encaustic – sugar hollow 13

thirteen’s a lucky number.  here is a picture of the finished photo, taken outdoors and auto adjusted.  i like it.



encaustic – sugar hollow 12


well, i’m going to call it done.  i stuck a little green over the rocks on the bottom, and that might be enough.  i’ll go take a photo (when it stops raining) in natural light, and post that just so you can see what i’m seeing.

but i’m pretty much done now.

what’s next?

encaustic – sugar hollow 11

it’s not over yet.  i actually signed it last night, but then i sat back and looked at it, and it still needs more work.  i managed to put a veil of white over the dry rocks in the foreground, and took another photo.


most of what i did yesterday involved burning the hell out of the painting.  i took a really long time on the blue reflections, making fist-sized pools of absolutely molten wax, trying to move the white particles out of the way and let the underlying darks come thru.  it’s an act of patience and faith to leave a heat lamp over a molten pool of wax.  it starts moving and you don’t even see it.  i had dreams about it later.

and this was effective.  but then i had to go back in with some light gray/brown (white and raw umber, makes a bluish gray until i added more umber, and then it was brown).  i put it on the rocks that aren’t covered by reflections.  and then i put it on some of the rocks that are covered by reflections.  i put a thin wash of raw unber over the yellow reflection of the tree trunk on the right, because it was just too stark before.

after i stuck the veil over the dry rocks the composition looked better, because those rocks are markedly different from all the other rocks simply because they’re dry.  in this photo the contrast still isn’t good enough, and i may have to put on another veil.  what i still have to do in the water is to coat out the bottom (the part that isn’t huge giant rocks but sort of sandy bottom) with a blue gray and burn it again.  the area in the middle of the darkness on the right, and the area beneath the enormous rock ledge at the top left of the painting need this.

but this is an entire day’s work, so it looks like there’ll be an 11th or even 12th post.

and then, it’s getting on for november and i’ll be starting my novel for national novel writing month, so it may be that i wont be starting on another painting for awhile.  on the other hand, i’ll be making headway on my mom’s quilt.  at any rate, i’ll report it here, and you can check out my fiction if you want to.

making cold wax encaustic medium


this is the wax cabinet in my studio.  from left to right on the top – bleached food-grade microcrystalline wax in mineral spirits and/or orange solvent; unbleached microcrystalline was in mineral spirits and/or orange solvent; some unidentified concoction of microcrystalline and solvent.

on the middle shelf, a couple of empty jars, and behind them an old jar of bleached beeswax and turpentine, which i am now loathe to use; three jars of beeswax and orange oil, and my latest batch of unfiltered beeswax with orange oil.

on the bottom shelf, from top to bottom, i have what’s left of a ten point slab of beeswax in the mailing box; sitting at the edge of the mailing box to the right is a 2.5 lb chunk of unfiltered beeswax by ebert honey out in iowa ($3.75/lb).  under the mailing box is a slab of microcrystalline wax, the cheapo dark stuff, and next to it is a chunk of bleached microcrystalline wax.  under that, still in its bag, is another huge block of dark microcrystalline.

it’s so nice to have a full pantry.

Making Encaustic Medium

since i just got 5 lbs of unfiltered beeswax, i thought i’d make up a batch of encaustic medium myself.  i’d let jim do all the previous batches.  how hard could it be?  we got a used electric skillet some time ago, so i just plopped half of the block into the skillet and turned the temperature on low.  less than 200F, which was the first number on the dial.  the wax melted quickly, turning brown in the pan (because of all the debris).  i kept lifting and turning it, which was foolish, because every time i did i splashed liquid wax all over the place and had to scrape it off once it had cooled.

figuring out how much citrus solvent to use was the tricky part.  jim didn’t remember the proportions he used last time, and discovered that the proportions differed according to what kind of wax he was using.  so i did some quick figuring.  2.5 lb translates to 5 quart jars of liquid, if wax weighed what water weighs, which i have no idea.  but i figured if i put in a quart of orange oil to 5 quarts of melted beeswax, i wouldn’t be going far wrong.  i wasn’t looking to make a thin gel out of the wax and solvent, but i didn’t want it rock hard, either.

when the wax was all the way melted, i took the element out of the skillet just in case, and stirred in a quart of citrus oil.  and then i lifted the skillet and took it over to where i had jars all ready, and poured it in.  well, i dripped it in.  the hot wax wanted to go right over the side of the pan and drip down off the bottom, so i stuck the leg it was dripping off of right into the jar, and let it go.  i ended up with some wax on the paper under the jars, but it wasn’t too bad.  i filled the jars almost to the top, and when i got to the bottom of the skillet there was a whole lot of debris, so i poured all that into another jar, so i could use it deliberately on some project.  then i wiped out the skillet with a paper towel while it was still warm, and put everything away.

don’t put the lid on hot wax until it has melted unless you want a vacuum seal that won’t quit.  i waited until it was all the way cool, on jim’s advice, and it was fine.  if you leave the top on too long, tho, the solvent will begin to evaporate.

and now it’s sitting in my pantry shelf waiting to be used.


encaustic – sugar hollow 10

wow.  ten posts and i’m still not finished.  today i did a bit of an experiment.  i’m starting to not like what i’m doing, because it’s not like what i wanted, or what the reference photo looks like.  but i haven’t gotten tired of messing with it yet.

today i got out the really thin black paint and put the dark lines back in with a finger.  i love painting with my hands.  i kept leaving fingerprints, which melt differently than just random blobs of paint.  how chuck close.  how da vinci.

after burning in the darks, i looked at it and could see nothing else to do, so i prepared to put on a layer of clear wax.  that is, wax with no pigment.  first i took my big jar of yellow beeswax and citrus solvent, thinned it out with more citrus oil, and then slapped it on a corner of the painting.  i burned it in immediately, because it really burns in faster and easier if you do it while it’s still wet.  here’s the before and after on this:

423 fresh wax paste

428 burned in wax

i’m struggling with the chemistry of the wax.  when wax is melted and mixed with solvent, when cooled, what state is the wax in?  is it a solid?  is it a liquid?  technically you could call my encaustic medium “paste wax.”  what state is paste wax?  solid?  liquid?  slush?  is it tiny little pieces of beeswax in a solid state suspended in solvent?  does the solvent melt the wax and hold it in a liquid state?  these nitpicky little determinations are important.  if it’s a liquid, then the job of melting it is easier.  if it’s a liquid, then the bonding problems that exist with poorly-burned-in was aren’t as pressing.  if the solvent acts to dissolve the layer beneath the newly laid-on wax, then it creates a bond, and burning in becomes less important.

jim was taught encaustic back in the 60s using cold wax (wax mixed with turpentine).  jasper johns and others experimented with it.  they didn’t like using turpentine as a solvent, because it offgasses toxicity.  but they didn’t have orange oil back then.  orange oil – d-limonene – is so nontoxic that i can sit in offgassing citrus fumes all day long and not even get a scratchy throat.  the jar of white wax i ended up using today was originally mixed up with odorless mineral spirits and citrus oil, and i could really tell the difference.  i came away from my painting session, after having burned in a layer of clear wax over the entire 700+ square inches, with a raw throat and mild asthma.  this was due to the odorless mineral spirits, used in making early batches of encaustic medium due to jim’s mistaken belief that just because it’s odorless, it’s harmless.  which isn’t true.  odorless mineral spirits is merely petroleum solvent.  it’s like inhaling gasoline.

so.  i had a corner of the painting covered with yellow beeswax, and when i burned it in, it stayed yellow and not very translucent at all.  i sat there looking at it, dismayed, and finally went up and scraped it all off with a palette knife.  it was still warm, so i could do this.  the layers beneath hadn’t warmed up enough to stay warm after taking the lights off, but the top layer of clear wax was still warm to the touch and wet feeling in my hand once i’d scraped it off.

okay, start over.  i got out a jar of bleached beeswax that jim had done up months ago.  it was the only jar left of bleached white and citrus oil, with some mineral spirits because jim was trying to save a buck before i educated him about petroleum spirits.  we have other jars of white wax, but they’re jim’s, because he’s very fond of using bleached (food grade) microcrystalline wax, which is a petroleum product.  i won’t use it.  it doesn’t smell like beeswax.

so.  jar of bleached beeswax.  i thinned it with citrus oil, and then slapped it down on the board and burned it in.  for this burning in, i actually wanted the paint to move, so i took my time and heated it up slowly with my hand-held heat lamp (flood light, really, only i’m using a grow light because it’s less intense than a floodlight and i don’t need to wear sunglasses).  i held the lamp farther away from the surface than i usually do – about 3″, and moved it over a wider area.  i was trying to heat the wax at depth, in order to get the dark outlines of the rocks to reassert themselves.

for some reason, perhaps the thickness of the wax, the lower layers didn’t want to move.  the clear wax flowed and ran, but the colors underneath didn’t budge.  which was not what i was expecting or hoping for.  only when the entire area became molten at a deep level did the wax start to move.  and then it was like a stream, the whole fist-sized area began to flow gently toward the edge of the board.  usually when wax starts to move, all i have to do is raise the heat lamp and blow on it, and the wax snaps back and freezes.  but when it’s all melted like this, blowing on it just moves it more, and i have to wait for the wax at depth to cool, which takes a long time.  i can visualize  a small painting with its entire surface molten and beginning to shift.  perhaps i’ll play with that soon.

i didn’t want to put the clear wax on the entire painting at the time, so i did it in sections, melting each edge together as i joined sections.  when i got done with melting this fairly thick layer of wax, some areas felt soapy and wet to the touch, even when cooled.  i knew these weren’t melted enough.  the area was more translucent than well-melted (and cooled) wax, stickier, with little bubbles in it.  so i went back over it until i saw the wax move.  interestingly, i saw little tiny bubbles moving around inside the molten wax, like little tiny pearls.  they didn’t pop or come to the surface, they just rolled around in the liquid wax.


so now i’ve got clear wax over the entire painting, except for the dry rocks.  i still have to do something to make them look more lifelike (probably a veil, meaning a coat of really thin white, to obscure the details and garishness of the color).  and then maybe i’m done.  it’s still different than i had in mind, but that’s art for you.  all the happy surprises.


encaustic – sugar hollow 9

my, this is taking a long time.


and it’s getting further and further from what i wanted.

today we had a visitor, and then i had a fight with my kid, and didn’t get to the studio until after 5, so only had enough time to put on a layer of raw sienna over the water without reflections.  i was hoping to lighten the bottom.  and now what i’m missing is the dark of the lines around the rocks.  so i’m going to put that in tomorrow, and perhaps then can i put on a layer or two of clear wax and start making some of those blue reflections get more transparent so that you can see the bottom thru the reflection.

that’s perhaps going to be difficult, but i don’t know yet, because i’m still unsure about how white acts when heated.  i’m expecting the parts overlaying the dark lines to break up and boil first, because the black underneath is quicker to heat than the lighter colors.  again, i don’t know.  and like i said yesterday, if it comes to that, i’m willing to scrape back some of the paint.  but i’m hoping i can burn thru it instead.

encaustic – sugar hollow 8


the color balance on my photoshop isn’t showing the blueness of the reflections.  i’ll have to shoot it outside tomorrow.  that’ll eliminate the flash in the middle, as well.

today i reinforced the blue reflections everywhere, and then put a layer of wax and raw umber over all the non-reflective places.  once i burned it in it looked a little deeper, a little more convincing.  the reflection of the tree trunk is nice, but there needs to be some darker reflections of the branches as well.  tomorrow i guess i’ll do something about the dry rock in the foreground (a veil of some version of white), and some lightening in the underwater rocks.  and then i’ll slap a coat of clear wax on top and burn that in.  and then touch up stuff, and maybe another coat of clear wax and i’ll be done.

i just got some really reasonable ($3.75/lb) unfiltered beeswax from elbert honey company.  i got five pounds of honey as well, really nice.  the beeswax smells great, and has little bee parts in it, which is what i wanted.  i actually asked phil, the guy, if they didn’t have any really dirty beeswax, but all they had was the stuff they melt themselves, and it’s quite clear, except for a little brown scum on the bottom.  but i’m delighted.  so tomorrow i’m probably going to melt it and mix it with orange oil ( to make my version of encaustic medium) and put it into jars so i can use it real soon now on something where the beeswax is featured more than pigment.  one of those abstract mostly wax paintings, where the romance of the wax is what’s important, rather than the quality of the painting or the exactness of the representation.

but for now, to bed.  it’s been an emotionally harrowing day, and i’m going to bed now.