encaustic – n ga trout stream 3


it’s the rocks’ turn.  but first i made the white foam thicker by adding more white and burning it in.  i strengthened the white with more pigment first.

then the rocks. they have to be a lot more prominent.  you should see the reference photo – the water is smooth and uncertain, but the rocks are deeply etched.  so on goes more cream, and some purple, a light blue for the dark rocks.  and gets burned in.


but that’s not enough.  this is only two sessions in one day, now.  i didn’t spend that much time working today because of all sorts of things happening around our house.  anyway, i took a scraping tool and outlined some of the rocks where the shadows are particularly deep.  then i mixed up a strong but very dilute black (loads of pigment, lots of citrus solvent, very little wax) and rubbed it into the lines, and buffed off what remained on the high places.  and burned it in.  then i mixed up some creamy white (using yellow beeswax instead of bleached beeswax) and put it on all the rocks and highlights, tinged with light blue for the wet rock highlights.  and burned it in.

tomorrow i have to go back to the rocks and put on a glaze or two here or there, and incise some more lines and fill them with black, and then burn them all in.  and then i think i need one more coat of clear wax on the water.  i’ve already been over the first coat of clear wax with all sorts of blue and orange, and it’s done run off the black already.  so another coat of obscuring bleached wax, which really goes white again once you burn it in.


how much burning in is enough?  there are so many stages of melting wax.  it gets glisteny.  then it gets translucent.  then it gets very shiny indeed.  then it goes molten and starts to spread and churn or break apart, depending on the pigment.  how much melting is good enough, when is one layer fused to the one beneath?  surely by the time it’s molten, it’s melted all together.  i think that’s a safe assumption.  when all the colors start to run, then you’ve got firmly set wax when it cools.  if the wax is only heated until translucency, until it’s slush, then when it dries again it’s still soft and soapy feeling to the touch, and can be rubbed up instead of polished.

(i lost the post in the middle of writing it last night, so i’m reconstructing this part).  i decided to find references for the fusing process.  i looked at rfpaints.com which is a big seller of encaustic supplies, and i ended up finding quite a bit of information at daniel smith.

this speaks to several questions – the methods of burning in and also what repeated applications of heat does to wax, which is a problem i’ve been trying to research:

Burning-in is defined as the application of heat at any stage of the painting process. This step is integral to encaustic painting as it permanently fuses the wax layers to the support and to each other.

In addition, heating and reheating the waxes toughens and hardens them. The degree of heat, and how and when it is applied, influences the appearance of the finished work. When the heat source is removed from the painting, the waxes immediately cool and harden on the support. This permanently fixes the image.

The use of a rack, fitted with a bowl-type heat reflector, allows a controlled burning-in, with the heat source moving easily and uniformly over the painting, about 4″ to 6″ from the surface. One technique involves gently heating the waxes until a dull sheen is noted on the surface. At this point, fusion has taken place, creating a permanent paint film on the support.

2. An entirely different effect is achieved by prolonging the burning-in until the waxes melt on the support. Changes occur because the properties of the pigments influence both the melting point of the waxes and the dispersion of the pigments within them. Wax with dark-colored pigments absorbs heat and melts more rapidly than wax with light-colored pigments. Lightweight pigments, such as most blacks, float to the top of the liquid waxes, while heavier pigments, such as titanium white, sink. With experimentation and experience in applying and removing the heat source, an artist can learn to control this uneven melting and utilize the subsequent color changes which occur in the molten waxes.

so of the two methods listed above at the daniel smith site, (there are 4 methods listed), the one i use all the time is the second, which is to melt the hell out of the wax.  their experience with what happens to the pigments is just like mine, so it’s good to have that confirmed.

however, i think if the wax is considered fused when it’s only dully sheeny, then i can do the rocks that way and retain all the texture.

here’s a rather more technical explanation of why wax toughens with repeated heating:

Quantitatively, the major compounds are saturated and unsaturated monoesters, diesters, saturated and unsaturated hydrocarbons, free acids and hydroxy polyesters…The ratio of ester values to acids, a character used by the various pharmacopoeias to describe pure beeswax is changed significantly by prolonged or excessive heating. At 100 C for 24 hours the ratio of ester to acid is changed beyond the limits set for pure beeswax. Longer heating or higher temperatures lead to greater degradation and loss of hydrocarbons (Tulloch, 1980). These changes also influence the physical characteristics of the wax. Thus, excessive heating during rendering or further processing changes the wax structurally and alters the beneficial characteristics of many of its minor compounds, not only the aromatic and volatile compounds.

r&f paints has an extensive group of posts dealing with the mysteries of fusing.  let’s see what i can extract.

In fusing, you have to only melt the surface of the previous layer to get a good bond.  Bonding layer to layer can be a snakey thing, smooth things like wax and others exhibit what is called surface tension and can hang together for a while.

and here’s another piece of advice:

Fusing requires only enough heat in a given area to melt the upper layer of wax.  Once the shine appears, that means it’s melted and time to move onto another area.  If you want to fuse more, or even out the surface texture, fuse gently and let the area cool somewhat before fusing again.  Give it time, patience, and distance between the heat gun and the painting. If you fuse in one place for too long, you will have pitting and then soup.

and here’s a good reference for what happens to wax when it’s reheated:

Acrolein and Aldehydes are released from beeswax (and other waxes) as a natural byproduct of the decomposition of the wax.  Beeswax starts to decompose (large wax paricles break down into smaller wax particles)as soon as it begins to melt, although the amounts of these gases released at this low temperature is almost negligable.
The higher the temperature of the wax, the more these gases are released.  So at a normal working temperature of 180° – 220° acroleins and aldehydes are definately being released (more so at 220° than at 180°).  This is what you smell when you are around molten wax.  This is why ventilation is so very important.
At safe working temperatures the acrolein and aldehydes are not being released at a rate that is considered toxic.  Instead they are considered to be “irritant”.  As with any irritant, diferent people have different levels of sensitivity.  Dizziness, nausea, and headache are some of the immediate effects of sensitivity/overexposure to wax emissions.  Bronchial and sinus irritation can occur with long term overexposure.
When wax is heated to extreme temperatures the decomposition occurs at a much more accelerated rate, at which point the wax emissions can become toxic instead of irritant.
To answer your question specifically Rodney, acrolein and aldehydes will be released every time the wax is heated.  This is not a one time action with wax, and it is not only at “unsafe” temperatures.

and in a reverse of standard technique, some people want the layers to be seperable:

Fusing is what attaches the layer most recently applied to the layer beneath it.  If no fusing is done then the adhesion of layers will be minimal.  If you allow your painting to cool before applying another layer there will be even less adhesion.

well, there’s no definitive answer.  fusing means melting ‘some’ thru ‘all’ and that means it’s up to the individual artist.  which is just like encaustic, a million different techniques leaking around the ‘right’ way to do it.


encaustic – north ga trout stream 2


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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?


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.