holbox house 3

i finally finished it.  i made all sorts of mistakes.  you can’t just slap a bunch of wax onto a panel and expect it to fuse up nicely.  what it wants to do is melt, run together, and churn.  and we can’t have that.  that’s what happened to the palm tree in the center.  it was nice and crisp and full of detail, but when i melted the white roof and walls next to it, the thing ran and churned and i didn’t even notice it, because the white wax was still solid and i was getting impatient.


that’s when i decided to mask off the areas i didn’t need to burn in, meaning covering everything i’ve already done with paper.  i used the backs of both the 8.5×11 photos i was using as reference, as well as an envelope, and torn up pieces of some laser-printed receipt.

white throws off the heat.  i’ve got a heat lamp an inch from the surface of the painting, and after a few moments things start to get a little shiny, maybe sweat a little (i’m using orange oil as thinner, and it begins to off-gas at a low temperature).  then the surface gets way shiny, and i can see the reflection of the bulb clearly.  then edges go away and pigment starts to move as the wax liquifies and flows away from the heat.

dark colors, in general, heat up faster, and liquify many seconds before white does.  putting the black windows in first, therefore, is a mistake.  so is putting them in anything but last, especially over top of white.  here i am trying for subtle shadows, and all i get is smears of gray.  the thing to have done would have been to put the white down first and get it good and burned in, therefore good and hard.  i have a theory that the more you heat the wax, the more brittle and hard it becomes.  this is just a theory, and it goes way against the current ‘standard’ practice of keeping the wax molten and brushing it on while hot, because hours of molten wax just isn’t good for the wax’s structure.  i’m convinced, anyway.  since i use solvents, it could be that heating it multiple times doesn’t make it tough but rather makes it normal by evaporating away more and more of the solvent.  however, i think it evaporates more and more of the softer qualities of the wax.  perhaps we’ll see.  i’m going to do another post on the encaustic process itself, soon…


this is the middle stage of the painting, where everything looks awful.  i’m still altering the shape of the house, for example, and the road is giving me fits.  it’s a sand road, because nothing is paved on that island.  and it’s not our typical sand, either, because it’s not exactly white and it’s not black or gray or brown.  so i ended up putting all colors into it, the way i tend to do with richly colored and textured objects.  and while you can make out the things in the background, you’d be hard pressed to report that it was a rather casual airport, with 2 palapas and a plane behind a rail fence and some cinderblock walls.  for the road, i kept slapping on clear wax, or somewhat white colored wax, sort of a hand-mixed buff titanium color.  layer after layer, burned in and burned in, until most of the color was obscured.  and most of the shadows on the road.


the gold ochre on top of the burnt sienna bottom of the house was an inspired idea.  not.  i wanted to do something to darken the shadows inside the porch, and didn’t really want to get anywhere near the black doors, so i lightened the other red blocks instead.  and it looks really messy.  then i had to darken and re-texturize the plam tree.  and then i had to beef up the background some more.  and then add fence rails, which i had to do by carving out the wax next to the house, slipping thin wax into the lines, and burning it in only until it began to run.  the white of the window frame was done by scraping the wax off down to the gesso.  and i had to redo it every time i heated anything around it.  at some point the wax ran even tho i had paper masking it from the sunlamp’s ray’s.  there was a lot of redo in the house.  the grass was actually pretty hard, because i had to put in a bunch of colors before it started to look like it had any depth.  and then the marks on the road.  i incised lines, and you can still see some of the top incision, and then put in dark raw umber and melted it.  but it looked horrible, so i melted it again.  and then it was still a bit awkward, so i did it a third time.

and that’s the beauty of wax.  it attenuates the more you melt it.  you can use the churning effect to your advantage if what you really want is a muddy gray.

that’s the painting.  it’s about 9×12 and will fit in someone’s suitcase the next time they go to holbox to visit.  tia can hang it in her house, or leave it in the sun if she really just doesn’t like it.  it looks passable at about 8 feet, which is where it should be seen from, and the details of the wax look best close up.  you’ll never figure out where i’ve signed it unless you’re looking at the tail of the plane with a magnifying glass.  i hope they don’t think i’m insulting them with a crappy painting, and instead become seduced by the wax into thinking it’s a work of actual art and an homage to their kindness.  but you never know how your art will be received.




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