encaustic – trout stream in north georgia

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it really is pretty up there, folks.  the extreme southern splash of the appalachians, all mountains and valleys and swift flowing rivers, with ancient cherokee fishing weirs all over the place.  there’s this place near helen.  it’s a gift shop of renown, and they’ve got a deck out back and a basement down below that look onto a great trout stream, where there are hundreds of what look like 20-pounders to me.   so i’ve been there twice, tho i get lost every time, and had my camera with me.  what we’re seeing in the picture above is the underpainting in pastel.  i don’t actually do an underpainting, just a few lines telling me where everything is.  i usually do the painting just the one time, rather than a painting underneath that just gets covered up.  i mean, what’s the point?  jim always does an underpainting in a contrasting medium, and often he does studies as well.  i just prefer to go with what i see and feel and work out the relationships on the canvas.

what you’re seeing is the trout stream, about 20 feet below me.  there are rocks on the lower left which are out of the water, part of the bank on which the old mill stands.  you can see the bottom for about 10 feet, and you can see all kinds of huge trout in a frenzy over what is being tossed to them by tourists (a little candy dispenser with fish pellets in it, a handful for a quarter).  beyond, you begin to see reflections, so there are alternating stripes of blue sky and orange fall foliage, and still there are fish under the surface but you can’t tell much with the glare.

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i’ve begun putting on the wax.  this is the lower left corner of the painting, and i’m putting wax on it first because it’s out of the water, and therefore needs to have some heavy texture.  what is painting in wax about if not impasto, at least until you melt it…

i’m using white wax first, because it gives me the most trouble.  by this i mean it melts at the highest temperature, and so i put it on first and burn it in so that it’ll be done and i don’t have to mess with it again.  because once i put other colors on and try to burn them in, if i put white on afterwards, then the darker colors all run by the time i get the wax even slushy.

i’m learning from last time, so i think.  the last thing i did was a house portrait, way finicky for wax, and i had to resort to masking in order to keep the whole picture from churning.  i learned that you work from light to dark or else.  i was taught light-to-dark in watercolor, but i’ve always ignored that rule because i like to have contrast present early.  sometimes i put the darks in first.  but i can’t do that with wax.

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or can i?  here i go putting in blue for the darkest shadows.  i’m not really worried about it because the white’s already hardened, and the blue will melt way before the white softens, and my only issue is will the orange melt appreciably faster?  well, it does, but the areas are small enough that i can scoot over parts that are melting for parts that aren’t, and then come back for a moment at a time until the wax is just at the edge where it starts to run.

you’re getting one step at a time here.  usually i don’t put this many photos in, because i basically can’t tell the difference until quite a few changes have been made.  if i took notes, but then i couldn’t stand to take notes.  but if i did take notes, i’d know a hell of a lot more about fabric dyeing, for one thing, and silk painting.  and cooking.  oh well.

what i’ve done above is to put in some buff white in for some of the rocks, orange where the orange rocks and floating leaves go, and then some blue on the edges of the rocks that are quite dark in the reference photo.  i also have begun texturizing the large rocks to the left and bottom, putting little bits of brown and blue on them.

actually, the blue i used was way old.  i have this habit of keeping all the wax i don’t use, putting an inverted cup over the colored lumps to keep them soft, and then using them again the next painting i do.  so i have bunches of white left from the holbox painting, for example.  and buff white.  and some green.  and the black i used in the windows.  all that shows up here.  the blue, however, is from several paintings back, and air had gotten in under the glass, and it was really tough, even after i thinned it greatly with citrus oil.  and it really didn’t want to melt, either.  usually when i put on a freshly thinned batch of wax, it’s still wet when i burn it in, smelling pleasantly of oranges (no physical symptoms, either, no eyes stinging, no lung pain, no nausea), and it tends to melt at a lower temperature than wax that has already been burned in.  it starts to soften immediately, since it’s still wet, and once i’ve burned it, it buffs up really well, and that’s how i know it’s set and there’s no more solvent in the wax.

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what you’re seeing now is the same painting as that one above, but after burning in the blue and orange.  you can see a shininess in the blue line at the top of the photo.  as i suspected, you can’t really tell the difference at this distance between freshly painted wax and burned in wax, altho close up it’s appreciable, even striking.

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at this point i wiped away most of the pastel, which i hadn’t bothered to fix, so that i could see better.  and then i put the rest of the buff white over the bottom of the painting to the right, where i had already decided i wouldn’t put any paint until i had the rocks finished.  good intentions, why do i bother?

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and this is what the whole thing looks like.  you can see that the part i’m working on is very small (24×30 masonite panel, gessoed a light gray).  the buff white goes out to 3/4 of the way to the right edge, and up to the level of the big dark underwater rock to the left.  you might be able to see a little blending of the wax with the pastel.  unfixed pastel blends with wax because it’s basically loose pigment on the board, and the wax just absorbs it and mixes it in.

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this looks so abstract.  i’ve put in some blackish very thin wax around the edges of the rocks that are out of the water.  this is a reinforcement of the marks i’d made with the blue.  i’ve got some burnt sienna, and the white dots are actually not quite white, but lighter than the buff of the river bottom.  i’ve also continued developing the texture in the 2 big rocks to the bottom and left, and the large underwater rock above.  this is a shot taken after burning it in.  you can see in the large underwater rock that the white has moved and bloomed (check out the previous 2 pictures).

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now i’m really restating the black.  i’ve mixed up new black, which actually more consists of dioxazine purple and raw umber.  it’s extremely thin, so thin i put it on with a brush, an old wax stiffened brush i had laying about.  perhaps i could have cleaned it before using it, as it left a sort of trench with parallel sides when i put paint on with it, but i figured what the hell, since i’m just going to melt it anyway.  and lines this thick, i want to see them melt right down.  at this point the painting looks kind of cartoonish.  i’m wondering about it, but keeping on, because every middle stage painting is ugly.  and the middle stage can start with the establishment of the composition.

it melted down some.  you can see this best in that triangular lump about 1/8th in from the bottom right, offshore of the big rock at the bottom.  altho the black was very wet, and flowed out immediately, i still had to watch the other colors, especially the sienna, since it turned shiny and liquid faster than the other colors.

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now i’ve stuck some blue in as light spots on the rocks. the wet rocks in between the two big rocks are very shiny.  mainly they look black and the highlights look blue.  the only change here is very difficult to spot.  i put a layer of clear beeswax over the rocks that are partially obscured by water.  the blue space between the large rock on the bottom and the smaller white rock next to it, as well as the space between those rocks and the large white rock to the left, has got maybe an inch of water on it, but it’s enough to ripple and obscure the details.  so i’ve stuck clear wax on it and have burned it in, and you really can’t see it.

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so now i’ve added just a smear of very thin white over this, with my finger, and burned it back in.  you can see especially on the blue space between the two white rocks on the bottom, where it’s now milky.  the other spots still don’t show much.

well, it’s hard to believe i left it that way last night.  what probably happened is that there are pictures in the camera.  i’ll get to it soon.  it’s time to walk the dogs, and jim gets impatient.  he’ll start off by himself if i don’t hurry.

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