Anyone who read the tutorial about making your own supports with watercolor paper surfaces knows that the reason I went that direction was because there isn’t much reliable information about encaustic gesso. Encaustic doesn’t require the same time-consuming advance preparation as oil painting. Consider this, people: mi brijo, Mr. Ralph Mayer in Artist’s Handbook says that oil paint can rot canvas fibers if the canvas is not properly prepared. And yet stretched canvas was practically invented for oil painting. That’s nutty, if you ask me.
Gesso is what?
Gesso is a recipe of glue and binder that is brushed onto a canvas before you paint. It binds to the support and prepares it to receive paint. If you are a painter, I recommend you go elsewhere for all the whys and whynots of canvas preparation—it’s too much information for an encaustic person. What you already know about encaustic remains the same: any dry, porous surface will take wax.
Last night, for instance, I spent twenty minutes chipping beeswax candle drippings out of a glass dish. I got all of it except the last layer, which was fused to the surface most devilishly. This glass dish was not primed in advance, nor was it porous. The wax was unfiltered and incredibly sticky. It simply stuck.
But you can’t always count on the happy coincidence of a small surface area, straight sides and gummy wax. That’s when you need a well-bonded surface.
Remember I mentioned that my first pieces were luan boards finished with Rustoleum chalkboard paint? This stuff worked beautifully as a gesso (or ground) for encaustic materials. The only drawback was a nasty tendency for the polymers to melt when I applied heat. This paint, like slate, is incredibly porous with a consistent “tooth” that takes wax beautifully. I love this paint.
I tried variants of this paint including flat house paint, and most worked okay. But they were all polymer-based. I couldn’t always be sure they were bonding with the support the way they should. Remember, the point of this exercise is to create an intermediate surface between the support and the wax, a surface that fuses to the wood and in turn allows the wax to fuse to it.
I heard that some encaustic artists used joint compound for their ground surface. This made a lot of sense because it can be applied in any density and sandpapered to whatever surface you like. Linda Womack told me she carries a gallon of it to her workshops in case one of her students arrives with an unprepared support. But there are still polymers listed in the ingredients, and in some cases asbestos fibers. On the other hand, at $4 to $8 it is one of the cheapest solutions ever.
Along about this time I heard that R&F had encaustic gesso. Salivating, clutching my credit card, I moused over to the site. This stuff is, well, the gold standard. All you want, all you need. Beautiful. And over $90 a gallon.
Not that kind of girl
Sighing, I put away my dreams of a cheap and easy solution and went back to my prepared paper/board supports. After all, I was saving my shekels for the electrician. And then, buried on a DIY board somewhere, I read about milk paint. Next time, your narrator does milk paint and is very pleased.