Down to the Basics – Sharing the Process in More Detail

I thought that I would share the steps in more details so that my blog followers can witness the process of creating Pickerel Weeds # 2.

This is a photograph of pickerel weeds found along the shore of the lake. I will be cropping this into variations of 4 encaustic artworks

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I will be working on 16”X16” – 3/4” thickness canvas that has been glued with watercolor paper to the front of the canvas. I acquired so many canvases over the years so do not want to buy birch panels. Panels are expensive, heavy, and I can practice my encaustic techniques onto the watercolor paper surfaced canvas. I have heard that one cannot use a gesso surface or any acrylic medium on the substrate because the wax will not adhere to acrylic or gesso so that is why I glue watercolor paper onto the canvas. The surface is very firm and the wax penetrates the paper very well. It is also a ridged surface and the wax does not flake off.

 Safety Precautions

With encaustic and oil paints one has to be careful with the fumes. My studio has a lot of ventilation with three windows and I have a screen in the door. I bought the $40.00 fan for the window and have my griddle and frying pan in front of that window so the encaustic paint an oil fumes are pulled out through that window. It works very well and I have virtually no fumes in the studio.

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Using the Iron and Hot Air Gun

The encaustic craft iron that I bought (It was $40.00!!) is very cheaply made and the handle keeps coming off so I have to watch how I hold it. I will buy a tacking iron for smoothing the surface if I keep doing the encaustic processes. Many encaustic artists use that particular iron. I did buy an old iron that has no steam holes but it is quite heavy to use for small areas, but will work well on larger surfaces.

I first use a 4-inch wide brush to add clear wax medium to the bare watercolor paper surface but the brush always leaves groove strokes that are hard to eliminate.

To fuse the layers I use the hot air gun and set it on a medium heat and move over the surface from top to bottom and side-to-side very slowly. Then, I love how the iron flattens and shines the surface and eliminates the brush stroke ridge, lumps and bumps. When I am ironing the surface I take a piece of clear wax and rub it on the bottom of the iron when held over the crevices and once again smooth these areas out with the iron. I keep working the surface until it is relatively smooth. It is impossible to get all of the lumps and crevices out of the surface and have finally accepted this as a part of using wax as my medium and the bumps and crevices add character.   I also use the hot air gun to fuse the surface as well.

Using my Scraping Tools.

I use scraping tools to additionally smooth the surface. I also take the flat metal scraping tool and rub it against the bottom of the iron. It heats up and helps to melt some of the bumps and smooth the crevices. The scraping tool on the top is my favorite. The one in the middle I use for taking wax off in smaller areas and it also creates ridges to add sculptural effects.

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Using the electric griddle and frying pan.

I use the electric frying pan to melt the pure filtered beeswax and damar varnish.The damar varnish cures the wax and makes the surface harden over time. The surface can be buffed with a soft rag and the wax attains a luscious shine.   I use 8 parts of wax to 1 part of damar varnish. First I melt about a 1 pound of wax in the griddle. When the wax has melted for a little bit and it gets pooling in the pan, I take the solid wax block out of the frying pan and melt the crushed damar varnish into the wax. (The varnish comes in junks so I put it between wax paper and use a hammer to pulverize it) I move the varnish around in the wax until it has melted and then add the rest of the wax back to the frying pan and let it all melt. I use a stick to keep stirring the wax. I pour the wax carefully into muffin tins. When the wax is cold, I take the wax out of the muffin tins and use the wax for different parts of the painting process.

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When the canvas is ready for painting the image, I melt the wax on the surface of the griddle. I heat the griddle until it is about 175 degrees. I do have a griddle heat monitor so I can see the temperature throughout the waxing process. I find if the heat can get either too hot or too cold because the griddle turns itself off and on which fluctuates the heat.   If the temperature goes too low the wax will not flow well. If the temperature is around that 175-degree mark then it flows well and I can blend thecolors. The temperature is crucial for good waxing results.Encaustic Materials 3

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Using Brushes

I find that the cheap hard bristle bushes do not work that well when working in detail. I have read that those types of brushes are promoted but I find the wax does not flow off the brushes if they are too hard and stiff. I like using softer natural bristle bushes and the one I love is the bamboo brush. The brush forms a nice point and the wax just flows off the brush. I also have other smaller natural bristle brushes that I use.

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Paint and Wax

So far I am just using oil paint that I mix with the wax. I bought a cheap version of oil paint and just add the oil paint in small amounts to the wax right onto the griddle. I add about 1 part oil paint to 20 parts of wax. A lot more wax than oil paint so that the oil paint in the wax becomes transparent. If I add too much oil paint then the wax needs a lot more time to dry and the surface becomes tacky. So, a lot of wax and small amount of oil paint.

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Creating the Work

After I add two or three coats of clear wax I scrape and iron the surface until the brush strokes are gone. It takes a lot of pressure when using the scraping tools on the water color paper canvas to eliminate the valleys and hills. It is almost impossible to get a smooth surface and have accepted because that is the nature of the medium. If I see terrible valleys, I fill them with more clear wax with a brush. The wax is dripped into the valley and I smooth the surface with the iron and scraping tools.

After the clear wax layer is finished I begin the painting. I take the canvas to the griddle and brush on the colors. First I use a bigger brush and just apply the colors in a gestural overlapping way. It looks very sloppy but the layering of colors becomes the foundation for the top colors. After applying a few layers I take my hot air gun to fuse the surface.

I keep at this until the whole canvas is covered with the color scheme that I want.   Then, I go over the surface from top to bottom with the iron. I tilt the iron and use the edge to slide over the surface very carefully. I do not want to disturb the surface too much but want to just create lines for the water. Then I go back and brush in my long strokes with lighter and darker oil colored wax and do the ironing process until I get the desired affect.

This can be frustrating seeing an awful waxed surface. But don’t get discouraged at the beginning. Just keep going until something happens and the work starts to take on an energy of it’s own. The image will start to speak and tell you what colors to add and what lines to take away. I may need a darker color on the bottom and lighter colors on the top to develop depth in the work. It literally is a dance that I perform from going to the griddle, then to the iron, then to the viewing board to observe, and I do this many times until I think it is ready for the next step.

Phase 1 Beginning the Dance.

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Phase 2 More paint Added and the iron is used to flatten the surface. Still need more refinement of the colors so more paint is added.

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Phase 3: Needs more Refinement

I placed more light lines across the top and moved down to the bottom right hand side. I needed some dark blues on the right side so added more dark lines. I then took the iron and lightly made each line melt into each other. The finished background is done.

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Phase 4 Adding the Pickerel Weeds.

 Today I did the outlines of the leaves on white cotton material. I cut the leaves out and placed them onto the surface of the canvas. I then cut the stems. I love this method because I can move them around. The material sticks to the surface when I smooth them on the top with a wooden tool. Then if the images are too large or too small I can alter them. Even after I have finished the placement of the elements and have completely waxed the leaves, I can take them off or add more. I really love this technique. I did the green waxing of the leaves and when I ironed over the leaves it smudged all of the water colors into a muddy mess. So, I had to take the leaves and stems off and try again.

After painting all of the leaves and stems, I wrecked the water and had to redo the water again. I did not like the final reworking of the water like the one I did above. I also see that the image is too dark and the water needs to be lightened. I am happy with the way the leaves and stems move but I am not at all pleased with the water. I do prefer my first water scene before it was ruined. I may have to go over the water again with my smaller iron and see the results. Here it is at this stage without the reworking of the water. What do you think? Should I leave it the way it is?

 Pickerel Weed # 2

Pickerel Weed #2 final

 

Conclusion

What I love about encaustic (Keep in mind that I have only worked in this medium for such a short period of time) is the way it can be sculpted. I can add wax, scrape it down with my scraping tool, add collage elements, and then take them away if I don’t like the way they speak to me. I love the transparency of colors. Once it is dry I take a soft cloth and rub the surface. The gloss adds so much luminosity to the piece. I can build up the surface in a gestural way. I think I have found my medium at long last. Being a sculptor, painter, and art quilter has been rewarding but after I mastered the techniques and did a variety of artworks in that particular medium, I got bored with the medium. Encaustic encompasses the techniques found in sculpting, quilting, painting, and collaging. I am looking forward to the future possibilities of using this medium.

 What are your thoughts on encaustic as a creative medium and what do you like or don’t like about the medium?

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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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