Posts Tagged ‘encaustic artists’

Cover of Encaustic Materials and Methods: A facsimile edition.

Encaustic Materials and Methods is finally here! Long-time followers of this blog may remember that I’ve been talking about bringing the 1949 text of Francis Pratt and Becca Fizell’s influential but nearly impossible to find book back to life. And after three long years, the book went live on Amazon a couple of weeks ago. Here’s a link to Encaustic Materials and Methods on Amazon.

This is a facsimile edition, which means that each page of the original book was carefully scanned so that the new version maintains the look and feel of the original. Some images were reproduced, though not all. Special thanks to the late Esther Geller for allowing us to include a new photo of her encaustic masterpiece, Oriental Musician (late 1940s). Additionally, we thank the Menil Collection for the rights to reproduce Fleur de Sang (1943) by Victor Brauner, Bryn Mawr College for the rights to reproduce Young Christ Disputing with the Doctors (1945) by David Aronson, the Whitney Museum of American Art for Karl Zerbe’s Harlequin (1944), and of course the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the use of Portrait of a young woman with a gilded wreath (A.D. 120-140).

This book would not have been the labor of love that it is without the assistance of Hannah M. G. Shapero, daughter of Esther Geller, and Ben Aronson, son of David Aronson. They provided insight into the artistic practices of their parents, and it will surprise no one to learn that both are wonderful artists themselves.  Visit Hannah M. G. Shapero’s web site here and Ben Aronson’s web site here. Sadly, both Esther Geller and David Aronson passed away this year.

And finally, a special shout-out goes to Virginia Howard, great-niece of Francis Pratt, who generously shared information about her aunt, including the loan of important archival documents. She also wrote the brief bio of Francis that appears in the book. Thanks, Virginia!

Caution: Yes, Victor Brauner supposedly used gasoline in his encaustic process. But Victor was a Jewish communist hiding out in the mountains during WWII. He had nothing, he could go nowhere and yet he still made art. I love Fleur de Sang for exactly those reasons. Here’s a link to an earlier fan-girl post I did about Victor.

Artists familiar with art materials (flake white, anyone?) knows that most of these things will kill you, one way or another. So please, exercise caution even when using your commercial encaustic products.

And maybe it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway: keep your gas in your tank.

Last word: Looking at the recipes and formulas in Encaustic Materials and Methods is to witness the birth of modern encaustic art. We wouldn’t be who we are now without the genius of these mid-20th century artists, most of whom are gone now.

Here's a cute photo of Esther Geller standing in front of Oriental Musician. Photo from the Boston Globe.

Here’s a cute photo of Esther Geller standing in front of Oriental Musician. Photo from the Boston Globe.

Free stuff
I loaded a pdf of sample pages of Encaustic Materials and Methods in the Free Box, the top box in the right-hand column of this page. Take a look.

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I finally learned something about intarsia. For those of you who don’t know, intarsia is a basic encaustic technique (and one I should have figured out ages ago). Essentially, intarsia is an inlay process, where you carve out a channel of wax and backfill with wax of a different color. Then you scrape off the excess and perfecto—there’s your inlay of wax.

Intarsia is a beautiful effect because you can achieve both a clean line and a smooth surface. The two different colored waxes also seem to absorb one another’s colors optically rather than by actually mixing.

It sounds simple. Cut a channel, backfill, remove excess. But in my hands, I might have been excavating Troy—scrape, scrape, scrape and whoa! Where’d that design go to?

My problem was that the wax I backfilled with always hardened too quickly. Even working an inch at a time, the new wax bonded to the under layer so completely that I couldn’t scrape off the excess without gouging. While I like a little random order, this unpredictability was too much. So here’s what I did. When I made the second color for the inlay, I mixed my dry pigment with some linseed oil before adding it to the wax.

I placed a teaspoon of dry pigment in a clean shallow bowl, added half a teaspoon of linseed oil and mashed it up with a cotton swab. The swab is a new tool for me. Though it may shed a few filaments, it mashes the oil into the pigment, and you can use the swab as a one-time brush to test your color or add a sample of the new color to your color chart. And simply throw it away.

Anyway, the pigment-linseed oil mixture should be a smooth paste. If you need to add more oil, don’t hesitate. The oil actually helps the pigment blend with the wax and stay in suspension a little longer so your color remains consistent.

Add the pigment to the wax and adjust the color to suit your project. Here’s the interesting part: when you add the enriched wax to your painting, it will feel softer. You may wonder if it will ever set up. It does—linseed oil is a drying oil. It develops a thick permanent film or skin as it dries. It will do this in your wax, becoming just as hard and permanent as the surrounding matrix.

But for ten minutes or so, you can scrape it off very easily. The scrapings tools I’ve been using are great too. Here are stock photos of two new tool sets:

Steel sculpting set

Steel sculpting set

Mini ribbon set

Mini-ribbon set

The first image is a steel sculpting set. They are about like surgical tools–small and precise and sharp. They were about $11 and a good investment. The next image is a mini-ribbon tool set for clay. Larger ribbon tools haven’t worked for me–too much flex in the ribbon. These tools are small and much more rigid. The only downside is that the metal ribbon gets worn out too quickly, I’m working on my third set of these tools. It wouldn’t be difficult to design a small ribbon tool with a thicker gauge of wire, but so far I haven’t found it. For now, these remain my all-time favorite hand tools.

Here are some images of new work using a lot of intarsia. They aren’t perfectly clean because I tend like imperfections, but you can see that overall, the intarsia is smooth:

Red Waves (2013). Encaustic on linen. This is a piece of wax-soaked linen. It makes a nice rigid board. The design is inspired by Turkish Kilim carpets. All the imperfections are intentional, I swear!

Red Waves (2013). Encaustic on linen. This is a piece of wax-soaked linen I made a la Victor Brauner–you can even see the fringe on the bottom edge. The design is inspired by Turkish Kilim carpets. All the imperfections are intentional, I swear!

On the Floor (2013). Here I layered clear wax over alternating strips of intarsia. Again I was inspired by traditional tapestry designs.

On the Floor (2013). Here I layered clear wax over alternating strips of intarsia. Again I was inspired by traditional tapestry designs. All the little dark speckles which look sloppy in the scan are actually wonderful in real life. This is a nice piece to touch.

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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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The Hive Encaustic is going to be quiet this week while I get my life together.

Every morning I drag myself out of bed earlier than nature intended to assemble blog posts and other bon mots of the writerly sort. Then I’m off to work to suffer in a whole ‘nother field of endeavor. This week I’m using my writing time to assemble my notes on glazes and cold wax paint. The recipes are all over my desk on index cards, it’s a mess.

Next week I’ll be back with a cold wax paint apologia (mineral spirits, ptooey!), but in the meantime I leave you in the hands of a true master of the encaustic, the quite good-looking Surrealist painter (at least until he lost his eye in a bar fight) Victor Brauner. These images come from an exhibition catalog called Surrealism: New Worlds by Mary Ann Caws (2011) for the Weinstein Gallery in San Francisco.

Victor Brauner (1949) A L'Ami. Encaustic on card, 8 1/2" x 6 1/2".

Victor Brauner (1949) A L’Ami. Encaustic on card, 8 1/2″ x 6 1/2″.

Victor Brauner (1959) Le Specialiste du vide- Petites annonces. Oil, newspaper and wax collage on paper. 15 3/4" x 19 3/4".

Victor Brauner (1959) Le Specialiste du vide- Petites annonces. Oil, newspaper and wax collage on paper. 15 3/4″ x 19 3/4″.

And finally, Victor himself.

Victor Brauner (June 15, 1903 – March 12, 1966). Taken sometime before he lost his eye. He's wearing some kind of strappy overalls here, I think.

Victor Brauner (June 15, 1903 – March 12, 1966). Taken sometime before he lost his eye. He’s wearing some kind of strappy overalls here, I think.

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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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This being the end of a long week here at Gulag Hive, I want to direct my thoughts and good wishes to Dublin where Niamh of Thislittlestudio is doing something truly egg-spirational. Just go there now and read her blog series. Don’t wait for me.

What the Big Egg Hunt is all about, from Niamh’s blog: “The Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation Charity here in Ireland is a very well-known charity, providing care and support for children with severe neurological development issues, they have run several successful campaigns over the years and do vital work for the families involved…..and they are the people behind the The Big Egg Hunt, Dublin…. The premise is to engage 100 artists to paint decorate and produce an Art egg for this great egg hunt.  The eggs will be hidden around Dublin City for 40 days and 40 nights in the run up to Easter and the public are invited to participate  in “The Big Egg Hunt” and win a prize – then the Eggs will be auctioned at a glittering Gala event and the monies raised will support this marvelous charity that does so much good work.  (for more detailed info go to http://www.jackandjill.ie or http://www.thebigegghunt.ie)”

Giant egg getting ready for wax. Note the anticipatory excitement in the egg's posture.

Giant egg in an artist’s studio. Note the anticipatory excitement in the egg’s posture.

Still here? <Big emotional sigh> I’m not having fun at my job this week. I know… lucky to be employed, even luckier to have a boss and co-workers whom I like a great deal. Luckier still that it’s a tiny commute, and almost everyone there has pests—er, pets. But there are times in everyone’s employed life that one feels as if one is trying to tunnel to safety past electrified fences and guard towers. And beyond that lie endless frozen wastelands lashed with toxic effluvia and Komodo dragons.

Here’s a little whimsy from the great age of decadence and excess, the Rococo. I too have a dog that I would like to give the boot, though not exactly in the spirit of fun. The Hive beast raided someone’s recycling bin last night and turned up at the door with a two-liter bottle of lemon soda in her slavering jaws. She scared us all witless.

Jean-Honore Fragonard. 1732-1806. Young Woman Playing with Dog.

Jean-Honore Fragonard. 1732-1806. Young Woman Playing with Dog.

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