Category Archives: encaustic

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.

Catching Up

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We don’t get a whole lot of fall color here on the mid-California coast. But I am savoring fall, anyway. This is my favorite time of year. 

After a long bout of illness this summer, I “came to” sometime in early October, and realized that my blog (among many other things) had been sorely neglected. So in the spirit of catching up a bit, here are some things I’ve been up to. I somehow managed to pull together my show here in town at Enso; we had a wonderful opening and I received loads of positive feedback. I’m now busy preparing for another show coming up in February. So, I’ve been working in my studio, if somewhat sporadically. Earlier this month, I attended the IEA retreat in Carmel, and got some wind in my sails. The retreat was wonderful, and I met many other artists from all over the country. The speakers were great- hearing Tony Scherman speak was definitely a high point for me- and members demonstrated techniques, which was also interesting. I came away inspired and full. On my drive home, I pulled over several times, because I had to write down everything I was thinking before it got away. Just download into my notebook. Somehow, talking with and listening to other painters helped me crystalize some of my own goals, which have been fuzzy for a while. 

And now, after the buzz has worn off a bit, I realize that it is fine and well to think about painting, but a time comes when it is painfully obvious that I’m doing more thinking than painting. And that it is time to shoehorn painting back into my life, an hour at a time, and re-set some priorities. It’s never ending- the process of picking oneself back up, brushing off, and walking back into the studio.

“New Works ’09” show at Enso this month

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I’m happy to share with you all that I’ll be hanging a show of new work at Enso gallery this week, which will run through the month of September. Enso is actually a yoga studio as well, run by an amazingly generous and creative local couple, and they run a very nice gallery space, right by the ocean here in Half Moon Bay. So if you are in the area, come check it out. 

Where:  Enso, 131 Kelly Ave. Half Moon Bay, CA

When: Please join us for an opening reception September 12, 4-6 p.m. There will be light food and drinks. The show will run the whole of September. Check the schedule at http://www.ensohmb.com for gallery availability. Generally, the gallery is open to the public before and after yoga classes. 

If you are coming from out of town, and want to make sure that you see the show, email me directly, and I’ll try to arrange a time to open the gallery for you. 

Hope you can make it!

New Work #14: Acrylic, Etc.

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Challenging work, this. I’ve been trying to translate some of the same ideas I’ve been exploring in encaustic into my acrylic mixed media work. The pieces seem related, but distinct as well. The same problems come up, but I have to solve them with a different language of solutions, as I move between the two mediums. I feel as though each new painting progresses the conversation a bit further, without a whole lot of repetition from piece to piece. 

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You can only faintly see the embroidered word “Begin” in the painting above.

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It is difficult to see in the above image (these are large-ish paintings, and the low res image doesn’t quite do them justice), but I’ve started using tiny dots of paint (the black circles above) much like I use in the encaustic pieces, but to different effect.

I’m off to the redwoods for a week of camping, swimming, sunning, and hanging out with good friends. Have a great week!

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.

Leap…..

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Sometimes, the hardest thing is simply beginning.

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And once I begin, it is rare that I want to stop. As I approach a painting session, or a block of time in my studio, or begin a new painting or body of work, my doubts and insecurities often crowd me, beckoning me toward some other soothing activity like working in the garden or reading a book. Baking cookies. Catching up on email. Cleaning the toilet.

No, really, it is fascinating to me that after 20-something years of painting, that I can still have these feelings. It’s like that squirmy, resistant feeling you get right before jumping into a cold lake or swimming pool. After jumping, I always get a little rush of adrenaline, and then have the thought that it’s really quite nice. Wonderful, even. 

How do I get to the other side of those feelings with my artwork? I remind myself to just begin.  Then I give myself permission to do something other than painting in my studio if I just do not feel the flow after a little while. I could tidy my studio, or do some preliminary drawings, I could go outside and photograph, make some color charts, write in my art journal. Whatever. But almost always, I find myself caught up in the riptide of creative momentum, and I paint. 

“Leap, and the net will appear”

-Unknown

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.