encaustic – refining the lines

today i actually got down to the studio.  my last ballpoint needle broke, so i couldn’t sew on the baby quilt upstairs, and my kid had the baby out with her for the afternoon (he’s old enough to open all the jars in the studio, and too young to  not open all the jars).

the only thing that isn’t pastel underpainting at this point is the surface of the microwave.  i’m following the general principle – get all your whites down first.  the rest, the unfixed pastel, is gradually coming up on my hands and forearms, which look all smoke-stained.  a little inconvenient.  perhaps that’s why they fix pastels.

the purplish part to the left is the first coat of white, over a basically shadow-purple underpainting of all the planes on the microwave.  the wax naturally picked up and mixed the pastel in when i put it on, and churned into it once i melted it in.  the layer i put on today is just another layer of mixed white – a bunch of beeswax, a bunch of orange oil to thin it to a buttery consistency, a bunch of titanium white dry pigment, and a palette knife.

i love painting with a palette knife.  i hate painting in wax with brushes.  i tried it tonight when i made the thin lines of the top edge, and the damned brush gummed right up and put down glops of wax.  it was awful.  i’d rather use my fingers.  as badly as i use a palette knife, it’s my only real option for laying down a line.  i just have to get good with a palette knife, which of course takes years, and here i am in only my second year of learning how to use this particular tool.  only my second year of learning how to paint with wax.

the layer i put on today went a long way toward evening out the appearance of the surface, especially after i smoothed it in with my fingers and burned it in with my heat lamp.  what i’m trying to do is to build up the white first, and then use a series of glazes to put shadows and contours into the white.  even tho the beeswax i’m using is the unfiltered kind with plenty of gunge in it, and very yellow, i mix enough white into it to make the color read as white.  a creamy white.  it doesn’t show well on camera, of course.  the beauty of encaustic painting is in seeing it up close, being able to smell it, to see into it, to peer closely at the wonderful things wax does when molten.

i went around with a ruler and made sure all four edges of the box were level, because if it’s only off a little bit, it’s grating.  jim, on the other hand, regularly makes his paintings way unlevel, and it’s dizzying.  but a little is just bad drawing.

then i tried taking a brush to put in the upper contours, but it gummed up and i put it aside.  it just couldn’t smear enough paint onto the surface to make any difference.  so i picked up my palette knife and put the lines in.  these got burned in rather lightly (because if you burn in white heavily, the whole thing liquifies and starts to find its way to the ocean).

and then my painting day was over.  my kid went off to work, jim made dinner, it got dark.  so maybe tomorrow.

encaustic – microwave w/apples

it’s been a few weeks since i was able to devote any attention to my painting.  i’ve been watching the grandson and everyone’s been sickish, so i’ve been distracted.  and then there’s the recent full moon, which was a very significant amount of change to deal with.

anyway, this is what i left last time, just the underpainting in pastel.  i didn’t bother fixing the pastel, because the first layer of wax will just pick it up.

i took a huge big dollop of wax that had been pre-softened with the addition of orange oil.  the oil is a solvent, and will dissolve the wax without heating it, but it’s a slow process.  i like to mix in enough orange oil to make a stiff but not unworkable paste – beeswax and orange oil – to which i add dry pigments.  in this case, i added a bunch of titanium white dry pigment, and worked it in with a little more orange oil.

and then i took my largest palette knife – i’d call it a palette trowel – and smeared white paint all over the microwave surface.  the knife only smeared the paint on, but it was sure faster than using a small palette knife.

the second stage had me smearing the paint more evenly using my fingers.  there’s nothing to replace fingers in this kind of painting.  you can easily tell, using your fingers, when the wax is evenly distributed, and there’s something so very satisfying about moving things around by hand.  you can’t do that with traditional encaustic (try smoothing molten wax with your fingers).

then i hit it with the heat lamp, and melted all the wax i’d just laid down.  this took some time.  it would be faster if i used a hotter heating method.  if i used a torch, say.  but i frankly don’t even like the high intensity flood lamps i started out using – even with sunglasses they blinded me for ten minutes afterwards.  i use a daylight spectrum bulb, which is a poor use of an expensive object, but it was all i had, so i used it.  but it heats up a several-square-inch area of wax in under two minutes.  the whole white area of the microwave probably took an hour to fuse, but time doesn’t run the same way when you’re doing art, so it’s really hard to tell.

so now i have the first layer of white, all burned in.  the paint picked up a good deal of the pigment underneath, but i don’t mind that, as it’s a first layer.  there will be many more layers.

i’m going to do the white microwave first, and then the yellow inside of the microwave, and then i’ll do the apples and cup, and then the background.  or so it seems right now.  tomorrow i’m going to even up the straight lines and make sure everything looks like the right shape in the right position.  it’ll be more white first, and i’ll figure out how to do the shadows as i go along.

encaustic – apples with microwave

i was heating up a cup of coffee the other day, and noticed that jim had put the apples up out of hte way of the grandson, who likes to take one bite of each and put them back.

they looked so old masterish, glowing in the gloom of the microwave alcove.  i just had to paint them.  and then there was the face of the microwave itself, which was crusted with stains.  i really liked the juxtaposition of the green apples in the inky darkness with the grime of the ‘table’ they were on.  old and new.  sublime and filthy.  it’s a metaphor.

so this is the first try at an underpainting.  i’m using pastels, and not bothering to fixt them because i’m just going to spread cold wax on the board.  it’s a masonite board, and it’s 30×40, a size i like to work with.  i didn’t want to make a small painting, i wanted more than lifesize so i could show all the grime.

when i looked at it upside down, i realized that the apples weren’t large enough, and the rotating cup was too big and out of position.  there are still some ellipse problems with the cup, but i’ll fix that.

the underpainting shows the tones i can see in the photo i took.  the various shades of red-purple and blue-purple are the shadows and contours of the microwave, rather than the actual colors.  the whole thing is white, of course, but if you look closely at white, you can see all the colors. 

this is good enough to start painting over, so i’m going to start with white.  i’m actually thinking ahead at this moment, because white is the hardest pigment to handle in encaustic – it has to heat up  much more than darker colors in order to fuse, which means that if you’ve already got darker colors on your painting, they’re going to run by the time you soften up the white.  you can solve this by masking, which works well, or by choosing what order you put the paints on.  in this case, i’m going for white everywhere white is, and then i’ll think about modifying the colors with shadows and things. 

i’ll do that next.

encaustic painting n+2


i put another layer of brushstrokes on the paper towel, stuck some white around the paint blobs, put down some really thin darks around the blobs and the jars, put local color over the white i’d stuck down over the paint blobs what was i thinking, and melted it down a little. i wanted the dark stuff to run and the local color to just sag, and because the dark stuff is dark, it happened to work just fine. i see there’s a lot of planning involved. i’m better at slapdash.

did you have a real chemistry set, the kind back when you could actually mix high explosives? it was a metal box, and glass tubes, and you were only supposed to use it with adult supervision.

while jim used his to make actual explosives, i was always too impatient to follow recipes, and would always add a little of this and a little of that until all i had mixed up was a test tube of toxic waste.

i’m still like that. i learned astrology by studying transits, rather than what venus in leo means.


i got to the point where i was comfortable with the representational aspects of the painting, so i covered the whole thing with a thick layer of paste wax medium. since i’d heated it slightly all over, it had hardened, and i could gently smooth thick globs of wax over it. i stopped in process to take a reference photo. good thing it’s a digital camera. i would expire of boredom waiting until the pictures got back from the lab if it were still film. you couldn’t blog with pictures unless you wrote it all down as it was happening on gasp paper.

actually, that’s how jim does for his blog. he takes a picture, he sits in his chair and writes it out, and i type it in when i get to it. i’m such a dilatory secretary.

so now i believe all of my encaustic paintings are sitting around collecting layers of wax and curing. so i’ve been casting about for something new to do.

i’m learning specific things with this series of paintings. one is to try to use wax the way i was using silk dyes. one is to go even more abstract than i was tending to in my koi series of several years ago.  one is to do representational painting. what’s the other one? the seduction of the wax.

so my fifth encaustic painting is to do something that the wax naturally wants to do. and that’s going to be cosmic. wax is a cosmic fluid, well, anything that has a range between melting point and boiling point. the miracle of life on this planet is liquid water. if it were too hot or too cold there would be no life. so i’m exploring the range wherein life is possible, or in this case, creation.

i’m finding that making wax paintings is a lot like making bread. the yeast is alive, and the bread is an individual creature that you’re going to feed and exercise and grow up fat and happy, and then stick in the oven and make a part of your own body, its highest purpose. well, we won’t go into highest, yeast has probably a more exalted destiny than humankind.

making bread is like doing magic. it requires focus, intent, knowledge, insight, and the flow of creative enery.

encaustic painting (some number here)


this is the still life of my studio equipment. from left, paint rag (paper towel folded in 4), thick gel-like wax and turpentine (or now beeswax and citrus-flavored mineral spirits) in a jam jar, very thin beeswax and turpentine in a baby food jar, and beeswax and turpentine heavy paste in a bitty jelly jar.

my paint blobs are spread out on the glass palette in front of the jars. hansa yellow, ochre, titamium, raw sienna, naphthol red, burnt sienna, raw umber, ultramarine.

the wood grain you’re seeing at the top of the picture, representing the table the glass palette is laid out on, is the wood grain of the wood i used to make the painting on. it’s got several coats of paste wax on it at this point.

i’m struggling with the folded paper towel. in reality it’s got brushstrokes of paint, or palette knife strokes of paint, and gets ratty fast, with lots of paper towel texture showing thru. i put a few representative scrapes with the palette knife, and melted the hell out of it, until the entire square was molten and trembling in my upraised hand. (i haven’t yet taken the light off its clip and turned it upside down to melt the picture as it stays steady on the pallete. i’m still holding the painting up to the light and waving it around at varying distances from the source.

god this is fun.

i’m also struggling with the jam jar. it’s got a quilted glass surface, with the lovely creamy beeswax medium inside, and i can’t begin to recreate the translucency of the real thing. no more can i paint the liquidity of the thinned out mixture in the middle. i can’t render light coming thru something very well at all. yet.

the learning curve is deceptively steep. like silk painting, you don’t notice how much there is to learn as you quickly master the basics.


my glass palette, the palette knife i’m using to paint with (seems i’m using several different types and sizes of palette knives. i’m discovering what damned useful things they are.)

i’m starting to run out of colors again. i’ll be scraping the palette clean after messing with this painting, and start over with freshly mixed up paint, on the completely abstract experimental piece, the seduction of the wax piece.

and oh yeah i’ve figured out what to do wfor my next encaustic painting.


that’ll be the painting where i do something the wax naturally likes to do, instead of seeing if i can do realistic and seeing how well i can do abstract and getting seduced by the wax.


i did more things to the paper and boiled it again. i built up the piles of paint on the palette. i put on a darker coat of green blue for the glass, and then i put on a layer of wax medium over everything but the glassware, the paper, and the built-up blobs. i seem to recall doing something in the shadows of the jars, but i can’t tell by looking at my photos, because they all ended up in different colors, even tho i took them under mostly identical conditions. the light outside was changing, but we’re in a basement facing the house next door, and i use fluorescent studio lights no more than a foot above the pictures, and use a flash on the camera. but i don’t know, except for the paper and the palette and maybe the paint blobs, i’m hard pressed to say what i did with this painting session.

but wait, there’s more. now for an update on the abstract seduction of the paint.

4th encaustic painting 1


after putting a top coat of wax on the koi painting and setting it aside, i decided i needed to do a painting that was supposed to look like it was, so i decided to paint my studio equipment, a theme i revisit every once in a while, a documentation of how i work.

so welcome to my studio, hastily made-over for encaustic, which means to say everything to do with oil painting, which i was focussing on immediately before this, has been cleared aside or thrust away. you see my wax mediums in their jars – beeswax and turpentine in a gel consistency, beeswax in mostly turpentine for something very thin, and beeswax and turpentine so thick you have to carve it out to use it.

in front of these you can see my palette, such as it is. you’ve missed the stage where i was keeping all my pigments in powder form right on the palette. what you’re seeing is yesterday’s batch of pigmented wax medium, which hashardened somewhat over night, that i then mix more wax medium into until it’s like butter.

i just wanted to start the painting. i’m not sure how realistic i can get given the pasty nature of how the wax goes on. i’m not very good with the palette knife yet, and so my lines are blotchy and unsure. i may well become seduced by the wax and end up making something that bears little resemblance to something you would see with a sound mind and body.

the last thing i did before coming upstairs and getting sick from the turpentine fumes was to take one of my new woodcarving tools and scratch some of the marks i made on the palette with my knife, while painting the koi painting that i did right before starting this one.