Category Archives: Encaustic

Paintings executed exclusively in a combination of damar varnish and melted wax. Dry pigments are mixed with melted wax on a heated pallette and applied to a pre-prepared gesso ground. Strokes harden almost instantaneously on the ground but are later softly fused by “burning in”, that is, through the judicious application of a heat lamp.

A Piece of Me #13, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #13, encaustic

A Piece of Me #13, india ink underdrawing

A Piece of Me #13, india ink underdrawing

A Piece of Me #13, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #13, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

This is the final panel of the encaustic series. It’s been an interesting journey dipping my toes back into melted wax. I’ve learned a number of new tips and tricks, many of which are best summarised in my recent post on my companion website atelierartisanal.com.  I also have understood how important it is to protect my own health. The fumes arising from the melted varnish (which is combined with the beeswax to create the medium) are bad enough but then you also need to avoid oxidizing whatever solvent you may be using – even so called “bio-solvents”. By the end I was wearing a vapour mask from outer space as well as goggles. No gloves or hazmat suit, though. 😉

Thematically this panel was an important one: one-quarter of my face, plus part of the neck and shirt of the lady standing behind me. I had left it for the end, knowing the subtlety that would be required for those precious skin tones. And even though I did have an electrified painting nib, I did not use it(!). Instead I discovered that small bright bristle brushes (held together by a metal ferrule), could be warmed on the palette so that the paint would retain its fluidity a few seconds longer. Of course, this tended to destroy the bristle brushes but it is well known that encaustic eats brushes. So I just buy plenty of cheap bristles and throw them away when death is nigh.

I am pleased with the way the skin tone shaped up. Lots of small strokes which allowed the green underpainting to poke through here and there. That mottling became contrasted to the long strokes of black for my shirt, blue for the lady’s shirt or the waves of the linen jacket. I used  my electrified drawing nib for all the fine, linear details. See for example my necklace. In the end it reads well and I am happy to move on the fifth and final series of this overall project: oil.

A Piece of Me #28, encaustic over collage on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #28, encaustic

A Piece of Me #28, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #28, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #28, imprimatura and underpainting.

A Piece of Me #28, imprimatura and underpainting.

This is/was such an interesting panel to do! The design call-out for it was collage and encaustic. Two very textural and graphic media. You put the two together and the effect can be exponential. On top of that, it was a strong composition: strong contrasts of black (shirt) and white (pants). Gestural elements of a wavy linen coat flowing into a resting but sculpted hand. I enjoyed the result at each step along the way. The finished collage was enticing (no photo of that); the underdrawing phase, too (see above, left). I could almost feel that hand. Well, of course I could since it’s mine, still it was being objectified in black and white. So from the beginning his particular panel reinforced my goal for the overall project, I want it to speak viscerally to the viewer.

To begin the encaustic phase I laid in a coat of yellow ochre and proceeded to melt it back off. This had the effect of unifying everything in a golden imprimatura glow. Unsurprisingly the melt off accentuated the textures of the collage, creating white ridges. See the side-lit photograph above, right.  Then I painted a green tone to the skin and melted it back off, too. Again, see the hand in the photo above, right. This concluded my prep.

A Piece of Me #28, encaustic over collage on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #28, encaustic over collage on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

With the exception of the skin tone, the black shirt, white pants and linen jacket went quickly and were pretty straightforward. That was because so much textural variation had already been built into the under layers. However, achieving a variegated chiaroscuro skin tone of the hand in encaustic was more difficult than one might imagine. I opted for creating a sculpted, veined hand in variants of warm and cool tonalities. The result reads well enough for my purposes. Though I must say I had increased respect for those Fayum mummy painters of old.

Somewhat surprisingly, the biggest challenge arrived in the “burning-in” phase. This phase happens when you have completed your painting but you still need to rewarm/remelt the whole surface in order to fuse the paint to the panel. I use a hand held heating lamp for this step. However, because it is a collage, the surface is heavily sculpted: it is not flat. The wax melted and pooled in ways “retrograde to my desire”. Edges blurred. Contrasts merged. So I had some clean up to do after the burn-in. No problem, a small scraping tool along with the little encaustic pen (with its drawing and painting attachments) could be pressed into service. Once completed, I was ready to hang up my guns and call it a day (or two).

Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.

A Piece of Me #53, encaustic over linen on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #53, encaustic

A Piece of Me #53, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #53, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #53, encaustic over linen on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #53, encaustic over linen on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

I’m nearing the end of the encaustic series. This panel was both interesting and challenging at the same time. I had white pants, a very light yellow wall, some skin tone and tan socks, so four different regions of highlights and quarter-tones. The subject (me) is strongly lit, which created strong shadows particularly between the two legs. How to render this in encaustic in a way that stays true to the subject matter but also creates an attractive painting?

First step (after already laying in the underdrawing see right) was to cover the surface with yellow ochre and then aggressively melt it back off. This left me with a golden imprimatura. Nice. Then I did the same thing but this time only to the skin tones by adding green to the two leg sections and melting that back off. Then I had the distinctly green underpainting that I wish for in my skin tones.

After these preparatory steps I set about painting in the various sections: the white pants with its shadows, the skin tones, the shadowed socks, the wall (with its big shadow in-between the two legs), and the shoes. When I had something that appealed to me I decided to try to gently melt it off. Principally, I was not happy with the big central shadow section. It was too dark and too opaque. So I knew I needed to lighten it up somehow. The iron/cheescloth routine beckoned. So I set about it, and as usual, took off too much. 🙂

The electrified encaustic pen with three attachments, a pen nib, a brush nib and a small iron.

The electrified encaustic pen with three attachments, a pen nib, a brush nib and a small iron.

BUT, no problem, the underdrawing began to shine through in all the places where it had become lost. I liked that. Encaustic is such a thick, impasto, opaque technique. It’s the opposite of what I have been trying to do for so long in using an indirect technique to make use of layers to build up a painting. So suddenly I had an underpainting where all the different regions, with their shadowed sections were already very well indicated. This could be something to build on. Painting backwards in encaustic(!). Some forward moving opaque touch ups to give it all body and I might be done?

I came back the next day and did just that. Some large swathe brush strokes of white on the pants leg. Some quick highlights and shadows in the socks. Skin tone modelling. Redid the light plaster wall. That worked fine for the large fields but I had to pick up the electric pen nib (see right) to add in the finer details that are otherwise so difficult in encaustic. The shoelaces and fine lines on the pants leg. This is the result. I’ll take it.

Description of the entire project here. Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.

A Piece of Me #18, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #18, encaustic

Finally I am able to return to finish off the encaustic series. I had to stop for two intertwined reasons. First and foremost, I realized the the N95 mask I had been using may be good against covid-19 but it was not protecting me from the encaustic fumes. So I stopped and ordered a 3M certified vapour mask. Also, at that time it was the end of July and the studio was pretty hot even though I had a fan running and a door open to the garden. It seemed best to set it all aside until I got the right equipment and the temperature was a little kinder.

A Piece of Me #18, underdrawing

A Piece of Me #18, underdrawing

A Piece of Me #18, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #18, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

The panel composition for this one was mostly green sweater, with a bit of a hand, leg, wall and floor tile  thrown in for grounding spice. The preparation of the substrate included pastiglia, so the shapes were in light relief. I had laid in the design with india ink but before I began working with the melted wax I realized I had neglected to specify that the sweater shape also included the man’s forearm. So I added that to my drawing (not illustrated here) and set to work.

The delight in this panel consisted mostly in using the strokes of the melted wax to define the form. I had recently done another sweater panel in acrylics which had been quite successful in using the strokes to follow the flow of the form. Here I added some shadow chiaroscuro and the belly began to bulge.

Me in my new 3M vapour mask.

Me in my new 3M vapour mask.

Then came the man’s pant’s leg in the middle ground with its shadows, plus the hand, wall and floor tiles. That proceeded fairly quickly. In fact, I had already done those areas first before approaching the sweater (because it’s always best to work from background to foreground) but during the process of working on the sweater I had gotten a little too enthusiastic with the iron-cheesecloth method and had accidentally melted everything back off. Oops. Start over. So I did and this is the result.

Oh yes, and here to the right is a selfie of me in my new mask. An alien invader crashing the studio? Perhaps.

Description of the overall project here. Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.

A Piece of Me #43, encaustic on panel over linen. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. Final Version.

A Piece of Me #43, encaustic

A Piece of Me #43, encaustic on panel over linen. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. Final Version.

A Piece of Me #43, encaustic on panel over linen. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. Final Version.

A Piece of Me #43, encaustic on panel over linen. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. Version #1.

A Piece of Me #43, encaustic on panel over linen. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. Version #1.

Another graphical composition. This one, the tip of my linen jacket top right, against a light yellow stuccoed wall with two strong shadows left and right. The panel as substrate was not heavily textured (like collage or pastiglia) but I had glued some linen to it before coating it with gesso. I have already seen in the past that untreated panels (so plain wood) do react differently to paint than those with a covering of linen or cotton. The cloth covered ones are somehow softer, more receptive, while the wooden ones are harsher, more clinical. It’s a touchy-feely thing that comes down to the surface’s ability to absorb and respond to the paint.

All this to explain my dissatisfaction with the first version pictured above, right. Partially due to the receptivity of the substrate, the shadowed sections were just too opaque and heavy. There had been too much build up of impasto paint, especially along the inner edges, making the painted panel feel thick and overworked. So I decided to melt off the shadowy section and repaint it. I am more satisfied with the final version now, above left, as well as spotlighted above (online only). There is more light in the shadows. While I was at it, I also lightened up the yellow wall. Got a little heavy with the tooth brush speckles though, so I may need to edit a few of those out? But for now, I’ll let it sit.

Description of the overall project here. Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.

A Piece of Me #38, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #38, encaustic

A Piece of Me #38, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #38, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #38 underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #38 underdrawing in pen and ink.

Compositionally, this panel had some interesting elements: a long off-white slash on the left side, some highly contrasted graphical elements at the top and earth toned trapezoids to the right. This could get interesting. The panel was prepared with a layer of pastiglia sculpting, so the shapes were already lightly formed. In addition, of course, the india ink underdrawing was available to do its magic.

I began first with the off-white section. It developed quickly using the iron/cheesecloth method to lay in and melt off a woven texture. I really like how the verticality of the strokes came to accentuate the linen weave. Then I began to depict the strong contrasts above, middle. I started using a small bristle brush but then brought out the electrical encaustic pen nib to draw in the fine lines. Finally, the gray and brown tiles for the background areas on the right. There, a judicious application of paint and iron/cheesecloth brought out a variegated mottled pattern which also allowed for the underdrawing to show through in places.

Nice. A few hours work and I’m satisfied. It will be interesting to see how it integrates into the final assemblage. Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.

A Piece of Me #48, encaustic on panel over collage. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #48, encaustic

A Piece of Me #48, encaustic on panel over collage. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #48, encaustic on panel over collage. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #48, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #48, underdrawing in pen and ink.

An abstract floor tile composition. Should be easy, right? Wrong. This was one of the most difficult ones yet.

Why? Well, the panel prep called for collage, so I had glued on some fairly heavy squares of cloth to represent the dark, grey-blue tiles on the bottom half. I liked the collage level. It was heavily textured. But as I began laying in the encaustic I found the coarseness of the technique (using a bristle brush) along with the coarseness of the collage made the drawing in of fine, thin grouting lines next to impossible(!). It was an ugly mess.

The electrified encaustic pen with three attachments, a pen nib, a brush nib and a small iron.

The electrified encaustic pen with three attachments, a pen nib, a brush nib and a small iron.

Also, I discovered that my collage was somewhat inaccurate, so I had to correct some of those grouting lines. What to do? Bring in the troops! I brought out my handy-dandy-super-duper encaustic craft tool, the electrified pen, pictured to the right. I had picked one of these up about 10 years ago. Cost, maybe 25 Euros? I inserted the pen nib attachment, plugged it in and began drawing in my grouting lines. It took some time but in the end that level of detail worked out fairly well.

Along the way there were two other nice surprises. One, while using the big household iron/cheesecloth method to melt the paint partially off on the two large lighter value upper planes, different colours began to emerge in places, along with the india ink underdrawing. Nice. Two, during the “burning-in” phase, the heavily built-up levels of blue-grey paint on the lower tiles began to fuse, creating a dreamy, creamy mottled look. Again, nice nice.

I am happy to put this one aside for awhile, wondering how well it will integrate into the larger piece? Grey balance can be notoriously difficult, but at the same time, that’s precisely where the chromatic vibrations can be so interesting. We’ll just have to wait and see. Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.

A Piece of Me #58, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #58, encaustic

A Piece of Me#58, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me#58, underdrawing in pen and ink.

A Piece of Me #58, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #58, encaustic over pastiglia on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

Ah, one of my favourite spontaneous compositions: the cigarette butt. I remember when I first started laying out the design for this panel, I had to ask myself, what is that? When I realised it was a cigarette butt I had to laugh. Who knew?

It turned out that the treatment for this panel called for pastiglia. Ha! So I had the opportunity to sculpt this inconspicuous little guy, wondering how that 3D element would play into the final assemblage.

Then I realised that the painting method was encaustic, which is a bit of a double whammy, since the burning-in (the melting in) phase can enhance any substrate dimensionality. Which it did. The paint receded just slightly around the form, accentuating it. No harm. No foul.

Otherwise, the painting consisted of three planes of reduced earth colors, accentuated by a few strong accents of almost-black. Like the panel from yesterday, it was another foreground piece, so I felt could afford the strong accents.

Two hours of work. One and done. Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.

A Piece of Me #63, encaustic on gessoed panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #63, encaustic

A Piece of Me #63, encaustic on gessoed panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #63, encaustic on gessoed panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #63, underdrawing in india ink.

A Piece of Me #63, underdrawing in india ink.

A very abstract floor tile piece. Foreground, right. So I allowed myself to use undiluted mars black for the final accent touches (how daring!). Compositionally then, there were two parts, a dark upper quarter and a light, bottom three quarters. I tried to be sure to bring touches of each into the other chromatically, to assist in the  creation of an overall unity within the painting.

Also, I used a lot of different tips and tricks to enhance texture and workability of the paint: the iron/cheesecloth trick and the loaded toothbrush-splatter trick. But one of the most interesting effects occurred during the “burning-in” phase. The surface was fairly loaded with brushwork in different tonalities. Some areas were thicker than others. So when I held the heating lamp over the panel to burn-in the paint and seal it to the panel, some areas began to pool more quickly than others. No problem. I watched and waited. Then because some pigments are naturally heavier than others, as they remelted on this flat surface, a mottled look began to appear which enhanced the original mottled look of the tiles. Nice, like clouds drifting in the sky. Fluid. And as they cooled – cast into stone.

Description of the whole project here. Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.

A Piece of Me #08, encaustic over collage on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #08, encaustic

A Piece of Me #08, india ink underdrawing over collage,

A Piece of Me #08, india ink underdrawing over collage,

A Piece of Me #08, encaustic over collage on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #08, encaustic over collage on panel.21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

I approached this panel yesterday in the afternoon. The subject matter was an architectural background but it contained a lot more detail than the previous pieces had. There were a number of planes of light and shadow and even two of the insets contained decorative filigree. So this presented a challenge. The panel had already been prepared with a collage to emphasize the layout. I expected it to help me along the way but wasn’t exactly sure how. The india ink underdrawing, too, indicated the planes and their shadows, plus some of the filigree work. So I turned on my electric pallet and set to it.

I ended up using a yellowish tint for the large foreground planes in contrast to a slightly warmer tint for some planes further back. The two created a nice, gentle contrast to one another. Those two elements along with the planes of gray for the shadows sealed the deal. I let the india ink sneak through to sketchily spell out the filigree. After about two hours I was done. I’m really pleased.

It’s very Tonalist – and very touchy-feely, too.

Description of the whole project here. Technical write up of using encaustic for an indirect painting technique here.