Tag Archives: beeswax

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

Studio Update

Green tea is my new coffee.  At least for now…

My family and I have been a bit under the weather this week. I don’t know if anything could keep me off coffee (aka, “The Elixer of Life”) permanently, but I’ve managed to switch to green tea while I recuperate. It’s made for a few blurry days in the studio, but I’ve been getting out there anyway. I’ve made a little progress on the nests, but the big news is….

I’ve fired up the hot plate and have finally started painting in encaustic again. It feels like it’s been so long.  My table isn’t the right height yet, so I’ve been getting a sore back and neck, but it’s worth it.  Totally. I was really missing the smell of beeswax.  I’ve started a new body of work. These pieces are the 8″x8″ pieces of plywood that have been sitting in my studio for a few weeks. They have the look of tiles, and I want to hang them in groups. Here are the first few, I have 21 more to go…

I am, so far, very pleased with the way these are turning out.  I’ll have to write another post about the influences here, but for now, I need to get myself out there and paint some more!