Encaustic Technique #3: Collage and Enclosures

One of the outstanding properties of encaustic is it’s translucency, which makes it a great medium for collage. Collage can be used with encaustic to provide the main focus of a painting, or it can be used in under layers of the painting to give a sense of depth that is hard to accomplish in any other medium. It can be combined with many other techniques without any trouble. 

I’ll also be talking here about “enclosures”, or adding small objects to your paintings. This can be a bit trickier, and I’ll explain why and give some tips for successful enclosures. 

The first thing to understand about encaustic collage is that your collage materials must be compatible with your beeswax. By this, I mean that they must be an absorbent material, especially if they are large. They must also be compatible with heat, since you will need to apply heat for fusing your layers. I also don’t recommend anything perishable, unstable, or moist. Materials must be dry and clean. Consider the stability of any inks used on papers- newspapers, ink jet prints, and other printed papers may fade rapidly, even in low light, over time. Most printed paper will fade to some degree, but some will fade much more dramatically than others. Basically, get to know your materials, and how they relate to the nature of your work. If in doubt, do a light test by putting the papers in sunlight for a few days and seeing what happens. 

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Here is a little selection of things I had lying around my studio. Paper, tissue, fabric, photos printed on paper, ribbon, lace, all work.  Other materials I’ve seen people use are clean feathers (especially small, wispy ones), plant materials such as rose petals, string, wallpaper, and wood. Anything relatively flat, and absorbent. Be careful with coated papers, and any paper that is rigid and may react to the heat by curling or buckling. Again, there is no real substitute for getting in there, trying some things out, and getting to know your materials. One of the great things about encaustic is it’s forgiving nature. If something doesn’t work out, you can always take it out, re-fuse, and keep on going with the piece. Some of my favorite pieces have been happy accidents.

When you know what you want where, just place it on your wax.

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I use a wooden spoon to carefully burnish the paper onto the wax. You don’t need to press very hard to do this; the wax is generally receptive, unless it is very cold in your studio. You want to press out any air bubbles, making sure that your paper or other collage material has good contact.

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Then, lay down a layer or two of beeswax over the collage, or over the whole panel if you like, and fuse. I like to use cheap 3-inch natural bristle brushes from the hardware store to lay down even, thin layers. At first the wax will appear milky, as in the photo above, but as it cools, it will become clearer.

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You can add layers repeatedly, as long as you remember to fuse between layers. Depending on what kind of surface you are aiming for, you can fuse lightly or heavily.

An “enclosure” is when you add an object to your painting. This is trickier, and I suspect not as archival as adding thin layers of absorbent materials, but I’ve seen it used to great effect. One painting I remember involved perhaps a hundred white buttons, and rose petals. 

The idea with enclosures is to use small objects that can be contained, or enclosed by the wax, or objects with perforations, such as doilies or produce netting, which will still allow for a matrix of wax on all sides, so that the integrity of the wax is maintained. If the ratio of objects to wax is too heavy or if the piece is not properly fused, it could crack or break off. On the other hand, it is worth experimenting with, and I’ve seen some really nice work with objects incorporated into wax. 

SO- go on, fire up that hot plate, and get to work!

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