Painting on Canvas instead of Wooden Panels


As I am getting older I see that I am having a hard time carrying large panels around the studio and moving many paintings that are so heavy to galleries.  I have only been using wooden panels but want to paint larger than 24″ X 24″ and decided that there has to be another way to paint in encaustic and use raw canvas for my paintings.  Many artists have warned me not to work on canvas because the wax surface could crack if a painting did not have a solid backing.   After doing a lot of research,  I have witnessed artists such as Tony Scherman, Lora Murphy, Paco Benitez and Leslie Newmann, to name a few, paint with pigmented beeswax on canvas.   Some like Sherman and Murphy paint directly on canvas stapled around wooden stretcher frames.   Murphy uses beeswax and mycrocrystalline.  I have talked to Lora Murphy and she says that she has had no trouble with her paintings cracking.  Leslie Newman paints her larger paintings on hard core foam panels. She paints layer of encaustic gesso on the surface of her panels before beginning to paint in encaustic.  Additionally,  I watched a YouTube demonstration on the restoration of an Ansel Kiefer painting.  Kiefer’s painting, made with different materials on canvas, had become unstable so the conservationist at the museum added the foam panels.   It was the firmness of the foam that stabilized Kiefer’s painting.

So, over the past two months I have been experimenting by adding 1/2″ foam paper backings behind raw canvas and then stretching the canvas around the top layer of the foam and stapling to a wooden stretcher and it works.  My paintings are light and have a solid surface to work on.  The following are the steps of my experiment.

Picture 1: I bought a wooden canvas stretcher, two sides and two bottoms, that are 20″ X 24″. I then bought two foam panels and butted them together and glued them to the edges of the wooden stretcher bars and taped them together.


Picture 2 is the side view of the foam panel on the stretchers.  IMG_3121 2

Picture 3: The back of the panel.  As  you can see, the foam panel is in the front of the stretcher bars and I glued only the foam panel to the wooden stretcher and stapled the canvas to the back.


Picture 4: I bought raw canvas and pulled the canvas around the panel and the wooden stretcher.  I then stapled the canvas at the back of the panel.  As you can see in this picture the canvas was not that flat on the front but after painting encaustic gesso onto the surface it flattened the surface totally down after it dried.


Picture 5:  Painted the surface with encaustic gesso and it became completely flat against the panel.

IMG_3132 2

The following are the completed painting steps.

Picture 1 the painted background. I use a heat gun to fuse the surface but fuse lightly.  Once the layers are established, I can fuse a bit more rigorously.  I do wear a mask when I fuse just incase there are fumes coming from the panels.  I have not experienced any foam smell because there is a thick canvas barrier and a paper covering between the wax surface and the foam surface.

IMG_3133 2

Painting 2 the background fused, finished and ready to add the lines.  IMG_3759

Painting completed. 20″ x 24″


Here is the second one, 20″ X 24,” that I did also on raw canvas wrapped around a foam panel and a wooden stretcher.


Here is the 3rd one, 18″ X 24″, on a raw canvas stapled around a foam panel and stretcher bars.


To conclude, I love the lightness of these paintings.  I can scrape down the surface in the same way as I scraped the wax surface down on a wooden panel.  I can frame them in floater frames.  When I paint on raw canvas and foam panels I will make sure that the foam is archival and has a permanency that will last for many years. Also, one can use a thick cardboard panel and paint in the same way as with the foam.  Many possibilities to experiment with.



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.

Using previous work as a starting point

I have been painting on canvas with acrylic paint but have not tried encaustic so I want to redo these painting in encaustic wax in smaller versions and practice the techniques of creating  water plant forms out of wax mediums.

paugh lake 3 30%22X30%22 flickr

This will be the second pickerel painting that I will do in encaustic.  I will try to practice getting a water like texture onto the surface with different thicknesses of wax.

paugh lake 1 30%22X30%22 flickr