Taking Realism to Abstraction

My studio sits beside a beautiful lake and the sunsets and sunrises on the lake are amazing.  Every day I feel blessed when I see the sky constantly changing, the reflections in the lake go from bright oranges to midnight blues, and the leaves in the fall pop to reds and oranges.  I can understand why artists in the Group of Seven were drawn to the landscapes around Algonquin Park.   I, on the other hand, have a love – hate relationship with painting landscapes.   I have tried painting realistically.  Six years ago I did a few paintings of water plants by the shores of the lake.  Below are examples.

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Shore Plants. acrylic, 30″ X 30″
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Shore Plants, 30″ X 30″, acrylic on canvas
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Shore Plants, 24″ X 48″, acrylic on canvas
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Shore Plants, 30″ X 30″, acrylic on canvas

I had positive reviews but did not see my future as a realistic landscape painter.  I have always been drawn to the non-representational and have predominately painted in that style. Yet, every now and then, when I need a break from the Interlaced series, I try to paint realistic lake views.   And, every time the landscape is finished I disrupt the pretty realism by painting my woven structure over it.  I can’t leave that painting as a realisitc landscape.

Incubation Period

While staying in Florida, for the month of January (2017), I went to an art store to buy myself a few tubes of watercolour paint, paper, some sewing needles and yarn.  Utilizing the idea of barriers, since I was so against Trump’s idea of building a wall along the Mexican and USA border, I created these small watercolour paintings and used my needle and thread and wove a weaving on top of the landscape.  When I got home I put them away.

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Water colour, yarn on paper, 9″ X 12″
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Watercolour on paper with yarn, 9″ X 12″

Experimental Days

Every month I take a few days off from the series that I am working on and shift my thoughts to experimenting on other ideas. On one of those days I decided to take a photograph from the edge of our lake and then, in the studio, paint those reflections on the lake with the horizon line and distant hills.   When it was finished I saw another pretty landscape which I just could not relate to. The image of my weaving materialized and I added a woven overlay on top of the blue water and fused it.  This time, by accident, I over  fused the lines so the wax melted and created lacy lines over the water.  It felt like I had added a warm woven blanket onto the surface and then it sank in some parts and raised to the surface in other areas.   I just loved the affect.  Then, I remembered the watercolour painting that I did of the barrier in Florida and began adding a fence on the horizon line.  As I was painting the fence it reminded me of a lines of trees so I shifted the fence to trees with spaces in between.   I included colours of reds and yellows peaking through those trees.     It became a tree fence blocking the views beyond the horizon line.

I was so excited with that landscape because it was still realistic yet it was also an abstraction – it had a twist when I fused the water and added the running tree fence.  Below is the first painting in the series.

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Standing at the Edge, encaustic on panel, 24″ X 24″

My intent of using barriers or coverings was still in that first painting and became the catalyst for the next series.  I continued to paint three more variations focusing on lake views from the water’s edge and included a running tree fence blocking the views.

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At the Edge #2, Encaustic on panel, 24″ X 24″
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At the Edge #3, encaustic on panel, 24″ X 24″
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At the Edge #4, encaustic on panel, 24″ X 24″ 

 

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Setting Small but Attainable Goals

In 2013 I retired from the art department at California State University in Sacramento.  During the 13 years that I worked in California I made art, had two solo exhibitions and exhibited in gallery group shows but teaching was my priority.  When I retired in 2013 I moved back to Canada and set up a studio and now work full-time as a painter.  I gave up sculpture to embrace Encaustic.   I am new to this small community in Northern Ontario.    There are very few  galleries and most focus on exhibiting artists who paint realistically.  So, in order to survive here as an artist,  I decided to set goals for myself.  In this blog I share those goals

Goal #1  Just practice the craft of using molten wax as a painting medium as well as focus on one theme.  Over that last four years I have been practicing this medium almost everyday.   My goal is to perfect my technique of painting woven lines.   I have always been fascinated by artists using textiles and did create art quilts for a few year, so instead of using a loom to weave textiles, I began using the painted line to weave intricate woven coverings over background abstracted landscapes.  In  “Darning Memories” I took inspiration from contemporary artists working with textiles.   Instead of using a loom, fabric, needle and thread  I use the painted lines to mimic threads so weave  hundreds of intersecting lines into contemporary woven structures.   While immersing myself  in painting I think about whether barriers act to protect or keep us isolated? Do coverings keep us warm, safe, hidden or become suffocating?   The goal for my paintings evolved into a complex dialogue surrounding identity in relation to physical and psychological barriers.

Goal #2  build a website and show my paintings on social media platforms.  I designed my Weebly website (www.annawagnerott.com) and published it, started this blog (Encaustic Adventures), opened up a Facebook page, joined Pinterest, Instagram, etc.

Goal #3 apply to group and juried shows.  In 2016 and 2017 I participated in the Art Fair at the International Encaustic Conference in Provincetown. At the Art Fair I met Adam and Mariam Peck. www.adampeck.com  They invited me to participate in the Black Tie (Optional) group show at their Adam Peck Gallery,  June of 2017.

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Ties that Bind, encaustic on panel, 12″ X 12″

During that same time one of my paintings was accepted into a juried show at the Kobalt Gallery in Provincetown, June, 2017,

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“Barriers that go on Forever, encaustic on panel, 12″ X 12”

and at the Juried exhibition at the Morpho Gallery in Chicago.   The following painting was accepted.

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Burning Embers, encaustic on panel, 6″ X 24″

Goal #4  participate in the local Madawaska Valley Studio Tour as well as apply to the Juried exhibition in the Trinity Gallery at the Shenkman Centre in Ottawa.   I wanted to open my studio to the public so that I could meet individuals and share my work and processes.  I great way to get feedback and also sell a few paintings.     My painting was accepted into the AOE arts council members’ show and I was delighted to receive the Juror’s Choice Award.

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The Glow from Within, encaustic on panel, 24″ X 24″
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Ready for the Madawaska Valley Studio Tour

Goal #4, Apply to the AOE Arts Council gallery for a Solo Exhibition.  I have submitted all of the materials requested and am waiting for the results.

Goals are so important.  My suggestion is to start with small goals, like applying for a group show or participating in a juried show.   Join local arts groups to meet with other artists doing similar works.  Participate in local art fairs and studio tour events.  This is a great way to get feedback and to sell your work.  Then begin writing up solo exhibition proposals.   I have found that your work has to be consistent, have a theme and only focus on that theme when you are applying for a solo exhibition.  The curators do not want to see a variety of different styles but want to see a focus.  It takes time to develop a body of work and to accomplish your goals, but don’t give up because you will succeed if you are persistent and have a strong  and consistent body of work.

Can you share your goals?  What worked for  you and what were  your blocks in succeeding?

 

Should Wax be our Driving Force?

Many artists having exhibitions use the word Encaustic in their title such as “Encaustic Show”, “Show of Encaustic Paintings,” “Wax Art”, “Encaustic Works,”  “Encaustic: Rebirth of an Ancient Medium,”  “Encaustic Juried Show, 2017”, etc   All of these titles focus on techniques, medium and processes used by the artists.    Where are the interesting  titles or themes for these  shows that focus on the content of the works?    In Facebook groups I see a painting posted by an artist and the title is “Encaustic on Panel?  Does the painting have no title?  Or I hear  Encaustic Artist or Wax Artist as descriptors.   Are  we not artists who  have something to say through our works and not just technicians using molten pigmented wax as a painting medium?

Then I hear such confusions over using Encaustic in our written and verbal conversations.  Shouldn’t I say I am a painter using Encaustic as a process because I paint with pigmented beeswax and use a heat source to burn the top layer to the one below.  As Ralph Mayer explains in his Artist’s Handbook in the section on Encaustic “The word encaustic comes from Greek and means to burn in, which refers to the process of fusing the paint.”    Is there such a thing as Encaustic Paint?   If Encaustic is a process then can it also be encaustic paint?   Aren’t we using pigmented beeswax as paint on panel in the same way as an oil painter would use oil paint?     And what about using encaustic(s) plural?  Do artists use many encaustics?  When I hear an artist say that he or she uses encaustic on panel, I assume that the painter is using a specific process such as a heat source to liquify the wax and a heat gun or torch to burn in each layer of wax.  When I hear  a photographer using beeswax over their photographs and calling their work Encaustic I question whether they are  layering coloured beeswax and fusing  with a heat source.  Can they call their works encaustic if they are adding a final layer of beeswax as a covering to alter the photograph?

Encaustic as a process has been around since the 5th century B.C. In the 1st-2nd century  A.D the Greeks and then the Egyptians used Encaustic to paint their Fayum funeral portraits.  In the 20th century  Jasper Johns, Brice Marden, Martin Kline, Linda Benglis, Michael David, and Joanne Mattera have painted or are still painting with pigmented wax.  When they talk or write about their work they did/do not focus on the medium.   They talk about the intent for their works in relation to the ways they use the elements and principles of design.  When I went to Michael David’s talk at the International Encaustic Conference I left knowing more about the artists’ ideas and why they used Encaustic as their process.  But I was not given a talk on techniques and processes or ways to use wax.  As a community of artists, painters, sculptors, printmakers, photographers, etc. shouldn’t we first focus on  the intent of the work and then the techniques and materials and not be driven only by wax?

I would love to hear your views so please leave comments.

Hanging by Threads

In this blog, I take you on my journey through the ups and downs of creating my “Hanging on Threads” painting

The inspiration for this work became the water view with white clouds in the distance, grey clouds coming in from the side and a deep red horizon line.  Then dark blues, greys and white reflections on the lake.  I wanted to capture this waterscape image for the background and then add a gauze-like structure to the surface.

In a sauce pan I melted the wax balls that I saved from scraping the previous artworks. I painted the brownish wax onto the surface of the panels.  The key for these first layers was the fusing.  Lots of heat with the heat gun until the wax melted thoroughly.  Using  these balls of wax  is a great way to save money by not having to use clear medium or clear beeswax on the foundation layer.   Once these layers were done I then started to paint the background with pigmented wax and clear medium.

I had decided to paint the image onto a long horizontal two panel surface.  The panels were joined on the back and did not shift.  As you can see in my studio photograph there is a table that I work on and on the other table I keep my heating tools and wax.

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I begin all of my paintings in the same way.  I heat the wax and apply the colors with a brush.  Not concerned at this point with details, but just to put down the colors in a loose way.  This building up of the surface is important.   I scrape, add more layers to get an interesting surface treatment.  I use a big ratio of medium to wax because I want to achieve transparent surfaces of colors.   The process is very intuitive at this point.  In the next pictures I show the evolution of the different surface and color treatments.  As you can see, I tried creating this cloud like surface of the sky, water, and the red on the horizon line.

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I am continually critiquing my work.  Looking at it from a distance and up close.  I saw that the red was over powering so I just kept on painting by adding layer after layer.  The above version was too colourful so muted down the surface with white cloud formations.

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Was I finished?  Is this surface treatment and color relationship ready for the gauze drawing?  In my opinion I had lost the landscape feeling so became obsessed with revising this landscape.  I added more colors and textures and the following image became the next version.  I also changed the orientation of the panels so that they were joined vertically and not horizontally.   Oh my gosh, this was too busy so I needed to scrape down the surface and added the white back.

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Now I had a lot of interesting surface treatments but I was adding a gauze surface and the background was too busy and would compete with the woven structure.  So, my final background had a softer tonal feeling for the gauze curtain. As you can see below, I brought back the top red and simplified the white blue clouds.  Additionally, I scraped the bottom and painted geometric-like shapes.  The gauze was painted onto the surface.

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I decided that this painting was finished.  When I looked at it over a few days I kept thinking that there is no movement except for the bottom of the gauze and I saw a draped piece of woven fabric that appeared stiff.

Using my IPad, I took a photograph of this painting.  In my Procreate Application I used the tools to play around with the work and then the painting morphed into this gestural interesting image.  The painting was totally transformed and had its own personality.

The following image is the IPad version.

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I loved it and wanted to use the IPad image as a reference.  So the challenge  was – Could I reproduce this work in pigmented wax? I used drawing and painting tools in Procreate on a smooth glass surface so I wasn’t sure if I could replicate the IPad drawing.   With complete abandonment, I took my brushes and liquid wax and painted in the same way as I did on the IPad.   Here is the final version in encaustic on a 30″ X 44″ panel.   The work is called “Hanging by Threads.”

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A Little Help from IPad Pro

In January I decided to buy myself an IPad Pro because I was fascinated with the fact that I could draw, take notes and revise my artworks on the IPad .   I love computers and how they make life so much easier and I also love to just sit and draw out my ideas on paper so the IPad Pro tablet would just enhance by exploratory ideas.  After watching many video IPad Pro reviews on the internet and seeing how artists are using the IPencil with the IPad Pro, I decided that this was a business expense and would help with designing, cropping, and editing my paintings. So, I have been using the IPad Pro with the IPencil for about 6 months. I also downloaded the ProCreate application from the Apple App Store and with the IPencil have been using both daily.

The Procreate application is only $3.99 and there are different types of brushes, inking, and sketching tools. It can do textures, spray paints, charcoals, etc. Then you can easily change the brush sizes and use different color transparencies. There are an array of color choices. It is an amazing program. It is so easy to upload my painted images into this program. I can also draw and paint directly onto the Procreate’s blank page and use that page with drawing and painting tools to create an original artwork.

In this post I share how I use the Procreate app to make changes to a recent artwork.

The first step is to take photos with my IPad Pro of an artwork at different stages of the process. So for this work, I painted these gauze skins that I had sewn together and took a photo of the two sections of skins.

 

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Then I took a photo of the unfinished painting and added the two sections of skins and placed them directly on top of the painted background, It was like making a collage and playing around with placement before fusing those skins onto the background panel. I then took another photograph with the IPad Pro. This was the original picture that I kept duplicating and using for idea revisions.

 

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As you can see, the background I had painted first and then the gauze was just placed onto the surface, no fusing yet, and I took a photograph of this stage. I did like the gauze with the painted lines together but decided that I needed to connect the background with the foreground in some way. It appeared as though the gauze was sitting on the surface and not integrated into the painting.   So this image I duplicated in Procreate over and over again and just played on top of this image with the IPencil in Procreate.  I primarily use the drawing and painting tools to try out ideas. I drew directly onto the above painting on the screen.

In the next photo below, I used the painting tool and painted out the background to see what it would look like. I liked the simplicity of this painted one but decided that the foreground and the background were disconnected, it had no energy, and did not relate to my focus for the Darning Memories series which I talked about in my last post.

 

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As you can see above, I took the painting tool and just picked a color from the color swatches and used transparent paint and painted over the surface. I used the felt marker tool and drew lines as I would use a needle to darn the edges of the gauze to the background. I liked the darning idea around the edges. I saved this image to the gallery file.

Note: I keep duplicating the original first image of the painting. 

In the following picture I changed the orientation and created a sort of landscape. When you take the IPencil and just touch a section on the screen, you can pick a color to match the color on the painting. This is a great option because then you can pick the exact color and paint with that color over the existing painted image. So, I painted in the sections between the gauze and really liked the landscape effect and will use this idea for another painting in the future. But for the painting I was working on I did not want a landscape feeling because this idea did not connect to the Darning Memory series.

 

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In the next painting revision below I took the felt marker lines and just drew over the existing lines around the gauze. Used the lines to darn around the edges of the gauze. 

 

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I liked the energy of this piece so this became my final Procreate version  and the prototype for the actual painting. When I went back to the actual painting, I fused the gauze onto the painting and I felt that the lines were too busy so I just softened the lines and scraped back the surface.  The following is my final version.  It is 24″ X 24″

 

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Substrates and Painting Tools

Porous Surfaces: The molten-pigmented wax or the wax medium should be applied to a porous surface, such as paper, fabric, wood, plaster, etc. Once the first layer is fused with a heat source (I use a heat gun and others use a small propane or butane torch) then other layers of coloured wax or medium can be added  and continually fused until the painting is finished. 

The most common substrates are paper and wood panels. Paper comes in different variety of weights from rice, kozo, and tissue papers that are very thin and transparent, to cardboard and 300-lb watercolour paper, etc.   One can also use different papers as college elements which can be embed into the wax. Artists also may use a hotbox and add colours of wax onto the heated surface and then take a print of the design. These designs are printed on different absorbent papers. Check out Paula Roland‘s hot box and her processes. 

I use heavy water color paper and, when the painting is finished, will mount the image onto a panel or frame it. The issue with wax on paper is its fragility and can crack if bent or folded so one needs to protect the painted surface by attaching the paper onto a ridged surface. Or, be careful not to bend the painting when creating a scroll or hanging the paper without a frame.

In addition to using paper, I predominately use a birch panel that I purchase from an art supply store.   I do, at times, mount paper onto a panel to get a white background and I do like a paper surface to paint on, or I just apply the medium and wax pigment onto the raw panel. One can also use gesso that is specifically made for encaustic.  

Note: I also find it difficult to take the wax off the sides of a panel so I do use masking or painter’s tape that I wrap around the frame. When the painting is finished I will take the tape off the sides.

The following images show how I attach the watercolour paper onto the panel.  The first picture show the equipment needed.  In the second and third picture I show how to glue one side of the paper and the top of the panel.   Then take a old credit or hotel card and scrape the glue to the edges.  Press the watercolour paper onto the panel.  Use the roller and go over the paper and panel.  I sometimes use an old iron on a low setting and iron over the paper and this also presses the paper into the panel.  I leave a heavy book on the panel overnight.  

 

 

Tools to paint with.

Brushes:   They come in all shapes and sizes. I use large brushes for applying large areas of paint to the smallest ones for fine lines. Brushes come in flat, round, natural or acrylic. If I am applying large areas of paint then I usually will use a flat natural bristle brush. Remember, the wax is hot so can melt acrylic brushes. I try to keep my temperature under 200 degrees so this heat will melt my brushes if they are acrylic so I do not keep the small brushes in the wax for too long. I will just dip the small acrylic brush into the wax and then add the lines onto the surface of the painting.   For mixing my colors of wax I use predominately hog hair bristle and for details will go to the softer natural brushes.   Brushes are expensive and I use cheap ones that can be purchased at hardware or dollar stores. I also buy small soft bristle brushes at an art supply store. 

In the picture below the brushes on the left are bristle brushes for painting larger areas with liquid pigmented wax.  I like painting with the short handles.  Then, the fan brushes are great.  I use them to build up texture onto the surface.  Also, the sides make great lines.  The bamboo brushes next to the fan brushes are great to paint details with.  The liquid wax just holds in the bamboo brushes and I can make fine lines and also use the tips to do dots and swishes of lines.  The next group are the small acrylic and natural soft bristle brushes. These are used to paint my fine lines.  I use #3 – #0.  

Brushes for Encaustic

It is wonderful painting with wax because I do not have to clean brushes.  I have a brush for each colour.  Also, if a brush is dirty, I put the tip of the brush onto a hot surface.  The wax melts and I can clean it off with a paper towel. Or dip the brush in medium and take the wax off with a paper towel.  

Paper Towels – a must for painting. I use a lot of paper towels to clean the surfaces of the hot plate and for cleaning my brushes.

Scraping Tools

When the liquid wax is applied to the surface there may be times when you have to scrape the wax down when it is cool.   These scraping tools and  artist’s knife are used to scrape the surface of the wax.  I also use a carving tool that has a small curved surface.  This is great to get into small areas to scrape away a line or scrape down the textural surface.  The tool on the far right also has a small round opening and is also used to scrape down small areas that I can not get with the larger metal scraper.  My favourite tool  is a flat blade which is used for scraping down the surface.  Additionally, a spoon can be used to burnish a collaged element into the wax.  The wooden cotton swabs can be dipped into the wax and then used to create wonderful dots.  

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Spoon to burnish the surface, to make the surface smooth, and to embed collage elements.  

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Wonderful cotton swabs for making dots and blending colors.

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Blades and their holders.  I just use the blade when scraping down the surface.  You have to continually clean off the accumulated wax from the blade or else that wax will end up back on the surface and intermingle with the wax underneath.  This is hard to fix.  

Hot Tools

In this section I talk about the hot tools that I use to make marks.  I will describe each one and talk about its usage.  I use a small flat nosed plier to unscrew the hot tool from the base.  Also, I use the metal eye dropper to take the liquid paint and then add the liquid paint to the Tjanting (Batik) hot tool.  

 

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The first one below is great to use for lines.  As  you can see the tip has a division in the centre where the wax accumulates.  I can dig this tip gently into the solid wax or into liquid wax.  When I draw with this pen it makes these fine lines but is hard to control when the wax flows out at the beginning.  As you can see the wax is a bit wider at the beginning and narrow at the end of each stroke.  This tool takes practice and is hard to control.  

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The following pen nib I bought at the Vendor’s room at the International Encaustic conference.  It was $25.00 just for the nib.  I was very disappointed with the way the nib scratched into the wax layer when I tried to do lines.  It is not the same as the previous nib that came with the hot tool.  I did get two sizes of these writing nibs so they were expensive.  I will keep working with them but I do think other tools do a better job when making lines.  This tool works best when dipped into the liquid wax.  

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Metal brushes come in straight and angled.  They do make great lines, but as you see below they  start off as dark and then move to light.  One can get different brushed lines with these hot tools.  Love the effect of going from transparency to opaque.  

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The following is called the  Tjanting (Batik) hot tool.  I use the metal eye dropper and add liquid wax into the bowl and then put the pin into the bowl.  The white around the plug is wax that has hardened.  Once the tool gets hot the wax melts.  This pin plugs up the hole on the bottom and then when you hold the bottom onto the surface and move it the pen gets pushed up and then the wax flows out.  You can make dots and flowing lines.  One has to be careful because the pointed nib can easily drop out of the bowl and then the wax comes out and makes a mess, as you can see below.  These Tjanting tools come in three hole sizes – small, medium and large.  

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As you can see below, both of these pictures show the batik tool used to make lines.  I do like this tool because I can add interesting lines to the surface of my paintings.  

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Finally, the brush can also be used to make lines.  In this example, I use the smallest brush that I can find.  It does incredible lines.  One can combine the different tools to make different surface treatments. 

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The following encaustic painting is the underneath layer. I used a wide bristle brush for the first few layers and then just the bamboo brush for the surface texture.  It is 24″ X 48″. A bamboo brush is great for adding small and wide marks as well as dots.  I will be adding my gauze covering on top of this painting.  

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Marsh Studies

Here is the next shoreline study that has possibilities. It still needs a bit more work on the reeds because I think there is too much wax which makes that area too thick and dense. Some more burnt sienna, yellow and green around the middle. I love the way the light comes through the dark incised lines but I need to bring in more of those white lines to make the top section less dense. I don’t know if this is finished yet. I may have to work on it some more and will share the final results.

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As you can see below I scrapped away the top half of the painting and simplified the composition. I just did not like the thick application of those reeds. I felt that the previous painting had no life and it was too busy. I reworked the water and added water plants below the top reeds. I like the circle affect that I created. I think the water is too white and needs to be a lighter blue because the white suggests ice instead of water.

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Another marsh and shore line study. I think this idea has many possibilities so now I want to make a bigger 24” X 24” marshland painting and use this #2 painting as a starting point. I want to continue with creating a sense of distance and will also continue to add water lilies at the bottom of the next painting.

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After viewing this painting for a while there was something in the painting that kept bothering me. I saw the straight line of the back weeds and the front weeds being too straight so I worked on this study again. I broke the top line and made it move in a wavy line. I also broke up the bottom line as well. I think the final composition is much better.

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