Back to the Basics: The Elements of Design

For13 years at California State University in Sacramento I taught students how to use media, techniques, tools, and the elements of design (which are line, shape, form, texture, colour, value and space) before creating “finished” artworks. Once students had confidence with the elements of art, their art making tools and a variety of art media, then he or she tackled a personal style of painting or sculpting to explore specific topics or ideas. I designed curriculum materials with a focus on sequential learning through skill building steps.   Since I am learning a new medium, I have decided to go back to the basics and use my sequential learning step-by-step packets and connect those ideas with encaustic art.  Then, after exploring each element of design and practicing the variety of encaustic technical processes, I will pick a theme and explore this theme through larger encaustic artworks.

 Elements of Design: The language used for all art works

Week 1: Line

Week 2. Shape

Week 3. Color

Week 4 Form/Value

Week 5 Texture

Week 6 Space

 So, for example, in week one I will create a picture with just lines and use different drawing, painting and sculptural surfaces when creating lines. Then, I will pick encaustic tools and wax coloured media to reproduce the drawings on small 8” X 8” birch panels. Finally, my culminating artwork will focus on line with encaustic media. This process will be repeated for shape, colour, form/value, texture and space.  

 After reading two books “Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide to Creating Fine Art with Wax” by Lissa Rankin and the “Encaustic Studio: A Wax Workshop in Mixed-Media Art” by Daniella Wolf; looking at many encaustic artworks on the internet; and visiting some great website blogs on Encaustic, I have narrowed down the following techniques that I would like to learn and eventually incorporate one-by-one into my final studies. This list is in no particular order. I hope to complete all of them by the end of the 6 weeks.

  1. Embedding images and objects into the wax such as buttons, seed beads, etc.
  2. Painting on different paper surfaces such as tissue paper, cartridge paper, napkins, tracing paper, etc and glue and wax these to the panel.
  3. Using Photo transfer techniques.
  4. Incising into the wax.
  5. Building up relief with wax.
  6. Doing smooth surfaces with brushes and pouring the wax, and creating rough textural surfaces by altering the surface.
  7. Adding just smooth paper to the surface and then wax the surface to get a smooth ground. Fuse between the layers.
  8. Drawing images onto white paper surfaces  and using watercolor to finish the painting.   Cover with wax medium.
  9. Using plaster drywall compound and add stencils into the drywall. Use trowel tools, plastic cards, and incise lines into the wet compound.
  10. Making stencils and integrate the stencils into the medium. Repeating the steps by fusing in between the layers. Doing rubbings and prints and integrating them into the background.
  11. Layering with stamps and prints. Stamps that can be done on the white paper bottom layer and then continue with the different stamps using ink, or water-colour. Creating a sense of space with the background, foreground and middle ground.
  12. Fabric collage.   Using stitched pieces, or felted surfaces, etc. Waxing the surface once the collage is imbedded into the wax.
  13. Collaging papers such as tissue paper, wax papers, paper napkins, etc. fusing between the layers. Adding inks to the tissue papers first and then adding to the wax surfaces.
  14. Textural scoring and adding coldish wax onto the surface to keep layering with the wax. This texture can be done within smaller areas to contrast between areas that are smooth and others are textured.
  15. Transfers – drawing on paper, such as parchment paper, and transferring the image onto the surface of warmish wax. Also, using wax or parchment sheets of papers for transferring onto the surface. Use photocopy or laser printer to make the copy. Add the picture face down and burnish the back. Take water and pull the paper off the back after it has been soaking for a bit. Rub with finger until all of the white paper comes off.
  16. Building up layers with metal cookie cutters. Pour into the containers. Also incising line shapes with different metal cutter type tools and filling in with oil pastels.
  17. Simple printmaking techniques such as collaging leaf prints right on the pallet and then printing onto the surface of the substrate.
  18. Blocking out part of the painting with painter’s tape and then waxing over the areas where I want more wax and other areas with less wax.  Aim is get vibrancy within the painting and more areas of depth. Within each part demonstrate the blocking techniques.
  19. Cutting shapes out of the wax and putting images within the shapes



Mastering the Medium before Tackling the Message

I almost give up the encaustic process because I could not control the medium. I packed up all of my supplies and put them in a box and placed the box in the corner of my studio. I have been away from my studio this past week just thinking about the encaustic medium, techniques, themes to use, etc.  I can not get encaustic out of my mind and have been looking at other artists’ works, blogs and YouTube videos for ideas and inspirations.  (See my Pinterest page on Encaustic Adventures at

 I guess I am a control freak and want to control all of the steps and not let the medium become the message.    I am stubborn and want a glass surface and not bubbly or cloudy surfaces. I also do not want these pin holes imbedded in the wax.  When I see the wax distorting or clouding an image I just don’t like that result.   I have been looking for answers on the internet, books that I have on Encaustic and YouTube videos and have not found any answers explaining how to control the wax for different effects.   I do not want the wax to take over at this point.  I want the images to be the message and not the wax.  I did try to take my clay scraping tools, iron and my blades to scrape off the surface to get the results that I was looking for and I almost got a smooth surface on some.  The more I scraped and reloaded the surface with wax the more I had to scrape.   It was a vicious cycle.  The irony of all this – I have decided to not give up and  when I get back to my studio on Friday will take those supplies back out and set up the area to continue making encaustic artworks.  

I have come to the conclusion  to forget about getting these “finished” pieces and, instead, have made a list of techniques that I will attempt on small 8″ X 8″ birch plywood. I will explore one technique each week and end with a final product on a larger birch panel by the end of that week.  These samples will then be used as references.  So, over the next few weeks will take myself (and my blog readers) on an encaustic technique gathering journey and share the processes.   Hopefully, this journalling will help me keep on  track.  When I have finished my first technique I will explain the ups and downs of doing that technique and post a visual of the steps and the end product.    Your comments will be greatly appreciated. 





Back in the Studio

The ice was still on the lake when we arrived last week.  It took 5 days for the ice to disappear so we had no water in the cottage during that week.   After a day of getting the water to work we now have water and I am back working in the studio after cleaning and getting it ready for my art making adventures.    I took  all of my encaustic media back with me and have been setting up a work area.  It is difficult because I have my sewing machines for stitching fabrics, my acrylic painting area where I paint on canvas, and now my encaustic equipment.  So, my new studio which I built last year is getting smaller and smaller.  I wish I was a dedicated painter and not a mixed-media artist because life would be so much simpler.  

I will be working over the next few weeks and will be posting my processes and final artworks.