encaustic n+10


first things first. here’s the update on my first encaustic paintings. this one’s the nebula. at this point, see those two purple patches on the right in the background? i melted the shit out of them, until they were liquid liquid liquid. it gets kind of hypnotic when thigns melt. you can see in the larger of teh two where the white wax surrounding the purple has started to dissolve and churn in the pool of liquid purple. the churning eventualy results in homogenization of colors, but for awhile it’s multicolored particles of pigment floating in hot wax. i suspect much of it settles to the bottom, leaving the obscuring translucent wax on top. where i have to add more pigment to get it looking good again.

the dimensionality of wax works for you and against you. you can see into the depths of the wax, which is translucent, meaning the light goes in and gets slowed down, so it gradually reveals what it’s holding. this is fanciful rather than scientific. not fanciful, intuitive. sounds better as an artist, don’t you think.

it works for you in that you can bury things in layers that then look more distant. it works against you in that the things that are buried rapidly lose their sense of being material, rather than image. that’s why they invented cutting back, scraping off layers of wax to reveal other layers. there’s a learning curve there, bet you money.


the flat purple patchesare all wrong, of course, so i mix up some thin purple and scrape it back over, this time trying to leave texture and knife marks, because that area actually looks like someone wiped color on top with a streaky blade.

what i’m doing in this session of work on this painting is the same thing i’ve been doing. putting on more lights. then putting in more darks. arranging for things i can do later and building on things i’ve done in under layers. more yellow. more blue. more white. and another layer of unpigmented wax medium on the background.

this is the 28th picture i’ve posted of this one painting, and it’s always making progress, but it’s never the essence of what i’m trying to portray, which is the form of the clouds in this nebula, the solidity of them, as if they were in our own atmosphere rather than thousands of light years away and dozens of light years across. so far all it looks like is lumps of wax and streaks of color that don’t indicate form at all, just abstraction. and as a realist painter that’s a little disappointing, that i don’t have the skill to do what my mind sees so clearly. but isn’t that just the way of art.


this is going to be interesting. i had the thought of doing something dimensional. i thought of the place where my sister got married last year. so i printed out a map of the place that i found online at the geologic survey and glued it to a board with acrylic gel medium. when it was dry, i went over it with gel medium, sculpting the mountains onto the surface of the topo map. actually, what you’re seeing is the first attempt, for i quickly realized that if i was going to build up the dimensions of the map, i was going to have to start at sea level and put on layer after layer of what would then have to dry between coats until it was clear again and i could see the next layer. i’ve been working on it for a few days now, and i’m down to the last several hundred feet of cashel hill, but it’ll be awhile before i put any wax on. and what in the world will i do with it when i get to the wax and pigment part? the map won’t show at all when i get done. will i simply copy the topo map? not a chance. how boring. will i get a satellite picture and paint that on? maybe. but something, and it’ll turn out to be fun. and then i can surprise my sister with it, because she doesn’t read my blogs.


this is the jupiter picture i was enthusing about in my last post. it’s huge, 30×40 or so, and cradled masonite, meaning it’s heavy even before putting wax on. here you see black acrylic for the background, white pigmented wax paste, burnt sienna pigmented wax paste, a bit of yellow i had laying around on the palette for the red spot, and the leftover wax i’d softened and stuck in a jar for some use later. came in handy right away because of its ooky gray color, which is what jupiter’s poles look like. but now what?


to stave off answering that question, because the jupiter painting is going to be extremely daunting – how do you get cloud forms in wax – i figured out something else to do. it’s another experiment with wax, but i’ts something i’ve got plans for afterwards even before i start it.

i’ve got this friend who’s a real monk in a real monastery. he’s quite the artist, and in his spare time does paper cutouts and collages. his work adorns our house, and every now and then i send him something that i know he’ll appreciate. i don’t think they have computers at the monastery, so he’ll probably not find out about this until it arrives at the gate. stealth presents.

about this painting. it’s a copy of a mosaic in a church in thessaloniki, made in 650 a.d. or so after the church had burned. the guy on the right is the saint, you can tell by the halo, and the guy on the left is the deacon who restored the church after the fire, who the saint is saying thanks to. an accompanying inscription says something about blessing us, holy martyr of christ, care for the city and strangers. something like that. i thought it very appropriate for brother martin’s order, which is benedictine, and dedicated to hospitality, vis the self-named liquor. they make beer at their monastery i think. i would hope so. stuck in the north woods all winter i’d be a microbrewery. i’ll find better references to the saint as soon as i can remember his name. something greek, of course. not theodorus of york.


i’m following the tradition of icon painting in this one. it’s a fairly rigid set of procedures that differs from one ancient icon school in one country to an equally rigid but other set of procedures from another icon school in a different country. the idea is the same. stylized representations following their own symbolic codes of gesture and representation, none of which i understand so i’m going to make grave mistakes. like what’s that grown thing lying across the saint’s midsection? a cloth cover for the bible the deacon is carrying? we don’t have a clue, and unless i represent it accurately, someone who does know what it is won’t be able to tell. and i figure at least one of the monks has studied iconography. or will after i send this up to them (i can do better than that would be the motive).

i follwed the instructions i found on this cool website from the russian orthodox tradition, which is not the tradition the icon itself came from (that would be byzantine i think). the background is yellow ochre to save money on gold leaf. the faces and hands and feet are painted in 3 parts red ochre to one part yellow ochre, and then repeated glazes using more yellow and introducing white until you’re painting highlights.

so they’re working dark to light. fine. i can do that. black outlines, shadows, local colors, highlights, then final toning glazes to take everything away from white.

i keep changing my mind on the details of dress. there’s a side piece i can see on the book illustration that i need to put in, and i can’t tell which of the men one of the pieces of clothing belong to because the reference picture is unclear. i don’t know what that cloth thing is for, and there’s a design on the bible which i can’t make out at all. it’s hard to say what is intended as detail and what is furnished by the falling-down state of the murals themselves.


i’ve started with the local color, and then whitenened that color and put on highlights. there are several progressively lighter layers of highlights. just brushed on and left there.

i’m using tiny brushes for this, when i had sworn off tiny brushes when i quit doing watercolors. but i can’t use a palette knife on this small a scale. it’s less than 8×10. so i’m using number 1 soft brushes.

i’m using a very dilute wax and turpentine mixture. it’s very watery, but there’s beeswax dissolved in it, so it’s like skimmed milk. the turpentine dries out almost immediately, so while i’ll make up an almost watercolor-thin soup of pigment, by the time i have made a few strokes my brush is gumming up with drying wax and i’m unable to do more than leave gloppy lines. precision is out of the question. i wonder if it’s any different if the wax is molten. i suspect not.

i end up using quite the egg tempera technique, which is appropriate for icons, which were mostly done this way. little persnickety brushstrokes done quickly because the paint’s drying on the brush, with no time to blend or correct until it’s dry and you scrape it off with a knife, which is an inelegant solution. watercolor is a whole lot more forgiving. but i haven’t painted for 30 years in order to sit cramped over my miniscule painting using a brush with 5 hairs in it, breaking my back and hurting my neck and cramping my muscles. using a jewler’s loup to see my subject.

no. i want to get some size into it. isn’t it funny that i have a just barely started huge enormous planet sized painting and here i am working on something i need a magnifying glass and tweezers for.


there are the highlights. the form’s looking okay. this is where i left it last night. i have to go back in with black and restate the darks.

then i came back upstairs to look at the reference book i had gotten out of the library. there was another picture in the same church with the same saint and what looks like a younger version of the same deacon. and they’re in uch the same positions. with basically the same clothes on. and this picture is in much better nick than the one i’m working on.

so i can see a lot of details that will need changing. and i read the text this time, too, so i know that the cloth looking thing is part of his robe, and is dark blue as befits his rank (who knew?). the piece of cloth contested between them in their dress actually belongs to the saint and not the deacon, there’s a cross and something else designed into the bible, and the square halo the deacon sports has a cloth draped around it, making it physical rather than ethereal, as is the saint’s halo. even the surface design is different on the saint’s robe. it looks a whole lot like the one in better shape is either a renovation or a replacement made at an earlier or later date than the one i’m copying. which is fine. i like understanding.


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