The basic principles of encaustic painting are simple – colour pigment dissolved in a hot wax and damar resin solution, which is then painted onto a support of some kind, usually board, as it is firm and withstands the heat and subsequent brutal treatment.
A week ago I participated in a two-day workshop in encaustic painting at my local art centre. I had a small amount of experience with encaustics, but wanted to know more. My basic motivation was simply to learn as much as I could, then continue to work at home. The best way for me to go into a workshop is to go with minimal preconceived ideas, and with no intention of producing a masterpiece at the end of it – hoping for that sets up too many constraints, and erodes the ability to experiment without worrying about the consequences. I just wanted to learn!
The two days flew by, the experience was better than I could have ever hoped for. Our tutor, Randal Arvilla, is an artist who works in encaustics himself and was not only immensely generous with his materials, but also his time and knowledge. He clearly explained the steps of working, then, having given each member of the class five prepared boards, let us loose.
The boards were prepared with gesso and a layer of clear wax, then it was up to us to make use of the numerous pots of hot coloured wax to build up layers on the boards, in whatever configurations suited us. The wax cooled and set as soon as it was painted on. Each layer was ‘burned in’ or sealed with a heat gun, then more layers added. We could carve into the layers, press textured tools in, add more wax to fill the shapes made and ultimately scrape back layers to reveal patterns and colours below.
Randal also showed us how to transfer images from photocopies onto the surface, and add string or thin papers to add texture and colour.
I came home buzzing with ideas, and six boards that had artwork on that I was happy with! Since then, I have bought a hotplate for melting the wax in small muffin tins, oil sticks to use for the pigments, some cheap brushes. I already had a small bag of encaustic medium in pellets but will need to buy more soon.
Every now and then in artmaking you come upon a medium that just sings to you, and this has happened to me. Its hard to leave the pieces I have alone, and everything else is being neglected wile I just add another layer, or scrape back a bit more … I have so many ideas of how to apply the techniques I have learned, I just hope there is enough time to do them all!