I can’t believe it—I found the holy grail of twentieth century encaustic books: Encaustic Materials and Methods by Frances Pratt and Becca Fizell. Ever since I first read about it in Joanne Mattera’s book The Art of Encaustic Painting, the words “out of print” have haunted me. I mean, how hard can it be to find this book?
As it turns out, harder than I thought. Encaustic Materials and Methods was published in 1949 by Lear Publishers. It was never re-issued. There are only 131 copies in libraries around the country. The Theory learned there weren’t any in Oregon. Abe Books didn’t have it, or eBay. And Amazon Used Books didn’t usually have it. Until one day….
And there is was. When I saw the listing on Amazon, I bought it immediately without blinking an eye at the cost. What’s money, asks the broke person. This little book is chock full of actual wax medium and paint recipes created long before the commercial encaustic paint market was even a twinkle. It’s a DIY dream come true. I’ll post recipes later but for now here’s my quickie synopsis:
Pratt, Frances and Becca Fizell. Encaustic Materials and Methods. New York: Lear Publishers, Inc. 1949. This rare, out of print book was written when American art was first ascending the world stage, and artists were seeking out new ideas and non-traditional materials. Though neither new nor non-traditional, wax emulsion and encaustic were enjoying a kind of renaissance made possible by electric heating sources. Encaustic Materials and Methods presents a functional history of encaustic, focusing on composition and methodology. It is at its best in the chapters focusing on contemporary (to the authors) artists. Each artist describes their supports, their recipes and how they adapted the medium to their ideas and styles. Artists featured include Karl Zerbe, Victor Brauner and Fred Conway, among others, at least a third of which are women. Some are traditional, actually working out Pliny the Elder’s seawater and potassium carbonate formula. Others add everything they can to the wax to create compounds that behave much more like oil paint.
Update: Frances Pratt Art web site launched December 17, 2012… researched, assembled and coded by The Theory. Read about the life of Ms. Pratt, and check back as The Theory squeezes more data from the stones and bones of history.
My favorite story from Encaustic Materials and Methods is about Victor Brauner, a Romanian surrealist who spent World War II isolated in the mountains, thinning his paints with gasoline. Here’s an image of his work: