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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