I’ve finally been able to return to an old mud-pie love: encaustic. It’s a really visceral hands on technique. Melted beeswax and damar varnish are melted together, then dry pigments are added to this molten medium. The pallet then consists of a metal plate suspended over a two burner electrical hot plate. In order to manipulate the paint, you have to keep it in this molten state. You can spend up to $500 buying fancy equipment but I’ve always managed with $5 finds from my local thrift store. See the image to the right.
All painting, that is the brush strokes, dry within a matter of seconds. So it’s really coarse and textural. You have to like that (I do). In comparison to many other media, encaustic is the mother of the “happy accident”. Additionally, or rather in contrast, it’s also quite difficult to manage, to control, to manipulate. There are many unhappy accidents. Realistic subject matter then, is possible, but if so, it’s never refined, which is also OK, as long as you are comfortable with that (I am).
I began this series of encaustic panels for the A Piece of Me project with a purely abstract background composition. I reasoned that, for starters, this would be an easy subject matter, good for getting my feet re-wet. And it was. Swift strokes of titanium white to start, then a layer of yellow ochre, covered by another layer of titanium. After the burning in, where you hold a heat lamp (another $5 thrift store find) over the panel for a number of seconds to gently remelt the wax and fuse it to the panel, I decided to add some graphical contrast. I melted a tint of some burnt sienna and applied a quick spray of dots using a tooth brush. Eh voila!
Scale it up, 10 or 20 times and hang it on the wall. There’s your contemporary piece of art. Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.