Thursday, November 13, 2008

Encaustic Painting Workshop

I really like to make my own stuff.  I think it's in my genes.  

Back in college I made seriously heavy-duty canvases to paint on with scrap lumber and quarter-round from my dad's basement shop (thanks, Dad!).  When I learned that I could make my own egg tempera paint by mixing diluted egg yolk and powdered pigments I was in heaven. Encaustic painting sounded like another DIY painting media that I really wanted to try, but I wasn't getting to it on my own.  Encaustic painting is basically mixing powdered pigment into melted beeswax and applying that to a rigid surface.  It is an ancient painting technique, actually.  
Back in September I finally had a chance to try encaustic painting.  I was so excited to see the class offered at Pratt Art Center.  Taking that class was an amazing experience.  And doing art full-time four days in a row was awesome!  The following are pictures of what I did.  I'm happy to finally get the pictures taken and on here.

About encaustic painting - The wax is beeswax and damar varnish crystals.  The damar raises the melting point of the wax and makes it harder.  For the most part I applied the melted wax with brushes.  The great set-up at our class for keeping the wax melted but not smoking hot was a sheet of 1/4"+ steel with long bolts at each corner placed over tw0-burner hot plates.  Different colors of wax were in different tins on the metal plate, and adjusting the height of that steel plate would fine-tune the temperature of the wax.  At home I've put my wax in tuna cans in an electric frying pan.  After painting a layer of wax on your surface you have to "fuse" the wax by heating it up with a torch or a heat gun.  I love an excuse to use a torch.  We worked on tables with drywall placed on top - great fire-resistant surface.  The other way to apply color is to use wood-burning tools, but you need a regulator to adjust the temperature down.  I am now the proud owner of a Weller soldering station so I can do just that.  Wahoo - I love tools!

Black sand beach, encaustic/pebbles, 1.5x4"

This is a little tiny piece.  Unfortunately the color on the top is washed out, but it looks like foam at the water's edge or cloudy sky.  This is a handful of pebbles from my favorite beach in the world, which is north of Kalaloch on the Washington coast (see my first blog post for a painting of the beach).

encaustic with knitted copper wire, 4x5"

I just had to try putting copper knitting into wax.  (see my fused glass/knitted wire pieces in an earlier post...)  There is a layer of white wax underneath and enough layers of un-pigmented beeswax on top to bury the wire.

encaustic, 5.5x4"

This was actually my first go at encaustic.  I was experimenting with an image transfer technique, so there is actually tissue paper under the wax - you can see air bubbles trapped under the tissue paper...

Peace (at what cost?), 4x5.5"

This is an image idea that has been stuck in my head for a while...

Salmon, encaustic, 6x12"

This is still not done.  This was my first serious attempt at painting an image in encaustic, and I have worked it and worked it.  I want to lighten up the background.  Right now it has a scraped texture that is driving me nuts. 

Jemima (RIP) , encaustic, 3.5x5"

This was my most satisfying painting.  I became totally mesmerized/entranced/in my zone when doing this piece.  That is the best feeling, and one that I've missed.  I used the woodburning tool for this piece.  You dip the hot tip into blocks of pigmented wax (it's room-temperature, not melted yet) and "paint" that small amout of wax/color onto your surface.

Bones, encaustic/collage, 5x6.75"
This is my favorite piece.  There are a couple of layers of color underneath the black.  I placed the bones on top and covered them with clear wax.  I had to switch to a heat gun to fuse the wax on the bones rather than use a torch because the bones started to burn from the torch flame.  The piece of copper is tacked on top.
 I collect bones on our camping trips down in the Canyonlands/Colorado Plateau area, and I love these tiny rodent bones that I found at the base of a rock wall that was a nesting area for something.  Luckily Ben came upon my stash in an Altoids tin in the glove box of the truck right before my class.  

A New Pancreas for Nick, encaustic/collage, 8.5x11"

Since Nick was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes almost 2 years ago, I have wanted to do some sort of art involving a pancreas.  Especially since the pancreas went from something we had no reason to think about at all to something that dominated our lives.  Here's my first pancreatic art.  I  think it was strangely theraputic for me to become so familiar with what a pancreas looks like.  The painted pancreas in this piece has a 3-D texture that was fun to build up.  There is a copper "bad" pancreas at the bottom left and a shiny new copper leaf one on the bottom right.  

Type-1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease that causes the body to kill the beta-cells of the islets of Langerhans in its pancreas.  These beta cells normally produce insulin, and insulin allows sugars to enter cells and be used as energy.  Type 1 diabetics are "insulin dependant", meaning they have to give themselves insulin shots or be on an insulin pump.  

New Teacher, encaustic/collage, 8.5"x7
This was an experiment using a photo transfer technique.  I made a xerox copy of an old picture that is my grandpa's first class after he became a teacher.  I transfered that image onto tissue paper using acetone.  I fused that tissue paper onto a board with wax under and over it, rubbed india ink on the surface and put some copper foil on the top.
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