i put dark purple on the water. then i took a picture. i put light purple on the water, and took another picture. i mixed up more blue-umber and restated the darks, and took another picture. then some orange. snap. then yellow. it’s getting tiresome to talk about it but i was very into documenting all the profound changes this painting has gone thru. but it’s the same every time. the details i spend so much time dawdling over and getting just right, nobody else sees. it’s that way with every medium, every art.
i just had a look at all the pictures i took during a several hour studio session, and only i can tell the difference, so the picture you see is after 3 steps in a row. yesterday i went downstairs to flesh out the fish. the shadows on the bodies were too dark and they didn’t convey any volume, just skinny little fish hardly able to suck your arm off if you wouldn’t let go the food.
but first i put a coat of wax on the dragon painting, and a coat of wax on my 3rd encaustic, an experimental one i’ll get to in its own post. but i wanted to finish the development on the koi painting and get to the topping of wax so the fun could start.
i went over each application of paste wax and pigment paint with the heat lamp, right after putting it on. because i’m using turpentine as a solvent for the beeswax, it’s still very much in the paint when i appy it, and over time it offgasses, or sublimates, or evaporates into the air and away from the wax, which ends up as hard as if you melted it and poured it on. of course, that’s the theory. i’m reinventing the wheel here.
i was very happy with each stage of this painting. it’s not turning out very realistic however, it’s very abstract. but i like that with the wax. maybe that’s why jim and i just don’t see a lot of representational painting in encaustic.
and speaking about reinventing the wheel, jim and i read the encaustic references in mayer and doerner to each other. there was evidently a wax paint technique that was lost sometime in the middle ages where you don’t have to heat the wax up, so there’s no fire danger et cetera. but nobody knows what this was, and they’ve been trying different formulas to make cold wax. and basically, if you’re not going to heat wax up beyond its boiling point, you need to find a solvent. it won’t dissolve in water. it will dissolve in oil. it will dissolve in turpentine and citrus thinner and mineral spirits. will it dissolve in alcohol? the point being, if you can find a solvent that you can live with then you can apply wax in layers that fuse themselves together without heat.
this is a place i haven’t reached yet. i’m still melting the wax, burning it in, every time i put on another color. and trying my hardest to just bring it past the place where it gets wet, and never to the point where it starts to run. i’m doing this with a heat lamp. others use irons and heat the painting from the bottom and wood-burning irons and little propane torches and heat guns.
i’ve got to put on sunglasses when i burn the wax in. it still takes my eyes three or four minutes to adjust once i turn the lamp off. i hold the painting like a waiter holds a tray, about 3 inches under the lamp. at this distance it will burn my skin. and i wait until i can see little bubbles, a darkening and wetting of the color, a softening of the brushstroke, and then if i let it go too far the wax slumps, and then it breaks down altogether and runs.
the lamp has about a 3-inch diameter of the highest heat, right where the brightest part of teh light is. at the edge of this circle everything will go at a slightly faster rate than inside the circle, but the center is the hottest part of all. wax will stay workable for awhile after it’s been heated up the first time, and so if i go back and hit an area i’ve passed over already then i can start the melting all over and quicker. that way i can barely warm some areas while melting down the too-tall blotches. it gets sophisticated after you figure out what you’re doing.
i melted the water here on purpose, all the way melted, flowing and everything. look at teh blue reflections, and look at the fins on the back of the top fish.
about turpentine. jim and i worked in the studio for a half day. we traipsed off to three different art supply stores looking for encaustic supplies. this meant a $70 ten-pound block of microcrystalline wax from dick blick, a $32 dollar exactly the same ten-pound block of microccrystalline wax from pearl, 2 pounds of beeswax, a couple of brushes, some pellon jim wants to use as his surface, some citrus thinner i could replace the turpentine with, and a set of picks and shapers usually used as wood carving tools. we spent our xmas money on art supplies. how sweet.
so we went back home and put in half a day in the studio. mainly making up wax preparations to be used in painting. i stuck a block of beeswax into the freezer for a couple of hours, then put it in a plastic bag and whacked it a bunch of times hard with a hammer. then i stuck that in to a pint jar and added citrus solvent, put the cap on and stuck it aside.
i’ve been using turpentine and beeswax for my paint medium. turpentine smells. i like the smell. but i was breathing it all day for the past several days. i’d noticed a headachy feeling that was more like fuddledness than pain. i went to bed punch drunk the first night. and now i spent hours more than jim did in the studio, ad right over the stuff, burning it in and boiling off the turpentine fumes right into my nostrils. i got wheezy. i’ve already got asthma. so i was glad to make the switch to citrus thinner, which is a hell of a lot less toxic than turpentine, which i read is now a petroleum product rather than distilled pine oil.
we both started feeling a little odd after dinner. the food didn’t sit well. we walked the dogs feeling full. at least jim did. i felt tired as always. it wasn’t until after i went to bed that my stomach started bothering me. at two in the morning we were up puking, and jim got low blood pressure and fainted. we were in gastric distress all night. i had diarrhea. we slept until 9:30 and jim stayed in bed all day while an amazing succession of friends came by to pass the time, so we entertained like john and yoko today.
i wasn’t sure if it wasn’t the sourdough bread i’d just baked from suspicious looking starter. but it seemed likely that it was the turpentine.
else that or we caught something from the daughter, boyfriend and grandbaby when they came by to get their xmas presents, or we caught something from the tenant and her delightful wide eyed baby who turns one tomorrow. but jim’s now running a slight fever.
last year we took him into the hospital when he got faint, and they kept him for four days and ran 3 cat scans on the poor bastard (catscans versus chest x-rays, who wins), and never figured out anything that could be wrong with him. we haven’t gone back for another round of not finding anything, but one of the friends who visited today suggested a neurologist.