encaustic – n ga trout stream 3


it’s the rocks’ turn.  but first i made the white foam thicker by adding more white and burning it in.  i strengthened the white with more pigment first.

then the rocks. they have to be a lot more prominent.  you should see the reference photo – the water is smooth and uncertain, but the rocks are deeply etched.  so on goes more cream, and some purple, a light blue for the dark rocks.  and gets burned in.


but that’s not enough.  this is only two sessions in one day, now.  i didn’t spend that much time working today because of all sorts of things happening around our house.  anyway, i took a scraping tool and outlined some of the rocks where the shadows are particularly deep.  then i mixed up a strong but very dilute black (loads of pigment, lots of citrus solvent, very little wax) and rubbed it into the lines, and buffed off what remained on the high places.  and burned it in.  then i mixed up some creamy white (using yellow beeswax instead of bleached beeswax) and put it on all the rocks and highlights, tinged with light blue for the wet rock highlights.  and burned it in.

tomorrow i have to go back to the rocks and put on a glaze or two here or there, and incise some more lines and fill them with black, and then burn them all in.  and then i think i need one more coat of clear wax on the water.  i’ve already been over the first coat of clear wax with all sorts of blue and orange, and it’s done run off the black already.  so another coat of obscuring bleached wax, which really goes white again once you burn it in.


how much burning in is enough?  there are so many stages of melting wax.  it gets glisteny.  then it gets translucent.  then it gets very shiny indeed.  then it goes molten and starts to spread and churn or break apart, depending on the pigment.  how much melting is good enough, when is one layer fused to the one beneath?  surely by the time it’s molten, it’s melted all together.  i think that’s a safe assumption.  when all the colors start to run, then you’ve got firmly set wax when it cools.  if the wax is only heated until translucency, until it’s slush, then when it dries again it’s still soft and soapy feeling to the touch, and can be rubbed up instead of polished.

(i lost the post in the middle of writing it last night, so i’m reconstructing this part).  i decided to find references for the fusing process.  i looked at rfpaints.com which is a big seller of encaustic supplies, and i ended up finding quite a bit of information at daniel smith.

this speaks to several questions – the methods of burning in and also what repeated applications of heat does to wax, which is a problem i’ve been trying to research:

Burning-in is defined as the application of heat at any stage of the painting process. This step is integral to encaustic painting as it permanently fuses the wax layers to the support and to each other.

In addition, heating and reheating the waxes toughens and hardens them. The degree of heat, and how and when it is applied, influences the appearance of the finished work. When the heat source is removed from the painting, the waxes immediately cool and harden on the support. This permanently fixes the image.

The use of a rack, fitted with a bowl-type heat reflector, allows a controlled burning-in, with the heat source moving easily and uniformly over the painting, about 4″ to 6″ from the surface. One technique involves gently heating the waxes until a dull sheen is noted on the surface. At this point, fusion has taken place, creating a permanent paint film on the support.

2. An entirely different effect is achieved by prolonging the burning-in until the waxes melt on the support. Changes occur because the properties of the pigments influence both the melting point of the waxes and the dispersion of the pigments within them. Wax with dark-colored pigments absorbs heat and melts more rapidly than wax with light-colored pigments. Lightweight pigments, such as most blacks, float to the top of the liquid waxes, while heavier pigments, such as titanium white, sink. With experimentation and experience in applying and removing the heat source, an artist can learn to control this uneven melting and utilize the subsequent color changes which occur in the molten waxes.

so of the two methods listed above at the daniel smith site, (there are 4 methods listed), the one i use all the time is the second, which is to melt the hell out of the wax.  their experience with what happens to the pigments is just like mine, so it’s good to have that confirmed.

however, i think if the wax is considered fused when it’s only dully sheeny, then i can do the rocks that way and retain all the texture.

here’s a rather more technical explanation of why wax toughens with repeated heating:

Quantitatively, the major compounds are saturated and unsaturated monoesters, diesters, saturated and unsaturated hydrocarbons, free acids and hydroxy polyesters…The ratio of ester values to acids, a character used by the various pharmacopoeias to describe pure beeswax is changed significantly by prolonged or excessive heating. At 100 C for 24 hours the ratio of ester to acid is changed beyond the limits set for pure beeswax. Longer heating or higher temperatures lead to greater degradation and loss of hydrocarbons (Tulloch, 1980). These changes also influence the physical characteristics of the wax. Thus, excessive heating during rendering or further processing changes the wax structurally and alters the beneficial characteristics of many of its minor compounds, not only the aromatic and volatile compounds.

r&f paints has an extensive group of posts dealing with the mysteries of fusing.  let’s see what i can extract.

In fusing, you have to only melt the surface of the previous layer to get a good bond.  Bonding layer to layer can be a snakey thing, smooth things like wax and others exhibit what is called surface tension and can hang together for a while.

and here’s another piece of advice:

Fusing requires only enough heat in a given area to melt the upper layer of wax.  Once the shine appears, that means it’s melted and time to move onto another area.  If you want to fuse more, or even out the surface texture, fuse gently and let the area cool somewhat before fusing again.  Give it time, patience, and distance between the heat gun and the painting. If you fuse in one place for too long, you will have pitting and then soup.

and here’s a good reference for what happens to wax when it’s reheated:

Acrolein and Aldehydes are released from beeswax (and other waxes) as a natural byproduct of the decomposition of the wax.  Beeswax starts to decompose (large wax paricles break down into smaller wax particles)as soon as it begins to melt, although the amounts of these gases released at this low temperature is almost negligable.
The higher the temperature of the wax, the more these gases are released.  So at a normal working temperature of 180° – 220° acroleins and aldehydes are definately being released (more so at 220° than at 180°).  This is what you smell when you are around molten wax.  This is why ventilation is so very important.
At safe working temperatures the acrolein and aldehydes are not being released at a rate that is considered toxic.  Instead they are considered to be “irritant”.  As with any irritant, diferent people have different levels of sensitivity.  Dizziness, nausea, and headache are some of the immediate effects of sensitivity/overexposure to wax emissions.  Bronchial and sinus irritation can occur with long term overexposure.
When wax is heated to extreme temperatures the decomposition occurs at a much more accelerated rate, at which point the wax emissions can become toxic instead of irritant.
To answer your question specifically Rodney, acrolein and aldehydes will be released every time the wax is heated.  This is not a one time action with wax, and it is not only at “unsafe” temperatures.

and in a reverse of standard technique, some people want the layers to be seperable:

Fusing is what attaches the layer most recently applied to the layer beneath it.  If no fusing is done then the adhesion of layers will be minimal.  If you allow your painting to cool before applying another layer there will be even less adhesion.

well, there’s no definitive answer.  fusing means melting ‘some’ thru ‘all’ and that means it’s up to the individual artist.  which is just like encaustic, a million different techniques leaking around the ‘right’ way to do it.


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