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.


Two more works completed

Worked in a pointillist way on this work.  Reminded me of a window so created window panes in variegated colours.

16" X 24" Encaustic on Birch Panel.  Anna Wagner-Ott
16″ X 24″ Encaustic on Birch Panel. Copyright Anna Wagner-Ott 2014
Line Dancing #6 Autumn Influences
12″ X 12″ Encaustic and mixed media on panel. Copyright, Anna Wagner-Ott, 2014.

Play Days with Lines – Drastic Intervention!!!!!

Still working on lines for my composition. I also decided to limit my palette to browns and white. Well, that did not work. I have always worked with a lot of colors (blues, violet, reds, purples, etc) and making myself work with such a limited palette drove me crazy. I was working on the following line study.


Well, what frustrations. I first added two layers of clear wax medium to the surface of the canvas. Then added brown rusty colored ribbons for the lines in the square. I then painted watercolor paper surface with a variety of blacks and blue watercolor paint. After the paint dried, cut the paper for the blackish blue vertical lines. In between the black/blue vertical lines I placed crimson yarn vertically.   Then, (the hard part) I added wax, yellow/brown into the spaces between the vertical lines and had a hard time fussing and ironing the wax between the lines. The wax covered the vertical lines so I had to scrape away the wax with a pottery tool. Also, when the wax melted with the underneath colors it changed the color underneath and the result was a muddy mess. Here is the first version:Image

So, what do I do now? I have to do something drastic such as taking my iron and heat gun to the work with my intuition and not brains. I have to break the elements apart step by step and see if something comes out of this or this piece will end up on the chopping block.  I rarely am afraid of destroying a work because sometimes, by accident, it starts to work and I am back on track and the work takes a turn for the better.

I needed to use brighter colors and take off the dark blue lines and add lighter lines to pick up the energy of the colors. I see that using lighter lines next to the center square punched the colors of the whole piece and it did not look as muddy. I am not sure it this works yet. I find the that the composition is a bit stiff with the balance of the square in the middle. I feel that it canvas should have been a bit longer because the image appears to tight. That is the problem with a square format. I feel the need to add another square underneath to elongate it. Here is the final version.