wow. ten posts and i’m still not finished. today i did a bit of an experiment. i’m starting to not like what i’m doing, because it’s not like what i wanted, or what the reference photo looks like. but i haven’t gotten tired of messing with it yet.
today i got out the really thin black paint and put the dark lines back in with a finger. i love painting with my hands. i kept leaving fingerprints, which melt differently than just random blobs of paint. how chuck close. how da vinci.
after burning in the darks, i looked at it and could see nothing else to do, so i prepared to put on a layer of clear wax. that is, wax with no pigment. first i took my big jar of yellow beeswax and citrus solvent, thinned it out with more citrus oil, and then slapped it on a corner of the painting. i burned it in immediately, because it really burns in faster and easier if you do it while it’s still wet. here’s the before and after on this:
fresh wax paste
burned in wax
i’m struggling with the chemistry of the wax. when wax is melted and mixed with solvent, when cooled, what state is the wax in? is it a solid? is it a liquid? technically you could call my encaustic medium “paste wax.” what state is paste wax? solid? liquid? slush? is it tiny little pieces of beeswax in a solid state suspended in solvent? does the solvent melt the wax and hold it in a liquid state? these nitpicky little determinations are important. if it’s a liquid, then the job of melting it is easier. if it’s a liquid, then the bonding problems that exist with poorly-burned-in was aren’t as pressing. if the solvent acts to dissolve the layer beneath the newly laid-on wax, then it creates a bond, and burning in becomes less important.
jim was taught encaustic back in the 60s using cold wax (wax mixed with turpentine). jasper johns and others experimented with it. they didn’t like using turpentine as a solvent, because it offgasses toxicity. but they didn’t have orange oil back then. orange oil – d-limonene – is so nontoxic that i can sit in offgassing citrus fumes all day long and not even get a scratchy throat. the jar of white wax i ended up using today was originally mixed up with odorless mineral spirits and citrus oil, and i could really tell the difference. i came away from my painting session, after having burned in a layer of clear wax over the entire 700+ square inches, with a raw throat and mild asthma. this was due to the odorless mineral spirits, used in making early batches of encaustic medium due to jim’s mistaken belief that just because it’s odorless, it’s harmless. which isn’t true. odorless mineral spirits is merely petroleum solvent. it’s like inhaling gasoline.
so. i had a corner of the painting covered with yellow beeswax, and when i burned it in, it stayed yellow and not very translucent at all. i sat there looking at it, dismayed, and finally went up and scraped it all off with a palette knife. it was still warm, so i could do this. the layers beneath hadn’t warmed up enough to stay warm after taking the lights off, but the top layer of clear wax was still warm to the touch and wet feeling in my hand once i’d scraped it off.
okay, start over. i got out a jar of bleached beeswax that jim had done up months ago. it was the only jar left of bleached white and citrus oil, with some mineral spirits because jim was trying to save a buck before i educated him about petroleum spirits. we have other jars of white wax, but they’re jim’s, because he’s very fond of using bleached (food grade) microcrystalline wax, which is a petroleum product. i won’t use it. it doesn’t smell like beeswax.
so. jar of bleached beeswax. i thinned it with citrus oil, and then slapped it down on the board and burned it in. for this burning in, i actually wanted the paint to move, so i took my time and heated it up slowly with my hand-held heat lamp (flood light, really, only i’m using a grow light because it’s less intense than a floodlight and i don’t need to wear sunglasses). i held the lamp farther away from the surface than i usually do – about 3″, and moved it over a wider area. i was trying to heat the wax at depth, in order to get the dark outlines of the rocks to reassert themselves.
for some reason, perhaps the thickness of the wax, the lower layers didn’t want to move. the clear wax flowed and ran, but the colors underneath didn’t budge. which was not what i was expecting or hoping for. only when the entire area became molten at a deep level did the wax start to move. and then it was like a stream, the whole fist-sized area began to flow gently toward the edge of the board. usually when wax starts to move, all i have to do is raise the heat lamp and blow on it, and the wax snaps back and freezes. but when it’s all melted like this, blowing on it just moves it more, and i have to wait for the wax at depth to cool, which takes a long time. i can visualize a small painting with its entire surface molten and beginning to shift. perhaps i’ll play with that soon.
i didn’t want to put the clear wax on the entire painting at the time, so i did it in sections, melting each edge together as i joined sections. when i got done with melting this fairly thick layer of wax, some areas felt soapy and wet to the touch, even when cooled. i knew these weren’t melted enough. the area was more translucent than well-melted (and cooled) wax, stickier, with little bubbles in it. so i went back over it until i saw the wax move. interestingly, i saw little tiny bubbles moving around inside the molten wax, like little tiny pearls. they didn’t pop or come to the surface, they just rolled around in the liquid wax.
so now i’ve got clear wax over the entire painting, except for the dry rocks. i still have to do something to make them look more lifelike (probably a veil, meaning a coat of really thin white, to obscure the details and garishness of the color). and then maybe i’m done. it’s still different than i had in mind, but that’s art for you. all the happy surprises.