Category Archives: beeswax

Show Opening: Working in Wax

Here are some pictures from Wednesday night’s opening in Walnut Creek. It was a good crowd, and I was able to enjoy some really interesting work, and talk to other artists.  I’m sorry I am not able to credit the work shown in these pictures. I need to go through the many artists who are on the postcard, look them up online, and I’ll put them in the ever-growing sidebar under “Artists I Love”, so that you can go learn more about them if you are interested. A big thank-you to Eileen P. Goldberg who curated the show!

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I can credit myself, though. Those are two of my pieces, above, and to the left.

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Another of my pieces, off to the left, above the crackers and cheese.

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Experiments In Wax and White

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I’ve been having some fun in my studio this week experimenting with wax inlay (intarsia). Here are some of the results-in-progress.

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First, I tried putting oil paint into the texture and doing a wipe, but it didn’t work as well as I had hoped, so I tried filling with wax and scraping back, and I’m much happier with it. I like using intarsia in my underlayers, as I like to imagine that they are more stable, and an oil wipe in the last stages of a painting. But, Oh! The scraping- my fingers don’t like it much. I need to do a serious perusal of my local hardware store for a razor holder that works well for this. I took good photos of the intarsia process this time, so I’ll do a technique tutorial on it soon.

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Above: a detail of a larger acrylic painting. I’ve been trying some new things with acrylics, too…. laminating milky, transluscent papers into this painting, tracing some of my field sketches, and using a graphite paint that I found recently. It is such a good exercise to try to explore the same aesthetic and formal concerns as the white encaustics, but it a radically different medium. I think it keeps things fresh all around, with each medium informing the other. Well, we’ll see. I don’t think the above painting is really successful in the way I want it to be, yet, but I’m going to keep on playing with it. I’d love for it to segue into a new (and parallel) body of work.

And I’ll leave you with one last image, something I picked up on a walk the other day. I don’t know what my neighbors thought, with me traipsing through the neighborhood with my dog and a dead bush, but I love it- it’s color and form- and can’t wait to take an hour or two and draw it from different angles. 

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P.S. I’m going to the opening for “Working in Wax” tonight in Walnut Creek (see announcement below) and am so excited to see so much encaustic work!

Encaustic Technique #5: Working With Wax

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Mmmmm. Beeswax. I just ordered 25 beautiful pounds of it from Swan’s Candle Making Supply. I’ve always ordered from R&F Encaustics (and their wax is lovely, too), but since I’m on the west coast, it’s great to have found a source here in California (and their customer service has been great- as I found out when I botched my initial order… ahem.).  I also ordered some microcrystaline wax- I’m adding a small amount to my beeswax to improve the tack in the clear layers that I use so often. I’m blending in about 1/10 microcrystaline, and it does seem to be improving the adhesion of layers. This has been a concern of mine as my paintings grow in size. I often find myself trying to find a balance between adequate fusing and avoiding disturbing my layers. It’s a tricky thing.

As you can see from the (slightly blurry) picture above, I’ve also adjusted my set up to accommodate larger amounts of wax at a time. I’m using a single burner with an adjustable thermostat, a small pan, and a thermometer. I’m finding that I really have to keep an eye on that thermometer! I used to melt smaller amounts in the small bread tins you can see on my palette, above, but it takes 45 minutes to melt a batch, or longer if it has damar resin in it, and I’ve needed more than that at once. I tried using a crock pot, but found that the temperature was unreliable, and that having it sit for long periods of time melted eventually turned my wax a deep amber color. I ruined quite a lot of wax that way. So far, this is working great- the only downside is that if a drop or two gets on the burner, it smokes up the studio, and reminds me that I really need to get fans in there and stop relying on my windows for ventilation!

The next thing I want to try is a torch for fusing. I’m hoping that it will speed up my process a bit. If anyone has a favorite torch, I’d love to hear about it… fewer people use torches for fear of lighting things on fire, so it’s harder to find recommendations, but I’m looking for one that is not too heavy, and has an adjustable tip, so that I can fan the flame out, or concentrate it. I’ll post about it when I’ve found one that I love.

“Working in Wax”

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I am very happy to say that I’ll be having three new pieces (including the one above) in the upcoming show, “Working in Wax”, at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek. This looks to be a fairly large, and diverse showing of encaustic art, and I’m very excited to see it and be a part of it. 

Bedford Gallery, 1601 civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA

Show runs May 3 to June 21, 2009

Opening reception:  Wednesday, May 6,  5:00-7:00 p.m.

This show will be featuring 84 encaustic artists (!), and will represent a wide spectrum of technique in this medium. If you are at all interested in encaustic, and wondering exactly can be done with beeswax, this is a great opportunity. 

Maybe I’ll see you at the opening!

From the gallery website:

Working in Wax 
May 3 – June 21, 2009 

Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. This technique was notably used in the Fayum mummy portraits from Egypt around 100-300 CE, in the Blachernitissa and other early icons, as well as in many works of 20th-century American artists, including Jasper Johns. This national exhibition, juried by Eileen P. Goldenberg,will feature some of the most renowned artists working in this medium today and will provide an arena for educating other artists and students about the past and possibilities of working in wax. 

New Work #11: Encaustic

Here’s what I’ve been working on… more from the “Winter” series.

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This last piece is larger- 25 x 28 inches. The top two are 12 x 12″.

These paintings are continuing from a series I started a few months ago. I took a walk near my home, and gathered some of the mid-winter weeds and flower/seed stalks that had dried but were still standing tall against the wind. I’ve been drawing them, and incorporating them into these paintings. I’ve been enjoying making these so much, my ideas for them keep getting bigger… as in wanting to paint bigger and bigger. I use a lot of clear wax in these, about 15 layers or so, and the image elements float between layers, creating a depth and space that gets more interesting as the paintings get bigger. There is more room to visually float and explore in the picture space.

New Work #10: Encaustic

 

"Subterranean", 2009, encaustic mixed media on panel,

"Subterranean", 2009, encaustic mixed media on panel,

I just finished this itsy-bitsy piece the other day. It is for a project directed by  Saije Bashaw, at The Creative Gym 5.  The idea is to create an art work inspired by a word or words, and taking between 1-8 hours to complete the project. Very simple, very fun. The words this time around were “hidden” and “change”.  This little piece took me a few hours, and got me to do some visual problem solving, and felt refreshingly different from other recent work I’ve made. The deadline isn’t for a while, so I haven’t seen other’s work yet, but I’m looking forward to it. 

I’ve also been working on more “White Series” paintings…

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One….. Dot….. At….. A….. Time.

New Work #8: more winter wax

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We are having a delicious, drizzly February day here, and the starlings outside are making quite a racket. My wind chimes are going a little crazy. I’m just enjoying it all, taking care of family life, and baking ginger cookies (because that’s what I do when it drizzles outside!) Also, sharing the latest “Winter” piece, above. I feel like I’ve finally struck a balance between complexity and simplicity in these latest pieces. I am enjoying letting the wax be what it is, not fighting or trying to overly control it. For instance, when I first started adding the tiny white dot areas, it frustrated me to no end that I couldn’t get them all to look uniform. Some of them are big, some small, some stick up and others are flat. And it’s all dependent on too many factors- like if my pallet is heating up or not (it’s on a thermostat, so there are slight variations in temperature as it cycles on and off), or how long I hold the brush on the pallet to warm it up again, or how many dots I try to make before returning to my pallet (which, of course, has everything to do with my mood and patience that day). Etc, etc. But then I just gave up. It is what it is. And I fell in love with the variation. Now, I just let it be, and I think it is one of my favorite things about these little paintings. Sometimes, acceptance can truly transport us to new places!

New Work #7: Winter

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Some new work coming out of my studio lately. I’ve started a new series- a variation on the “white noise” series. I’m calling this one “Winter”. Most days, I take a walk with my dog in the fields near my house. We live about a five minute walk to the bluffs that line the coast here in Half Moon Bay, and we are lucky enough to have fields along the bluffs that are open to the public. Every season has it’s own way of defining the landscape, and here in coastal California, we don’t get snow. We don’t get ice. We get wind. In late fall, the wind becomes fierce, and pummels the tall, dead, silvery grasses, flattening them to the ground. The only things left standing are the sturdy remains of flowering weeds and herbs, sometimes with seed pods left intact. It makes a striking landscape- the black, barren remnants of last year’s plants stand like black calligraphic marks against the pale, flat grasses.

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So, I’ve been inspired to try to communicate some of this in these new paintings. These two are from drawings of seed pods that I found in my yard, and they look a bit like seaweed to me. I’ll post more of this work in the next few days, so be sure to check back.

Encaustic Technique #4: Color

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Encaustic paint is truly different from every other kind of paint. It looks different, smells different, feels and behaves differently. All encaustic paint comes in solid form. Heat must be applied for the wax to become liquid. Encaustic paint does not dry, it hardens. Quickly. For this reason, an encaustic artist must work with purpose and speed. This can be exhilarating, or exasperating, depending on your method of working, and your goals. Or maybe just your mood that day!

You can see my paints above. I’ve ordered them from R&F Paints, but a quick internet search will turn up several other suppliers. I like the quality of these paints, and have relied on them for years now. The little round cake off to the right is a color I mixed to have on hand- you can custom mix colors in small muffin tins, or in recycled small cans. If you put the muffin tin in the freezer, the paint will pop out, and if you mix it in a can, you can just leave it there and put it on and off your pallet as you need it. I find that the solid paints are very concentrated, and I usually dilute the color with clear beeswax medium. To use and mix the paints, the block of paint is touched directly to a hot pallet (at aprox. 200-220 degrees), and it instantly melts into molten paint. A little goes a long way. A natural bristle brush is used to apply the paint, and it hardens quickly on the surface of the painting. How much working time you have between the moment your brush leaves the pallet and the hardening of the paint and brush depends on how hot your pallet is, how warm the surface of your painting is, and how warm the room you are working in is kept. I have a small space heater in my studio for cold days or nights- mainly because it extends that brief working time. 

Just like other types of paint, different colors of paint behave differently- some are more transparent than others (manganese violet, cerulean blue, zinc white), some tend to separate if they sit on the hot pallet (cerulean blue, indigo, zinc). Some are more ferocious than others (alizarin crimson, phthalo green), and tend to dominate when mixing with other colors. The earth colors can be ever so slightly grainy sometimes. R&F offers a color chart for ordering their paints that are actually made with little squares of paint- and if you are thinking of ordering online, it is a great resource to have, as it gives you some clues as to the nature of each color.

Some artists make their own paint, using beeswax medium and powdered pigment. I’ve never tried this, and if you decide that this is the way you want to go, I’d do some research on handling powdered pigments safely. Sinopia Pigments, Earth Pigments, and Daniel Smith are all resources for powdered pigments.

I have mixed my own colors using beeswax medium and a dab of oil paint. In this case, you want the mixture to be mainly beeswax. If you use too much oil in the mix it will neither harden, nor dry properly. Not good. So just a little pigment to a greater amount of wax. This is really handy if you already own oils, and have a limited color range in the pre-mixed wax blocks. It’s easy to occasionally mix a little of a custom color this way. Powdered graphite can also be mixed with wax medium to create a warm grey with some luster, and you’ll feel just like Jasper Johns.

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Whether you buy your paint, or mix your own batches of color, you’ll want to get to know your paint. A great way to do this is to create your own color charts. I’ve been working on this project myself, and it has taught me so much about my paints. And I’ve discovered some really unusual, subtle colors in the process by mixing unlikely colors together. Here is how I approached this project:

First, I made a list of my colors. Then I created grids on printmaking paper (other thick, absorbent paper will work too). I wrote the first color at the top of the page, and painted the color next to it. This was my base color. Then, I labeled each of the boxes with the remaining colors. I mixed each color with the main color, and some clear beeswax.

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I added a bit of white for each stroke, increasing the tint a little each time. I designed it this way because I often work with tints.  For the next chart, I’ll delete Alizarin Crimson off the list, so the charts get a little smaller each time. When I’m done, I’ll have a sample of how every color interacts with every other color in my pallet.

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Here is the finished chart. (See what I mean about surprising color combos? Check out the great earthy orange you get by combining green gold with alizarin crimson!)

Depending on your techniques, color range, and inclinations, you could use this idea in a variety of ways. You could make charts exploring shades, or transparency. You could design a color wheel instead of grids like these. The point is that a systematic exploration is a great way to get to know how colors in this medium (or any medium) behave.

Some Encaustic Goodness

We have a chilly, rainy day here in Half Moon Bay, and I just went out and turned on the heater in my studio. I’m nursing a cold (*sniff*), but am still hoping to get a little work done. I’m working on a larger encaustic piece right now, another in the white series. This one is the other half of that hollow core door that I sawed into pieces a while back. 

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When I’m working on larger pieces, I find it helpful to break down work sessions into smaller chunks. An hour, or two. Just getting a single layer on there, and fusing it can take over half an hour. Whew! 

In the background above, you can see some home made encaustic color charts… My next technique post will be about color, and I’ll go over the how and why of making those charts (plus, it’ll get me to finish my own set! )

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And here are three acrylic paintings waiting for some embroidery thread… I am especially happy with the grey one. This is a terribly wonky photo- my camera shoots wide angle whether I want it to or not- and the texture just didn’t show up, but I almost always like what happens when I restrict my pallet. I’m funny about color. I’ll tiptoe my way out on some colorful limb, and then always come back to my neutrals. I hadn’t done a nest yet with such somber colors, and I like the way it turned out. 

For those of you who are looking for information on encaustic technique, check out Malissa Martin Wilkes’ blog. She’s got some great information and photos, some studio shots, etc. Her set up is a little different from mine, and it’s good to see how different people work.