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 #23, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #23, encaustic

Third in the series. I’m warming up to the technique. Pun intended. 🙂

A Piece of Me #23, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #23, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

Underdrawing for A Piece of Me #23.

Underdrawing for A Piece of Me #23.

But what that means is that I’m quickly learning all the tips and tricks I can use to manipulate this waxy paint. For example, I used an iron last time to to melt the paint back off, but then the melted paint stuck to the paper towel which then tore and left shreds on the panel. Not nice. I liked the texture of the paper towel embedded in the waxy paint but not the paper shreds. So today I switched to cheesecloth and had much better luck. It was very absorbent of the wax and left a nice weave pattern in the big open field of tinted yellow ochre. Cool. But then because the procedure had extracted a lot of paint, I painted some light yellow ochre back in to give it mass, then left it alone.

Mixing up the light tint of gray was the next challenge. I used mars black, which is a really neutral black but in the context of the yellow tonality it gets pushed to its complement. The light stripe of gray across the yellow expanse vibrates so very nicely. It’s similar in value but different in hue.

The pavement panels at the base are also tints of mars black, with a few sneaky strokes of burnt umber for spice. The inda ink underdrawing peeks through here and there. Finally I mixed up a darker tint of mars black for the strongest value, forming the meeting point between wall and earth. Ummmmm. I might just try to eat this one for dinner.

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

A Piece of Me #03 encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in

A Piece of Me #03, encaustic

A Piece of Me #03 encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in

A Piece of Me #03 encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in

The newly revised higher contrast pen and ink underdrawing.

The newly revised higher contrast pen and ink underdrawing.

OK, today I completed the second of the encaustic series for the A Piece of Me project. Seen here on the left. Like yesterday’s it was another fairly abstract panel but this time the composition included more detailed shapes, forms and contrasts of light and dark. So after my experience with the first panel, I quickly decided to move away from an underdrawing done in light washes of india ink to a pen and ink drawing which has more contrast. I had already seen yesterday that whatever underdrawing there was (which in that first case was not much) the thick opacity of the encaustic paint quickly obliterated it, rendering it superfluous So, either you forgo the underdrawing altogether or you increase its intensity. I decided to go for the latter. Here to the right then is a photograph of the revised pen and ink underdrawing (completed over the original india ink wash). There are a lot of details which I know will not be seen in the completed painting, but, like the whiskers on a man’s cheek in a painting by Memling or Holbein, these strokes will still have a role to play in the final painting.

So I began my approach as I did yesterday, slapping on coats of white and yellow ochre. I quickly had a mess of nothing. Using paper towels and a hot iron I melted it all off and started over again. (This is common in encaustic.) Still, this melting left an overall tint of yellow to the panel. I mixed up a light tint of white and yellow ochre, which I began applying in small strokes to mimic the architectural forms of bricks, panels and arches. This allowed some of the underdrawing to show through in strategic places. Nice, this was going better now. Then I melted up a tint of burnt umber for the shadowed forms. Using a small brush I lay the shadows in. Again, nice. Taking up the infra red heat lamp I burned it all in. I stopped, satisfied, at least for the moment.

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

A Piece of Me #33, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #33, encaustic

My super-duper thrift store find. Maybe originally intended for fondue? Temperature adjustment dial on the right. The metal and marble plates just above the burner radiate. The little black trays work great for keeping the colours warm above and below.

My super-duper thrift store find. Maybe originally intended for fondue? Temperature adjustment dial on the right. The metal and marble plates just above the burner radiate. The little black trays work great for keeping the colours warm above and below.

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).

A Piece of Me #33, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #33, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

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.