end of one phase, start of another

i’ve been attempting to make an encaustic painting on top of pelon fastened to foamcore.  pelon is a nonwoven interfacing fabric used in sewing.  foamcore is a lightweight plastic backing material used in picture framing.  neither is recommended for encaustic, but the idea was to use some sort of very lightweight substrate so that i wouldn’t have to haul masonite around in my luggage, which weighs a ton.  the idea was to make encaustic paintings by the bundle, using temporary backing, then peel it off and stack it interleaved with wax paper in order to bring it back home.

in this photo, you’re looking at a half-burned in layer of wax.  on the left, it’s still white and pasty-looking (this is a layer of mostly clear wax with a little bit of titanium white to make a veil).  this is mainly because the wax sort of foams, or whitens, as it’s spread onto the board with a palette knife.  once it’s hit with a grow light (which is the tool i use to burn in, while many others use a heat gun or blowtorch), and the wax melts, it unfortunately absorbs right into the pelon, which is not what i want.

lesson one:  pelon needs to be sized if i don’t want to lose a pound of wax into the fabric.  if i had sealed it with acrylic, i wouldn’t have such an absorbent surface, and i could have started making a waxy surface immediately.

what i’m trying to do here is to build up enough wax so that i have an actual waxy surface, and so far, as i wrote in my last post, it’s taken 6 layers, which is too much.  and it’s looking more crappy with every layer.

this layer, which is cobalt blue, is the first layer to even remotely surmount the pelon substrate.  and i’m not elated at all.

lesson two:  pelon needs to be totally stretched onto the substrate because it tends to loosen when wet.  i thought pelon didn’t stretch out when it got wet.  but it’s like any fabric, it seems.  now it has creases and bubbles, which effects how the wax goes down and what it looks like when it’s burned in.  which is not at all smooth.

another layer, this time a thick one of clear beeswax, because i’m tired of waiting for the wax to build up properly and i’m going to shortcut it with a bunch of wax.  but the trouble with this layer is that i’m going rather easy on the burning in process, hoping that by not hanging around with the light after it goes molten, i might not be encouraging the wax to disappear into the pelon.  or is it going under the pelon?  is the pelon just sort of floating on a thicker and thicker bed of wax?  it’s most frustrating.

the layers might be churning when they’re melting.  i find that when i melt a big pool of wax, sometimes the different layers of pigment start to mix mechanically.  this is bad, because it produces a bland gray area.

what’s not happening is smooth layers of color.  the whole thing is blotchy, no doubt influenced by the creases and bubbles, which seem to  be getting bigger, rather than disappearing under a layer of wax and becoming invisible.

this time i put a layer of clear wax with a little white in it, to veil over the sky and make it more vague and grayed out.  and what’s happening is that i’m not burning the wax all the way in, ie. not making it completely molten when i heat it up.  that leaves areas of ‘raw’ wax, wax that can be spread with a finger after the whole thing cools down.  if you have raw wax, then you don’t have a good seal between layers, you don’t have semitransparency, you don’t have anything but a layer of candle dripping on an otherwise ‘attractive’ painting.

the answer would be to go at it with the heat lamp until that yellow buildup melts and levels.  but at this point i’ve got a waxy buildup on my surface, which is what i want.  and by the time i reheat that unmelted wax, it’s going to be running all over the painting instead of staying in place like a nice little painting.

my frustration level is thru the roof.  at this point i’m trying to proceed with the process simply to find out how hard it will be to get what i want, and since this exercise is all about learning how to use lightweight materials to make a painting, i don’t really need to go thru the fine details with black, which is the next big step to be taken once i’ve got a good background, because black and white are the hardest colors to work with in encaustic (black melts first, white melts last, so you’ve got to be strategic about using them.)

okay, i’ve had enough.  the colors you see in this final stage are because i finally put the painting outside to photograph it.  the previous shots are all taken in the studio under artificial light, and often with a flash, and i’m not an expert in photoshop color correction.  so.

like i said, i’ve had enough.  you can see the ‘raw’ beeswax on the left.  it’s still yellow.  at this point i’ve drawn a finger thru it and realized it was still uncured, un-burned-in.  so i grabbed one side of the pelon and peeled the painting away from the substrate.  on the right is the foamcore i had the pelon pinned to.

the foamcore layer is quite interesting.  the wax sure did go right thru the damned pelon and accumulated on the substrate, which is useless because you can’t see it.  it’s got better color, tho, and these little tiny pinprick holes where the wax didn’t go thru.  you can’t see most of these holes in the picture, but they’re very interesting.  they look like a sky full of stars, which is kind of where i was going with this.  the streaks are what was under the creases and bubbles, and the white parts at the top are where the wax stuck to the back of the pelon and lifted from the foamcore.

so really, a complete failure, and a good thing i’m spending this month testing my materials, or i’d be up shit’s creek.  tomorrow i’m going to home depot for a 4’x8′ sheet of luan, which i will cut into 8x10s and 16x20s, which will fit into my suitcase, and i can (hopefully) happily make paintings from this.  so i scraped both surfaces clean and put the wax into a container with a little orange oil to dissolve it.  i’ll use it as gunge when i make another planet painting.

so that’s it for the pelon on foamcore experiment.  it was a failure.  fine.  but i learned a lot.

now i’m going to turn my attention back to my oil painting, which i’m also trying to come up to speed on.  in a prior post i showed my progress painting a beach at night scene in oil on panel, in this case masonite, for a friend.  i got the first layer on two days ago, and i’m still waiting for it to be tacky enough to proceed with, which had me all panicky the other day – how am i supposed to finish a bunch of oil paintings and pack them up wet to take home?

but i thought about it, and amn’t going to be painting oil on panel during my residency.  i’m going to be painting oil on linen, because i’m taking a roll of 6 yards of linen that i bought ten years ago and have never used.  and i’ve never actually painted on linen, so i got two 8×10 stretched and primed canvases out from jim’s stash and started in on them with another material i’ve never used before, conte crayons.

to illustrate the point i made in my last post, where i said that the trouble with pastels is that when you fix them all the chalk turns clear.  pastellists hate this, but that’s why i don’t like pastels – they’re too pastelly, too pasty.  there’s too much chalk in them and they look chalky.  if i were to do pastels, i would fix the shit out of them to get rid of that awful pastel look.  i’m just a rebel.

so here is the preliminary tonal drawing in unfixed conte crayon.  it’s an upstate new york farmhouse and barn in the misty morning, and it’s quite a nice reference photo that i’d been meaning to tackle for some time.  what i’ve done is the usual, indicating the various shades of light and darkness.  it’s rough, but good enough for me to start with.

now when i fix it with a dilute acrylic sprayed on with a mouth atomizer, you can see where i’ve lost a lot of the brightness.  that’s because the chalk is now transparent, as it should be.  the chalk is a filler.  it would be insanely expensive to make pastels using only pigment and gum tragacanth (the binder), so you need to extend the pigment using an inert filler – a filler that bulks out the pastel without changing its working characteristics.  the fact that there’s chalk in the filler, and that this chalk shows in unfixed paintings, is or should be irrelevant.  but pastellists strive to make the painting look good while it’s being painted, and don’t seem to get that it’s supposed to darken when you fix it, and that you’re supposed to fix it.  so there’s a huge tendency in pastel painting to try and avoid fixing, instead of adjusting to the process by making your colors more intense in preparation for fixing.  but never mind.  i don’t paint in pastel because it’s too pastel and i like sharper colors.

here is the first layer of paint on top of the fixed conte drawing.  i started with chrome green and white, thinned with orange oil (the fat over lean rule, start thinning with turpentine, or in this case orange oil solvent and in the next layers add more oil).  i put this into the grayed out treeline in the distance.  then i mixed up some viridian with a tiny bit of white and put it in the middle ground.  at this point i ran right out of my viridian, so i had to mix up some more.

the tip of the palette knife full of viridian dry pigment, a scrape of the mixture of calcium carbonate and sun thickened linseed oil i’m using as filler, mix that together and add a brushfull of orange oil.  i put this second batch of stronger paint into the foreground.  then i mixed just a little ultramarine blue into the viridian and put it in the middle-ground trees.  and then i came back with  more blue and put it in the shadows of the background trees, and in the foreground in the shadows of the plants.

then i took what little tiny bit of raw umber i still had on my palette from two days before when i did the beach scene, and mixed it into the blue shadows in the trees and on the side of the barn.

i mixed up a teeny tiny bit of burnt sienna and put it in the barn, and then took my white and did the house and the sky.  and since i didn’t feel like mixing up any more black yet, i stuck what was left of the white on the roof of the barn.

now i have my first layer of paint, which needs to dry before i can start in on a second layer.  i expect this to be dry tomorrow when i go down to the studio, because this is how i expect oil paint to react.  but then, i know what to expect when i use paints right out of the tube, and this isn’t one of those times.  this time i have mixed up my own paints, and know every ingredient in them, unlike with tubed paints, where you have no fucking clue what the manufacturer has put into the paint.  there could be driers in the paint, which make it tacky quicker.  there could be a bunch of things in there.

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