Archive for the ‘The Hive Encaustic’ Category

Surprised to hear from me again so soon? I was on hold with the employment office and thought, why not write a blog post? Funny what goes through your mind after listening to repeated pre-recorded messages and disturbing muzack for an hour. That’s right, an hour.

In my last post I sent links to the print-on-demand books The Theory and I created for Oregon sculptor Lee Kelly. Two of those books (One through Nine and The Observatory at Jaipur) documented exhibitions Lee had at his gallery in Portland.

The books contained:

  • Photographs of each piece in the exhibition, captioned with names and dimensions
  • Photographs of earlier pieces that are related in some way to the new work
  • Critical discussions of the new work
  • Brief introductions explaining why we thought a book was a good idea
  • Biographical information about the artist

I’m going to discuss each point in turn but right now let’s talk about why a book can be an important tool for an artist and another way to direct the messaging about your work.

Exhibition catalog
I’m not speaking for every commercial gallery, but here most galleries don’t produce exhibition catalogs for their artists. Public museums and collections often do, as a matter of course. But most of us wait years to be included in a major collection or even (gasp) get a career retrospective exhibition. So what happens while we wait? We mount important shows in commercial spaces, the work sells or it doesn’t, and a month later it’s as if the show never happened.

You probably document your new work and exhibitions on your web site. A web site is the most important tool you possess because it contains everything and is easy to update. But speaking as a user, I know how quickly most people click through web sites. And getting people to read anything longer than a caption online? Whew!

Old tech like a printed book can place images in context with writing and give depth and insight into the artistic process. Or allow a critical thinker the ability to write about your work at length. And because the book is available online (through whichever online publisher you choose) you can buy copies of the book at cost to give away or provide a link so that people can buy it themselves. It’s always there.

Preserving a body of work or important period in an artist’s life
I was talking to my father about the book we wrote called One Through Nine which discussed an exhibition of paintings he did in 2013. It was his first exhibition of paintings on canvas since sometime in the 1960’s. He said, “I didn’t realize until I saw the book that the paintings all related to one another. Without the book, the paintings and the ideas would be gone.”

All that said, this is not a get rich quick scheme unless you are a genius self-promoter.

A book is another way to take control of the messaging and presentation of your work.

Next time I’ll try to channel The Theory about why having a smart guy or gal write about your work is a good idea.

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Jaipur cover_bogHello, everyone, I’m not dead. I’ve been… well, that’s a long story for another post. Right now I want to tell you that The Theory and I have put together three new books about Oregon sculptor Lee Kelly. Who is, coincidentally, my father.

Observatory at Jaipur
Catalog accompanying Lee’s show in October 2015 at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Full color, 86 pages. Get it here: Observatory at Jaipur

One through Nine_cover_blogLee Kelly: One through Nine
In 2013, Lee Kelly created a significant body of new work, a series of paintings entitled “One through Nine.” These nine paintings are oil on canvas, a medium the artist had largely abandoned in 1963. However, these new paintings do not represent a return to Kelly’s Abstract Expressionist past but emerged from his sculptural work of the last ten to 15 years. Full color, 68 pages. Get it here: Lee Kelly: One through Nine

A bog cover_blogBook of Gardens
A Book of Gardens was first published by Lee Kelly and Bonnie Bronson in 1987 as a study of garden designs from India, ancient Egypt and Japan. Hand-printed and illustrated by Lee Kelly, designed and spiral bound by Bonnie Bronson, this small book had a single release of fewer than fifty copies. This 2015 edition includes a facsimile reproduction of the original book and photographs from Lee’s sculptures as installed at his home in Oregon City. Get it here: A Book of Gardens

For the next week or so, I’ll send free pdfs to anyone interested in taking a look at the books. Leave me comment below and I’ll get back to you.

What’s next?
With these books in mind, I’m considering doing some posts about the process of putting together print-on-demand books for artists. In a world where exhibition catalogs can be expensive to produce, print-on-demand might be something for artists to consider. So more on that later. And hopefully another year doesn’t pass before I do these posts!

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Hello! Yes, friends, I’m back from the Reno Recovery Unit at Bellevue Oregon. This is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. When last we spoke, I had petrified albino rats on my mind and not much hope that the renovation of our kitchen would never be finished. I wasn’t far wrong on that last one. Still need to do some touch up wall work and some painting.

We moved back into the kitchen in late September, after the rains started—September was one of the wettest months of the year. There’s nothing like grilling in the rain, or washing dishes on your knees in the bathtub. Whoa, flashback! The doctors at RRU said there’d be days like this. [BTW, there isn’t any such place as a recovery unit for crazy DIY-ers, it’s just wishful thinking on my part. If it did exist, The Theory and I would still be there, eating soft-boiled eggs and watching daytime television.]

I offer some before-and-afters as proof that it wasn’t all a dream:

Under that pretty blue tile was a gooey, fungus- and bacteria-rich plywood of the 1979 variety. We salvaged as many of the tiles as possible. My mom made them.

Sink wall before. Under that pretty blue tile was a gooey, fungus- and bacteria-rich plywood sheet of the 1979 variety. We salvaged as many of the tiles as possible. My mom made them.

Here's the same wall after demo. The shovel is pointing to the place where The Theory found the petrified albino rats.

Here’s the same wall after demo. The shovel is pointing to the place where The Theory found the petrified albino rats.

Ta-da! Took this photo just this morning and you'll note the lived-in look.

Ta-da! Took this photo just this morning and you’ll note the lived-in look.

Before. Trapped between two doorways, the appliances were constant traffic stoppers. We saved the blue splash behind the stove. It's acrylic paint over stainless steel, made by my dad. Free to a good home, if you have a truck.

Stove wall before. Trapped between two doorways, the appliances were constant traffic stoppers. We saved the blue splash behind the stove. It’s acrylic paint over stainless steel, made by my dad. Free to a good home, if you have a truck.

Stripped down to the wallpaper of previous owners.

Stripped down to the wallpaper of previous owners.

After. This simplified footprint makes it darn near impossible to incinerate children and pets as they walk by. Some might say that's NOT an improvement.

After. This simplified footprint makes it darn near impossible to incinerate children and pets as they walk by. Some might say that’s NOT an improvement.

Where’s the art?

To be honest, it’s taken me three hours to write this post. That’s how un-creative DIY has left me. For instance, I spent my xmas vacation curled under the duvet watching Wallander and developing a weird crush on Kenneth Branaugh. I think it was because he cried during season two, which is something The Theory did often during the reno. <sigh> Now that I’ve seen all the Wallenders I’ll have to think of something else to do. Art, anyone?

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Last time I talked about making milk paint gesso from fresh or reconstituted milk. Works great. I even did a batch where I added baby powder as filler, and I have to say I’m impressed. Though there’s a lingering clean bottom scent on the dry boards, which is kind of odd.

But there’s another way to make milk paint. It’s an old and revered type of homemade paint that utilizes a substance in milk called casein. You can buy dry casein or make your own, and though I haven’t used the dry stuff, I understand it functions a little like egg in tempera paint—the pigment is suspended in the fat globules, giving the paint a deep, jewel-like clarity.

When I went looking for milk paint recipes, the first one I saw was on the Martha Stewart site and I admit, this was not a turn-on. Back to old 1870 for me. But when I finally decided to contrast the two types of milk paint, fresh vs. curdled, I went back to Martha and saw a very interesting tip in the comments about adding borax to smooth out the curds.

The recipe I ended up using was from Earth Pigments which is a wonderful site and sells all kinds of natural pigments and basic supplies. The version of the recipe I give here is for a smaller amount, though I recommend you go to Earth Pigments and spend some time with their recipes.

1/2 gallon milk
1 cup white vinegar

Have the milk at room temperature before you add the vinegar. Once you add the vinegar don’t stir it anymore because the curds are already forming. Let the mixture sit in a warm place overnight. The next day, line a colander with cheesecloth (that’s what it’s for) and place it in your sink or over a large bowl. Pour the milk and vinegar mixture through the colander, thus separating the curds from the whey. I don’t know what to do with whey but it might be good for something. I just let mine go.

Next run some water very gently over the curds to wash away the vinegar. Put the dripping wet curds in a large bowl or gesso container. In a separate container, add:

½ cup hydrated lime
¾ cup water

Add water to the lime until saturated. You should be able to make a creamy paste, though I use garden lime which has to be sifted to remove larger chunks of rock and didn’t get anywhere near creamy. This milk paint recipe seems to require a very fine grade of lime, which you might want to buy specially. The 1870 milk paint recipe isn’t nearly as finicky.

Add the lime/water combination to the curds and stir. The curds should start to break down and become smooth. If this doesn’t happen, do what Martha Stewart’s commenter suggests and add:

½ teaspoon of borax

When the curds are smooth and the paint resembles pancake batter, add:

1-2 tablespoons of pigment
3-4 cups of filler such as chalk, gypsum, even baby powder.

Blend until it is smooth and luscious, and add more filler until you get the consistency you want. Use a gesso brush to paint your boards, making even left to right strokes. Allow to dry overnight, then add another coat, if desired, turning the board 90 degrees clockwise and using left to right brush strokes (this time in another direction). When the gesso is thoroughly dry, sand it until silky.

My version of casein milk paint gesso still had a few lumpy curds. Next time I will probably run it through the food processor. But when fully dry, the gesso was solid and tight and easy to sand. I have to say I still prefer the 1870 version for sheer simplicity, but this paint is nice and if I ever want to distress any furniture, I know where to go. Here’s a photo of casein gesso still wet:

Casein milk paint gesso on board. Once again--no pigment. I really need to get some more titanium white. But the golden color from the gypsum is pretty sweet, and the board dried flat white. I guess I'm just not that picky.

Casein milk paint gesso on board. Once again–no pigment. Note to Self: buy some titanium white. I checked yesterday and the board dried flat white even without pigment. Photo by Da Theory.

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Good morning. We’re going to talk about cold wax paint this week—a subject that one would think I’d already exhausted. I’ve written how cold wax paint can be used in encaustic work, it can be treated like encaustic materials, and yet it is not encaustic because it is cold wax paint. I even gave a recipe using mineral spirits as a solvent to make cold wax medium.

Minerals spirits can make a wonderful, mayonnaise-like substance when mixed with wax. Cold wax medium made with mineral spirits can be used to prepare boards and panels in a way that keeps most pin holes and bubbles from ever happening. That alone is an awesome achievement.

But mineral spirits and beeswax do not make good paint. In addition to the drying time (about two weeks), the layers of paint are chalky. Run your hand across a dry piece and your fingers come away with paint on them. It’s not stable.

Let me just say that words cannot describe what it’s like to realize your paint isn’t doing the one thing paint is supposed to do—stick to things. Talk about your dark night of the soul.

But trying to secure paint to my work is what sent me in search of glazes, so it hasn’t been all bad. In reading about glaze I came across the work of Fred Conway in Francis Pratt’s little book, Encaustic Materials and Methods. Fred used damar varnish to dissolve beeswax. In the recipe I give for Glaze Week, the proportions are ¾ damar varnish to ¼ wax. But Fred also used much more wax-heavy recipes—his 1/3 damar varnish to 2/3 wax created what he called a “thick glaze.”

I settled on ½ damar varnish to ½ beeswax. I mixed the two in a glass jar and within minutes the wax started to transform to jelly. I sealed the jar and set it aside for a week. After that time what I had was this incredibly luscious, translucent medium.

Spooned out of the jar, this is what two-week old Fred Conway cold wax medium looks like. Photo by The Theory.

Spooned out of the jar, this is what two-week old Fred Conway cold wax medium looks like. Although opaque in a large dollop like this, it paints completely clear. Photo by The Theory.

Here at The Hive, you know my mantra is if you aren’t rich, act cheap. I am no way going to pay $11 for a 4 ounce jar of varnish when I can get a 1lb bag of rough damar crystal for $10 and make my own. It’s so easy everyone should do it. Here is a great recipe for damar varnish from Wet Canvas. Pay attention to the safety tips, and just think what it will be like to have quarts of this liquid gold in your studio.

Next time, pretty colors in cold wax paint.

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I’m in a glaze myself today as we finally reach Friday here at The Hive. In my first post I talked about a glaze made from an enhanced version of the wax medium recipe that we all use. In the next post, I gave the recipe for a hot glaze made with damar varnish and linseed oil.

Today we’re turning cold. Yup, a cold wax glaze designed to be used in works where there is both hot and cold wax media, or even non-wax elements. The reason I’m focusing so relentlessly on glazes is that I am working with both types of wax, and one of the things I don’t like about cold wax is the rather flat surface. I wanted a way to level and unify the values of both. All three of these glaze types have advantages but the one we’ll talk about to today is the easiest to use and the most versatile.

Francis Pratt interviewed an artist and educator named Fred Conway (1900-1972). He taught for years at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, Washington University, in St. Louis, Missouri. Like many artists of the era, he began using encaustic during the war years. WWII, that is. Sadly, Fred is forgotten now, and pictures of his work are hard to find, and I didn’t locate any encaustic pieces at all. Here is a painting called Missouri River Landscape which you can almost see as encaustic. Even though the label says it’s an oil, who can tell? I think mis-labeling encaustics as oil paintings happens a lot, especially in older art works.

Fred Conway (1900-1972). Missouri River Landscape. Date and location unknown.

Fred Conway (1900-1972). Missouri River Landscape. Date, materials and location unknown.

Fred Conway’s Thin Glaze

¼ wax
¾ damar varnish.

Mix the wax and varnish in a glass jar. Seal the jar with a tight lid and gently shake the contents to fully incorporate the ingredients. Fred wanted you to let the glaze stand for three weeks or longer before using. But almost as soon as I added the varnish, the mixture became a thick, translucent jelly. I used it after five days, after twelve days and used my last bit after nearly twenty days. The only change I noticed was that the goo became even more translucent.

Fred says to use a brush or knife to apply to the surface of your painting. I actually globbed it on and rubbed it off with a cloth, as you would furniture varnish. The piece will be dry in an hour or two, but you should wait 24-48 hours before fusing. The strong smell of turpentine will get less, and that’s how you know the material has gassed off sufficiently for fusing. And use your heat gun. Your torch can catch it on fire. And yes, before you ask, I’ve done it. Here’s Fred’s Glaze on the six point scale:

1) Application method: Brush or wipe it on.

2) Drying time: 24 to 48 hours.

3) Transparency: Clear if applied thinly, has a slight white haze if applied too thickly.

4) Interaction with underlayers: Slight interaction with top hot wax layer.

5) Appearance: Medium body, eggshell finish.

6) Bloom prevention: Excellent.

Here’s a piece I glazed on Monday. It’s still a little sticky and you can see the cloudy areas where the glaze isn’t quite set. It’s my usual abstract hot mess but The Theory asked to keep it! He said it showed that I am making tiny steps toward composition. Now if ever a word could strike TERROR into the heart of a writer it is the word composition. I felt like I needed to apply to the nearest art school immediately. I know nothing about art, and what the heck is composition, anyway? Judge for yourselves:

Tasker (2013). Encaustic on board, 5 1/2" x 6". The brighter yellow parts are cold wax, the darker yellow parts are yellow unfiltered wax. All the rest is hot wax paint. Some of the cloudy areas are actually gray paint, not glaze. You get what I mean about a hot--and cold--mess.

Tasker (2013). Encaustic on board, 5 1/2″ x 6″. The brighter yellow parts are cold wax, the darker yellow parts are yellow unfiltered wax. All the rest is hot wax paint. Some of the cloudy areas are actually gray paint, not glaze. You get what I mean about a hot–and cold–mess.

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David Aronson 91923-). Bell-Boy. Encaustic, 28.5" x 18.5".

David Aronson (1923-). Bell-Boy. Encaustic, 28.5″ x 18.5″.

Last time I talked about a very simple adaptation to the encaustic medium recipe we all use. Instead of the standard 8 parts beeswax to 2 parts damar resin, I suggested using a 5 parts beeswax to 5 parts resin formula. This Half and Half recipe can be used as a thick finishing glaze. Read more about this recipe here.

Turning back to Francis Pratt and the artists she interviewed for Encaustic Materials and Methods, I learned about another Boston Expressionist and student of the great Karl Zerbe, David Aronson (1923-). The piece on the right makes me wish (yet again) that encaustic work photographed better. Photos don’t catch the impasto, tool marks and surface treatment that gives this medium such depth.

Aronson used the following recipe as a glaze for his encaustic paintings. I can’t speak for what he was trying to achieve with a final surface treatment but I know that when I use this glaze it has a clarifying and leveling effect on the underlayers, especially if I’ve used layers of both hot and cold wax.

David Aronson’s Hot Glaze

1 part damar varnish

1 part linseed oil

8 parts beeswax

Place all ingredients in a melting container and heat on your palette. Use it at slightly higher temperature than your regular wax paint–it should be very thin and liquid. While you can brush it on, it’s better to apply the way Aronson recommends, with a hot putty or palette knife. Applied too thickly, it will dry a cloudy white. If applied as thinly as possible, the glaze glistens and shines. Here are my results on the six-point scale:

1) Application method: Hot wax, applied with a knife.

2) Drying time: Up to two weeks.

3) Transparency: Clear if applied thinly.

4) Interaction with underlayers: None.

5) Appearance: Thin, gloss.

6) Bloom prevention: Very good

And yes, you read 2) correctly, the drying time IS two weeks. This is totally foreign to encaustic artists, the idea that you have to wait for paint to dry. The linseed oil, which imparts some of the lovely gloss, takes time to cure. You will start to see the shine after two or three days, but it will remain tacky for quite a while. If you have any spots where the glaze pooled thickly, it may take even longer. The advantage of this glaze is that it really does unify the somewhat chalky appearance of cold wax with the smooth surface of hot wax. It gives you a kind of window into the layers of paint.

Here’s one of mine where I tried the glaze. The black areas are hot wax and the blue areas are cold wax:

Untitled [large blue-green] (detail) (low-res)

Untitled (blue and black). The white patches on the upper right are pooled glaze. Everywhere else, the glaze was applied correctly and the blue and black layers are equalized. Before I applied the glaze, the blue areas looked dry and chalky.

The image above was a scan, not a photo. I think I get better close-ups with scans but The Theory says photos are better.  Next time, we will discuss a cold wax glaze recipe.

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