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



Author: Anna

I am a painter and sculptor and have a studio beside a beautiful lake. For the past 40 years, I designed and built puppets, masks and sculptures and had solo exhibitions of these works. In 2013, I went back to painting and started working in encaustic. I am interested in issues of identity in terms of weavings as coverings to protect or to hide. The intersecting lines that I create over landscapes create an internal conversation versus the external between nature vs. nurture. Or how actual or psychological barriers erected in an environment can disrupt a cherished place. My engagement with woven structures speak to complex dialogues between identity and psychological barriers. My second passion is teaching. I try to encompass more than teaching my students art techniques. I encourage students to, not only learn the language of art, but to also engage in critiquing art. Additionally, we continually explore ways to enhance one's voice through art in relation to contemporary and historical issues. Encaustic adventures is a blog where not only processes and techniques are taught, but hopefully this sites will engage in a dialogue about the making of art, notions of voice, identity, themes, and ways to establish a body of work within an historical contexts.

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