Surf’s Up

‘Surf’s Up’ 7″x5″ Encaustic wax medium on Encausticbord

This little piece was inspired by the wonderful Norfolk coastline. I used superior grade encaustic beeswax and damar resin medium (sourced and imported from the US), as well as resin pigment inks and encaustic paints. The wave effect was produced using a thin application of imported shellac which was then heated to produce the delicate lace-like patterns as seen in the close up image below.

close up of texture effects

I am falling for this encaustic technique – so will be working on some more pieces this week, while I have the house to myself!

You can find this piece in my shop. I. don’t charge for shipping or packaging.

Encaustic on paper

I’ve been fiddling about recently with encaustic wax paint, doing a million tests on different types of paper.  From the really thick and quite expensive heavy-duty mixed media papers to plain old cartridge paper, or printer paper.  I haven’t tried Japanese papers yet – that’s on the shopping list. From my tests, the cartridge paper seems to produce the most pleasing result but these are early days and lots more experiments/technique try outs are on the cards. I have fallen for this stuff big time!

I bought a set of 16 colours, thinking that these would be reasonably sized bars but they turned out to be very tiny and not at all practical for the type of work that I want to do.  They have, however, been helpful insofar as practising techniques and I will continue to use them until I am ready to do something seriously planned out, that I would be happy to sell.   The set included lovely irridescent pearl white, shimmering pale blue, bronze and a really dark emerald green.

I am going to buy R&F encaustic wax paint next, which is pretty expensive. I will get primary colours to start off with and then add to the set. At least the R & F blocks are fairly large and the pigments look divine.    Anyhow, these are a few of my more successful experiments that I did last night.

‘Woodland’ encaustic wax on cartridge paper – A3
‘Social distancing’ Encaustic wax on mixed media paper – A3
‘Eye in the Sky’ Encaustic wax including irridescent shimmer colours on cartridge paper – A4
‘The Highlands’ Encaustic wax including irridescent shimmer colours on cartridge paper – A3

The one below is my first larger experiment (just over A3), which I did a week or so ago. The tiny blocks of primary colour waxes I used for this piece came with the encaustic mini-iron tool These highly pigmented colours are now finished!

‘Man in the Hills’ Encaustic wax on cartridge paper – A3
Close up – ‘Man in the Hills’

The title comes from my favourite Burning Spear song. (Yes, the Rasta)

Playing with Batik wax

I am finding myself drawn to cold wax paintings as well as encaustic painting techniques – I think I am more ‘in love’ with the idea of encaustic work, as it seems that the depth of colour obtained in some of the works I’ve seen lately online, is really spectacular. While I was looking into cold wax techniques, I bought a small tub of what I thought was cold wax to use as a painting medium. It is cold wax but used primarily for batik work, which I didn’t realise until I started trying it out a few months ago (with no success whatsoever) It looks like this …

Cold wax … er, not really.

I suppose this is yet another reason why buying art equipment from Amazon or eBay is sometimes not the best solution. I should have gone to … (no, not Specsavers but maybe Jacksons or SAA).

Anyway, to cut a long story short. As I left B&Q on Saturday morning (we’d gone to get some plants, as the nurseries are now open), I stopped at their ‘off-cut’ bin and grabbed a couple of pieces of wood. I thought it might be useful to use these bits of scrap wood to try out both encaustic and cold wax work, as I’ve tried tiles and paper and I think wood is the best support for both types of wax painting. I chose a piece of (I think) veneered wood, not sure ‘cos my knowledge of wood is rather non-existent. But it seemed like a good enough size to try out the cold wax medium and oils.

I started off squiggling with charcoal vine stick and then applying yellow oil to the surface, just to see if it would actually go onto the board without smearing off straight away. I didn’t prime the board. Then I thought I should edge it with some tape, so that at the end I’d have a neat finish to the ‘painting’, however it turned out. I used a glass palette (it’s an old photo frame that I’ve reinforced the edges of with tape, so I don’t cut myself).

glass palette with a big splodge of cold wax medium

Then I dolloped a sizeable amount of the wax medium onto the palette and started playing about with the colours, applying to the board and just messing about. I didn’t have a plan or composition, I was just having fun with the texture.

building up paint

For the most part, I used a plastic palette knife to apply the paint, which is both easy and hard, depending on how thick the paint is, or how smooth you want it to be.

texture of the paint

Whilst I was enjoying plastering on the paint, I was not happy with the bumpy clumpy finish. So, I got out my craft iron. Well, it’s oil paint and medium, a bit of heat should smooth it out, right?

after applying heat from a craft iron.

The iron smooshed up the paint, making it smooth in some areas and then when I lifted the iron I got a vein like texture (in the front of the image above) – similar to how encaustic paint works on paper when heated with an iron. I thought that was quite cool but decided to put the iron away, else I’d end up burning the whole thing. I waited for it all to dry and noticed that certain parts of the paint had dried to a dull matt finish. I tried polishing with a tissue but that didn’t do anything. I then decided to apply a coat of the cold wax to fill in the grooves (even out the lumpiness) and see if it would create a surface lustre.

cold wax applied

I left it overnight and then buffed it up with a soft cloth and kitchen towel, it did come up to a soft sheen.

‘Cold wax landscape’ viewed in full sunlight and back lit

The finished landscape reminds me of a day, a few years ago, when I was out in the sun roaming around with my family. We were hiking in the Southern Drakensberg. Weird how that memory rose to the surface in this little painting.

Conclusions

  • If I’m going to develop cold wax painting anymore, I need to get the right wax – Gamblin or Dorland and also a primer/gesso to use on the board before starting the painting.

Cold Wax vs Encaustic – the big debate I’m having right now with myself.

  • I know that I am more inclined towards encaustic wax work and feel that this is the medium best suited to how I work. I want the layers, not the clomping thick impasto effect that I’ve ended up with in this cold wax exercise.
  • Cold wax is easier to set up, safer to work with and I basically have all I need to get going – besides the correct wax.
  • Encaustic equipment is expensive, there is specific stuff that needs to be bought:
    • I already have a kitchen appliance that was bought to keep food warm but hardly used, which might work to keep tins of encaustic paint and medium warm. If it doesn’t then, I’ve seen an electric griddle with thermostate (very important) for about £30, which isn’t too bad.
    • I have seen tins at our local homeware shop that could be used to hold encaustic medium and they have lids.
    • I’m not keen on getting a butane torch, ‘cos I’m a klutz sometimes and worry I would end up setting fire to the house. I wonder if i can justs get away with using a craft heat gun? I would also need a small fire extinguisher.
    • Ampersand boards are the professional choice for encaustic work. R&F have a starter set that includes sample boards to try, as well as wax and paints. However, I quite like the idea of reclaiming scrap wood from B&Q and doing my bit for recycling.
    • Encaustic medium is pricey, so are the paints but it looks like they are used sparingly and the layers built up slowly, which is what I’m going for. Also, things can be embedded in the layers – like leaves, fabric, papers etc. etc.
    • I have plenty of hair brushes, so wouldn’t have to go out and buy more to start off with.

Maybe before I invest in the encaustic studio equipment, I should first get the correct cold wax and have a few more practises with that – perhaps with more knowledge and the correct equipment, I can get a smooth, layered, translucent effect on a board with cold wax?

Encaustic experiments

I recently obtained a small sample kit which included the encaustic stylus /mini-iron tool and two other brush heads, plus three very tiny blocks of encaustic wax colours (red, blue and yellow – no white, which would have been helpful). The kit included a postcard sized sample of ‘encaustic’ card, which is basically the same as photo card. I first tried the waxes out on the postcard sized paper:

first encaustic on card – postcard size

I had an old watercolour painting I’d started a while ago on some very thick, textured watercolour paper and decided to try and see if I could work on top of it with the encaustic waxes. I also have some oil crayons, so thought I’d try and use them as well to put in some additional colour contrasts and the much needed white.

Mixed encaustic and oil crayons on watercolour paper – about A4

I notice when ‘polishing’ at the end of the process, that there are muddy areas in amongst the red where I have used the oil crayons and some other oil pastels – these do not buff up properly and their colours are nowhere near as bright as the proper encaustic wax paints.

I left the exercises for a while and then whilst I was reading up a bit on encaustic grounds, discovered that it was possible to use ceramic tiles. I have a small box of these that I bought for some other project but never used all of them, so today I decided to try them out with the encaustic wax paints. I also brought out my old craft iron and small travel hair dryer (which works like a craft heat gun). I first cleaned off the tile with isopropyl alcohol and then taped the sides with some masking tape, to give a natural border. I wasn’t sure if this would work, or whether it would pull the wax off the tile at the end but had to give it a go!

Prepared black glossy ceramic tile – 9.5cm square

Then I started to work on the tile, first using the small tool to apply dabs of wax paint and then using the iron to smooch it all around.

It ended up looking like this:

Encaustic on ceramic tile No. 1
Tile 1 – close up – texutre

I used the rest of the white oil crayons that i have left, so when I came to do the next one, I thought I’d try a white from my el-cheapo water soluble oils

unsuccessful tile – using some encaustic wax paint but mostly water-soluble oil pastels

Alas, even though it looked quite pretty after I’d done more work on it and removed the tape, the stuff just didn’t adhere to the tile and while I was trying to buff it up to a shine, the wax surface started to rub off.

I went back to trying just the encaustic wax paints for the next tile, which I tried out using just blue first but then broke down and added Caran D’Ache white water-soluble oil pastel, it worked a lot better than the el-cheapo water-soluble oil pastels.

Encaustic on ceramic tile 2 (with some Caran’D’Ache Neocolour II water-soluble oil pastels)

The third tile experiment was just using the encaustic wax paints:

Encaustic on ceramic tile 3

The wax is a lot thicker on tile 3 and I like how I created what looks like a tree. Yes, there are dots of a lilac on there, that is an oil wax crayon.

I have a packet of postcard sized glossy photo paper and used this for the last experiment.

Encaustic wax paints on glossy photo-paper – 15cm x 16cm

I got a bit better applying the wax to the paper with this attempt and then when I put the iron on it, it all went crazy! I loved how the iron smooshed it all about. I then continued to work on it with the tiny-iron on the encaustic stylus tool – I’m quite pleased with this one. The iron mashed up the yellow and red to give a lovely golden brown. also because this is white paper, I was able to lift off sections of the wax to create light in the picture. It was easy to burnish up.

Conclusions:

Don’t waste time with cheap wax crayons or using water-soluble oil pastels as they just don’t buff up nicely and most times the wax just doesn’t adhere properly to the ground. Spend some dosh and buy good quality encaustic paints/mediums. Get hold of some panels to work from to make larger pieces. get lots of white. Not necessary to buy a heat gun or encaustic iron at this stage.