Adventure with Encaustic, Part Three: Mixed Media Techniques

Encaustic has an ancient history, but here in present, new traditions of modern encaustic continue to evolve. Mixed-media artists in particular go wild with encaustic because it is so versatile. In part three of “Adventure with Encaustic” I want to mention a few of my favorite combinations.

It is possible to make or purchase transfer paper and use it to transfer intricate designs or even photographic images to the surface of your encaustic painting. It can be quite difficult to render an image with delicate linework in encaustic, so using the transfers has its appeal. I tried this once. Sadly, the first time I fused with my heat gun, the design “blew away.” I’m sure with more practice, or perhaps a different fusing tool (a tacking iron perhaps?), I would be more successful. However, my next experiment with collage caused me to lose interest in transfers. I found that paper added to the encaustic surface absorbed the wax and became almost completely translucent, providing an easy way to create detail without altering the surface texture very much. Use thin transparent paper for best results, but avoid vellum and its kin, which lack absorbency. Rice paper for sumi painting works well.

I had read online about pan pastels being used in conjunction with encaustic, and since I had a few lying around, had to give it a try. Pan pastels are pastels which come in round eye-shadow-like pans which are applied with sponges which resemble make-up sponges. I found that they work remarkably well with encaustic, as you can blend smoothly over the encaustic surface. If for instance you wanted a blue sky, the easiest way do do so is to smooth blue pan pastel over the wax. I saw a couple artists online (one was Sharon DiGiulio) who used dark shades of pan pastel to darken the edges of the encaustic painting and create something of an aged effect. Regular stick pastels don’t work the same way.

Oil pastels and wax pastels also lend themselves naturally to encaustic, as do oil bars or pigment sticks. Although I mentioned earlier that one should not use crayons for encaustic, this is not entirely true. One should not use children’s crayons for encaustic painting. Artist quality crayons are sometimes referred to as “wax pastels.” Since many of them are water-soluble, you might find them listed as “watercolor” or “water soluble” crayons or wax pastels. Wax pastels are similar to oil pastels, but are somewhat harder, while oil bars or pigment sticks are oil paint in stick form. Be aware that oil pastels, unlike oil paint, never dry; therefore you mustn’t use them on the top surface of an encaustic piece. Always make sure that they are encapsulated within a layer of wax.

My hands-down favorite adjunct to encaustic painting are the metallic and iridescent Pearl Ex Pigments, which come in little jars of powder. They mix easily with molten paints, although they tend to settle to the bottom, so stir frequently if you want your homemade pans of paint to be consistent in color throughout. I have also used my fingers to apply the powder to the surface of the painting prior to fusing. Pearl Ex Pigments come in many colors; however, since I mix my own encaustic paints, I often find I can create a metallic version of a color by simply adding pearl white.

Here I conclude my short series on encaustic painting. Encaustic painting is proving to be an exciting adventure for many artists. I did a lot of research before I embarked upon encaustic painting, so I hope some of these tips or suggestions prove useful. If you decide to take up encaustic painting, please be sure to do your own research, particularly with regard to safety. Have fun, and maybe I’ll see your work online someday!

Yew Tree in Churchyard

Yew Tree in Churchyard

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Adventure with Encaustic, Part Two: Materials

Now that you have an idea what tools you need, it’s time to examine materials.

Although I saw a handful of people using stretched canvas for their paintings, because encaustic paintings are brittle, it is important to use a rigid support. Nowadays there is a support made specifically for encaustic called EncausticBord, and naturally I bought some to get started. Itty bitty ones because I couldn’t afford anything bigger. EncausticBord is wonderful, but pricey, so I went hunting for something that would fit in my budget more easily.

It didn’t take long to find some products that worked well. My favorite are the Joe’s Prime Cradled Painting Panels and Joe’s Prime Extra Fine Art Boards (http://www.cheapjoes.com/papers-and-boards/wood-and-hardboard-panels/browse-by/brand/cheap-joe–qt-s.html)at Cheap Joe’s. Even less expensive are these thinner MDF panels (http://store.academyart.edu/paper-board-films/art-board/mdf-panels.html ). Like the Art Boards above, there are dovetail slots for hanging conveniently.

I don’t know about you, but I need my encaustic paintings to start white. That’s one big advantage of using EncausticBord—it’s already primed with encaustic gesso. The translucent wax over white creates bright vibrant colors that catch the light. The first thing I tried was use white encaustic paint to create the background. There were three problems: (1) I used a lot of expensive white encaustic paint. (2) The coverage was patchy, which became worse after fusing. (3) When I added subsequent layers, they wanted to mix with the white, ruining the color. This can be avoided by adding a separation layer of encaustic medium; however, now even more material is being consumed wastefully. I was reluctant to shell out for the previously mentioned encaustic gesso, so I investigated alternatives. On Youtube I found a video which showed how to mount paper to board for use in encaustic (I believe it was Jon Peters). He recommends using light colored wood and heavy paper because after the paper absorbs wax, it can become somewhat translucent and allow the color of the wood to show. Well, I simply wasn’t happy with the results here. I want my white to be a pure snow white, not off-white. In addition, it looked a bit patchy as the paper didn’t absorb the wax uniformly (My fault?). So for me, there was only one way to go: encaustic gesso. I’ve been content ever since I started using it. Make sure that you don’t try to get away with regular gesso. Regular gesso isn’t absorbent.

Naturally, in order to work in encaustic, you will need encaustic medium and paint. There are reasons why you can’t just use plain wax or crayons. Well, you could, but the art you created probably wouldn’t hold up too long. There are two big companies known for making excellent quality encaustic paint, so I picked one and ordered a relatively inexpensive beginners set. However, it just so happened that all my other materials arrived before the paints did, and I couldn’t wait to start. I had read online about how you can make your own paints with encaustic medium and oil paint. Since I had a set of oil paints and a small amount of encaustic medium from the local art store, I gave it a try, and was extremely delighted with the results. The paint I mixed was very translucent since there was relatively little pigment, but translucency is one of the effects I like best in encaustic. If you want opaque paints, you will probably get better results with the commercial brands, as they are very pigment dense. You have to be careful when making your own paint. Never use an oil paint that contains toxic pigments. Some pigments should not be heated, or they can become toxic.(Was it Prussian blue?) Zinc white is said to curdle, so don’t use that one. As usual, do your research first! It is also recommended that you put the oil paint on a paper towel overnight so that some of the oil will be absorbed. Naturally, you could also use pigment powder to make paints, but I didn’t have any of those lying around.

Check back soon for part three, in which I’ll describe fun multi-media techniques for encaustic.

Wave

Wave

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