encaustic painting n+6


this is how the nebula looks this morning, after the right side dried all night. it looks nothing like the picture.


i mixed up a nice light yellow, using ‘hansa yellow’ py74, yellow ochre, and loads of titanium white. might as well bite the bullet. i haven’t actually tried to melt any wax containing a mix of pigments including white. i wonder how it will act. i used the palette knife to apply this bright yellow, still not exactly the gold i’ m looking for, to the front line of the dark mass .

then i didn’t know what to do next.

i ws looking at the reference photograph, seeing how grainy the background is, and how deep the darkness to the left. it had patterns in it, splotchy areas, and in the background was wiped over with white light from some star. how to do that in wax?

i tore a bit off one of my sponges, which i never us for anything anyway, tho they’re great texturizers. i diluted some ochre with loads of medium, and then because it wasn’t thin enough, with some dilute beeswax and turpentine jim made up fror me, the stuff in the baby food bottle .

you can see the dabbing on the right, on the trunk of the body i can see standing there. you can also see ochre dabbed in the darks on the left.

then i hit it with the light and did my damnedest not to melt it beyond just a slight softening. i wanted to keep that texture.

suddenly i saw myself abandoning the palette knife for the sponge. this is getting out of hand. how many days will i keep working on this painting, moving it ever farther from the ideal painting in my head.


so i thinned down some blue and did more sponging. and some burnt umber, which is a true brown, warm and nutty. raw umber is more of a dark than a brown, if that makes sense.


then i got some white with my finger and did the outside of the figure in the background, and also the bright shiny place in the almost bottom right. and then i mixed up some light purple with my finger and put it in the middle of the figure. brown. with the finger on the left. the stuff i’m putting on with fingers is meant to flow, so i’m heating it longer. the stuff dollopwed on with a pallete knife, like the yellow line, is supposed to stay somewhat solid.


then i mixed up a big bunch of that burnt umber really thin and put it all over the left half with a pallete knife, really thin. and since i can never stop, i stuck the same color over the figure in the background. more ochre too, sponged in the white areas.


loads more white on the figure, blue s well, because it’s a real dark and i’m tired of that background being so i don’t know. i darkened it back down alot. i mixed all the sky blues and put them back in, as well. and i melted the hell out of the background. you can see a big slump to the right of the center of the painting.

now it has lots of texture and depth. i won’t say the composition is finished. i still have to put on golds and wipe the starlight in across the figure, and make the foreground very dark and rich. but this’ll do, and in fct there are places i want to preserve from change. if that can be done in wax.

when i heat a spot, it first swells with heat. and then the entire heated part slowly (a second at 3″) turns to slush and begins to move. then, suddenly, the entire pool of wax is molten, shivering with every movement and breath of wind. and then the wax begins to circulate. maybe this is the stuff boiling. it’s certainly convection. it mixes.

now, i’m not sure if i haven’t just overheated it too closely, and this wouldn’t occur at a greater distance from the heat source. this could well be what it is because it doesn’t happen all the time.

the last thing i did before bed was to coat the whole thing with a thick layer of wax medium. i’m going to put a bit of space between what i’ve got and what i need to do next. i need to finish it next, with the whites and the golds and the furry darks. and of course i have no idea how i’m going to do this. the original of this painting hangs in my head, and my hands are just beginners trying to accomplish, or in this case perhaps, execute it .

oh yeah. the various experimental mediums. the jar i’m dipping out of now is beeswax and citrus thinner, which is mostly mineral oil. that’s in good shape, but i’m running out of it. good shape = light and fluffy with no lumps.

the next jar is beeswax and damar crystals melted together and then citrus thinner added, which just precipitated the wax in lumps, and so an addition of turpentine to dissolve the damar. it’s beginning to shape up. i’ve got it stirrable if not cohesive and mayonnaise-like.

the third jar is beeswax and damar, plus citrus thinner, and it’s sort of kind of softening up. so i guess i’ll let it continue.


encaustic painting n+5


this is how last night’s fogginess on the right side cleared up with a night’s drying time. so, it does get more translucent as it cures. that’s good.


now i’ve stuck more yellow ochre on top of pretty much everything. the tone of the painting is yellow ochre, that’s what i see in all the nooks and crannies, wherever i peer, there’s yellow ochre. let’s not get started about that. i notice when i’m doing a painting that i’ll start to see the colors i’m using everywhere in everything, all living creatures organic and in.


i mixed up a thin ultramarine blue and put it in the background and the foreground, anywhere i could see darks. the blue ran so readily that i had a whole section liquid. that’s why it’s thin blue at the top and pools at the bottom.


loads of raw umber, loads of a red mixed with a very littel bit of white.


then i mixed up a super-thin batch of white and put it over the background and leaking across the yellow line in the lower right. when i melted the white in, a funny thing happened. the wax underneath the white melted before the white did, and so when the white finally melted, it was torn apart. something to do with surface tension, i’m sure. you can see this best in the upper right corner, about an inch or two down the right side, little dots of dark blue.

at this point the whole background has been melted and remelted several times. it seems that no matter how thick the wax is, when it goes, it tends to all go at once, so you don’t have one layer melted and the next down soft and the one down from that solid, you have a pool of molten wax. all of a sudden. the blink of an eye, literally. very surprising.

and look at the beautiful runny swirly flowy patterns we’re getting when things start to flow.

i’ve been thinking of that reference to dorland’s wax medium where the procedure was to suspend light(s) above your picture at such a distance that the wax goes molten but doesn’t bubble. this depends on the color, i’m afraid, but never mind. i’ve been thinking about this all day, and i figure now would be a good time to try it. but first i put on another layer of translucent wax medium on the background and burned it in.


i restated all the lights and all the colors, then laid the painting flat on my palette, unclipped the light, and waved the light bulb over the painting for a change. usually i hold the painting up under the light. but this way the painting never moved, and so when i got a section molten, i didn’t have to worry about it flowing because of gravity.

i had to worry about it flowing because of differences in surface tension. this means that if i didn’t want it to flow across the painting in a big drip, i had to warm the whole area evenly and slowly so that it all went liquid at the same moment.  more learning curve.


then i put a thick layer of wax medium over the background, and then i diluted some white with more medium and knifed it into the wet wax. it smooshed around a lot. then i heated it until the white ran.

it seems to be easier, tho hotter, to melt white than it is to get the translucent wax medium to go when it is devoid of pigment. when it was cooling i took my finger and mooshed the white around on top of the medium, which had mostly hardened, the solvent having evaporated under the lights.

even tho i’m now working with odorless mineral spirits, or pure fossil earth or mineral oil it’s hard to tell, they’re still toxic. the fumes make my eyes sting after awhile. i’ve been hanging back until i can’t smell the orange scent, and i’ve got a fan on in the studio and plenty of fresh air. but i still felt a little queasy at times during the day.

about citrus oil. i’m not sure if citrus oil itself, d-limonene, is completely volatile. the solvent needs to evaporate completely if the wax is to cure properly (so everybody has admitted), and so i may have an insurmountable issue with citrus oil. more later.

encaustic painting n+4


nebulas. this one’s the swan nebula, m17. here is the reference for the painting i’m doing. it’s rotated 90 counterclockwise from the way i’m painting it. so bend your head to the left when you see it.

i started with an about 8×10 masonite panel jim prepared a long time ago for his egg tempera painting. acrylic gessoed in a medium gray tone.

i’d read somewhere (let me just find it now) that you don’t want to put wax down on acrylic gesso because of some reason. so i figured i’d sand the surface, then put in the first coat, on top of the sketch, in acrylic paint and then it would be okay to use wax. i have to figure that out. there is so much misinformation, and so many technicalities that it’s very difficult to figure out. chemistry was never my strong point.

anyway, i used brown-blue as my dark, but instead of mixing ultramarine with raw umber as usual, i used phthalo blue, which is strong and very greenish. but i’ll never run out of that pigment if i don’t use it in underpaintings sometime. the white is titanium white, and because i’m too impatient to wait while the acrylic dries, there are light blue areas that indicate nothing more than that.

i had to use a hair dryer to get the acrylic dry. i just dipped out some pigment and mixed it with acrylic medium and water, and splashed it on with one of my watercolor brushes. i never use acrylics. that’s jim’s forte. i don’t like the way they smell, and hate them for drying so fast compared to oil. but now i’m into wax, so never mind.


for my next step, i stuck raw umber over the dark half of the painting, and went ahead and put in the dark blue and purple of the background. i’m  making this part much darker than it’s going to end up, figuring a couple of layers of translucent wax medium will give it the atmosphere it needs. that and some smeared white paint.

everything’s getting melted in as it goes on the painting. i work one color at a time, melt it, let it dry, and then start in again. after awhile of this, i put in a few colors at a time as long as they don’t overlap, and then melt it all.  i’m melting it until it’s liquid for this painting. for others, say, the koi one, i’m hardlly melting it at all, but for this one i wave it around under the light until the surface starts wiggling with my movements, and then i back off in a big hurry and raise another area of the painting  up under the lamp.

i’m practicing making large areas liquid all at once. it takes careful observation and a responsive hand to get this to happen, because you basically have to focus the light on the leading edge of the wax, where there’s  border between hard wax and molten wax. you use the light to constantly break down the leading edge, and the timing has to be such that a great deal of liquid wax doesn’t pile up behind a dam of half-solid wax. unless you like great runs. because eventually the leading edge encompasses half the painting, and it’s all as liquid as mercury. i’ll do great runs in another painting, i’m sure.


now i’m putting in the lights in the foreground. but no white. i’m saving white until last, because it’s the hardest to melt. because it’s the brightest and most reflective, where as all you have to do is turn the heat lamp on and the brown and blue start to shine.

the yellow likes to melt completely away. i have to be extra delicate with it. i saw several nice blobs of yellow sort of explode when i thought they were just going to subside and run.

jim tells me that some colors, the cadmiums especially, turn color when you get too close with the heat lamp. they turn brown. i suppose this is how you get burnt sienna from raw sienna, etc. 

it’s true that every pigment has its own character. i couldn’t really tell when i was using paints somebody else mixed up and put into a tube, but when i control the process and the ingredients, i can clearly see how different pigments absorb, spread, dry, disperse, and pile up. and now melt.

i started messing with the background at this point. i stuck some red in at the base of the purple part. all of this has to get acres lighter, but beneath the lighness i can see pink, which comes from red. that’s how i’m building this thing. i’m putting in all the colors i can see and somehow expect to end up with loads of solidity and dimensionality.


more color. more. more. i put some blue in the far background, restate the reds on the purple cloud, and dump in orange and red. i’m starting to restate the darks within the lightest parts, and i recall doing a lot of finger painting in the still warm wax to smoosh some of the color around.


now i go in with the yellow ochre and stick more lights in. i work over the cloud in the background, too. i probably used some raw umber as well, but they’re analogous colors. the paint’s starting to get thick on the left side.


it’s time for more darks. i mix up a more ultramarine than raw umber dark, and go in on the left side, making sure all my darks are indicated. since the dark colors melt and run so easily, heating is a finicky process that involves lots of rapid movements and darting angles away from the light.

my dilemma is that i’m trying to thoroughly melt the areas of bright color while not blasting the darks. i’m mostly successful in this. there are lumps left in the center of the strings of color, but it all shimmered and flowed before i lowered it from the heat and started blowing on it.


i left the left side alone now, it’s starting to intimidate me. what do i do next? what if i ruin it? things like that. so i mixed up a very thin batch of ultramarine, and put it all over the background, separating it completely from the foreground.


and for the last step of the evening, i put a healthy coat of wax medium over the background and melted it in. the glow you’re seeing in the middle is where i didn’t let it cool enough before taking the shot, and the surface is still a bit wet and shiny.

wonder what it looks like this morning.

an update on the mixtures. i probably haven’t mentioned it, but i’ve been using a homemade cold wax mixture. jim and i, being miserly, wouldn’t dream of paying for someone else to make it for us, so we start with the raw ingredients and go from there. this is not to say we mull our own pigments. or a number of other nit-picky studio tasks. we just won’t buy ready-made if we can avoid it.

so when we got interested in encaustic, jim mixed up a medium that his teacher, joel reeves, had taught him lo those many years ago, back in the late 50s and early 60s. he painted in cold wax.  never used heat on it. once the volatiles evaporate, you have beeswax all stuck together because of the solvent action. walt martin used cold wax exclusively, and his paintings are still holding up after 50 years.

anyway, for my first batch of medium, jim used a cold chisel on a block of beeswax, put it into a jar, and mixed it with turpentine. within a day it was a gel, and ready to use. he made me another jar ful that had more thinner in it, as well. i ran thru those in a couple of days. but i had immediately put the block of beeswax in the freezer and hit it with a hammer, and so had another jar fermenting. i’d used our new citrus-flavored mineral oil on it.

then i decided to follow at least part of one encaustic rule. the medium for encaustic is strongly said to be beeswax with a little damar resin in it. the only way to dissolve this resin, the only two ways, is to melt it, or to put it in turpentine. so i figured, i’d melt it first, and mix it with the wax, and while it was all still molten, i would take it away from the heat – duh – and pour some citrus thinner into it. and this worked really well. sort of.

the first thing that happened was that the wax turned instantly solid, into these little needle-like shards of translucent wax. then they kind of went into solution. but the whole thing started getting difficult to work, and so i let it sit overnight.

next day it was solid and lumplike, so i cut it gently in half and put it into two jars, and dumped loads of citrus-flavored thinner into one of the jars and started cutting and stirring again. into the second jar, i put turpentine, because only turpentine will dissolve damar, and that was apparently what was wrong with the first jar. they wouldn’t mix. it wouldn’t dissolve. now that it had damar in it, it was sitting there like a lump of wax.

let me just mention that neither jim nor i will use wild abandon around heat or flames. an artist’s studio is horribly flammable, and we’ve got an old house with many years of flammable paintings stored in the studo and the attic, so i shudder at the thought of using a blow torch to melt my encaustic paintings. i go so far as to put my tempered jar containing beeswax into a larger tempered jar containing water, and hover over the thing waiting for activity. fire is bad.

the next steps with the mediums is to figure out the chemistry. i need to take the wax and damar lumps out of the thinner, dry them, and then remelt them and mix them with turpentine like i’m supposed to. but really, i need to have another jar of medium soon because i’m running out and keep dreaming up new paintings to do.

of course, some time soon i’ll do this completely conventionally so i can see the standard. we’re still gathering materials. jim hasn’t yet started his first encaustic, tho he’s fixing the drawings as we speak.