Category Archives: beeswax

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!

New Work #6: Encaustic

More new work coming out of the studio…

I know I’ve written before about working so small (these are just 8 x 8″), but I just have to say it again- working on these little paintings has been such a pleasure.  They are intimate and direct, and let me try out new ideas relatively quickly. I’ve been enjoying it so much that I am thinking of taking it a step further and trying out some variation on the painting a day theme. Perhaps after I am finished hanging my up-coming show.  These paintings are still too intricate and the process takes too much time for me to do them that quickly, but I am thinking of setting a one hour time limit, and seeing what comes of it.  Something new and different, I hazard to guess.  And I’m nothing if not curious.  

Back into the studio today to work on some acrylic paintings in progress… enjoy your Sunday!


Work In Progress #5: Encaustic

A peek into my studio, and a look at what’s been coming out of it…

Getting ready for a show here in Half Moon Bay at Enso

Some work, newly finished…

And now, I’m off to play some hookey with my friend, Chandra… camping with the kids for a few nights. Looking forward to some campfires, grilled pizza, swimming, and SUN! Bye-bye fog! (for a few days, anyway)

Another new work update soon!

Summer Love

Summer is a rollin’, and my poor blog has been neglected! Sorry about the scarcity of posts. There has not, however, been a scarcity of things going on around here. Just quickly, because, well, I have to run off again, a rundown of things I’ve been doing and enjoying…

The Translucent show in San Francisco. So much good work.  If you are anywhere near, you must go. Nice gallery, a lot of variety in the encaustic work. Here’s the link

Strawberries. Lots and lots of strawberies.

The beach.  I finally, after 3 years of talk but no action, bought myself a wetsuit. A 40th birthday present to myself, and where we live, an absolute necessity if you want to go in the water. 

Warm days in the studio.  I love it when the days warm up, because it seems like my wax flows so much smoother.  I’ll be back soon with a new work post. No photos right now… but some good stuff happening in the studio!

Thrifting with my teenage daughter and her friends. Oh, and bubble tea. Mmmmmm.

Dusk bunny-spotting bike rides along our coastal trail on my cruiser.

My CSA box, brimming with dark green and crunchy goodness. Veggies and herbs so fresh you can smell them. I look forward to my CSA boxes like a little kid going to the candy store. 

New work by Emily Clawson, who I met at the Translucent opening. Hoping to do a little studio visit swap soon. Her work is hanging next to mine in the SF show, and absolutely glows. I think we share a love of natural history and nature, and I’m looking forward to talking to her more about her process.

Seeing family. Spending some time with my nephews and sister and brother in law, who I hardly ever see, and my parents, who are in the process of moving (too far) away to their retirement home in Northern California. So bittersweet to see them moving their things, bit by bit, and fixing up my childhood home to sell, eventually. I’m happy for them, and a little sad.

Summer reading. Right now, it’s Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” , which is fabulous- a perfect blend of informative non-fiction and funny, touching storytelling. Perhaps my favorite kind of book.  I’m so inspired- maybe a local only diet challenge in my future? Hmmm…

Here’s to summer. I’ll be back soon with some pictures, I promise.

Translucent Show in San Francisco

Show information, as promised.  I am very excited to go and see this show.  It looks like it will be diverse and interesting.  A few of these names are familiar to me, from looking around the internet, so it will be great to see the work on the wall, rather than on a digital screen.  I know that my own work looks so different on the computer.  It is difficult to photograph the quality of a beeswax painting, truly.  They never look as alluring on the computer or in a slide as they do ten inches from your nose.  I always find myself, bobbing around, looking close, then stepping back a few feet, going close, squinting. They are just fun to look at, and often have a mystery about them. Maybe I’ll see you at the opening!

Gardening Therapy and Beeswax Woes

Okay, I have to admit that not a lot has been going on in my studio, but I have been working outside my studio!  I ran into some problems with my wax, and realized I’m kind of sick of it at the moment, and needed a little tantrum, er, I mean break…..  so gardening it has been, for a few days.  Getting my hands dirty always seems to have an (ironically) cleansing effect on me.  A few days pulling weeds and planting things, and I’m usually ready to tackle other things again.  So I thought I’d share a few pictures of the ongoing miniature garden plot.  This is really just a theraputic garden for me.  We subscribe to a CSA (Blue House Farm) that delivers a beautiful, bountiful box of organic green vegetables 6 months out of the year.  So technically, this garden isn’t necessary.  But growing things just really does something for me.

I dug the weeds out another 4 or 5 feet, and added a bean teepee, and some poppies.

I also added some permanent plants- some thyme, sage, and Tarragon, to keep the Oregano company.

As for that pesky wax, I had a large batch of it turn a deep brownish yellow in my crock pot. This batch of wax was already a little more yellow than it normally is, but having it in the crock pot totally ruined it.  So let my experience serve as a cautionary tale:  Clear beeswax does not like to be reheated, and does not like to sit for hours in a crock pot!  It even started to smell bad- pungent and strong. I had to throw the whole thing out.  I contacted R&F and they told me to only heat as much wax as I will use in one heating.  And maybe my crock pot heats hotter than I thought.  It is very old and does not have a temp gauge on it.  Ah, well, live and learn, eh?

Has anyone else out there had this problem with their wax?  I’d love to hear about it, and what you did to manage it.  In the mean time, I think a good studio cleaning is in order, and another try at this batch of granulated  wax. Wish me luck!

Encaustic: New Work

Just a quick post to show a newly finished piece.  This is the 28″x28″ panel I’ve been working on.  It took some different turns than the other, small white pieces.  It had different needs and challenges that demanded different problem solving.  This picture looks blurry to me (though the original did not), but if it were sharper, you’d be able to see the texture of the opaque white paint that is on the surface.  I used a tiny brush, with small, dabbing strokes to produce the halos around the roses, and fill in others.  It was very slow, and I thought it might be a bit like working in fresco would be.  Painstaking.  I also experimented more with my white ink pen, and like the fine line drawing that can be achieved in the wax.  Again, very slow, but worth it.  This painting pushed me in some new directions, and I am enjoying discovering different ways of handling the wax, and making marks.  It is a mysterious and infuriating medium to work in…. one must keep her sense of humor and adventure intact!

Encaustic: Work In Progress #4

Working large in beeswax is a different animal, altogether.  I’ve been working on this piece for days now, and I’m just amazed at how different the process is when I scale up.  I guess I thought it would be a lot like doubling or tripling a recipe- just add more of everything and get more cookies!- but it’s not. The largest I’ve worked before in wax has been 16 x 16 inches.  This baby is 28 x 28.  Almost four times the size, and more than four times the work.  It’s exponential, I think.  But what is curious is the way the techniques actually behave and work differently. 

   Take fusing for example.  I usually fuse with a heat gun, and occasionally a travel iron that I picked up at a yard sale.  Fusing with a heat gun on a large piece of encaustic is really different- the wax behaves differently, with the pooling becoming more apparent than on smaller pieces.  Also, the pitting that looks interesting on a small piece suddenly becomes overwhelming on a bigger surface.  So I’ve been adjusting my technique as I go, scraping with a razor blade in between fusings with the heat gun to smooth out the surface, and smoothing the excess pitting with the travel iron.  I’ve been also using my light that is mounted on a stand to lightly fuse thin layers.  It has a 150 watt bulb, and does a good job of warming the surface and fusing delicate areas.  Also, laying down layers of beeswax is more difficult, because the wax starts setting about 10 inches into the stroke.  I can’t make it all the way across the panel in one brushstroke!

    It is so much more challenging, but I am figuring out some things, and learning a lot.  I think that in order to be happy with this medium (encaustic), I have to be willing to embrace it’s limitations and abilities, and keep working with what it is, rather than trying to force it to be something it is not.  When I just go with what it is, the rewards are so great. It always forces me to think of painting in completely new ways.  I’m really liking the way this larger piece is coming out.  I’ve just tried to emphasize translucency, and let the medium speak for itself.

Work In Progress #3

Have I mentioned that encaustic painting is addictive?

So is working so small.  It’s like bite size art.  

I am painting, painting, painting for….a show in August, at Enso Gallery, here in Half Moon Bay.  I’m very excited to have a local show.  I’ll be showing these encaustics, and some new nest paintings.  Enso is a little gem of a gallery here on the coast, and they are great about supporting local artists.  They also have a wonderful yoga studio there, where I take classes sometimes…..I’m so pleased that I’ll be hanging this work there.

 

Inspiration: Art Is Personal

  

At least for me it is.  I resisted this for a long time, though.  I think I was afraid that if I let it be too personal, it would not be taken seriously.  So I detached myself from it, instead focusing on experimental landscapes that felt safe.  I was a young woman, trying to be taken seriously (and trying to take myself seriously) while having babies and generally being overwhelmed.  I love a lot of the work that came out of that time period (my mid twenties to early thirties)….. it’s just that it didn’t have that much to do with what was actually going on in my life.  I was full time with kids, and all of the craziness and immediacy that ensues, and didn’t have time to be out photographing and sketching for afternoons, or to come back home and create the large landscapes that I longed to continue with.  Finally, as Julia Cameron would say, the well went dry.  My paintings felt empty and overworked….. the painter’s equivalent of writer’s block.  It was like chewing on cardboard.  

Then I stumbled on a book that tripped me out.  It was Spilling Open by Sabrina Ward Harrison.

    

 She’s written/painted a few books since then, but that first one is still my favorite.  It is artistically and visually stunning, but what really got me was how personal it is.  It just shot right through me.  This was new to me- the idea that good art could be personal and feminine, and raw,  and just plain tell the truth.  That I didn’t need to distance myself from my experience, and add several layers of hazy intellectualism, in order to make a painting.  It was a new concept, that when I come to the canvas, I am enough.

  

So then I started asking myself new questions… like if I could paint anything, what would I paint?  If I could use any medium I wanted, what would I use?  I know this sounds silly- like why in the world wouldn’t I be asking myself those questions before?  But I had not let myself think this way in a long time, and it was new.  It has really changed my painting.  And my attitude. Nowadays, I can’t wait to paint.  The resistance I used to feel (you know- that gut churning feeling that procrastination brings on) just isn’t there.

  

And so much work has flowed from those questions.  The dress series, to begin with, and the nests, and this blog. And I’m finding that if I let my life and desires lead me, the complexity of meaning is still there. Really, so much of desire is universal. And even a dogged kind of intellectualism tags along behind, offering explanations for the symbolism in my paintings.  I like that the explanations don’t come first, though.  The painting comes first. 

I started with dresses.  I think I’ll end with them, too…..

  

For more about my dress series visit my website.