encaustic n+13


it’s nowhere near ready. i’m still building the forms. still adding white. i’ve put in more burnt sienna and even some naphthol red. i’ve gone in and restated the blues with ultramarine, using my usual method of seeing blues everywhere once that’s what i’m looking at.

when i look at a reference photo, i end up seeing all the colors in every picture. i guess my eyes are picking up on the little dots of color in the photo emulsion. but when i look at colors in the environment, i end up seeing all the colors as well. what i actually end up seeing is purple. when i’m looking for it, i can see purple everywhere. pine tree bark is purple. shadows are purple. the sky is purple. and the bottoms of clouds – purple. perhaps this was what the fauvists were up to.


detail of the first stage. blue everywhere. fresh white in the equator clouds, and i’m still trying to build up the wrinkled clouds to the left of the red spot.


now i’ve done it. up close it’s way too much, but far away it evens out. i mixed up some microcrystalline wax, which is a petroleum product, something pehaps exxon mobile would be exploring on jupiter itself some day. surely there’ve got to be hydrocarbons on jupiter, right?

microcrystalline wax, tho i’ve seen it pictured as clear as paraffin, is really a nasty brownish color, like solidified used motor oil. so you can forget it if you’re trying to make whiter whites. the stuff adds it own color in a very noticeable way, not really noticeable in beeswax which is a sunny yellow. microcrystalline is a dull umber. but for my purpose in this next step, ideal.

i want to start putting dimension in there, which means shadows. looking at the reference photo, i can see shadows alongside the forms, especially clear with the white clouds inside the red bands. but there are shadows even in the white bands showing in some places cute little cirrus cloudlike formations. so how do i get that? a dark wash.

so into the microcrystalline wax goes some turpentine and a tiny touch of ultramarine and raw umber powder. jim modified the wax with mineral spirits and orange oil to begin with, and it came out pretty thick, so i’ve been diluting the wax even more when i mix pigments into it. mixing even a little pigment into the wax, i’ve noticed, stiffens it up like adding flour to gravy. for a wash, i want really gloppy stuff, which will give a thinner application, and won’t be opaque.

or so i think. i got it very dilute, but it still was a rather stiff paste. like whipped egg whites, firm without being dry. i slathered it on, alarmed by how dark it was. it dulled the whole picture down immediately.

on reflection, i should have been judicious about putting on the wash, just use it in places where i wanted it to go darker. but no, i had to slather it over the entire surface. good girl. never enough when too much will do.

i figured rather blithely that i could just take a soft rag and wipe the wash off, because it wasn’t going to dry until i’d burned it in.

i’ve found that burning in is a necessary step for the way i’m doing the wax, as it is for using the wax in a molten way like you’re supposed to do. i put on a color, or several, and then i put on my sunglasses and turn on the heat lamp and hold it, or rather move the heat lamp either slowly or jittery-ly across the surface, about 3″ away. if i hold it closer, the center of heating is reduced, so i can narrow in on a small amount of something, but the wax heats way quicker, and since wax retains heat, the melting continues for a second or two after you remove the light from the area. it takes constant vigilance.

because i usually put the wax on thickly with a pallete knife, i’ve got to melt it rather thoroughly if i expect it to bond to the layer below. i believe, altho since i’ve never done it molten i don’t know, that the layers you build up using molten wax are necessarily thinner than doing it with paste wax medium, that is, beeswax mixed with solvent and applied cold. and the procedure with molten wax is that you put it down onto your painting surface, and when it dries, because it sets up immediately, you then fuse it to the painting by melting it, not a lot, just until it’s shiny, unless you like churning and running the wax.

i’ve been looking all over for specific mention of when the burning in process is done in molten encaustic. and i’m not finding it. they get vague about what stage the melting in is. is it constant after every application the way i’m doing it, or is there some end process involving heating. this really is a medium where you figure it out for yourself. that’s the beauty of a lost technique, innovation is the key to mastery of it.

for this layer of dark wash, i used a 3″ brush, rather than a palette knife. it left brush strokes. i cleaned the brush up with turpentine.

when i’m fusing freshly laid paste wax, the area gets shiny immediately because it has lots of solvent in it, and solvent seems to lower the melting point of the wax considerably. essentially i’m hitting the wax mixture with heat before the solvent has had a chance to evaporate, so it’s still wet. and it heats beautifully. one pass and it’s shiny. another and the edges start to blur. a third and it begis to flow. double that if there’s white in it, of course.

another reason to melt the hell out of the wash is that i want to get rid of a lot of the wash. i tried rubbing it off with a cloth after i put it on, but the solvent had already softened up the previous level of wax and the damned wash was sticky. all i could do was smear it, and smearing only blurred the details. so i had to burn it until it flowed to the edges.

a dark wash burns off easily when fresh, melting readily as the solvent off-gasses. but leave it while you go have lunch and walk the dogs, and it dries enough that now you’ve got to raise the temperature of the wax a lot to get it to melt. like, as hot as all the surrounding wax that’s already been burned in. so you end up melting the painting while you’re trying to burn in another layer. or at least, i do. wholesale melting is not what i want at this point.


so you can see litttle dark edges now. look in the leftmost cloudbanks. they shade nicely. i’m thinking a couple of doses of wash and i’ll have some real visible texture.


at this point i go ahead and cover up the black acrylic in the sky. with microcrystalline wax mixed with a healthy dose of ultramarine and raw umber. burning this in was a pleasure, because it was on a dark background, and it was thin, and it was wet. all i had to do was turn the heat lamp on and the thing started glowing. i melted each section until it was just beginning to slump, and moved on quickly. i wanted a smooth surface in the end, and i didn’t want any brush strokes or palette knife marks. i put the wax on with a brush because of the wide expanse, a lovely 3-inch bristle brush i just got. how lovely. when the wax is this diluted and soft, you can use a brush to apply it and the brush doesn’t gum up. painting with thick wax is like trying to paint with a toothbrush.  yuck.


i’ve restated the whites over the shadowed surface. then i stuck in some white and yellow ochre, and some white and raw umber. it was just so dull that i knew i was going to need to build the forms up again. the idea, i suppose being that you cover less area with the color than before, so that you can still see some of what you’ve covered up. when it melts there’s a chance that some of the white will go away and some of the red and other darks will flood around the whites and it’ll all soften up nicely.  there’s also the chance it won’t work and will look stupid and amateurish. but oh well.


i only put whites on the left half of the planet. the part on the right is going to take a shadow, so i can leave it less developed.

again i mix up a big batch of microcrystalline wax, this time with a little black added to the ultramarine/umber pigments. this is a real thin batch, and instead of brushing it on, i put it on with a knife. i’m thinking after i burn it in it’ll turn more transparent and will just darken the area a little.

what i want is a thick, translucent layer of darkness lying over the details of the planet, so that you can see down into the wax. it’s one of the things wax does best.

what i got was a chocolate mess.

after burning it in, it was a hard dark line, and looked ridiculous. i wish i’d taken a picture.

first i tried using a cloth to wipe away the edge of the shadow, which was laid in in an arc swumg on a string from the middle of the left side of the painting. i pulled up a lot of wax, and the problem didn’t get any better.

then i used a fresh cloth (paper towel) and wiped up another handful. then i realized it wasn’t going to come up without help, so i grabbed a palette knife and scraped most of the stuff off. three or four knives full of goo went back onto the palette. then i smoothed it with a towel. but it was only smearing it.

finally i used my hands. damnit, the cloth was just putting in streaks, the knife wasn’t smoothing anything down. my hands are sensitive and strong, and finger painting was my favorite activity when i was a little kid.

i really wore down the right edge of the shadow, and pushed most of the color back toward the right, or poleward. then i burned it again until it slumped.

since i had so much dark sitting back on my palette, i put in an aura around jupiter’s edge. it’s a real thing, but it’s not in visible wavelengths. but i love planetary auras.


i should have waited for the shadow step. i still have to adjust the way the areas close to the pole look, the yellow ochre areas. the extreme polar areas are also more translucent, almost whitish under the clouds. and now i’m going to have to go back and put it in over the shadow, which is going to show. we’ll see.

it wasn’t light enough in the middle. it was still way too dark in area above and to the immediate left of the red spot. jim offered me a capful of orange solvent and a toothbrush, and i scrubbed it into the whites and then rubbed it off with a soft rag. this worked well, so i finisehd the capful and was much happier about it.

jim came up and suggested i find a way to mute the line of atmosphere i put around the left edge of the planet. it was very sharp. he was thinking further washes diminishing away from the planet.  i knew what i had to do , and it wasn’t washes, but realized that he hadn’t been playing with the wax like i have and probably didn’t know, so i told him to go ahead and hit it with his finger like he would if it was his painting, and he ended up smoothing half the edge, caught in the romance of the wax. the fleshlike feeling. ywaahahahaha.


so now i’ve got an atmophere thingie that can use some further development. i’ve got a decent shadow on the right. the clouds are looking realistic enough, and i need to put another level of black space with maybe a few stars. we’ll see what else it needs in the daylight.

i ended up taking this shot with a flash and no studio light. aiming the camera in the complete dark was interesting. the colors are completely washed out in this flash. i’ll take the final picture in the daylight, propped up on a shady wall outside the stuido. i might take it tomorrow.


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