project – encaustic on framed mirrors

so i found a bunch of ikea mirrors that somebody was tired of and carefully left atop the trashcan lid for someone just like me to come and collect for art supplies.  and they sat in my art supply stash for a minute, but then i had to go to a family thing far far away, and needed a bunch of presents.  being all out of silk scarves (and (american) guys are too cool to wear scarves), i quickly resorted to a short series of nine 10″square framed mirrors.  they’re 4″ mirrors surrounded by 4″ flat frame, just wide stretchers, really.  they were painted dark gray, and had a screw-eye in the middle to hang it from a nail.  cheap and dirty.  but wait.


the last time i did an encaustic painting was about six months ago, at the beach, absently while other stuff happened.  and i left all my wax in individual cups or on the insides of those wind glasses and upturned cups you can see on the palette.  so the first thing i had to do was organize and revitalize my dried-up wax.


this is all beeswax and pigment with orange oil solvent, and these are all my old bits of wax that are beach colored, mostly.  i’ve separated them into little plastic cups that came with baby applesauce.  i’ve also added lots of orange solvent – oh maybe 3 or 4 palette knife blades full, so maybe 10 drops, and basically covered the cups with the glass at first, and then turned the cups upside down on the glass as the wax softened and adhered better.

i explain it other places, but basically i’m a big fan of orange oil solvent.  it’s my only studio solvent, i clean my oil brushes with it, and use it as a perfect alternative to turpentine (toxic to breathe) or mineral spirits (toxic petroleum product) because it’s mainly nontoxic, and you only really have to worry about ventilation, as you would for any strong odor.

in the case of encaustic, i’m making a cold wax preparation, meaning i’m working with wax that is spreadable with palette knives or brushes, depending on how thin a paint i make of it.  i never have to deal with applying molten wax or keeping everything cooking on hot plates.  i can work with my fingers.


now it’s been a few days of soaking in orange oil, and i’m going thru each pot of color and working orange oil into it until it is nice and buttery.  i’m cutting the still resistant orange wax into small dices in this picture.  the open jar of clear liquid right behind the cups is my orange oil, which i capped right after i took the picture because it’s extremely volatile and i don’t want to waste it.


this is a little bit further on, and with another pigment, but never mind.  after dicing, i mix in more orange oil, which you can see gleaming just beyond the cut wax.  i’m cutting the solvent into the wax, in fact, with the side of the knife, making it ever smaller.


and then i’m mixing in more orange oil, and using the flat of the knife to mush the wax smooth.  it gets buttery.  the lump of multicolored wax is very hard, will break into individual colors, and get treated the same.


my wrists and fingers hurt after doing all this.  but all this wax is now re(not)hydrated, and is like stiff butter, ready to be applied.

so, the first thing to do is to slap some paint down on the mirror and burn it in.  for this operation i would normally use a grow light bulb (for its easiness on my eyes) or an infrared lamp (same), but i’m in a hurry and have nine squares.  my next bet would be a high-intensity floodlight, which is much hotter, so much quicker.  but i’ve just gotten myself a new heat gun, so i’m going to use the lowest setting to melt the wax.  this is why it’s called encaustic.  no matter how the wax gets onto the surface, it has to be fused, melted, with some heat source, or it’ll crack and fall off, just like the runs on a candle will crack and fall off, because the molecules of the wax have to become one before it will hold together reliably.  it’s a kind of mystical thing, like making bread.  that’s why i love encaustic.


here’s a little dab of a few colors, slathered right on to the glass with a palette knife.


and here’s partway thru the fusing with a heat gun, which you can just see the nozzle to the top right.  white always takes longest to melt, because it’s reflective, while dark colors are the first ones to melt.  so the order in which you fuse your colors will make a difference to the kind of result you’ll get.  if you melt the white first and then the darks later, you get fewer runs and mixes.  if you melt the dark colors first and then the lighter ones, then you can burn out the dark colors, which is bad, and leave incompletely fused lumps of the whites, which will then have to cure (when the orange oil evaporates off and the wax hardens).


and this was my result.  very nice, dramatic, even.  reminiscent of the ocean in a storm.

however, now i’m going to switch to one of the squares that i actually have pictures of all the way thru.


it was mostly orange, which was probably cadmium orange, with a dab of cadmium yellow to the lower right, and probably quinacridone gold on top.  it got really thin ot the upper right, and you can see bare mirror all around, and in the eyelike holes in the middle.  this is fused, of course.


time to do the frame.  i took a light gray and smeared it on the bottom and top with my palette knife, then took the darkest color, purple, and put it in the middle.  this is raw wax.


and this is what it looked like once it was burned in.


then i took a liberal amount of white and smeared it over the whole frame.  it scumbled over the existing wax, leaving big gaps.


i burned that in, and then added a gunge layer around the edges, using my bottle of gunge wax collected over the years.  the gunge edge is still raw, but the white over the first layer is burned in.


i burned in the gunge edge, and then went back in with a white line to reinforce the white i’d put on earlier, as well as a line of orange, and a line of blue.  they are raw colors, while the gunge edge is burned in.


and sorry for the shaky picture, but everything is burned in now.


and here i added a layer of clear wax – just beeswax and orange oil – and rubbed it into all the nooks and crannies with my hand, to make sure there was no bare wood left.


and then i burned it in over all the other layers i had already burned in.

the difference between using a light bulb of whatever strength and using a heat gun or blowtorch, is that the airflow from the guns and torches will guaranteed move your wax around and around, while it is a much lesser problem using a lightbulb.  the wax will flow according to temperature gradients when it is molten, that and gravity.  but the light doesn’t push it around nearly as much as a hot stream of air will.  i prefer the light.

but there’s no denying the speed with which you can melt wax with a heat gun on the low setting.  i finished this entire project in about eight hours, and then i went to bed, because i was very exhausted, and on my feet the entire time.  i kind of forgot to eat and things like that, too, and then 4 hours later i had to get up and drive for 14 hours in the rain.  that’s another story.


so here’s the bare mirrors, with just the first experiment at the top left.


and here’re all the mirrors filled in with their first coat of wax.


and here is the first attempt at surface decoration on the frames.  in fact, almost none of this ended up being visible in the end.  you can see where i’m just putting white on the one on the top right.


i’ve put white on all of them and burned them in.  you’ll notice the squares don’t stay in the same place, but move around according to which one i am burning in at the time.  the cord was short.


here i’ve put the gunge layer around the edges, and burned that in.


and now i’m going back in with accent colors, and it doesn’t look like i’ve burned them in yet, but i might be right in the middle somewhere.


here they are all coated with clear wax.


and here’s the wax all burned in, and everything ready for finalization.  which i don’t have any pictures of.

to finish them, i stacked up everything with paper between the wax and the frame above, and put them into a plastic garbage bag (the smell was very intense), took the screw eyes and a set of carving tools along, and finished them right before i handed them out.  this consisted of figuring out which side was up, measuring center and inserting the screw eye, and carving my name and any remarques or figures into the mirror.  i would have cut back more wax in the mirror, for a nice depth, but my tools were for gouging, not planing, so i couldn’t get the precision and sweep i wanted.  that’s an experiment for another day.

the recipients all declared they loved them (especially the smell), even tho i had a dream where i was advised not to give them out because they were so inferior to the portraits i also gave at this gathering.  i was sure it was my brother who so advised me, but evidently i was dreaming.

and that’s probably the last project i’ll post for awhile.  i’m actually spending most of my time writing fiction these days, but always love coming back to the visual arts.

series paintings in encaustic

i’m posting these now just to gather some of the series of encaustic paintings i’ve been working in.  it’s not that many in any category, but they’re all ongoing.

these are my planetary body paintings.  in the main they’re studio photographs, which means they’re not very good, with glares and smudges on the lens.  but they’re good enough for me, because for the most part i still have them and can drag them out and take proper pictures at will.

these are all beeswax and pigment on board, applied as a paste with orange solvent as the softener, and burned in using a light bulb.


that’s the earth on its side (as if, in space) with antarctica on the right, and only the vastness of the pacific ocean in sunlight.  30×40

earth and moon

a very challenging painting.  if you’ll kindly notice the gunge layer around the planet.  i go to great lengths to put a gunge around each planet i do.  i save up spare bits of wax and stick them in a jar with a little orange oil.  and then when i’m laying in the blackness of outer space, i smear a knifeful of multicolored wax around the planet.  you should see it when everything’s clear while i’m burning it in.  it glows with color and life.  once it’s cooled and solidified again it’s much more obscure, ut you can still see a lot of texture in the atmospheric layers.

by the way, this painting was later gouged in storage, a big slash under the moon.  i laid flat on a table and repaired the spot, and then got out my lamp to burn it in, because that’s what you do with wax.  i got it melted, but it wasn’t level with the unmelted wax around it, so i melted a bit more, and a bit more, and only stopped when i’d melted an area the size of a dinner plate.  and when it cooled, that area was subtly different from the surrounding area.  which means that when i’m ready to display it, i’ll have to go back and remelt the entire blackness of space, right up to the planet’s edges, before it looks okay.  at the moment, it looks like an echo of the moon.  36×48


i included this because it’s a space picture, not because it’s planetlike, i.e., round.  this was an early encaustic painting, when i was just exploring the translucency of the wax.  it actually looks remarkably like the nebula itself, but unless you know what you’re looking at it’s completely abstract.  which is one of the things i love about encaustic.  it looks abstract even when it’s not.  it’s the magic of the wax.  8×10


i’d say jupiter (duh) except that there are a lot of people who’ve been thru and asked which planet it is.  this was a very challenging painting.  i guess they all are.  it’s a real trick to get molten wax to move the way you want to.  in every medium it’s a real trick to control the paint, but in wax and in dye, the way you put it on is not the way it’s going to stay.  at least, not the way i put it on…

in this case, the clouds were the tricky part, and the translucency of the atmosphere near the poles.  the terminus of the planet’s shadow is achieved in most of these paintings with brown microcrystalline wax, which i otherwise have no use for, since it’s a petroleum product.  but it makes a great glaze, all by itself.  48×60


well, it’s planetlike.  i always thought so while watching the monitor at the doctor’s.  it helped to take my mind off the squeezing pain as i stood there caught by the machine.  this one is made with bits of cotton and linen fiber, building up a ridge of thicker tissue around the edge and in the middle.  this is a painting you want to run your hands over.  all encaustic paintings have an invisible sign that say ‘please touch me’.  16×20


sorry about the blur.  i’ll reshoot one of these days.  this is venus in false color, from radar images that look beneath the clouds.  the blues and greens are below ‘sea’ level, and the warmer colors are higher elevations.  it’s a planet that reminds me of a fantasy world, where this or that makebelieve kingdom bustle with sword and sorcery.  20×30

and that’s it at the moment for planets.  i have a series of moons planned, and thought perhaps i’d do a human ovum at some point.  or maybe a flu virus or something.

here are my water pictures:

north georgia trout stream

the great thing about wax is its texture.  it gives a whole nother level of information to your eye.  you can tell because of the crispness of the rocks at the lower left that they’re half out of the water.  you can tell that the black streaks are fish.  you can tell that the white scumble going diagonally below the blue is a breaking wave on the surface.  at least i can.  20×30

sugar hollow, virginia

wax is well suited to depicting water, in all its forms.  and reflections.  and translucency.  this wonderful pool right below the blue ridge is a deep clear still flat place where the tumbling boulders came to rest ages ago, and the water is maybe ten feet deep here.  there’s only a patch of sky visible in the surface reflections, because the trees are very thick on the mountains all around.  it’s only the sudden widening out of the river (at this stage a mountain creek) that makes for a break in the clouds, where hundreds of locals sprawl and play on any given summer day.  20×30

baby falls, tellico r, tennessee

my friend shannon came to visit, and we went off to visit friends up in tennessee, who took us off to watch some damnfools going over class 3+ rapids.  i spent most of my time picking up these way cool river rocks, and when i came back home, combined a painting of the rapids with suitable stones and pebbles to make this representation of our trip for her.

i applied the white of the water in several layers and let it flow to make all those intricate water movements.  white is a tricky color to burn in, because it takes much longer than any other color.  it’s because white bounces the heat off, and this is a really clear way to show it.  a full minute sometimes.  and next to the blacks and purples of the water’s depth, which melt immediately, twenty seconds, it became a real problem not to have the blacks burn off, which is a nasty thing where the wax smokes and the surface gets dry and ugly.  masking is a good way to avoid this.  laying a piece of paper directly on the dark surface and burning in around it.

i attached the larger stones in the beginning, when i did the drawing.  acrylic modeling paste.  but the small stones were pressed directly into the hot wax and then buried under clear wax and burned in right along with the wax.  in the end i made sure that all the stones had a nice coat of wax polish (wax and orange oil, rubbed in like furniture polish).  buffed with a soft cloth, the whole painting glows.  8×10

water cill rialaig 1

while at cill rialaig, in deepest kerry, i was interested in elemental things.  air.  water.  earth.  it was a nice autumn, so not much interest in fire, tho i did do a painting of the iron stove in my studio.

i once saw the air, and it has amazed me ever since.  i studied fluid dynamics in college, and came to the realization that it’s all fluid, particles and waves.  these pictures of the clouds and sea and the air in between are part of this ongoing study.  i actually want to paint the clouds and sea in a rainstorm, but since there’s no visibility in a rainstorm, it wouldn’t turn out very well.  so i’m trying to get as close as i can to that.  and the clouds on the ocean are stupefyingly beautiful.  12×24

water cill rialaig 2

this is a bit closer, but really, i’m trying to paint snow white in a snowstorm.  altho i don’t use any black when i make these paintings, they turn out in shades of gray, which are oddly soothing.  12×24

also in the water series i have tree that are in the beginning stages, another cloud,  one of amsterdam canals and the other reflections of storage tanks on the water of a dockyard.


so let’s total that up.  that’s 6 paintings completed and 3 in the works for round things, and 5 done and 3 started in clouds.  it’s something.  i’m looking at an application and they want to see 8 slides.  i’ve got until the middle of september.  sure i can whip out three or four paintings between then and now, what with two kimono to make and a wall hanging to finish and a set of banana ties to paint and a dragon shirt.  no problem.  as long as i don’t have to watch my grandkid…

encaustic painting – water 2

i’m continuing with my series of encaustic painting of the seascape in kerry.  i was there last fall, at cill rialaig, on the edge of nowhere, studying the sea, the clouds and the rain for a better understanding of the elements.  six months later, i’m working on a way of imaging the very subtle things i’ve been thinking about.

for the record, i’m using a homemade cold wax application on gessoed board, using citrus oil as a solvent, and burning it in with a heat lamp. we’ll call this unorthodox encaustic painting, but since it’s being burned in, it’s actual real encaustic, even tho some fundamentalist artists insist it’s not.  that’s another issue.

here’s the reference photo first, so you know what you’re looking at.

view from cill rialaig

i was using a digital camera that made all the decisions for me when i took all my photos in kerry, so most of my photos of clouds are unfocused.  the camera didn’t know how to focus on soft clouds, and did some funny compromise, and in most of my reference photos, i’ve got a blurry picture of grays doing rain and lowering type things.  consequently, these pictures of clouds, rain, and sea are way atmospheric.  i mean some of them fucking blurry.

so i got out one of my larger panels (i’ve got ten stacked up and ready to go) and cut it into three, grabbed a resulting 12×24 gessoed panel, and started with dark blue on the sea, and light gray on the sky.  pretty simple, eh?  the variations you can see in the sky are the patterns made by the heat lamp as i burned in the wax.  it’s all one color, tho.  as is the water, which is transparent in this first layer, and shows the board very well.

a layer of the darkest gray over the ocean, and then i used the three (or four) midrange grays i had left over from the first painting, and delineated the basic colors.  not at all subtle; almost cartoonish, especially on the lower right, where the rain hits the ocean.

then the darkest gray over the nearest (topmost) cloud, left.  and the three grays in the middle again, restating the few value changes.  note how i’m dipping the light gray over top of the dark gray of the sea and letting it blend in.

and now some darker purple gray.  i might have just mixed this up special, and not enough, because i’ve just mixed a big batch of purple gray for the third painting in this series.  at this point i’m using the very bottom of the grays i’ve been saving in little plastic cups for weeks and months.  some of the grays are very hard and dried out, and they don’t blend very well until they’re flat melted.  and even then they don’t respond to heat very easily.

at this point i got tired of all the darkness, and started in with my lightest grays.  these are green grays, but nobody’s going to notice.  they were left over from another painting, the origin of which is now lost in time.  it doesn’t really look like the same painting, but there’s enough left of the layer underneath that i can tell it’s the next photo in the sequence.  only one coat of wax between these two photos.

and now this is too white, and there’s too much contrast, so i hit the entire rest of the sky with a darker light gray, and melted it all in for a much softer and more subtle appearance.

and now, of course, it’s too much the same all over, so i’m going to lose my patience now and hit it with bold strokes of really white white, the white i started with bleached beeswax for.

beneath the painting below is the reference photo.  you can see how little i have to work with.  and slashing all this white on top of the carefully homogenized board takes a little courage.

the wax on the board below is unmelted, by the way.  the marks are made by palette knife, and often i’m grinding the paint around with the knife, trying to put it on the wavy and pocked surface smoothly.  hahahahaha.

but once burned in, below, it’s not so bad.  it’s starting to get very textural here.  when these paintings come on, they work fast.  the first half, however, is excruciatingly ugly.  all paintings are ugly in the middle of painting them, but it’s particularly bad with wax paintings.

after this stage, there’s not much left.  i restated the dark cloud on the upper left, and burned the white in a bit better.  some of the whiteness is too opaque and still hasn’t melded with its surroundings.

when you look up advice on how far to melt your painting to get it properly burned in, you get a lot of different advice.  a lot of this advice is based on heating your painting with a blow torch, or some other very fast heating device.  i use a lightbulb, so the heating process is slower and more controlled.

sometimes i’ve seen people advising others to fuse their wax until the top layer is shiny; that’s enough.  when it is left merely shiny, then okay it’s a safe bet that the layers of wax are melted to each other, at least the whole body of wax has gotten to that slushy stage where it’s not really solid and it’s not really liquid.  when it’s left shiny and then you take the heat source away and stop melting it,  then there’s lots of texture left in the wax.  there are lumps and bumps, and the really thick lumps of wax aren’t melted all the way.  they’re still solid enough to stick together and make lumps; that’s how you tell.

i tend to melt my wax until the entire field is molten, which is mainly what they recommend, or even insist on, depending.  that means a large shiny lake around the lightbulb, of absolutely even, bumpless liquid wax that is transparent down to the gesso when it’s molten.  there are stages of melted.  depending on the pigment, the wax runs when melted.  if it’s a dark pigment, then it melts readily and flows all over the place in a spreading pool.  if it’s a light pigment, then it melts only after awhile shining the light on it.  if there’s a light patch of wax next to a dark patch of wax, then the dark stuff will melt first, and the light stuff will all at once break down and flow into the dark stuff, or else the dark stuff will spread over the light stuff like a flood.  if it’s light pigment over a previously burned in dark layer, then the dark layer melts before the light one on top, and the light layer breaks up into tiny fragments as it floats away on top of the dark wax, and finally melts and starts churning into the dark wax, so that you get a dull gray, homogenous section of wax if you let it get to this.

and, just as you’re getting used to constant flow, after a while of adding new wax and melting it in, and adding more wax and melting it in, the older pigment stops moving.  what flowed alarmingly when first melted is no longer even moving, never mind blending with the newer stuff, and if something’s really stubborn and just won’t break up, i have to put a fingertip in there and remove it.  owie.

the main trick is to move the heat/light away the moment the wax starts flowing.  that’s if you want a sharpish edge.  if you want a thoroughly blended edge, you have to sit there with the light until it starts to flow, and then hover over it until the edge completely breaks down and floods over the wax next to it.

and the more layers you do this, the more interesting the wax surface becomes, building up such a rich texture, with such depth, that you wonder how you could ever have loved flat acrylic paint.

the painting is almost done.  after looking at it for some time, i brought it back to the studio this morning and added a smear of light gray on the dark water in the  middle, some lighter gray over the darkest part of the cloud, and i think that’s it.  next, yet another painting of rainclouds over the ocean.

elements – water 2

new project – encaustic painting series

okay, i’m doing another encaustic demo.  this blog is full of encaustic painting demos.  and i never get tired of doing them, either.  so here’s yet another one.

while i was on residency in the west of ireland last year, at cill rialaig, i was very taken with the idea of a series of paintings exploring the elements.  things like paintings of only rocks, paintings of only skies, only water.  i dreamed of painting the air, but that’s just about as difficult a thing to paint as you can think of.  painting nothing would be harder, but only just.

i spent my studio time a lot more prosaically, painting tourist pictures and gifts for people who don’t like my more experimental experiments with art.  there was one artist there who liked me right up until the moment she saw the paintings i was working on.  this was an artist whose name is being made right this second by inscrutable museum-quality art involving springs and piano wires.  she was so upset that she told me about her disappointment as if she was talking about another artist altogether, but her heartfelt looks when she confessed that this artist’s work was awful gave her away.  and i’ve never heard from her again, of course, but this is the way it goes on residency; you make instant friends that you never hear from afterwards.  artists pissing in the night.

anyway, on to the work.  you can see the reference photo on the left of the pastel outline.  it was one of those cloudy days were all the color is in the sky.  the light comes peering thru the cloud in vast beams, and there’s nothing as bright as that silvery gleam where the light is hitting the water.  you can only barely see the peninsula just a mile or two across the bay, and there are places were the water comes out of the clouds and fogs the space between cloud and ocean with rain that’s more like thick smoke.

so i’m into the elements.  in this case, it’s water.  i guess water and air.  but the clouds are water, and the sea is water, and the rain is water, and the air blocking the view of the peninsula is water.

the trouble with water being the entire picture is that there’s no real difference between water in its various states.  just varying shades of visibility, really.

there happened to be a roughly 1:2 board all ready to go, so i took it off the stack and started in.  there’s a stack of boards all gessoed up, all sorts of sizes.  this one is 12″x24″ gessoed masonite (or whatever they’re calling it now) and i’ve dragged pastel all over it as merely placemarks.  my method for transferring the image from the reference photo to the board is to stand about 5′ back and hold the photo up in front of my face, covering the board as much as possible.  then i focus my eyes on a detail and whip the paper aside, noting where it falls on the board.  then i rush to the board and swipe a line right there with my pastel, and go back to my position and pick another spot to focus on.  easy.

there are good points and bad about this method.  using a projector also has its good and bad points.  in general, i prefer the distortions of my own eyes to the distortions of a projection lens, so i usually go with that.  and abstracting my marks to only the most obvious and important ones is usually the best way for me to go, lest i get caught up in the details before i’ve even established the general marks.

in sketching out the painting, i’ve used only black, or dark gray, pastel.  and a touch of blue for the sky.  the light gray stuff is the first layer of wax.  i thought i’d get a picture before going too far.  it looks to me as if i’ve already burned in this first layer.  you can tell that i’m not fixing the pastel before starting in on the underpainting.  i don’t really care if i get pastel all over my underpainting.  there’s going to be so many layers of wax that nobody’s going to know much about the first layers.

here’s a closeup of the next layer (inverted), a darker gray filling in the areas around the light gray.  the blue is still pastel.  ad the black you can see, that’s also pastel.  again, i’m pretty sure i’ve burned this in.  but i’ll let you know if i have some ‘raw’ wax in any of the shots.

this is the far shot.  i’ve got dark gray in the ocean and the peninsula, and a little in the top part of the clouds.

and at this point i’ve started taking the painting outside to shoot progress photos, so it’s a little better picture.  sorry about the quality before.  i’ve added a little more black to the clouds, and more white to the sky and water.  you can only tell i’m doing anything to the water by the progressive breaking up of the thin black line in the middle of the white part of the sea.  i really shouldn’t have bothered putting in that detail so soon, and it will haunt me.

for this one i’ve finally put in some blue paint, but it’s old blue dug out from a hardened lump in cup, and there’s green in it.  oops, so what.  i took the same gray i was using in the clouds, which has a bunch of purple and blue in it, and put it over the peninsula, where it’s now way dark.

so i took a bunch more of the gray with the purple, and slathered it all over the clouds.  i’m burning everything in before shooting it at this stage, just so you know, and in many cases there’s more than one layer being put on and burned in before i take the next process shot.  else i’d be running outside every half hour with the board and the camera.

now i’ve gone in and put the same gray in the sea and the shiny area.  and come in with some dark gray and emphasized the peninsula and the darkest of the waves in the foreground.

now there’s more darker gray on top of the clouds.  i’ve added some raw umber into the gray mix.  basically my grays are black and white, dioxazine purple, ultramarine blue, raw sienna, a little green, and whatever else i think of.

now there’s darker grays over the lowest clouds.  and i’ve begun to come back in with lighter gray underneath that cloud, partially obscuring the peninsula.

and now some less-than-terribly dark grays over the sea.  at this point i have white, made with bleached beeswax and titanium white pigment, and i have cream, made with regular beeswax and titanium.  and then i have four or five grays, going from very nice bluish dove gray to angry greasy looking toxic sludgy gray and mostly running along the purple edge.

and now the whole thing looks too dark and brooding, so i basically go over the entire thing with light purply gray, and lighten the whole thing up.  the light ocean is gotten a bit polluted by the dark gray thin line, so i add more white and burn the hell out of it.

and then it was getting dark, and i stopped work, brought the painting up to the front porch, and sat out and looked at it while the light went.  it was painfully purple, but almost done.  a funny thing happened.  as the natural light faded and the incandescent porch light took over, the painting got less and less purple, and finally less and less detailed, and flatter, and finally it looked very photographic, almost like the reference photo, which my paintings never turn out looking like the photos.

i was intrigued by this, and wondered what i’d have to do to the painting under natural light in order to get it to look like it did at night under a 40 watt bulb.

this led to a conversation about george beattie, who painted some of his paintings with that would show up when someone flicked on the paintsblacklight that was installed to provide alternate lighting.  seems a little tacky now, maybe, but i’ll bet now people are coming up with high tech ways to do the same thing.


now the white of the ocean is blue, because of that dark line finally disappearing into a churn of white wax.  so i  am going to have to add more white and start again.

and now i add more black.  i’m messing a little with the cream in the clouds, also.

and now the peninsula was too dark, so i’ve obscured that with some more medium gray atmosphere, and added little dark touches to the upper clouds.

and i guess i’m done.  it needs a thin black frame, an some nice buffing to bring out the shine of the wax, and i’m ready to move on to my next painting.  the series will be called elements – water, or maybe kerry water, tho that sounds like a brand.  or maybe just water and air.  anyway, this is number 1.  now i just need a place to show it.

next painting – clouds raining on the ocean, with a barely visible peninsula in the background.  part 2.

how toxic is orange oil?

i use orange oil as an all-purpose solvent in my studio.  i use it to mix up my oil paints.  i use it to wash my brushes.  i use it to make wax paste to use in encaustic painting.  i use it as a paint remover and a degreaser and in really tough laundry, and a drop at a time as a flavoring.

i’ve got asthma.  i get all wheezy in the detergent aisle at the supermarket.  i’m sensitive to things in parts per billion, rather than parts per million.  but all orange oil does is make me hungry.

here’s an often quoted abstract


D-limonene is one of the most common terpenes in nature. It is a major constituent in several citrus oils (orange, lemon, mandarin, lime, and grapefruit). D-limonene is listed in the Code of Federal Regulations as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for a flavoring agent and can be found in common food items such as fruit juices, soft drinks, baked goods, ice cream, and pudding.

D-limonene is considered to have fairly low toxicity. It has been tested for carcinogenicity in mice and rats. Although initial results showed d-limonene increased the incidence of renal tubular tumors in male rats, female rats and mice in both genders showed no evidence of any tumor. Subsequent studies have determined how these tumors occur and established that d-limonene does not pose a mutagenic, carcinogenic, or nephrotoxic risk to humans. In humans, d-limonene has demonstrated low toxicity after single and repeated dosing for up to one year.

Being an excellent solvent of cholesterol, d-limonene has been used clinically to dissolve cholesterol-containing gallstones. Because of its gastric acid neutralizing effect and its support of normal peristalsis, it has also been used for relief of heartburn. D-limonene has well-established chemopreventive activity against many types of cancers. Evidence from a phase I clinical trial shows a partial response in a patient with breast cancer and stable disease for more than six months in three patients with colorectal cancer. (Altern Med Rev 2007;12(3):259-264)

it’s listed in some references as toxic, and others as non toxic.

D-limonene – This chemical is produced by cold-pressing orange peels. The extracted oil is 90% d-limonene. It is a sensitizer, a neurotoxin, a moderate eye and skin irritant, and can trigger respiratory distress when vapours are inhaled  by some sensitive individuals.  There is some evidence of carcinogenicity.  D-limonene is the active ingredient in some insecticides. It is used as a solvent in many all-purpose cleaning products, especially ‘citrus’ and ‘orange’ cleaners.  Also listed on labels as citrus oil and orange oil.

there’s nothing conclusive on the epa iris site, because they don’t address it.  they’re discussing possible inhalation problems when the only studies they list have been ingestion studies.

try not to ingest more than a drop of orange oil at a time.

The health effects data for d-limonene were reviewed by the U.S. EPA RfD/RfC Work Group and determined to be inadequate for the derivation of an inhalation RfC. The verification status for this chemical is currently NOT VERIFIABLE. For additional information on the health effects of this chemical, interested parties are referred to the documentation listed below.

NOT VERIFIABLE status indicates that the U.S. EPA RfD/RfC Work Group deemed the database at the time of review to be insufficient to derive an inhalation RfC according to the Interim Methods for Development of Inhalation Reference Concentrations (U.S. EPA, 1990). This status does not preclude the use of information in cited references for assessment by others.

d-Limonene (1-methyl-4-isopropenyl-1-cyclohexene) is a liquid with a lemonlike odor. It is a major constituent in several citrus oils (orange, lemon, mandarin, lime, and grapefruit) and is present in a number of other essential oils, as well. d-Limonene is included on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Generally Recognized as Safe List and is approved for use by the FDA as a food additive (Opdyke, 1975). d-Limonene has a boiling point of 176 C and a vapor pressure of <3 mmHg at 14 C. d-Limonene is used primarily as a flavor and fragrance ingredient.

No information is available on the health effects of inhalation exposure to d-limonene in humans, and no long-term inhalation studies have been conducted in laboratory animals. NTP (1990) conducted a series of studies that investigated the toxicity of d-limonene (>99% pure) in both Fischer 344/N rats and B6C3F1 mice.

the  pesticide info site is very mild on the risks from limonene exposure:

Not Listed
Not Listed
Not Available
Slightly Toxic
Not Acutely Toxic to Slightly Toxic

here’s a look at the msds for food-grade d-limonene.  i wouldn’t put the stuff in my eye, that’s for sure.  mucous membranes and orange oil is a very bad idea.  once i lightly ran a freshly dipped q-tip around the outside of my ear canal, and ten minutes later my ear was hot and stinging and i felt like it was going to burn a hole thru to my brain.

so don’t put it in any orifice, okay?  think of it like you would tiger balm.  there are places you just shouldn’t let that stuff get onto.

Emergency Overview
Appearance/Odor: Colorless liquid with citrus aroma.
Product is Combustible.
Slippery when spilled.
Potential Health Effects: See Section 11 for more information.
Likely Routes of Exposure: Eye contact, skin contact, inhalation.
Eye: Causes moderate to severe irritation.
Skin: May cause slight redness. Prolonged or repeated exposure may cause drying of the skin.
Inhalation: May cause nose, throat, and respiratory tract irritation, coughing, headache.
Ingestion: Not likely to be toxic, but may cause vomiting, headache, or other medical problems.
Medical Conditions Aggravated By Exposure: May irritate the skin of people with pre-existing skin conditions.
This product does not contain any carcinogens or potential carcinogens as listed by OSHA, IARC, ACGIH or NTP.
OSHA Regulatory Status
This material is combustible, which is defined as having a flash point between 100oF (37.8oC) and 200oF (93.3oC). Combustible materials are haz-
ardous according to the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200).

there are varying reports about toxicity and sensitization.

d-Limonene is not acutely toxic.
Oral: LD50 >5 g/kg, rabbit
Dermal: LD50 >5 g/kg, rabbit
Skin: The skin irritancy of limonene in guinea pigs and rabbits is considered moderate and low, respectively.
Sensitization: d-Limonene is not a sensitizer. Improper storage and handling can lead to oxidation. The oxidized forms
of d-Limonene have been shown to be a skin sensitizer.
Inhalation: RD50 >1000 ppm
Chronic Toxicity: Not listed as a carcinogen (OSHA, NTP, IARC, or ACGIH)
Ecotoxicological Information: Product may be toxic to aquatic organisms.

a technical book on aromatherapy doesn’t like citrus oil at all once it oxidizes, and warns about skin and lung problems from long term use.  that involves sensitization, for which, again, the evidence is mixed.

so don’t touch it, and use proper ventilation.

the human metabolome project seems to conclude d-limonene isn’t bad for humans, but it’s ard to tell.

The scientific data base demonstrates that the tumorigenic activity of d-limonene in male rats is not relevant to humans. The three major lines of evidence supporting the human safety of d-limonene are (1) the male rat specificity of the nephrotoxicity and carcinogenicity; (2) the pivotal role that alpha 2u-globulin plays in the toxicity, as evidenced by the complete lack of toxicity in other species despite the presence of structurally similar proteins; and (3) the lack of genotoxicity of both d-limonene and d-limonene-1,2-oxide, supporting the concept of a nongenotoxic mechanism, namely, sustained renal cell proliferation. (PMID: 2024047)

evidently citrus oil is being investigated for anti-cancer properties.


D-Limonene is a natural monoterpene with pronounced chemotherapeutic activity and minimal toxicity in preclinical studies.

D-Limonene is well tolerated in cancer patients at doses which may have clinical activity. The favorable toxicity profile supports further clinical evaluation.

here’s a county-level advisory on d-limonene, which they list as an insect repellant.  it’s not mobile, it’s not persistent.  don’t be dumping it in any streams.  otherwise, the safety features go on and on.

Mobility Summary:
D-Limonene is not very soluble in water and it adheres strongly to soil with organic matter. Because d-limonene dissipates quickly into the air and binds
strongly to soil it is not expected to move off the site of application and get into surface water or ground water. The hazard for mobility is rated low.

Persistence Summary:
D-Limonene has a high vapor pressure so it is likely to dissipate into the air when it is applied to vegetation or to the ground. In the air, d-limonene will
react with other chemicals and degrade within minutes to hours. If d-limonene gets into water it will volatilize off the surface, breakdown in sunlight, and
bind to sediments. After d-limonene is introduced to the environment, it is likely to reach half of the applied concentration in less than one week.
Thurston County rates the hazard of chemical persistence as low.

Bioaccumulation Summary:
D-Limonene adheres more readily to organic solvents than to water indicating the potential to bind to fish or animal tissue. Calculated bioconcentration
factors indicate that there is a moderate hazard for accumulation in fish tissue. The hazard for bioaccumulation is rated moderate.

Acute Toxicity Testing and Ecotoxicity Summary:
Single-dose toxicity testing indicates that d-limonene is highly toxic to worms, fish, and other aquatic organisms but low in toxicity to mammals and birds.
It is assumed that it is highly toxic to bees and other insects because it is an active ingredient for insecticides. Toxicity to pets and wildlife is not expected
from the insecticidal use of d-limonene because it dissipates rapidly into the air and contacting treated vegetation or soil is not likely to cause a significant
exposure (except to insects and possibly to worms). Risk of toxicity to non-target organisms from the use of d-limone products is rated low.

i’m looking for specific references to orange oil fumes, because in general, breathing solvent fumes are a very bad idea.  it’s killed at least one old-school encaustic painter – turpentine yek fui.  his name was karl zerbe.

In the 1930s Levine experimented briefly with encaustic, as did Hyman Bloom. Both are commonly associated with Karl Zerbe as leaders of Boston Expressionism who, by 1940, sought to transform nature-based imagery into symbolic representations of deeper expressive content. Although Levine and Bloom did not continue their experiments, Zerbe is commonly credited with almost single-handedly reviving the use of the encaustic medium through his teaching and well-publicized exhibitions of his work during the 1940s.

In 1936, Zerbe came across some incidental references to Fayum portraits and became excited at the possibility of updating the ancient encaustic technique. Finding that there was little published on the subject, he began his own experiments, beginning with a pie pan on a kitchen stove. He proceeded to experiment with various types of waxes, resins, and oils in many combinations and temperatures, even enduring the cracking of some early examples. Zerbe eventually found the right mixture: ninety percent beeswax and ten percent of sun-thickened linseed oil, heated to 225 degrees Fahrenheit on a thermostatically controlled electric palette. For the burning in process, he employed electric heaters, such as diathermic hand-lamps and blow-torches.

In 1949, Zerbe ended a decade of preoccupation with encaustic. His last painting of the era in this medium was Job (1949, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston); the agonized subject is a portrait of Zerbe himself facing a personal crisis. Zerbe was increasingly debilitated by bronchial asthma, aggravated by the turpentine solvent fumes generated by his encaustic process. Nevertheless, Zerbe had already continued to explore other mediums and now turned to experimentation with plastic-based paints, especially polymer tempera, and acrylics — at times reminiscent of his work in encaustic.

In 1955, Zerbe became a Professor of Art at Florida State University in Tallahassee. There he occasionally continued to use encaustic, as evidenced by his painting Church at Dawn of 1956, featured in a movie of Zerbe demonstrating the medium as a “controlled accident” process with unpredictable results that can be selectively enhanced. Right before his death in 1972, Zerbe was trying to develop a “cold wax” encaustic process, as exemplified by his last series of bird paintings which combine that technique with Magna (acrylic resin). At Florida State University, Zerbe was a highly influential teacher for many students, including encaustic painters Nancy Reid Gunn and Robin Rose.

but i’m looking for specific references to this kind of thing happening with heated citrus oil fumes.

but in the meantime, here’s a caution about overheating wax in general, by one of the commercial leaders in the renaissance in encaustic painting.

With adequate ventilation and proper working temperatures (under 220°F) encaustic is safe and non-toxic.  Usually, working next to a window exhaust fan and having a source of fresh air coming in from another part of the studio, gets rid of fumes adequately.  It is important to ventilate, because wax fumes can be irritants, causing headaches, nausea and labored breathing.  Keep in mind, at temperatures over 250°F, the wax fumes become more concentrated and therefore, toxic and flammable.  Warning signs of this are an acrid odor and smoking wax.  For more information on ventilation, see our ventilation technical sheet.

there are various forums that discuss the problem of heating wax for encaustic painting.  there are various opinions, and quite a lot of emotion and insistence.  read the comments.

This summer at one of the workshops at the Encaustic Conference, there was a big debate over encaustic ventilation safety. It’s a hot topic because people have different opinions about the damage that working with encaustic can cause. I’d like to get an idea of what our team members think about this, and hopefully we can all learn a little more about the process.

this herbal handbook indicates that citrus oil – monoterpene – is used in all sorts of medical applications, including pulmonary ones.

These monoterpene compounds are found in nearly all essential oils and have a structure of 10 carbon atoms and at least one double bond. The 10 carbon atoms are derived from two isoprene units. They react readily to air and heat sources. For this reason citrus oils do not last well, since they are high in monoterpene hydrocarbons and have a quick reaction to air, and are readily oxidized. Although some quarters may simply state that these components have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral and antibacterial therapeutic properties while some can be analgesic or stimulating with a tonic effect, it could be seen as a very broad generalization, since this large group of chemicals vary greatly. Since some have a stimulating effect on the mucus membranes they are also often used as decongestants.

but i’m not finding anything that says heated citrus oil is a problem.  ventilate properly, is all, and that should be a no-brainer.  especially if you start getting a headache, or nauseated, or a sore throat.  duh.

Solvent fumes themselves are toxic. Pure Turpentine fumes are less toxic than petroleum distillates, white spirits, and some alternative solvents. Always be sure that your workplace is well ventilated.

Smelly solvent such as Turpentine is actually less toxic than the scent-less solvents. Plus, you can smell whether you have adequate ventilation or not.

so i feel pretty confident in recommending citrus oil as a safe alternative to both turpentine and mineral spirits in the studio, and particularly recommend it as the solvent in cold wax preparations.

there are commercial cold wax preparations, chiefly two, gamblin and dorland.

Gamblin Cold Wax Medium is made from naturally white unbleached beeswax, alkyd resin, and odorless mineral spirits (OMS)

there are a good few people experimenting with cold wax, and it’s a very versatile painting medium.  the links in this paragraph in particular go to artists working with cold wax, or discussions about it.

anyway, it’s time to get dinner on.  i’m hungry thinking about citrus oil.  here’s my latest encaustic painting.

baby falls, tellico river. beeswax, orange oil, pigment, river stones

xmas and other presents

i’ve put work on the dolphins aside for a few last minute presents i need to get finished.  i hate spending money on presents, even tho i did this year.  but there are still loads of things you want to give people that you can’t find anywhere.  and i’m fortunate enough to live in the southern equivalent of santa’s workshop.  what you’re not seeing here is the cork board and the basket that i’ll be doing, maybe i’ll take photos.

you may have seen the first three pictures before.  or not.  i disremember if i posted them.  they’re the pastel drawing, above, with reference photos, the first wax applied with a palette knife, before burning in, below,

and how it looks after melting, or burning in, below.

and today, just now, in fact, i put on more white in the sky, more pale green on the background trees, more greeny green on the trees and in the field, more yellow in the field, and a bunch of orange and blue in the foreground.

what’s left for this is some burnt sienna circles that will read well as sunflower heads.  i was surprised at how atmospheric it became with the second coat of wax.  you can tell it’s a hot day in summer in the southern appalachians.

next it’s scarves.  because i have four very special people to say thanks to, a little further out, which is the turtle scarves you’ll see later, but also a few very special people to make xmas presents for, and a sample dragon to show jim’s dealer in case they want to do something in silk for the upcoming dragon con thingie.

what you’re seeing here is a bunch of water based gutta on its last legs (see the belly, spine crest and feet in dark?  that’s dried water-based gutta.  the scales inside the dragon that are variously yellow, red, and lue, they’re outlined in sugar syrup, karo, and when they dry they make a partial resist which will melt right away with water, and make all sorts of crazy blends.  i’m in the middle of putting the colors all into place, and the water  part comes later.

here i’ve put all the colors into place inside the dragon.  look how clumsy it all looks, especially the black outlines.  you’ll see little dots of black inside the scales.  i tried to put them directly on top of the dried syrup instead of on the cloth.  i didn’t want them to bleed until hit with water.

the background, which was a completely accidental tobacco gold (lots of yellow, a touch of red, a drop of blue, oops too much blue more red red red and loads more yellow straight out of the bottle and then watered down as much as i dared.  while it was still wet i sprinkled kosher rock salt on it to draw the dye

and here’s after being brushed with clear water.  first i did the scales, keeping inside the lines with the clear water, using brush after brush of clear water, enough to leave that black splotch of still-wet, pooled drip on the right hand side.

you can see the effect the salt had on the background, you can see the effect the water had on the blue crest.  the syrup breaks apart, the dye flows right out of the holes, and the most amazing things happen.

this is the next scarf, ready for dashing with water.  the blue has a touch of black in it, because you can’t make darks without black, unlike most any other type of color work, like oil and watercolor painting.  that’s because everything’s transparent, and instead of getting darker, the colors just get richer.

this is the scarf hit with water and after it dried.  it’ll look different again after it’s set and washed out.

this is the beginning of the third dragon.  this is all water-based gutta for the outlines, and sugar syrup for the scales, belly, and crest.

and this is what it looks like very close up.  you’re seeing a lens-artifact moire pattern on the scarf, that’s not what it looks like to my eye.  the sugar syrup turns the scarf clear, as does getting it wet.  if you dip the whole scarf into sugar syrup (diluted), for some interesting work, the whole thing dries like cellophane, and crackles and crinkles when you move it.  i love working with sugar syrup.

this is the first application of dye, first yellow, then magenta, then cyan, because silk dyes use the printer’s ink system of three colors plus black.  and with these you mix all colors.

i consider this third dragon scarf ruined before i get it off the board.  see, i left it on the glass pattern-guard until it dried, and then sone.  and when i took it off, i had to rip it up because it was glued down to the glass with sugar syrup as well as water-based gutta (some sort of algae), and didn’t come up without jerking it.

which, as you can see from this closeup, ripped the hell out of the fabric.  what you can’t see because of the moire effect is that each place where it ripped (see those dark spots in the bottom line of gutta, separating the white from the gold?) left not only the dark spots (holes), but ran perpendicular to the hole, as it would if you used any old sewing machine needle to stitch this silk.  runs.  so i can’t use it as a scarf, because it’ll continue to fall apart.

but i can use it in a quilted scarf, with, say a nice cotton on the back, and something warm in the middle, and quilted the hell all over the holes.

and who shall i give this present to, eh?  too bad my intended recipient doesn’t read my blog, because she would know she’s getting something special, all because of a mistake.

and this is what the ruined scarf, soon to be scarf, looks like after being drenched.  not bad.  the crest still needs water, tho, and i’m afraid i don’t have a picture.  but maybe you’ll get a look in the end, a few days from now when they’ve all been steamed.

and this is the first of the turtle scarves.  the turtles and shells are in water-based gutta, and the tracks and waves are in sugar syrup, and it’s all delicate browns and pinks and greens, and deep blues and greens and purples.  a lovely scarf, if somewhat awkward in its color shift.

so, more tomorrow.  i thought i’d update it.  jim’s been in bed and i need to go read our chapter.

project: encaustic sunflowers

this is one of the xmas presents i’m working on.  it’s small, so i can actually finish it.  i found a nice frame, and a gessoed panel that exactly fit it, and dug out my sunflower photos from last summer, or the summer before, and laid it all out in conte crayon.

i would get jim a set of conte crayons if i hadn’t already gotten him a set, probably last xmas.  so hard to shop for men.  i mean, he loves barnes and noble gift cards, and there’s always utrecht gift cards, but really, when it comes to art and music, he’s got everything he ever needs, in duplicate.

i’ve combined the backgrounds of two of the pictures to be my background.  i love the big hill in the bottom photo, (which is already too far into the background to make sense in this photo) beneath which the line of trees is a tiny dark line, and the flowers just come streaming out across the landscape from the hole in the line of trees.

what you see in the pastel drawing is a vague green mountain range with healthy hills in the middle distance and some sort of field in the foreground.

the only excuse i can give for the nastiness of the sketch is that the ground is dark gray, and puts the colors off.  but anyway it doesn’t matter because it’s all going to get covered with wax.

and this is how it looks with the first layer of wax, spread on with a palette knife.  it just so happened that, except for the dark green, i already had all these colors mixed up and sitting in airtight cups on my palette.

see the little plastic cups right there in the middle?  yes, well, i can tell where everything is.

i used a tiny little palette knife i borrowed from jim, because the palette knives i could find around my palette are too large, and have recently been used for other things (as knives, on the dolphin project).  i slashed on color, filling most of the spaces, and didn’t really worry about placement, because heating destroys even the most carefully laid lines and sections.  happy accidents rule.

this is what it looks like mostly heated.  mostly, i mean all but the very lowest left hand corner and a smidge of the right hand corner, because i was interrupted and had to put it away and go off.  and this is okay at this stage, because i’m not trying to make a uniform surface.  this is only the first layer.

i was liking the sky until too much of it started separating.  i’m going to have to hit it with more sky.  and the hills aren’t the right shade of green and don’t convey distance, and of course the flowers are merely indicated and the grass isn’t grassy.

lots of work.

other presents i will be working on are a batch of sea turtle scarves, and perhaps a dragon scarf that i need as a demo for an idea i have for silk wall hangings.  and since the grandson has just come back to us for the week, i’m going to be upstairs in fabric heaven all day, and can easily set up production there.

as long as i’ve decided to make things, i’ve been meaning to get around to a little something in a picture frame for my kid, which isn’t a painting, okay?  and something with a basket that showed up here one day.  and i’ve got a painting to frame for a real kid who suggested the scene i painted, at the beach.  all this stuff, and only 8 days before xmas.  wheee.