encaustic – north ga trout stream 2

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this is how i left it the last time i worked on it.  by the way, so far these are all indoor photos, with a flash.  you can see the glare at the top of the painting.  see the last entry for what i did before this.

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this is the whole picture.  the top half is laid out in pastel, and i’ve covered the bottom half of the water with pale wax.

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but this is how it looks outside.  i think i’ll forbear taking any more pictures in the studio.

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so now these next photos show the progress of one day, every step, or every couple of steps, because really my process consists of slapping on some paint and burning it in while it’s still wet, then slapping on some more.  and i mean putting in three strokes of green and then burning that, and then five dots of red and burning that.  so i’ve taken a picture after every step, if i remembered.  and since this was yesterday’s work, i’m  not going to remember very well what i did.  i’m just describing what i can see in these progress shots.

for instance, i have put on a nice mixed blue for the reflections of the sky at top of the painting, and burned it in.  i also took some gold ochre and burned it in for the orange tree reflections.  and then i mixed up some very light pinkish yellow and stuck it on where the water is.  my idea is to make the water glow with light while still being darker than the rocks out of water.  above is the whitish wax before i burned it in.  i wanted to show how much it changes, but so far i haven’t had much contrast in the before and after shots.

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in this case, however, because there’s so much white in it, and the white does such extraordinary things (like breaking apart and churning), it really shows a difference.  i’ve noticed that white kind of disappears when the wax is burned in.  i don’t know whether this is because the heat damages the pigment, burns it, or what.  i can’t explain it, but i can see it just go invisible as i’m heating it.  that’s another reason to treat white with respect, that most dreaded of colors.

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now i’ve gone in and added more gold.  i use quinacridone gold (po49) because it’s transparent and very strong.  it’s a car color, but they don’t make gold cars like that anymore, so they’ve stopped manufacturing the color, and now only a few places offer it at all, so i got a bunch and i’m using it with abandon.

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and now it looks like i slapped another coat of whitish yellow on it, because it just wasn’t light enough.  doesn’t it look different every time i touch it?

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and i’ve gone and glazed it again with more gold, mixed with raw umber and a little blue.

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this is what it looks like close up. couldn’t tell you exactly where, oh yes i could.  on the bottom is the big underwater rock on the lower left, and on top of that is a large dark space in the water, with the bottom in between.  you can see how much the different wax applications of color have moved, and how the white spreads and flows.  it’s really beautiful.

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now i’ve gone and put in some fish with the same black/umber/purple i used to outline the rocks.  there’s also 2 white fish around the middle of the board.  then i added in some mixed orange, and some blue for the reflections.  the whole thing looks a bit stark.  this is how i left it last night.

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this morning i went down to the studio and clean neglected to take any pictures until i was finished for the day.  so there are a lot of steps here, and i’ll try to remember them.  first i put on another, lighter coat of blue and a darker orange and tried to cover more of the area.  i burned this in. then this was too much, and the blue stuck out too much.  i decided to worry about that later.

so then i took a whole bunch, most of a pint jar, of bleached white beeswax, thinned it a bunch with citrus oil, and burned it all in.  this took the better part of an hour, and that means i was exposed to citrus oil fumes for the better part of an hour, huddled over the board with my heat lamp only millimeters from the surface of the wax, only a ceiling fan on low drafting the fumes away.

and i felt fine.  you must remember that i have asthma, and if the fumes are going to be harmful, i’m going to know it.

so now i’m kind of liking the coating of clear wax.  it obscures some of the frenetic detail of the bottom.  the bottom was meant to be pretty featureless, with light shining indirectly on the water.  but i wasn’t getting that, so putting a layer of translucent white wax on top was a good thing to do.  as it turns out.  what do i know before i see how it melts?

then i continued the blue down into the bottom of the painting, and then i diluted the hell out of the blue that was left and smeared it on the water on the bottom half of the painting, and burned it all in.  as a final touch, i mixed up some white and laid it on to be white water, little wavelets.

in the burning in of the painting – i had to burn in the entire painting except for the rocks on the lower left, twice today, once for the clear wax, and once for the blue and orange bits that are everywhere – a funny thing happened to the black fish.  now, black does this when heated.  it breaks up like white does.  but while white breaks into minute particles that then flow and blend, black breaks up into larger pieces, and flows together in the direction gravity indicates.  i managed to bump the painting while one of the black fish was entirely molten, and the jostle separated a whole half of fish which floated about a sixteenth of an inch away from its original position, leaving a big gap in the fish.  but i haven’t tried to correct it, partially because it doesn’t seem to make much difference in the way it looks at a distance.

at this point i might be close to done with the water.  now, however, i have to go back to the rocks at the lower left and really beef them up.  they need texture you can see and feel, and right now, compared to the complexity of the water, they’re kind of rudimentary.  altho, i had thought them mostly complete when i first started with the water.  but of course, nothing turns out like you pictured it in the beginning.  at least, nothing turns out exactly as i picture it.  i don’t have the skill to exactly realize something i can think up or picture in my mind.  or the talent.  but wtf, i don’t care.

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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i finally finished it.  i made all sorts of mistakes.  you can’t just slap a bunch of wax onto a panel and expect it to fuse up nicely.  what it wants to do is melt, run together, and churn.  and we can’t have that.  that’s what happened to the palm tree in the center.  it was nice and crisp and full of detail, but when i melted the white roof and walls next to it, the thing ran and churned and i didn’t even notice it, because the white wax was still solid and i was getting impatient.

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that’s when i decided to mask off the areas i didn’t need to burn in, meaning covering everything i’ve already done with paper.  i used the backs of both the 8.5×11 photos i was using as reference, as well as an envelope, and torn up pieces of some laser-printed receipt.

white throws off the heat.  i’ve got a heat lamp an inch from the surface of the painting, and after a few moments things start to get a little shiny, maybe sweat a little (i’m using orange oil as thinner, and it begins to off-gas at a low temperature).  then the surface gets way shiny, and i can see the reflection of the bulb clearly.  then edges go away and pigment starts to move as the wax liquifies and flows away from the heat.

dark colors, in general, heat up faster, and liquify many seconds before white does.  putting the black windows in first, therefore, is a mistake.  so is putting them in anything but last, especially over top of white.  here i am trying for subtle shadows, and all i get is smears of gray.  the thing to have done would have been to put the white down first and get it good and burned in, therefore good and hard.  i have a theory that the more you heat the wax, the more brittle and hard it becomes.  this is just a theory, and it goes way against the current ‘standard’ practice of keeping the wax molten and brushing it on while hot, because hours of molten wax just isn’t good for the wax’s structure.  i’m convinced, anyway.  since i use solvents, it could be that heating it multiple times doesn’t make it tough but rather makes it normal by evaporating away more and more of the solvent.  however, i think it evaporates more and more of the softer qualities of the wax.  perhaps we’ll see.  i’m going to do another post on the encaustic process itself, soon…

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this is the middle stage of the painting, where everything looks awful.  i’m still altering the shape of the house, for example, and the road is giving me fits.  it’s a sand road, because nothing is paved on that island.  and it’s not our typical sand, either, because it’s not exactly white and it’s not black or gray or brown.  so i ended up putting all colors into it, the way i tend to do with richly colored and textured objects.  and while you can make out the things in the background, you’d be hard pressed to report that it was a rather casual airport, with 2 palapas and a plane behind a rail fence and some cinderblock walls.  for the road, i kept slapping on clear wax, or somewhat white colored wax, sort of a hand-mixed buff titanium color.  layer after layer, burned in and burned in, until most of the color was obscured.  and most of the shadows on the road.

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the gold ochre on top of the burnt sienna bottom of the house was an inspired idea.  not.  i wanted to do something to darken the shadows inside the porch, and didn’t really want to get anywhere near the black doors, so i lightened the other red blocks instead.  and it looks really messy.  then i had to darken and re-texturize the plam tree.  and then i had to beef up the background some more.  and then add fence rails, which i had to do by carving out the wax next to the house, slipping thin wax into the lines, and burning it in only until it began to run.  the white of the window frame was done by scraping the wax off down to the gesso.  and i had to redo it every time i heated anything around it.  at some point the wax ran even tho i had paper masking it from the sunlamp’s ray’s.  there was a lot of redo in the house.  the grass was actually pretty hard, because i had to put in a bunch of colors before it started to look like it had any depth.  and then the marks on the road.  i incised lines, and you can still see some of the top incision, and then put in dark raw umber and melted it.  but it looked horrible, so i melted it again.  and then it was still a bit awkward, so i did it a third time.

and that’s the beauty of wax.  it attenuates the more you melt it.  you can use the churning effect to your advantage if what you really want is a muddy gray.

that’s the painting.  it’s about 9×12 and will fit in someone’s suitcase the next time they go to holbox to visit.  tia can hang it in her house, or leave it in the sun if she really just doesn’t like it.  it looks passable at about 8 feet, which is where it should be seen from, and the details of the wax look best close up.  you’ll never figure out where i’ve signed it unless you’re looking at the tail of the plane with a magnifying glass.  i hope they don’t think i’m insulting them with a crappy painting, and instead become seduced by the wax into thinking it’s a work of actual art and an homage to their kindness.  but you never know how your art will be received.

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encaustic venus

not de milo – de planet.

this will be my nth encaustic painting of a planet or moon. i’m obsessed, happily, with soft looking rounded shapes floating in space. cosmic breasts. and i keep finding correspondences in life – i saw my mammogram image on the screen behind me in radiology, and it looked just like one of the moons of saturn. so i’ll be doing a mammogram disguised as a planet any old time now. and antarctica without the ice. and the crescent earth with long  shadows cast by the clouds.

so cool.

venus by radar image, color coded. venus uncoded

for this painting i’m using a 30×40″ panel coated out with rabbit skin glue gesso. i outlined it in pastel, as i have been doing, and sprayed with acrylic medium thru a mouth atomizer to fix the pastels.

this is the first pass, just to block in the colors. i’m using beeswax thinned with orange oil except on the sky, where i’m using microcrystalline wax and orange oil, mixed with dry pigments, and put on with a palette knife.

then i burned it in with a heat lamp.

after putting on the base colors – pink, blue and green, i worked in some brighter pinks and some acid greens, as well as a purplish red. i used the ex-wax i keep in a jar with orange oil to make the atmospheric gunge.

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interesting how nothing seems to change even tho a great deal has been done. i put in dark blue (dioxazine purple and prussian blue), and started working the “landmass” toward yellow and orange, because i just don’t like pink.

then i burned it in, a little less deeply this time (as if it’s easy to avoid liquifying the whole thing). i’m trying to only barely glisten the wax, only to barely soften the outlines, only enough to swell the wax, not to melt it. but i find it very difficult to do this because it all happens so fast, and because i continuously have to keep coming back around to that spot in order to continue heating the nearby wax.

the interesting thing is that it’s not very visible, the difference, whether you melt the shit out of it or barely warm it. you can’t really tell until you get close that there’s been any running at all.

which is why i like encaustic paintings close up.

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not being able to leave anything alone, as soon as i’m fnished melting the planet, i start in adding more paint. about the only difference i can see in this picture is that i’ve started messing with the gunge in the atmosphere again. oh yeah, and i remember slapping a bunch of quinacridone gold over the “landmass”, which gives it an overall richer and yellower cast.

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sorry about the shakes. i took it outside to get the real colors, after putting on some nice acid green (viridian and cadmium yellow dark) and starting to define the circular features with various shades of purple.

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this is how i left it last night. it’s ready to be melted again, and then i might have to do something else to it. the ring things are god knows what. let me look it up. volcanic features.

i included this as a post. it’d been sitting in my draft box for months, and i figured it had things that i was never going to say again about this painting.

playing catch up

catchup. ketchup, catsup. what a strange looking word. and what an ugly word. you can’t ever catch up. not with work, certainly not with sleep, not with bits of life you’ve ignored. ‘too late’ is also an ugly word. so i’ll never retrieve the time wasted obsessing on a disaster that hasn’t happened (yet). this is what i managed to accomplish in all that time.

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i’m going to detail the last three ‘moon’ pictures i’ve done, tho two of these are actually planets. ’round things in space’, perhaps. except one of them is a mammogram painting. so, how about ‘beautiful orbs’ or ‘heavenly bodies’ or some other trite descriptor? i’m not good at marketing.

the first painting was actually the last one i did, in blog fashion – filo – and it’s a painting of my latest mammogram. i was in radiology doing a mammogram, and looked up to where they had it on screen (why do they use films when it’s all digital now?), and was captivated by its  beautiful, planetlike appearance.

so i got a copy of the films and did a painting. it’s kind of small, only about 18×22 or so. working in wax, it’s nice to have a frame already on it so that you have somewhere for the melted wax to go. since you don’t want it pouring off the edges, it’s really nice to have a lip. so jim has been building panels with frames stuck right on them. more like fillets than frames, but even a small edge is good.

the thing that sets this painting apart, apart from the subject matter, is the materials i used. i wanted real texture for this painting, and wasn’t willing to spend a whole lot of wax building up layers. layers melt. i wanted something apart from the wax, something stable. usually what you’d use in this case would be acrylic molding paste. but i felt experimental. so i started out shredding cotton balls, and put them on the contour of the breast. this worked really well. it was white, tho. i didn’t really want white.

problem – how do you render xrays in wax? they’re so spectral. wax does spectral pretty well. they’re so dimensional, you can see the roundness of the breast, the thickness of the tissue. usually in painting you do that with illusions of space, with receding colors to the back and distinctness in the foreground. i can say that i had some technical problems.

so i started laying in the wax. with a palette knife. i love knifework in wax. it’s so expressive. at this point i don’t remember what i did first or second or anything. i know the space background in the upper left is a beautiful dark blue when the wax is hot, but you’ll never see that, and can’t see it in the picture.

melted wax is transparent. you see the particles of pigment embedded in it. the colors are vibrant and clear. once it cools the wax becomes merely translucent, and many of the glorious colors and effects that are so striking when it’s hot disappear once it cools. so the main beauty of an encaustic painting is mine to see, mine alone. it’s my reward from the wax. it’s like walking in the west of ireland when the sun comes out and lights up everything in miraculous colors and you’ve forgotten your camera.

so i might have put on quinacridone gold first, but i remember rubbing it back in to the sea areas near the end of the process. but i remember laying out a bunch of fibers. i had teased apart the threads of a piece of linen at some point, and put them in a ziplock back for future use. ah, the delights of a stash drawer. i put them down to represent the veins that show up in mammograms. for the thickness that shows tissue density, i was stumped. cotton balls only went so far for texture. i had covered the cotton with a coat of wax and burned it in, and in the beginning you could still pull cotton out of it. the wax melted and got in between the cotton fibers and stuck them firmly to the panel (i think), but didn’t build up as fast as i thought it would. it was still mostly cotton for a few layers. but i’d slather on more wax and melt it again, and eventually i had something that felt like wax and not some dead thing.

when it came to the interior of the breast, i needed something softer than cotton, something not as densely packed. so i looked around the house with an eye to art supplies, and came upon a new use for dog and cat hair. we have 3 dogs and 2 cats upstairs in the living area of our house (our studio is on the bottom floor). they shed. it collects. it’s fluffy, light, insubstantial, and loose. so i went around the house and scooped up several dust bunnies, took them downstairs and started laying strands of hair down on the panel. they stuck to the wax very easily, and i mushed them around until i had an increasing ball of texture to the center of the breast.

then some clear wax over all this. and then i rubbed in some blue, and painted on some red onto the fiber lines. then i put some blue into the contour lines. then some white. each time i put even a small bit of pigmented wax on, i would then hit it with an outdoor spotlight to burn in the addition. this means i would spend five minutes painting, and 20 minutes standing there holding a light and squinting thru sunglasses. but i kept liking what i was getting, so i kept doing it. it’s so exciting. you can spend an entire day standing there heating wax up.

i have to apologize for the fuzzy quality of this picture. sometimes i think i’m getting a good photo without using a tripod, and sometimes i’m just fooling myself.

this is venus. it’s not venus as we know it, because that’s a star in the night sky. it’s a false color venus showing height. so the redder, the higher and the blues are lowlands. we’d call them seas, and who knows, they’re calling the blue volcanic plain and the uplands volcanic outflows. none of this is visible to us because of the cloud cover of venus, but if we could see thru the atmosphere, this is what we’d see, wildly colored tho it is. this was a fun painting because of all the colors. normally pink is not in my palette, but the reference photo demanded it.

you can see the planetary gunge around venus. it’s all sorts of colors. represents the atmosphere, but really it’s because i love the image of earth surrounded by space junk. pick up your trash!

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the painting before that was of the earth from an angle where you can’t see any land. antarctica is actually there on the lower right, but it’s only a different shade of white, harder, with turquoise blue ice. i love how the clouds make a figure to the lower left. a space dude with a helmet. for this one i believe i did the sky first simply to outline the thing. i believe i used a lot of black for this, not just some black and mostly blue. on the mammogram painting i remember i didn’t use any black, but put something warm down first, and covered it with ultramarine, which made a visual black once it cooled to translucent.

i used the same gunge to go around the earth that i’ve been using to go around all the planets. i’ve got this little jar full of scrapings from the palette. old colors removed with some effort from my glass palette, stuck into a jar, and a little solvent added to keep it soft. if mixed up, it would be a dark brown mess o’gunk. but used unmixed it’s a rich blend of colors that smear nicely around the edge of a planet. you can see it more clearly on the venus painting, but that’s just a trick of the light. unfortunately, these photos don’t half do the paintings justice. the beauty of the wax is such that you have to be right there in three dimensions in front of it (and don’t forget the dimension of smell, wax is really good for that special sense). i’d invite you over to my studio, but i won’t.

the clouds were easy to build up but also difficult because it actually required loads of colors and lots of buildup before they started to look like clouds. there’s white in there, and purple, and a mixed gray and even some green and red. and more white.

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it was a slow process. but the more i did, the better i liked it. unfortunately the final photo was smirched by a dab of wax on the camera lens, but since it’s hanging in the bedroom where we can see it, i can’t get a better photo at the moment. so oh well.

encaustic: blue marble

ocean261 pastel underpainting

ocean275 1st layers of wax, burned in

ocean291 2nd layers of wax, to be burned

ocean293
detail showing thick impasto of whites, striving for texture but not yet melted

i’m having a funny moment. im sitting here at 2 in the morning typing in the dark, and for the longest time i could only sit here with hands poised above the keyboard and staring into space, because i couldn’t think of anything to say.

not like i haven’t been planning what to say on my blog while i’m standingi around doing my art work. i do that a whole lot, having always had a camera and mike in my head. but i couldn’t figure out what impulse to follow into a blog entry, and couldn’t figure out which of my many blogs to post to, and then got lost in wondering which of the many blogs is more me? is it the cancer blog? is it doing art? right now it’s alot about traveling.

i guess what i’m trying to do is write missives, like i used to do when i’d go travelling. originally it started as 25 page letters to a friend. i knew a girl who wrote home on carbon paper, keeping a copy for herself as her journal. once the internet got here my letters turned into emails, and spammed emails at that. i sent them to anyone i had in my address book, and didn’t really care if i was burdening them with an hour and a half of reading. nobody let me know they didn’t read my emails. and now i don’t have to offend anyone with another wave of revulsion at seeing an email from me, because you have to search for my blog entries to find them, and that means you’re asking for it.

but my train of thought has been interrupted again by a funny moment, a pre-epileptic-like frozen gaze where my mind is active but my body is drooling. odd.

i’m working up a whole set of planet paintings. i want to do a long thin panel of moons in their phases, and not necessarily the moon we look at. i’ve been getting interested in parts of our planet that don’t look familiar. antarctica without ice. the arctic as an inland sea. i’ve been spending a lot of time on websites about the poles. fascinating stuff. antarctica without ice is like some fantasy novel’s map. i want to name the bits and pieces things like dragon ridge and silent wood. i want to do mars, tho the color scheme is challenging – red. red is challenging. blue and green are not. gray is not.  but i guess i lie. gray is every bit as challenging as red. blue and green are not. white and blue are not. and black.

i’ve noticed a very strange effect in melting my white wax paint. i’m using titanium white in beeswax, softened with orange oil instead of melted on a hotplate, and fused with a heatlamp.


note the bubbling of the whites and grays, and how the white has pulled away from the blue

i don’t put white on until i have to. white takes the longest to melt, and melts at a higher temperature, so everything around it is already molten and flowing  by the time white looses its structure. white is trouble. even a little white mixed in with some other color.

what happens is this. when i heat up the layers of wax i’ve been laying down for awhile, and there’s white in the paint layer, it’s as if the wax underneath the white layer (or two) was liquid and the white was slowly melting on top of an already melted mess of wax with some other pigment in it, and when it gets to a point of moltenness the fabric of the white suddenly tears, gets holes in it that spread. kind of like crawling, when a glaze beads up on the surface underneath. it’s a crawl in the direction of the heat source, and if not noticed, which is easy because it’s very glary, the crawl can become a flow and then a churn and then you have uniformly mixed color and that’s bad.

the crawl is interesting. i can’t control it. not that it can’t be controlled, but it seems to be because the white was heated maybe too fast. if it’s deliberately heated fast, the wax surges away from the heat, swelling into rings, and the white just bursts apart. if i back away the moment the white starts to split then it’s not too bad, but that part tends to stay liquid longer because it’s white and the wax retains the extra heat needed to melt it.

i have no idea why i’m getting a crawl with white. i see no mention of this problem on the encaustic forum, so i’ve got to think that it’s my method. which means, working with solvents. which is universally frowned upon, even tho it means you can paint with brushes just like you would with oil paint, with ample time to do all the brushwork things that makes oil paint so satisfying, but with the magical texture of wax.

so i’m thinking that my orange oil might be the problem. i’m going to experiment some more.

once i figured out it was me, i whipped out my experimental painting and did some samples. curiously, i couldn’t duplicate the results. so i launched into the next painting, and when it came time to add the white, i started getting the effect again even in very low concentrations of white.


more detail showing texture, this made either with a patted brush or my finger – you won’t see the tearing of the white until i burn in this layer, tomorrow.

i was trying to document this problem so that maybe someone could tell me what’s going on. so i tried to take movies i could put up on you tube, but all they showed was the heatlamp glaring into the surface of the painting. i want to show the liquifying of the wax and the point at which the white starts tearing like ripe pantyhose. but i can’t do that very well, apparently, and i can’t describe it. and since this last layer of white was mixed with mineral spirits instead of orange oil, and since i already released and burned off any remaining orange oil when i burned the first layer in, i will, i feel sure, be able to figure out if i’ve got a d-limonene problem, or does white separate with any solvent.

my d-limonene problem. i made myself sick using turpentine as a solvent already. nausea, vomiting, ill for a night and queasy thereafter for awhile. so i switched to orange oil. because mineral spirits are petroleum products, thus they cause cancer. d-limonene is gras – generally recognized as safe, which means non-toxic. there was some concern about effects to the kidneys in mice, but later studies indicated cancer-fighting properties of orange oil, and it’s being investigated as a prophylactic supplement to prevent recurrence.

i’m breathing in small quantities of a cancer fighter, how’s that for cool? because yeah i’ve already had cancer and so it’s kind of reassuring to know i’m not deliberately courting it after the disastrous first date but rather running with the antidote.

i’ve been up for awhile. jim’s asleep, allison’s still at work. did i mention i have a full house at the moment? my kid’s here, part time, and her kid’s here sometime, and so i don’t have three minutes to myself, so i’m up writing while jim sleeps. it’s spring, so my days are spent at least thinking about outside, and i’m furiously finishing this encaustic and maybe one more before perhaps turning my attention to showing them, which means work, but maybe someone else’s work. i need to turn my attention to fabric for awhile. i have to figure out how to dye silk using mx fiber reactive dyes, which is just a vinegar recipe rather than a soda ash recipe, but i still have to figure it out and get my learning curve down before i go off to the back of beyond and not know what i’m doing and make a balls of it.

pair of beauties 2

a word on encaustic painting. a word on painting with wax. a word on the cold wax method of encaustic. i have found that i have a really hard time applying wax paint if it’s at all waxy. but once i cut it enough it becomes like oil paint, like butter. come to think of it, i can’t handle spreading butter cold, either. there’s got to be spreadability before i’m happy. and correct me if i’m wrong, because i haven’t tried encaustic the regular way yet, but you can’t get a buttery application with molten wax. whereas i can paint with it. with brushes, and go back, and blend. i have maybe ten minutes before enough citrus oil  has evaporated that the wax becomes tacky.

earthmoon206

indeed, you can see the reference photos tacked up onto the background right there. just like old fashioned paste-up mechanicals that nobody uses anymore. anyway, ten minutes of working time is as good as or better than acrylic and watercolor, tho nothing to the hours of working time when you’re working in oil paint.

i love to paint. it’s a physical thing. well-being floods thru me when i’ve got a brush in my hand. i know, it’s sexist. but the charge is there. but i really LOVE to paint with wax. it’s light and fluffy, it’s smooth, it stays where you put it, it has texture.

texture. this is why i dare to include wax encaustic on panel in among my fabric art blog entries, because it’s so tactile. and the thing about fabric is that it’s tactile. it’s something you just have to go up and feel. and wax is exactly the same. it’s three dimensional, and there’s a surface that feels marvelous next to your skin. and god the colors. wax holds pigment unlike other media. watercolor doesn’t have depth. acrylic smells bad so i never use it, oil takes forever to dry but smells great, pastels ah that’s a different paragraph. oil has the translucency as well as the impasto and so does acrylic, but there’s that dimensional thing. you can make wax thick, and it looks thick. you can see down into it. you can get lost in it.

earthmoon209
detail of the moon

maybe later on you can see down into it. i’m actually painting rather thickly on this. with a palette knife. and now that i’m using white in the colors, it’s opaque. i’ve been using up whatever color is left on the palette by mixing in the next color, so i’ll have a batch of paint that goes progressively brown or blue or white.

i’m going back and forth between palette knife and paintbrush. wax scumbles really well, and a palette knife is great for scraping and smudging, tho lousy for detail, at least at my skill level, which is only practiced beginner.

earthmoon210

i worked out the details with pastel in the earlier stage of this painting, which is 48×54 on panel. i’ve never had any luck with pastels, but as a way to block in the color it can’t be beat, except it didn’t like my surface very much. too hard, and too smooth.  i didn’t use any pastel on the background, which was mid gray. i changed the position of the moon from lower to higher. you can see antarctica at the bottom of the painting.

starting with ultramarine blue, i used the palette knife to lay in the large areas. then i put in the green. then the earth color. but all of this in several stages. i’d put in the blue, which is the negative space, then try to put down the brown objects then sliced back into it with the ocean again, then back to the land with different colors. at this point the only white is the underlying pastel.

somewhere in the middle of the back and forth process i decided i needed to see the background now. so i mixed up some dark microcrystalline wax and put black and ultramarine and burnt umber, and slathered it on with a palette knife.

earthmoon214

i’ve been messing around. i ended up putting blue in the shadows of the moon and several different layers of browns on the landforms. i went over the oceans with cobalt and prussian and a little white. and i’ve brushed on a layer of microcrystalline wax, more black and prussian blue.

it’s funny, but every layer of paint outlines a different contour for the various landforms. i’m constantly revising what i’ve drawn, even at what you would think was a late stage. but it doesn’t matter with wax; i could come in at the end and decide i wanted the moon back down at the bottom, and just excise it and paint a new one in.

earthmoon217

now i’ve started in with the clouds. i’m painting just like i paint in oils, cold wax is a substance with a lot of body.

i’m waiting to the end, i think, before torching the planets. how apocalyptic that sounds. on the jupiter painting i just finished, i burned the wax in with every layer. i was constantly pulling down the eyeglasses and pressing the switch on my heatlamp, feeling like the welder in flashdance.  for this painting i’m too in love with the way the wax is going down just like it is, and wondering if i let it dry long enough will i be able to buff it up and call it done? plenty of wax paintings have been done that never came near a heat lamp or any other source of heat.

i’m very pleased with my progress on this. i like doing planets. i’m wondering if i can get images off google earth that i could use, because i could do closeups. i could do the fiddly bits. a little research says i can, clouds and all. how delicious. i can spend hours looking for source images, cruising around examining features of the planet. i can do this, wasting entire days or nights, depending.

but not tonight.