Encaustic explorations

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.

My set-up – an electric griddle, metal muffin pans, cheap brushes which have been cut off so that they will balance in the pans. To the side is the thermometer gun to make sure the wax doesn’t get too hot.

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!

Author: anna warren portfolio

I draw, I paint, I am a printmaker. Always searching for the interesting detail in the world around me.

7 thoughts

  1. My very first thought is that I’m reminded of Jackson Pollock. And on reading, I can see why. Both you and Pollock aren’t only working with colour but also with volume. His works are almost like reliefs as they are so thick with paint. And same with yours as the colour is absorbed in wax.
    What a fascinating set up. I can see why you’d like this, especially as a print-maker and an inveterate experimenter. The photo of the set-up looks like adult playtime – especially with the box of shells etc in the frame. Like – playschool for an adult! (I mean all of this in a respectful, not belittling way, you know that, don’t you!!)
    I can just imagine that lovely hot wax smell. And as to the finished results – painterly FIREWORKS!

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  2. Jackson Pollock! That is such a nice connection. I wouldn’t have thought of it, but I can absolutely see where you are coming from, and I agree. If he didn’t use encaustics, I think he would have loved them. These are quite intense, and I don’t think that the next ones I do will have this level of intensity, I want to wind the colour back a bit and discover more subtlety. One of the exciting things about working with encaustic is the huge variety of ways it can be used. I am now spending a lot of time looking at how other artists use it, and pinching ideas or rejecting approaches. The playtime sense is quite palpable – I am having FUN!

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  3. Im glad you wrote to me today as I didnt get an email notification from WordPress to let me know you’d replied to my comment. OK, so I will enjoy seeing where you take this with different methods you are researching and more subtle hues. Its like learning a whole new way of cooking. These pieces are different but they are still you. I even relate them back to your jewellery pieces.

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    1. There is something strange (and annoying) happening with WP. It has been going on for a while, but is getting worse. Like you, I often receive no notice that someone has replied to a comment, whether it is on my own blog or someone else’s, yet I do get an email for a ‘like’. Last night I replied to you on my iPad, but it simply wouldn’t accept it, and locked up, but saying it was posting … clearly it didn’t go through! Anyway, apart from ranting – thank you, I’m pleased that you still these pieces as me – the use of strong colour and abstract forms does seem natural to me when I am painting, but when I see these pieces against some of my drawings I do feel the contrast is too great … but I can’t really do it any other way, I enjoy moving between them. Butterfly brain! I have started a new piece, with paler colours and it may be a little more representational, I won’t know till it is done!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah ha – well I did receive the “like” email this morning. Yes, it is all rather strange, especially my not getting emails when you or I or any other WP person has made a new post. Thankfully I usually see that you’ve done a new blog post on FB. Right – well I will continue to watch where you take this new medium.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Meegan – I enjoyed being completely free in the workshop, and basically stopped each piece when I ran out of time! The ones I’m doing at home are different, still so much to learn. There is a lot of serendipity, it’s quite hard to plan how the piece will end up, so to a certain extent I’m just going with the flow! But so much opportunity for experimentation which I love!

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