a pair of beauties


i wanted to do another planet in encaustic. the last one i did was jupiter, and it turned out so well that i thought i would to ahead and do another. but which planet? mars is monotone, venus is too much like the sun. i could try doing the sun, but it somehow didn’t occur to me. i could do a moon, one of jupiter’s, perhaps, with loads of radiating lines and fractures. but they were all too much the same color.

so the earth. but which view? i didn’t want to be chauvenistic about it. there are too many views of the north american continent. neither did i want to pick a  hackneyed european view. what i wanted was the poles. what i wanted was the clouds. what i wanted was the circulation of the clouds against the blue. what i wanted was a hurricane.

but alas, what i found was this neat view of both the earth and the moon, shot by some orbiting spacecraft out to make a survey of the planets. it’s a real shot, not a composite,  and it shows the moon at a slightly different angle than we’re used to seeing it.

then i picked a panel. jim had already gessoed and set aside a number of panels for both of us to use in our encaustic journeys. this one was the twin of one he’d just put a carnival scene in egg tempera on, and it was nearly square – 54×48, and i snatched it up.

one thing i’m going to do this time, i’m going to weigh the panel before i put any wax on it, because i want to find out how many pounds i’m going to use on a panel of this size. encaustic is traditionally done on small panels, mainly because i don’t know. but at this size, 4 feet square and a bit, it’s already heavy, being masonite backed by 1×2 bracing. i’ll weigh it tomorrow.

i’ve been talking with jim about the way we’re into doing things the old fashioned (cheap) way, and my recent conversion to it. previously, i’ve gone to a lot of trouble and expense to collect all the colors i could ever want to paint with in both oil and watercolor. i’ve got a complete set of watercolors that take up several not so small boxes. i’ve got a much larger set of oil paints that take up an orange box and spill out over the sides. this represents hundreds if not thousands dollars of paint, albeit collected over the past 30 years but hey.

now, after being exposed to jim’s style of studio work, which he’s honed over the last 50 years, i’ve decided that i might as well learn to mix paints from the raw materials and free myself from the tyranny of art supply stores who would treat me as an end user of their products. and i’ve got a thing in cooking against using processed foods, because not only are the manufacturers using the cheapest ingredients possible, but they’re doctoring them to look and taste more nutritious than they are, and often they’re poisoning me with the chemicals they add. the same with paints.

so, i’ll do it myself and avoid all the snake oil and pitchblende.

now i have a whole set of pigments in a conveniently arranged series of tiny little containers that will last me for years. i can take a little bit of pigment, and mix it with any binder i choose, and make paint that is nothing but pigment and binder (no fillers or extenders or imitation ingredients). watercolor – add gum arabic. oil – add linseed oil. acrylic – add acrylic medium. encaustic – add wax. et voila. so i’m a new convert, and very fundamentalist about it. everyone should throw away their tubes and make their own paint. yarrr.

anyway. the one medium i haven’t mastered is pastels. my friend jim bianchi in charlottesville has been trying to teach me how to use pastel for years, and i’ve never gotten it. but what he’s really doing is trying to teach me to paint, all wrapped up in pastel technique, and so i have of course not understood what he was trying to teach me. i can only, it seems, understand painting my way, and don’t tend to learn from the experience of others. i remember telling my mo that many times while i was growing up, much to my later chagrin (sorry mom).

anyway. since i’ve always been really frustrated by my lack of technique in pastel, i decided that i might as well do the underpainting that way. pastel on gesso on board? it’s not recommended, exactly. but that’s enough to interest me, so fine.

the way i use pastel, it turns out, is directly, stick to panel, and smooshed in with a finger when i’m done applying it. pastel doesn’t take really well to board, it’s too hard and in this case too smooth, but i started with raw umber, which in pastel is a warm light gray, outlining my objects. when i had everything indicated (here’s how i draw my first marks – i stand far back from the board and hold the reference photo in front of my eyes. then i wisk it away and note the position on the board, walk to it with one eye still closed, and swipe a mark, then step back and start with another feature. then i used the raw umber for the darker white of the clouds,  and progressed to burnt umber for the dark earth and white for the clouds. then some mid gray for the low clouds, green for the andes mountains, a light purple for the cloudy parts of the amazon basin, and ultramarine blue for the ocean.


you can just see the first moon i drew, on teh lower right hand corner. i didn’t like it there when i got it there, because it gave the picture too much weight, so i floated it up to the other corner, and liked it there. i noticed when doing the drawing of the moon, upside down becuase i often draw things at different angles to the proper viewing position, that there’s not only a man in the moon, but when seen upside down the moon looks rather lke a skull. which is cool. how metaphorical. dead moon, skull. man in the moon reversed to be skeleton in the moon. fecund earth, dessicated moon. well, it tickles me.


then i started on another one. this is on a 30×40 panel, which i had whipped out at first thinking it was big enough, but when jim offered me the 4×4 one i jumped at it, and then had this nice smaller panel all set up. and then i found a picture of the earth with no identifiable land masses. too fucking cool. it has what i think is antarctica, but otherwise it’s just ocean and cloud, and that’s exactly what i was looking for. i wish it had been a full earth, but i’ll take what i can get.

so i took pastel and started in. the first time i did this it turned out a little bit different, but the gesso hadn’t been well sanded and it was very rough, and pastel doesn’t like too rough. it’s like chalk on a sidewalk, and pretty much there’s nothing left in your hand except rubbed-off pigment on your palm. didn’t want to do that. so jim sanded my panel for me, before i could get to it. you have to be careful with jim that way. mention something you lack and he gets right on it, neglecting his own work to tend to your needs. the guilt is overwhelming, so i try not to need too much.


so, drawn in with raw umber, this time on a white ground (the first earth was on a toned ground, mid gray), i turned the board this way and that and drew in the cloud masses. i was taken with how much like continents the clouds work. they follow a lot of the same rules you can construct for land masses in seas of water. fluid dynamics. i studied it in college. would have gone on to be a climatologist if i’d finished school. but that was in the late 70s, and i don’t think i’m going to go back now. tho you never know. i might get bored with painting and writing fiction. as if.

it’s funny how differently i  draw when i’m  putting in the blue. when i’m drawing the edges of the clouds i draw one line, when i’m drawing in the edges of the ocean, i draw another line, even tho these are the same edge. it’s the difference between drawing an object and drawing the space around the object, another trick in seeing like an artist. first i drew the positive clouds, and then i went back over my lines and drew the negative ocean, and got more accurate with every pass. tomorrow i go back and refine my masses and shapes. i won’t do anything to correct the colors, i’m just worried about getting the contours, the lines, as accurate as i can, always keeping in mind the fact that i will be the only one to ever notice.

so, an exciting couple of paintings. because i have this opportunity, i’m going to try to approach the encaustic part of this painting differently. on one painting i’ll put on wax and then fuse it, put on wax and fuse it. i’ll constantly be whipping the sunglasses on and off, feeling like a welder as i reach for the heat lamp switch. with the other one, i’m going to put wax on and put wax on, and never heat it until the final fusing at the end, when i plan to melt the whole thing to molten liquid. insert crazy laugh. mwahahaha.


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