Category Archives: beeswax

In The Studio

I thought I’d share some current works in progress from my studio. This piece above will be put together in the end as one piece. I’ve been inspired by other artists who work large on multiple panels. Here, I had these small 10×10 inch panels lying around, and I thought I’d use them as a little test run… and that’s my medium setting up in the muffin tins. Working large uses so. much. medium!

This is a pretty crappy photo- taken late in the day with my lights on. But you get the idea. I’m really loving the metallic paints from R&F. So lovely when they are scraped down- this design is done in the german silver color, and it has a lot of variation, like a patina.

On to the next layers!

Show in Santa Cruz

February 5 – 28, 2010

Opening reception:  February 5, 5:30 – 9:00 p.m.

Felix Kulpa Gallery, 107 Elm Street, Santa Cruz, CA

Gallery hours: Thurs. – Sun. 12-5, or by appointment (tel:  408.373.2854)

I’ll be hanging this show this weekend, and I’m really looking forward to seeing my paintings alongside Norman Locks’ photographs. If you are in the area, I’d love to see you at the opening!

Whatever Works…

The other day I was working in my studio, and this was the scene… and I thought, “How strange this looks!” So I ran to get my camera to share it with you all. I’m so fascinated by other artist’s processes, and the unusual ways that we problem solve when we are trying to get an idea out of our heads and onto the image. Encaustic is such a “new” medium in it’s current usage, and as I meet more and more artists using wax in their work, I am struck with how we are inventing it as we go.

I also thought this was funny because I’m often told that my work is delicate or ethereal, and yet the process is so… scrappy. I knew here that I wanted a large, white circle on the painting, but I didn’t know what to use to guide the circle. none of my usual objects were large enough. And then the garbage lid called to me from across the studio…  “Me! Me! Use me!”

So I did.

Upcoming Show…

This should be a great show of encaustic work in Santa Rosa. I can’t wait to see it myself… and I’m so pleased to be included in this show! The show was curated by Thomas Morphis, and includes an impressive list of artists:

Mary Black, Howard Hersh, Julie Nelson, Tracey Adams, Eileen Goldenberg, Robin Denevan, Carrie Ann Plank, Emily Clawson, Mark Perlman, Eleanor Wood.

Oh, and me. I’ll have three of my larger “Winter” paintings hanging.

(I couldn’t find a link for Eleanor Wood for this list- if anyone knows, please send it to me…)

Encaustic Technique #8: Gesso

A small holiday gift for you all: a new tutorial. This one is a little different. It’s not about the wax, but what we put under the wax.

I’ve written here before about using paper or claybord as a base for painting. About a year or so ago, R&F came out with an encaustic gesso. It doesn’t smell and isn’t labor-intensive like rabbit skin gesso, and, unlike regular acrylic gesso, it is absorbent enough to be used under wax. Until recently, I’ve just used it as it comes: bright white.

Recently, though, I started experimenting with tinting it with powdered pigment before applying it. My aim was to create an aged looking, darker background for painting.

In the above example, I started off with a layer of white gesso. I let that dry completely. Then, I mixed a portion of gesso with my powdered pigment and applied it in large, sweeping strokes to most of the canvas.

After letting this dry slightly, I sprayed the panel randomly with water and scumbled the surface with rags, creating a textured looking surface. When the gesso was completely dry, I sanded portions of it where I wanted more light to come through.

The point here is how flexible this could be- try using different colors, layering colors, or painting into the dry gesso with water based paints, such as guache. The surface could also be stamped with homemade stamps before applying your first coat of wax.

My one critique of the gesso is that it pinholes like crazy (similar to claybord). I remedied this with a lot of fusing and additional layers of wax. I’m not sure what causes the pinholes- If any of you know why it does this, please leave a comment! I’d love to know how to control it.

Studio Update: Fire

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Meet my new best friend in the studio. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get on board with a torch. I’ve procrastinated about it for months, and didn’t realize that underneath that procrastination was fear. Until I was in Carmel for the IEA retreat in October, and was faced with a bevy of torches, waiting to be tried. It was the last morning, and a wonderful demonstration had been given by Pamela Blum. We were invited down on the floor to try out some of the techniques she had demonstrated, and I found myself hesitating around the torches. I hadn’t even realized I was afraid of them until that moment. Linda Womack saw me, and must have sensed my trepidation; she rescued me with a two minute lesson that has cured me of my torch phobia! 

I went out as soon as I could and purchased a basic torch, with a few necessary frills: an adjustable nozzle, and an automatic ignition trigger. It’s a Bernzomatic propane torch from Home Depot, and it cost about 35 dollars. 

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I don’t know how I got along without this thing before! It works so well for every application, that I haven’t pulled out my heat gun a single time. It is much more gentle than the heat gun, and doesn’t move the wax around nearly as much. I can even fuse lightly while a large piece is upright on my easel. I think it produces a glossier surface than my heat gun did, too.

And the best thing about it is-  its fast.

Well, maybe the best thing about it is that I haven’t lit my hair on fire yet. So far, so good.

Encaustic Technique #7: Smooth Surface Tips

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It seems that for many encaustic artists, the smooth surface is like the holy grail. Beeswax painting lends itself to almost instant surface texture. Wonderful, to be sure, and fun to exploit, but sometimes we want something glassy and smooth. Developing a smooth surface especially on any piece over, say, 12″ x 12″, takes patience and restraint. Although I cannot boast a perfectly smooth surface on my paintings, and in fact don’t aim for that, they do fall in the category of smooth rather than textured. I tend to use the smooth texture to contrast with the final touches of paint that I use to create a subtle relief (see above). Here are my tips for working toward a smooth surface in your paintings:

1. I use a heat gun to fuse, and am very careful to not over-fuse. The wax should not be blown around, or you will create a wavy surface. I’ve also read that torches can work well.

2. I use a wide (4″) hake brush to lay down layers of clear beeswax. The hake brushes are inexpensive, and have a fine texture that lays down smooth, thin layers of wax.

3. Scraping the surface from time to time with a razor blade will even out your surface and encourage subsequent layers to go on smoothly. If you use intarsia in your paintings, this will be a built-in texture regulator.

4. When I want to lay down a smooth layer, I turn the heat up on my wax slightly. Usually I keep it at 200 deg. F., but I’ll turn it up to 220 or so for brief periods. The hotter wax is more likely to smear color directly beneath it, so use this tip carefully.

5. If I am putting down more than one layer of smooth was, I alternate the direction of my strokes with each layer. I load my brush, keeping it nice and hot, then use one sweeping stroke to cover the entire width of the painting. Then I apply a stroke beneath that one, etc. When that layer is done I turn my painting a quarter turn, and put down another layer, etc. I fuse every two thin layers as I go.

6. Many artists use a “pour” method for their paintings. They tape the edges of their painting to create a lip that comes up to create a clean edge. Then pour the hot wax onto the surface. The drawback is that this can melt and/0r pit the surface of any painting beneath the pour. This is worth experimenting with, though, as I’ve seen some really beautiful work done this way.

6. Some artists use a solvent at the very end to smooth the surface. You can put a bit on a rag and rub the surface. What I’ve noticed about this technique it that it creates a matte finish. The painting must be buffed periodically to maintain a glossy finish.

7. Which brings us to buffing. You’ve created your smooth surface, and you want to make it look glassy? Clean, lint free rags work. I like to use white t-shirts that I get from the thrift store, wash and dry, and then cut up. Another option is to use chamois, which is completely lint-free, and can work up a high shine. You don’t need anything but your buffing rag and some patience. Work on small sections at a time, rubbing lightly in small circles. This is a great way to “polish” your finished piece.

What about you? do you have any smooth surface tips you’d like to add? Leave a comment, and add to the list.

New Work #13: Encaustic

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Things have been productive around here, if a bit intermittent. You’ve seen peeks of these works in process these last few months. Here are the finished pieces. The above piece is encaustic, measures 30″ x 40″, and is titled “Winter #14”.

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“Winter #10″, 28″ x 28”, encaustic mixed media.

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“Winter # 6″, encaustic mixed media, 28″ x 25”. 

I’ll update with the latest acrylic mixed media work tomorrow.

Encaustic Technique #6: Beginning Intarsia

 Intarsia techniques truly set encaustic painting apart from other painting mediums. It is a technique that borrows from wood, clay, metal, or fiber intarsia where a different color material is physically inserted into the base color or surface. It is an exciting technique with a distinctive appearance, one that often leaves the viewer scratching their heads and wondering, “how did they do that?!”. It is a technique best employed when you want crisp edges and contrast, with a smooth surface.

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To begin, I brushed on several layers of color- blue and green, for variety- and fused the surface with my heat gun. Then I let the wax cool down. I tried to get the surface as smooth as I could. You’ll see why in a moment. If you are a true perfectionist, you might want to take a single blade razor, and, holding it perpendicular to the paint surface, lightly scrape it until it is level.

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Next, I incised the surface with a variety of tools. From left: a small exacto knife (the outline of the smaller flower), a plastic clay tool (the wavy shallow lines in upper right), two more metal clay tools (wide strip far right), an awl (used to draw larger flower, write with, and make dotted lines at lower left), a sewing tool (wavy dotted lines lower center), a fork (lower right), and above, a set of numbers originally used for imprinting sheet metal (center). You’ll want your designs to be fairly deep, and flick off any large burrs of wax that may curl at the edges of your wax. If you make a mistake, you can usually re-fuse and start again when the wax cools.

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Next, I brushed on a contrasting color of encaustic paint, filling in the designs in the wax. I used a vivid yellow, just to make this easy to see. Sorry if this is hurting your eyes! You may find that if your paint is really hot, you start melting your underlayer with your brush strokes. In this case, turn down your palette heat a bit, and use more of a dabbing motion than a brush stroke. Either way, you want to fill those incisions. 

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After letting all of the wax cool to room temperature, take your single razor blade and carefully start scraping the surface, keeping your blade at approximately a 45 deg. angle. remove the curls of wax as they build up on the razor, or they will stick to the painting when you least want them to. It is not showing all that well in the photograph above, but the result is color inlayed into the wax, with a nice level surface. I’ve left the left side of the flower unfilled to demonstrate another technique later. I’ve also left the lower right portion only partially scraped back, so that you can see what it looks like mid-scrape. It can be a nice effect, with a little halo of color around the marks, and random areas of color. Also, you see little bits of yellow here and there- that is where my surface was not absolutely level. Paint settles into the low areas, and I had to stop scraping before they were gone, or I might have lost too much of the design. 

At this point, you can keep on adding layers, and building your painting surface. Keep in mind that if you fuse heavily right after using this technique, you will lose the crisp lines, and your design will melt together. Also, sometimes different colors melt at slightly different temperatures, so this can cause a mess. With some experimentation, you will learn when to stop. I usually fuse very very lightly, or add a few layers of clear wax before fusing to protect the design. 

I hope this is helpful! I’ll continue the intarsia technique next time, with a slightly more advanced approach.