playing catch up

catchup. ketchup, catsup. what a strange looking word. and what an ugly word. you can’t ever catch up. not with work, certainly not with sleep, not with bits of life you’ve ignored. ‘too late’ is also an ugly word. so i’ll never retrieve the time wasted obsessing on a disaster that hasn’t happened (yet). this is what i managed to accomplish in all that time.


i’m going to detail the last three ‘moon’ pictures i’ve done, tho two of these are actually planets. ’round things in space’, perhaps. except one of them is a mammogram painting. so, how about ‘beautiful orbs’ or ‘heavenly bodies’ or some other trite descriptor? i’m not good at marketing.

the first painting was actually the last one i did, in blog fashion – filo – and it’s a painting of my latest mammogram. i was in radiology doing a mammogram, and looked up to where they had it on screen (why do they use films when it’s all digital now?), and was captivated by its  beautiful, planetlike appearance.

so i got a copy of the films and did a painting. it’s kind of small, only about 18×22 or so. working in wax, it’s nice to have a frame already on it so that you have somewhere for the melted wax to go. since you don’t want it pouring off the edges, it’s really nice to have a lip. so jim has been building panels with frames stuck right on them. more like fillets than frames, but even a small edge is good.

the thing that sets this painting apart, apart from the subject matter, is the materials i used. i wanted real texture for this painting, and wasn’t willing to spend a whole lot of wax building up layers. layers melt. i wanted something apart from the wax, something stable. usually what you’d use in this case would be acrylic molding paste. but i felt experimental. so i started out shredding cotton balls, and put them on the contour of the breast. this worked really well. it was white, tho. i didn’t really want white.

problem – how do you render xrays in wax? they’re so spectral. wax does spectral pretty well. they’re so dimensional, you can see the roundness of the breast, the thickness of the tissue. usually in painting you do that with illusions of space, with receding colors to the back and distinctness in the foreground. i can say that i had some technical problems.

so i started laying in the wax. with a palette knife. i love knifework in wax. it’s so expressive. at this point i don’t remember what i did first or second or anything. i know the space background in the upper left is a beautiful dark blue when the wax is hot, but you’ll never see that, and can’t see it in the picture.

melted wax is transparent. you see the particles of pigment embedded in it. the colors are vibrant and clear. once it cools the wax becomes merely translucent, and many of the glorious colors and effects that are so striking when it’s hot disappear once it cools. so the main beauty of an encaustic painting is mine to see, mine alone. it’s my reward from the wax. it’s like walking in the west of ireland when the sun comes out and lights up everything in miraculous colors and you’ve forgotten your camera.

so i might have put on quinacridone gold first, but i remember rubbing it back in to the sea areas near the end of the process. but i remember laying out a bunch of fibers. i had teased apart the threads of a piece of linen at some point, and put them in a ziplock back for future use. ah, the delights of a stash drawer. i put them down to represent the veins that show up in mammograms. for the thickness that shows tissue density, i was stumped. cotton balls only went so far for texture. i had covered the cotton with a coat of wax and burned it in, and in the beginning you could still pull cotton out of it. the wax melted and got in between the cotton fibers and stuck them firmly to the panel (i think), but didn’t build up as fast as i thought it would. it was still mostly cotton for a few layers. but i’d slather on more wax and melt it again, and eventually i had something that felt like wax and not some dead thing.

when it came to the interior of the breast, i needed something softer than cotton, something not as densely packed. so i looked around the house with an eye to art supplies, and came upon a new use for dog and cat hair. we have 3 dogs and 2 cats upstairs in the living area of our house (our studio is on the bottom floor). they shed. it collects. it’s fluffy, light, insubstantial, and loose. so i went around the house and scooped up several dust bunnies, took them downstairs and started laying strands of hair down on the panel. they stuck to the wax very easily, and i mushed them around until i had an increasing ball of texture to the center of the breast.

then some clear wax over all this. and then i rubbed in some blue, and painted on some red onto the fiber lines. then i put some blue into the contour lines. then some white. each time i put even a small bit of pigmented wax on, i would then hit it with an outdoor spotlight to burn in the addition. this means i would spend five minutes painting, and 20 minutes standing there holding a light and squinting thru sunglasses. but i kept liking what i was getting, so i kept doing it. it’s so exciting. you can spend an entire day standing there heating wax up.

i have to apologize for the fuzzy quality of this picture. sometimes i think i’m getting a good photo without using a tripod, and sometimes i’m just fooling myself.

this is venus. it’s not venus as we know it, because that’s a star in the night sky. it’s a false color venus showing height. so the redder, the higher and the blues are lowlands. we’d call them seas, and who knows, they’re calling the blue volcanic plain and the uplands volcanic outflows. none of this is visible to us because of the cloud cover of venus, but if we could see thru the atmosphere, this is what we’d see, wildly colored tho it is. this was a fun painting because of all the colors. normally pink is not in my palette, but the reference photo demanded it.

you can see the planetary gunge around venus. it’s all sorts of colors. represents the atmosphere, but really it’s because i love the image of earth surrounded by space junk. pick up your trash!


the painting before that was of the earth from an angle where you can’t see any land. antarctica is actually there on the lower right, but it’s only a different shade of white, harder, with turquoise blue ice. i love how the clouds make a figure to the lower left. a space dude with a helmet. for this one i believe i did the sky first simply to outline the thing. i believe i used a lot of black for this, not just some black and mostly blue. on the mammogram painting i remember i didn’t use any black, but put something warm down first, and covered it with ultramarine, which made a visual black once it cooled to translucent.

i used the same gunge to go around the earth that i’ve been using to go around all the planets. i’ve got this little jar full of scrapings from the palette. old colors removed with some effort from my glass palette, stuck into a jar, and a little solvent added to keep it soft. if mixed up, it would be a dark brown mess o’gunk. but used unmixed it’s a rich blend of colors that smear nicely around the edge of a planet. you can see it more clearly on the venus painting, but that’s just a trick of the light. unfortunately, these photos don’t half do the paintings justice. the beauty of the wax is such that you have to be right there in three dimensions in front of it (and don’t forget the dimension of smell, wax is really good for that special sense). i’d invite you over to my studio, but i won’t.

the clouds were easy to build up but also difficult because it actually required loads of colors and lots of buildup before they started to look like clouds. there’s white in there, and purple, and a mixed gray and even some green and red. and more white.


it was a slow process. but the more i did, the better i liked it. unfortunately the final photo was smirched by a dab of wax on the camera lens, but since it’s hanging in the bedroom where we can see it, i can’t get a better photo at the moment. so oh well.


5 thoughts on “playing catch up

  1. I don’t know If I said it already but …Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! :) I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  2. I don’t know If I said it already but …Great site…keep up the good work. :) I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read….

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