Discover the Amazing Wine StainPortraits of Amelia Harnas

Usually wine stains and wax on linen spells disaster, but in the hands of Amelia Harnas those same materials are used to create unique works of art. A look at her website clearly reveals a creative woman who, aside from being “born with a blue and white sticker on her forehead proclaiming: Future Artist” cannot be labeled. Her diversified resume reinforces the impression that she follows her curiosity and isn’t afraid to experiment.

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I discovered her through her wine stain portraits and having played with batik myself, back in the mists of time, quickly became  fascinated by her process. Needless to say I was thrilled when she graciously agreed to answer some of my questions.

2012 Wine Stain Portraits
Wine Stain Portraits from 2012

How did you begin doing these portraits? What was your inspiration?

I began the wine stain process in July 2010 during a heat wave, where it was 90+ in the shade. I had a propane grill, a coffee can filled with bits of candle wax from the bottoms of dead candles, a terrible bristle brush, and ripped up cotton sheets that my mother had been using in the fall to cover her tomatoes. And a $10 bottle of French Cahors. The inspiration for the process actually came, more or less, via a gift of a silk painting kit from my sister & a conversation with a long-time friend about learning batik in Niger, Africa.
It Is Alternately Stone In You and Star. Amelia Harnas Wine Stain from 2011.
It Is Alternately Stone In You and Star. Amilia Harnas Wine Stain from 2011.

I noticed quite a difference between the 2011 and the 2012 works. Did you reach a crossroads in your process? Is this something that evolved or did you just want to try something different?

As much as I do tend to want to hone my craft, no matter what it is, to achieve the best I am able to achieve, I also really enjoy tinkering. “What if” are my favorite 2 words. As I work on something, it is nearly impossible for me to keep myself from thinking about how to improve or alter a process. What if I added embroidery? What if this turns into a performance piece? How can I layer this with medical illustration? Translation? Poetry? I am fascinated with a number of fields, so there is no end to my pleasure when I figure out new ways to combine them.
Did you have a background in batik and pysanky or was learning the techniques part of your journey?

I have no background in batik or pysanky whatsoever. I simply borrowed some of their techniques, theory, & tools. I have more formal training in graphic design and oil painting. I was fortunate enough to be a studio assistant and to paint with Thomas S. Buechner, whose knowledge of old master technique and art history was nothing short of formidable.

Wine Stain Portraits Men
It seems to me wine is a more delicate dye and some wax removal processes might easily damage the art. Which process do you use to remove the wax?

I actually use a pretty rough & primitive technique to remove the wax, which is to use a household iron and lots of paper towels to reheat & reabsorb the wax off of the cloth. I have never been able to fully remove the wax, which is probably a good thing, really, helping to provide some stability.

Is there a particular type of fabric that responds better to this process? A particular thread count?

Cotton & linen work best. I tried silk, but it’s a little too delicate. Also, interestingly enough, brand new super clean fabric isn’t as exciting as worn or used fabric (like sheets), because it lacks micro-particles that are pushed around by the wine stain to form that beautiful border on the bleeds. It just goes to show, imperfection is more beautiful…
Is there a question you wonder why you’ve never been asked? If so would you please state and answer it?

This is a GREAT QUESTION! Thank you for thinking of it! I don’t believe anyone has asked me if I have any ties to the wine or culinary industry – as in, if I ever worked as a server or bartender or if I have a passion for cooking or wine tasting. As a matter of fact, I’ve never once worked in the food/service industry. I don’t know how I managed to do that, in this day & age! However, my significant other is quite the skilled and knowledgeable bartender, specializing in craft cocktails & bitters, but also with extensive knowledge in wine. So, yeah, he definitely helps me pick out what bottle of wine to use.

In this video from Arts Café, published in 2013, Amelia Fais Harnas talks about the process of creating her art with wine.

You can read more about Amelia on her website here.
 All images used with the permission of the artist.
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