Monday, January 24, 2011

FAQ's About Encaustic Painting...

In November of 2009 I wrote an article on this blog about one of my favorite mediums, Encaustic.  Over the course of the last 14 months it has turned into a love affair.
Bee's Wax and Damar Resin heated to 180-200 degrees is the medium, painting onto a substrate is the art.
Here are a few of my findings I would like to share.
First a bit of History.

An Encaustic painting is created by melting bee’s wax and adding a pigment (Color) to the medium (Bees Wax +Damar Resin). The wax is heated to about 200 degrees, and then painted onto the substrate one thin layer at a time. It is then fused with a heat gun after each application of the wax. The result is a rich, vibrant and textural piece of art. The etching into the wax creates more layers and dimension along with oil pastels and ephemera.

The “Encaustic Technique” was created and used over 4000 years ago. In the 1880’s a piece of encaustic art was found in an ancient Greek tomb by an archeologist. He shared it with museums and scholars, which peaked the interest of the artists of the time. It was not until the late 1950’s when Jasper Johns started creating Encaustic Paintings that this lost Art started to gain popularity. Encaustic Art can now be found in most Art Museums and Galleries. 

Creating Encaustic Art
Brushes: I love to use Oil Paint Brushes from Sherwin Williams made in China from hog hair. My favorite and most easily used is the 1" Sash brush. It holds a load of medium and distributes evenly. This brush is well suited for putting the first three coats of clear medium on the substrate, or covering alot of surface in a short amount of time. I am also enamored with the Hake brushes which I usually pick up at Artist's and Craftsman in Portland, Maine. The Hake brush holds the perfect amount of hot wax and allows for fluid and gentle application. Another important note is ventilation. You must have an exhaust fan of some type. I use a window fan that pushes the air from my studio to the outside.

Palette: The process is fairly simple. I use a big electric Griddle  this is my Palette of choice.
You can regulate the temperature to exactly 180 or 200. This electric Griddle is also large and should sit under the window where the Exhaust fan can move the fumes outside.

Encaustic Medium: Bee's Wax+Damar Resin. R&F Handmade Paints makes a wonderful large cake of clear medium. R&F takes all of the work out of this necessary element, however it is not cheap. A small stick is $11.50 and a large cake is $31.50. You can also buy the medium in pellet form, this is the middle of the road alternative if you do not want to make it yourself. It comes in 1 to 10 pound bags. You put the pellets into a small loaf pan on your hot palette, it melts and you have medium!  If you are planning on a large series or would like to make your own, it is not so hard to do. From R&F or Artist's & Craftsman as well as many other Artist Supply Stores you can buy the raw materials to make your own Encaustic Medium. There are many different approaches. Google "Making Encaustic Medium" and you will discover there is an endless supply of instructions and techniques about making Encaustic medium.
I use 5 parts Bees Wax (usually bleached) and 1 part Damar resin, A Fry Daddy, a Strainer lined with some Silkscreen and held onto the top edges with clothes pins and a large bowl. I only use these items for Encaustic. They can't be used again in the kitchen, ever. By the way you will find most everyone has similar but different ideas and ratios on making their own Encaustic Medium.

Pigments:  I have friends that mix small vats of color in small aluminum loaf pans and use these as "Paint buckets". They use the Encaustic medium mixed with Oil Paints. It is recommended that you put the oil paint onto a paper towel the night before to get the "Oil" to seep onto the paper towel leaving mostly the pigment behind.
I really like the simplicity of the Pigment sticks made by R&F Paint. These are available online at R&F Paints or at your favorite Artist Supply Store. The cool thing about the Pigment sticks is this,
you can use small amounts on the griddle/palette and it is the perfect amount. Check it out and find what is most comfortable for you.

Fusing: As you layer the wax onto your chosen substrate, it must be fused (heated). Easy to do. I use an industrial Heatgun from Home Depot. After every layer of wax it must be heated so it will bind or fuse to the previous layer. This is big heat, I have to be very careful as the tip really heats up and an accident could occur.

Substrate: My favorite are the cradled Birch Boards. They are strong, rigid and come in a variety of sizes, large and small. They are affordable and sturdy. Check out your favorite Art Store to pick out what you think will work for you. Often times I will paint these boards with Encaustic Gesso, before applying my first three coats of Medium. I like the way the light reflects back through the layers of wax in a finished piece. It is a technique that works quite well.

Tools: I love to carve and peel away part of the wax after I have applied it. I use many tools from the Ceramic Department of my Art Store. I also use, an Exacto Knife.

These have been perfect for the type of carving I like to do. For an example check out my shells and a recently completed Heart rock on Lichen. I think the fun is layering the wax and knowing as I peel it back I am exposing the layers of colors. This medium is great for highlights and shadows and natural objects.

Many Artists offer Workshops, Classes and One on One Tutorials. It is always fun to learn a medium and then take it back to the studio and explore. Is it right for you? Can you express what you are seeing and feeling with this Hot Wax method of painting? In the Autumn of 2009 I took a One on One Tutorial with Artist Helene Farrar, and I attended an Encaustic intro class at Meca taught by Kim Bernard last winter. I learned the "Techniques" and now have my own spin on this crazy versatile medium. Now I like to share the passion and techniques with other Artist's.

The light pours into my second floor studio and shines on the 200 year old Maple Trees outside of the windows. I am inspired visually, then I fire up my palette and the sweet smell of honey permeates the studio and true alchemy occurs. This is a magic medium to me, I love exploring the different techniques and creating these pieces of art that capture light and look like nothing I have ever seen. I think I am in love. Encaustic. (sigh)

I have a show (25 pieces) including many of my Encaustic Shells that will be up and viewable through late through April 2nd, at The Salt Exchange in Portland, Maine. My Shell series is also available at Ornament Home & Garden store, in Bath, Maine.
If you would like to find out where my next show will be or would like to learn more, please drop me an email, I would love to hear from you.


Anonymous said...

Your shell painting is very beautiful. I wish I lived close to see your work in person.

KDB said...

Thanks, I love this medium, it is great fun. Fire up the palette and create!

Edna Santiago said...

Thanks for the description. I will work in this medium someday soon