Posts Tagged ‘Esther Geller’

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’m still loving this book—Encaustic Materials and Methods by Frances Pratt and Becca Fizell. It was written at a time when encaustic art included a range of materials and techniques, and many of the formulas were developed by the artists themselves.

As I worked with encaustic pieces that contained both hot and cold wax, I began to want a glaze that could create a uniform surface. I also needed a little more bloom control. The weather has been very winter-y here at the Hive and it’s not the flowers around here that are blooming.

I turned to my Frances Pratt to see what her long ago artists had to say about encaustic glazes, and found several glaze recipes, two for hot wax and one for cold wax. I tested each for a variety of results: 1) Application method, 2) Drying time, 3) Transparency, 4) Interaction with underlayers, 5) Finished look, 6) Bloom prevention.

This week I’ll talk about each of these recipes.

Half and Half Beeswax / Damar Resin

I saw a paint recipe by Boston Expressionist Esther Geller (1922-) in Encaustic Materials and Methods. Click this link to see images of Esther’s work posted on Pyrocantha’s Flickr Photostream. Esther often worked on Masonite in very large formats, which is about the coolest thing for an encaustic artist to do.

Esther Geller. Phragmoi Gates (1975). Encaustic on Masonite. Six joined panels each 6' high x 2' wide.

Esther Geller. Phragmoi Gates (1975). Encaustic on Masonite. Six joined panels each 6′ high x 2′ wide.

Here’s another image of Esther’s beautiful work:

Esther Geller. Dancing Goddess. Encaustic on Masonite.

Esther Geller. Dancing Goddess. Encaustic on Masonite. Image from an exhibition at TCAN, Natick Performing Arts Center, Natick MA.

Esther uses cakes of 50% beeswax and 50% damar resin, to which she adds stand oil and turpentine to make a buttery encaustic paint. Esther’s perfect paint is the subject of another post, where I also curse mineral spirits. Ptooey!

When I made a batch of half and half medium and poured it into muffin tins, I noticed that the medium didn’t shrink while cooling and it was difficult to release from the pans. It also had a nice, hard gloss. I melted a cake on my palette and used it to glaze a piece where I’d worked some oil paint into the surface. Here are my results on the six-point scale:

1) Application method: Hot wax, brushed on.

2) Drying time: Instant.

3) Transparency: Cloudy, more than regular white wax medium.

4) Interaction with underlayers: None. I fused lightly to get a good bond.

5) Appearance: Thick, semi-gloss.

6) Bloom prevention: Very good

The recipe for Half and Half is easy:

Step one:
Melt 5 parts white beeswax over medium high heat until fully melted.

Step two:
Add five parts damar resin crystal to melted wax, dropping the pieces into the hot mixture carefully to avoid splatter.

Step three:
Continue to stir the mixture as the resin melts into thick ribbons. Watch your temperature to keep from going over 200 degrees F. The resin should be fully incorporated around 185 degrees.

Step four:
Line a strainer with four layers of cheesecloth and carefully pour the hot wax mixture through the strainer into ½ cup muffin tins. When fully cooled, turn the muffin pan upside down and strike the edge of the pan against a hard surface until the wax cakes pop out. If they resist, try holding the pan in both hands and gently flexing the metal. Strike again.

Melt a half and half cake over your palette. Brush the hot liquid onto your painting, trying to minimize lumps and bumps. Fuse lightly with your heat gun. This creates a hard, sticky surface, and scraping will be difficult. Use an iron to even out imperfections and scrape while the wax is warm. I’ve heard that high-resin content will make wax more brittle. While I haven’t noticed this, please experiment when using it on larger pieces.

Untitled (2013). Encaustic on board, 6 1/2" x 7 1/2". You can see how cloudy the glaze layer is when compared to areas where I scraped back to the dark blue underlayers.

Kassandra Kelly. Untitled (2013). Encaustic on board, 6 1/2″ x 7 1/2″. You can see how cloudy the glaze layer is when compared to areas where I scraped back to the dark blue underlayers.

Next time: A glossy and transparent hot wax glaze. Ooh la la.

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