here’s the process picture for the encaustic painting i’m doing as a thanks to tia mercedes down in holbox. she put us up for three days when we went down there to visit jim’s son’s wife’s relatives, and i was grateful, so thought i’d paint her a picture. i’d do it in watercolor, but watercolor will fade horribly quickly in a tropical environment. it’s the intensity of the light and the thinness of the pigment layer. but wax is another animal, and a wax painting won’t fade nearly as quickly. there are wax paintings still extant that were done in the first century bc, and they haven’t faded.
you’ll have to look further down the blog to find the first images. the painting has come a long way since then, without being anything like nearly finished. it’s still got a long way to go.
the first thing i did was to put in the black windows. once they were melted, i went in with a cestrum and scratched out the white mullion lines. on reflection, this was a mistake.
when you learn watercolor, they teach you to start with the lights and move toward dark. of course, i routinely violate that rule, not being able to resist putting in some darks right away. it’s only when i’m building a portrait that i go strictly from light to dark, and that’s because i’m feeling my way with a portrait, and want nothing committed until the very end.
when you do wax painting, you realize pretty quickly that one of the biggest influences on melting point temperature is the color. the lighter the color, the longer it takes to melt. this is due to albedo, and is one of the things we had to study when i was taking environmental science in college, back in the 70s yes i’m that old. albedo is a measure of a body’s reflectiveness. when you heat up white wax, a whole lot of the heat gets reflected back off the surface, and the wax takes a long time to soften. when you heat up black wax, the heat goes into the wax and stays there, and you have to be really careful not to enmolten the pool of wax and have it run all over the place, because it’ll keep heating up even after you’ve removed the heat source, dark wax is that temperature absorbent.
so, turns out i’m a real idiot for putting the black windows in as early as i did. every time i pass a light over the house, the black starts to glisten and the white is just as solid as ever. this is where i start to use masking to protect elements of the painting. at this point i’ve put on 3 or 4 layers of white on the house, as well as 2-3 layers of shadow of various darknesses, and when i try to burn it in, the two colors mix in a way not conducive to showing architectural details. like, no straight lines, not after you’ve melted the wax. wonderful accidental curves and curlicues, great sedimentation the way you get with some pigments in watercolor, blending of a type not possible any other way than by melting and pooling. but architectural details? forget it. very fucking difficult. might as well find a way to avoid needing straight lines and sharp edges in the making of a wax painting, because it is very fucking difficult.
so i’m going to end up with another fuzzy painting. i’m not complaining, because i’m not sure that i don’t like the effect, but it’s about as far away as the nit-picky way i used to paint with watercolors as is possible. look at some of the detail i used to do in watercolor and you’ll see the difference.
can’t do that in wax. not unless it’s on a very large scale.
back to the holbox painting. i worked on the background. there’s 2 palapas and an airplane back there, and now that’s a little clearer. but you still won’t see it without knowing there’s an airport down the street. and i put some clear wax on the road and worked some more blues and purples into it. and i worked on the palm trees with a fan brush, enabling me to put on actual palm frond-looking spiky leaf things. of course, all this came for naught on the left palm tree, the one behind the house. when i went to melt that white wax, i ended up obliterating the palm details, because all that lovely green and textured wax turned into a transparent pool of floating pigments, and started to churn. not happy.
using one of my handy sculpting tools (a case of about 10 small tools with different points on each one) i scratched out the negative space in the railings around both floors of the house, as well as the holes between the stair railings. i filled these scraped places with dark wax, wiped it off the positive areas, and burned it in, not enough to where the scraped places became level with the built-up places. that would be to moltenify the wax, and it would have meant the colors would have runned and flowed. i’m at the point where i don’t want that. this was one of those points where it becomes obvious that the drawing is wrong. the tilt of each floor is off just enough to make me nauseous. i corrected the roofline a couple of times, and corrected the second floor line as well, and it finally got to the point where i was just getting a crick in my neck from looking at it. this involved scraping away the excess or carving out space for the negative space, depending on whether the original line was too low or high as a perspective line, and filling it with either sky, white, or shadow, depending. when i was done fucking with the railings i saw that i was going to have to restate both the white walls and the shadows and edges one more time.
there’s lots of work still left in it, and today’s session was very frustrating, because i’m going thru a hate the painting phase. it’s the middle phase of a painting, when things are horribly ugly and you don’t want to go on. i must have cleaned seven things today, trying to avoid the ugliness. but at 8-10 feet it starts to look not so bad, and so i’ll finish it.
i reinforced the shadows and restated the white today. to do this i had to use 4 pieces of paper to mask off the areas i didn’t want to heat. at this point i’m putting in a color, masking off everything but that color, and then toasting that color only, while everything remains cool and unmelted behind a layer of white shiny paper that bounces all that heat back into the atmosphere. theoretically. what happens when your arm slips and the heatlamp cord bumps into the edge of the paper and it moves? what happens when the melted wax gets underneath the edge of the paper protecting the delicate parts? what happens when the heat lamp momentarily rests on the top of the paper? what happens to the black windows underneath the paper when the white wall next to it is finally melted enough?
all those horrible details you don’t see in the photo above, that’s what. i scraped some of the wandering wax off while it was still cooling down, and i’m going to have to restate the windows (restate, that’s a laugh. how about scrape completely out and redo?)
so today’s work was a series of passes with a single color, followed by careful masking off of the old wax and a careful melting of the new layer just until it began to move, just a little. and then move on to the next area and repeat. this way i did the shadows more solidly and deeper, and the white walls whiter, and a golden sheen on the burnt sienna tiles (which still looks stupid, and i may have to excise some mortar lines into it to stop it looking so fakey).
i’m nothing like thru. i have to do more background, and more road, and restate the windows, and make the grass greener. all this in something like 8×10 inches. i detest putting details into such a small scale.
because it was a new moon today, i found myself hunting for new projects. there’s mom’s quilt. there’s a new unpublished novel idea. i went looking for water reflections to do in encaustic for my next painting, and found reference photos of the stream at sugar hollow in virginia, a river in north georgia stocked with trout, and a canal reflecting buildings in venice. i cleaned up a lot.
and now it’s 4 am again. i’m not up because of anything except i couldn’t sleep. and now jim’s up as well, and he’s put o the coffee, and found a magazine, so i’m going to go sit with him in bed and talk for awhile, after which we’ll both go back to sleep.