Experiments do Lead to Successes

In these 12″ X 12″ paintings in encaustic I planed on experimenting with printing textures of actual gauze onto the surface of the panel.  After the woven surface areas were dry, I pulled off the gauze from those areas.  Then after building up the the surfaces in specific areas would add painted woven gauze between those raised areas.  The following painting explores the actual gauze textures.  I really liked the look of the textures on the surface of the panel.  The first image shows a closer view and the next image shows the four that I completed.  


foursome-2.jpg  After doing a soul searching critique, I decided that they were too busy, too much texture and the surface was too rough for my painted woven structures so I fused down the surface.  What I learned from this technique is that I can pull printed textures from different open woven fabrics so will integrate this technique in the future.

After fusing down the surface and adding more glazes of color on specific areas, I added my woven structure onto the surface.  I liked the idea of creating a distant landscape with the painted lines coming forward in front of the viewer.  The following is the first one that I did and I liked that grey, charcoal look on the right side.  The surface reminds me of raku pottery.  


The second one that I post below appears to have a cloudy sky on the left side and a leaf foliage look on the right side.  It reminds be of looking down at the earth from above but the lines just gives me a glimpse of what lines beneath.  

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Interlaced Narrative: The light at Sunset

I saw this amazing sunset just outside of my studio.  The light was hitting the leaves on the branches and gave this warm glow. I took photos of this scene and used it for the inspiration of this work.  It is 24″ X 24″ and encaustic on birch panel.  


Beginning a New Series

My last post explains the importance on being consistent.   In this post I will talk about why I am beginning a new series.  

When critiquing my “Interlaced Narratives” and the “Woven Structures” series, I see an obsession for perfection. My compulsive personality drives the works. Each woven structure has become predictable. The woven gauze-like covering over a painted variegated background or landscape is made from individual strands of pigmented wax, all woven into a warp and a weft, and it is this interlocking of threads, the under and over linking one line to the next that has become obsessive and my focus. “Have I moved away from the original message of using the veil as a metaphor for destruction of the body and the land that I love?

Lately I have been thinking about concepts for coverings in relation to suffocation. I grew up in an environment where my father was an alcoholic and became violent when he drank. When he was in a rage, I would run to my bedroom and hide in my bed under my sheet. The sheet acted as a covering over my body and I hoped that I would disappear and not be found. The sheet became a cave, a hiding place where no one would find me. So for me the fabric gauze like sheet as a covering has many personal implications.

Also, I am drawn to artists who focus on political or social messages and paint in a gestural way. Artworks that are emotional and charged with energy.   On the other hand, my work is obsessive and I strive for perfection so I have been asking, “What am I trying to say through my paintings?”   I concluded that I do want to capture this notion of destruction of the inner sprit in relation to the outer layering of forces that are placed over the body of the land and the turmoil of emotions beside obsessive predictable actions.  I began experimenting and painted a small 12” X 12” encaustic on panel. This painting integrated actual gauze mesh and I painted with emotion and abandonment. I really liked the results. Here is my experiment.




So, the next 24” X 24” painting continues to integrate the gauze on top of a painted field of flowers shining in the sun.   I used actual gauze, painted it, burnt holes in it and then added my painted lines in between the gauze shapes.   I want to suffocate the land -not let it breath.  




The following third work is the largest that I have painted. It is 24” X 48”. I continue with the theme of using the background as my safe space, a space that I can breath and be who I want to be, the covering acts as protection or a space for a view but not to get through and reach me, the grid of steel lines protects and becomes the barrier.  



The Importance of Consistency

In this post I will address the importance of creating a consistent body of work.

When I first began to paint in encaustic I painted in different styles and themes.  So, as you can see below, I tried painting abstract flowers, waterscapes, and the nonrepresentational.  I spent over three years struggling to find a theme and a style of painting that I could sustain over a period of time.  Consistency is not easy.    I love all styles of art but I do know that I have a stronger connection to abstraction and not realism.  I also like impressionism and expressionism and am drawn to textile arts. 

Slowly a seed became planted in my brain after painting many artworks in different styles and themes.    When I take walks along the paths in the woods or around the lake, or take car rides through the country side, I see plastic garbage bags on the side of the trail or an empty pop can or beer bottle in the ditch.   At stop lights I see piles of cigarette butts by the curb. Just up the road from my studio a beautiful forest has been clear cut and the earth is scorched and trampled.   The loggers left such a mess.   I asked myself what are these individuals thinking when throwing garbage out of their car window or destroying the forest?     Then I started to wonder, How could I make an artwork that would show the destruction of our ecosystem in relation to its beauty?

I also love textile arts, and  an image came to me of a woven structure being placed over the land to protect it.  S0 I painted a landscape and added a gauze curtain over the land.  This painting below was the breakthrough.   Then I just continued to make landscapes and covered them with a gauze design.   As I am painting, other ideas come so I keep those thoughts in the form of sketches or writings and will refer to them in the next work.  The more I paint then more variations on the one theme materialize.    The following is the first painting that I made with the gauze covering over a forest landscape. 

#1, AnnaWagner-Ott,Darning

After making many paintings of gauze covering the landscape, I started to see the gauze as the metaphor for notions of “covering” and then focused only on the flowing gauze.  I still have the abstracted landscape beneath the gauze.  

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So, over the past two years I have been consistent with my theme.  The gauze covering is mesmerizing and just pulls me in.  Then, I got tired of the gauze paintings so just took a month off to do some small experiments and actually used threads and painted them after they were wrapped around a panel.  I saw the notion of suffocation appearing in the work.  Suffocation links onto my theme of covering.

It is so important that when you get stuck in your work that you take the time to just experiment with your theme.   Change surfaces, change your style, color, use only black and white, change techniques, etc.  So, after a month of completing 12 small thread encaustic works I started to ask questions.  Am I going away from my original intent of painting the gauze interlaced structures?  What does suffocation mean to me?  How can I use that concept in relation to the gauze curtains?   How can I break the curtain to reveal what is underneath?   What about the beauty of the gauze?  Am I painting pretty pictures?   Have I moved away from my original intent of using the gauze as a political statement and interpreting the destruction of the landscape?  I do ask questions while making the work, and after the work is finished.  The mind will try to play tricks on you and take you off your consistency path.   One does get bored with just doing gauze coverings.  But, after a few days, a gauze idea pops in my head and I have to try it.  Sticking with the theme “Interlaced Narratives” has enabled me to have a consistent body of work so now I can submit a proposal to a public gallery.  

After being consistent with one theme for almost three years, I can understand why curators, gallery owners and museum directors support the notion of consistency and exhibiting an artist’s work that has a thematic focus.  Flitting from one idea to another, one style of work to another, one technique and different colour scheme to another is important at the beginning of your creative journey.  But, I believe at one point you have to ask yourself, “What do I really want to say through my artworks?”  Do you want to show the beauty of the land, or say something political or social, or paint the psychological notion of the human form?  Do I want to paint realism or abstraction?  Picking a style and theme and diving into that theme for at least a year is important for developing yourself as an artist.  This dedication will make your work strong in relation to your concept, and become proficient in your techniques and style. 

Note:  There are hundreds of painting styles.  http://www.wikiart.org/en/paintings-by-style  So first research painting styles and then find the one that you can relate to.     So do you like realism, abstraction, geometric, expressionism, impressionism, minimalism, pop art, etc.   It may be a mixture of many styles.  Start painting in one style then after a while your paintings will evolve into your own personal style.

 In conclusion, I am not saying, “Stick to one theme or style for the rest of your life!”  What I am saying is to dive into one theme for a length of time and to paint a body of work in relation to that theme.  Then, after you have exhausted that theme, another will materialize  and you are off on another journey.  Be passionate and don’t loose site of who you are and what you want to express through art.       



Criticizing Art

When I taught art education my students spent a lot of time looking at their own works, talking about their works, and looking and talking about other students’ artworks. 

Now that I am retired, I am working full-time on my art and have posted artworks on Facebook, Instagram and on my WordPress blog.  I am continually  looking at and talking about art.   On the other hand, I see few artists on Facebook actually understanding the art criticism process.      We do art criticism without knowing that we are doing it.  Friends have seen movies and shared what the movie was about, who the characters were, explained the parts that they liked, and also the sections that they did not like.     We often share our reactions to movies and can talk about a film, but have difficulty talking about art.   Criticizing art is not only responding with “I like a work” or “I do not like it”.  Art criticism is looking at the work and describing what you see in the work, exploring how the artist uses the elements of design, explaining how the artist use the principles of design and then end with a discussion about whether the work is or is not successful based on elements within the artwork.   I have read many articles and books on how to do art criticism and Dr. Terry Barrett, wrote  two books that were extremely helpful “Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary” http://www1.udel.edu/art/rmarquez/416/barrett_criticizing_art.pdf, and  Why is that Art

In this post, I thought that it would be helpful to choose a painting and then do a critique of the work.  Then, you can see how I use art criticism to evaluate my work.  


The first step is to Describe what I see in the art work.

Describe – I see 5 grey textured horizontal/ diagonal lines behind this interlocking mesh of lines.  Between the  grey lines, I see mottled white and light grey spaces.  The surface of the grey lines have scraped furrow lines that form a relief.  Then, in front of the background I see these woven orange/red straight intersecting woven lines.  They have a variegated look with some lines having thicker surfaces and others lines being narrow.  On the surface of this woven line, one sees a diagonal crimson red lines wrapped around the painting. These are also variegated, some areas are wider and some narrower.  Finally another layer of turquoise blue lines are added onto the surface, also wrapped around the painting.  They form on the right side and the top 1/3rd  of the painting.  The layers of lines create a layering sculptural quality.

Analyze – How do the elements and principles of art come together in the work?

Note:  The elements of design are line, shape, color, texture, value, form and space.  The principles are how the elements organize the picture through perspective, balance, focus, dominance, unity, contrast, rhythm, etc.  So, how do these elements and the principles work together in a composition? 

The background is monochromatic in the choice of colors from greys and tinted whites and then lines going on a diagonal and horizontal plane.  In-between the grey bands of color the paint is scraped down and orange is peaking through.  Then thin lines are added as a woven grid that at times are straight and then diagonal.  The turquoise over the darker orange  and red is  strong and vibrant.  The lines are balanced,  yet the turquoise that is off-cantered disrupts the symmetry and adds a focus in the work.

Interpretation:  What is the artist trying to say through the work or art?  I do see that intersecting lines on the surface is preventing me from moving into the background areas.  The intersecting lines becomes a block and I  want to move those lines so that I can access the background.  The woven mesh looks like a gauze-like covering.  On the left and right side there is more gauze and is even more suffocating.  Something is being buried under that busyness on the surface.

Note:  looking at the artist statement one can actually see if the artist’s intent  is reflected in the artworks.  I still have to work on my statement and connect the works to that statement.  This is a continual process.  

Judgement – Do I think the work is finished?  

The work does have a sense of completion.  I do like the way the background works in relation to the foreground.  The colors are muted in the background and I do like the reds, oranges and the turquoise relationships.  The drips on the strings work as a textural quality.  I like the fact that my eyes move around the painting.  The sculptural quality works and has a great tactile quality.  A suggestion would be to take more lines and build them up densely in a section.  Adding a higher sculptural relief in a section.   I need to experiment and to get rid of the square format and create a textural freeform shape in different surface treatments.  Use actual textile gauze elements and place them in relation to my drawn lines.  Bury the gauze and leave some areas showing.   The work also could be much bigger and then one can dive deeper into its many surfaces.  Have some breathing room to just rest the eyes.  The work appears too busy.  Going larger will help with including this notion of a breathing space.  


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.  


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.  



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.  


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.  


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.  


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.  


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.  


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.  




Painting:Heating Equipment

In my last post I explained how to make beeswax medium.  Medium when melted becomes my thinning agent.  This medium can be used in a variety of ways.   One can add a small amount of oil paint or dry coloured powdered pigment to this melted wax medium to make your own colors.  I buy small blocks of colors and add liquid beeswax medium to thin down this pigment.

After you have heated the wax medium and then let it stand for a while it will become hard and you will have to heat the hard wax to melt it.  In this post I explain the different types of heating surfaces on which to melt the hard wax.    I will briefly describe how to use the different tools.

Coloured wax bought from Kama and R&F art supply stores

Heating Surfaces

Frying Pan –  The frying pan I only use for melting the wax and damar resin.   Buy one with an adjustable temperature control knob.   I set my temperature a little over 200 degrees to melt the medium.

Electric Pancake Griddle:  The pancake griddle is used as a palette to keep small containers of wax warm and is also used in the same way as an acrylic or oil painter would use a palette.  I heat my pigmented wax blocks on this griddle and add medium to thin down the coloured wax.  I have a flat bottomed heat thermometer that I put on the surface of the griddle and keep the heat around 180 degrees.  I do not go over 200 degrees.  The electric griddle is used for melting and blending the pigmented wax and the clear wax.  The griddle is also used to keep the coloured liquid wax in containers at a temperature around 180 degrees.




The problems with the electric griddle – the heat does not stay constant because it turns off and on when it reaches a set temperature.  Once my wax melts at a certain temperature it goes hard when the temperature turns off and then soft when the temperature comes on again.    I keep having to turn up the temperature dial to keep the wax constantly at the right temperature.  This fluctuation of heat is a pain when I am making fine lines because the wax needs to be at a specific temperature to flow well.   Maybe it is the brand that I bought that does not keep the temperature constant.    I do use the griddle to hold my liquid paint in containers and then just keep an eye on the temperature.  I use the heat control knob to raise or lower the temperature.

Food Warmer:  I have found an ideal palette surface to heat the  wax.  A food warmer keeps the temperature perfect.  Just under 200 degrees when tested with a griddle thermometer. It is the right size to hold my silver foil containers.  They come in different surfaces  and are great for mixing my paint and holding the containers of wax.

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Irons:  There are so many different types of irons that I use.  I list each separately.

The Encaustic Iron I use for smoothing the  wax on the panel and for incising lines with the edge.  I also have used the iron surface as a palette.  I would melt my coloured wax in small puddles onto the surface  of the iron.  Then use my brush to take the wax off the iron surface.  The issue with this method – the wax runs down the sides of the iron and is such a mess.   So, I only use the iron’s edge for making lines, the bottom for blending colors and smoothing a section of the painting.  The blue iron on the right is the encaustic iron.

Ski Wax and Old Irons  I did buy one of these but rarely use it.  I find that it is heavy and pushes the wax into the panel and I do not get a nice quality surface treatment.  I did use the surface for a palette since it was a bit bigger than the encaustic iron but the wax also ran down the sides. The red one is the ski iron.


Tacking Iron.  This is the best iron for smoothing the surface of the wax.  It is light so with a light touch one can just glide it over wax surface to smooth it down.  I have a lot of paper towels on the side of my work and slide the iron over the towel surface to take off the excess build up of wax on the iron.  So, for smooth surfaces the tacking iron is definitely the best.


Quilting Tacking Irons   The original use for this tools is to fuse fabric down in quilting.  They are electric and the surface of these irons get hot.  They are great from making lines with the side and for blending colors together.   You just need to practice because one can make holes or gaps in the wax.  These gaps and holes can be great to have if you like them but a pain to get rid of if you don’t want them. I also use these irons to smooth collage materials and fabric into the wax.


Drawing Pens   These come in different styles and come with different tips.  You can screw off the tip and add different styles of tips.   Some tips have points, and others have slits in the points to hold the liquid wax.  Also you can get pen nibs.  These pens melt the wax because they are hot.  If you want to get fine lines then use a pen nib.  I have used all of the pen attachments to make marks in my works. The triangle reservoir holds wax and has a stop to prevent the wax from leaking out.  I push down on the tip to release the wax.  The small metal brushes also can be used to paint the wax onto the surface.   The blue metal dropper also makes lines and dots.


Temperature Regulator is used to keep the heat at a certain temperature.  As I mentioned, the heat should stay under 200 degrees so I keep the regulator between 50 and 60%.  I use it for my heat pens, and the small and large tacking irons.


Heat Gun  This tool is my best friend.  I use it to fuse the encaustic layers together and also to build up texture on the surface.    I rarely use a torch because I find that the torch will melt my fine lines.   I recommend buying a heat gun that has a variable temperature control knob so you can set your heat high or low. Also, my heat gun has a high and a low blowing switch.  It comes with a narrow nozzle so I can isolate the heat to a small area.

Heat Gun with a control on the back to raise or lower the temperature


Torch    There are so many different styles of torches.  Some run on propane or butane.    They are lighter than the heat gun and you can cover an area faster.  I did use a torch for a while but went back to using my heat gun.  Many artists use the Iwatani butane torch and love it.  Then others use the Bernzomatic torch that runs off a propane tank.  It really is a matter of preference.  For me I worry about fire and  I have heard some horror stories about fires starting with a torch.  If you have paper around and accidentally touch it with a torch, it may start a fire.  Or, the propane tank gets on fire.  I am accident prone so am afraid to bring a torch into my studio.  At times, I will use a torch outside when I need to fuse a large area.

Another issue – the torch can easily melt my fine lines when I am fusing.  My heat gun has a setting where it does not blow any air onto the surface of my painting so I can fuse the lines with a gentle air current.

To conclude, be safe, have a bucket of water near your work area.  Have a fire extinguisher near your work area.  Make sure you have proper ventilation.  Also, have a metal garbage can with a lid and make sure you dispose of your trash properly.   Using liquid bees wax and pigmented is not harmful if you keep the temperature under 200 degrees.   So, do not heat the wax so that is burns or smokes.  It is so important to work in a safe environment and this would apply to all mediums that one uses in the painting world.

In the next blog I explore painting techniques.