in your career now?  

A: I studied history and writing with no intentions of becoming an artist. While I was living in San Francisco, I fell in love with a painting by a local artist. I ended up studying with her and it wasn't long before I became serious about making as a regular practice in my life. When I moved back to Maine in 2010, I met Kim Bernard and learned about encaustic. This medium immediately appealed to me because of the ability to build up and carve into a surface in a way that is quite different from acrylic or oil.

Q: What are your thoughts on work/life balance and do you feel like you’ve achieved it?

A: Oh boy, that's a great question. I definitely do not think I've achieved it, though it's something I am constantly working on. I tend to think that from day to day it can be difficult to find the balance in my life, but it's there in the larger picture. Still, I definitely tend to overdo and overcommit. I've always been this way--juggling graduate school alongside a full time and demanding job or working a second job so that I can afford a studio and art supplies. Since I turned forty a few years ago, I've realized how quickly time can get away from me and how important it is to preserve some of my energy for other parts of my life--things I love, like hiking with my partner, practicing yoga, gardening, cooking, or spending time with friends and family. I just bought a sewing machine and signed up for my first sewing class, so I really am trying to create balance, though I'm sure that it could easily be construed as adding one more thing to my life…

Q: Describe one thing that has been a game changer in your process.

A: In 2012, I did a residency at the Stephen Pace House in Stonington, Maine. Spending hours by myself was so nourishing--I didn't realize how much I craved it. I did a lot of proprioceptive writing and painted from early in the morning until late in the evening. My experience of time shifted and I came away from my residency with a different understanding around how I wanted to work in the studio. I understood that I needed a longer period of time in order to sink deep and that was the place from which I wanted to create. I had to reorder a few things in my life in order to accommodate that, but so far it's worked.

Q: How do you recharge? In other words, when you are feeling drained creatively how do you recharge so that you can get to a place where you are productive and creative again?

A: If I need to recharge, it generally happens outside the studio. Usually I head for the woods with my partner and my dog. I might also take a break from painting to spend more time tending to the other parts of my life--cooking, reading, practicing yoga. It is really important to learn how to ride the waves as an artist. Sometimes I will go through a long period in which everything is flowing and and other times a painting might just keep derailing. I've learned to live with the small voice that questions why I spend so much time and money making art. Ultimately, I try to take all of it less personally--the good stuff and the hard times. I just show up and paint.

More of Dietlind's art can be found here: