Monday, 18 May 2009

Encaustics Part 3: Painting

Part 1: Tools
Part2: Making Medium

Part 3 is here, Painting with your mediums!

There are many ways to paint with Encaustics. The most tutorialed was is the method of applying the wax to and Iron and then working it onto cards. If you go on youtube and search encaustic painting, you will get flooded with those tutorials. very few of them show how to do encaustics with brushes, and even less show the way you can do realism... that's another story. I've decided that that has to change. One day I'll tackle youtube, but for now, I'll show you here :p My focus lately has been on abstract. Maybe someday i'll gather more skills and tools and start doing real portraits, but ya, I enjoy doing abstract as a way of having more freedom from things like anatomy and structure since thats always my focus in animation and illustrations thatI do...
But I digress, lets move on.

First you have to gather your tools. In my picture I have my collapsable Winsor & Newton Easel, complete with wax drips all over it, my pucks of Medium, a metal bowl, brushes, paints, a surface (cradled panel), scraping tools, my hot palette and frying pan.

First thing to do is set up your hot Palette. However you do it. I set mine over 2 burners on my stove until I can get a real hot plate. My frying pan is my double boiler.

So once your medium is melted, you can start. I used 2 pucks on this painting. I melted , and just remoulded my left overs. you can always add more to the melting pot if you are running out. Spoon some of your melted medium into your mixing cup. I used a silicone muffin wrapper, not a great idea. Metal cups work better LOL. the flimsy sides are a little annoying. you can now colour your wax by either adding little blobs of paint in, or mixing in powdered pigments. In this case, I'm remelting a Puck I had already from my last painting. note, Powdered pigments, although they present that inhalation hazard, mix in much easier than oil paint.

You can start painting once your pigments mixed in, if you're brush is already hard with wax, just set it in your cup until it melts down and softens again. you will see, as you do each stroke, it hardness almost instantly. Each stoke will be exactly as you lay it down. I usually paint with the easel set upright, but for this tutorial I painted flat to make it easier to see. the light in my kitchen is wretched.

Start painting! You can either do strokes as I've shown, you can dab it, you can spread it on with a knife, scrape, carve and manipulate the paint in anyway you want. In between layers, you need to fuse the layers with heat. that's where the Iron comes in. you can use the iron as much, or as little as you want. you really just have to heat enough to fuse the layers, you don't actually have to change the appearance. I used the heat to really blend my wax around and flatten out all the brush strokes. You can also use a heat gun to fuse. I found that i lacked patience for the heat gun as you need to use a very steady back and forth motion. I just blasted smoldering holes in my wax HA!

So keep going, adding more layers, fusing in between, add some layers of light over dark, or dark over light, it will all work. You can see me building up layers of red and yellow (and even some plain unpigmented medium) in the next sequence of pictures.

Inbetween each layer I took the iron, and fused and manipulated the wax. pulling the iron in different directions will pull the wax in different ways as well. Its important not to put too much pressure on the wax though, or you'll melt right back through to your panel. This iron is pretty heavy so its hard not to do that. a light iron is a benefit.
The last thing i did was drip that wonderful blue down the corner. I thought it needed something punchy on it, and I also wanted to show that you can use the properties of the wax in the way we are more familiar as well. the Drips are like my homage to the glorious wax that bees built for me :D

When you are done your painting, and its all cooled and dried, you can take a soft lint free cloth and buff your wax. Don't use the ass of a teddy bear though, it will leave balls of lint, especially if your medium has a high ratio of beeswax and is soft, it might still have sticky spots that cling to fuzz. Then you are done! take a good photo of it outdoors on a cloudy day and you will get a good photo of its true colours, then you can post it on Artician, or...I guess dA too if you wanted.

Next up, caring for, shipping and storing encaustic paintings. WOOT!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Encaustics Part 2: Making Encaustic Medium

See step 1: Tools you will need

When you start in encaustics the first thing you need is Medium. This will be your base, Vehicle, whatever you want to call it. you can start out by buying the medium instead of making it if you find this process intimidating, or if you are unsure if you want to carry on in encaustics. R&F has a great line of encaustic supplies. If you plan to do a lot of painting, the cost will add up. you will go through a lot of medium in encaustics, so its cheaper to make your own medium in bulk. R&F is pretty pricey.

Please be advised, if overheated beeswax and resin can produce toxic fumes. take care not to ever let your mixtures get over 225 degrees. Wax melts at a fairly low temperature, and resin melts at 200 usually. so keep it lower rather than higher.

if you are using the technique of painting I use, you will use a lot of this Medium. I mix my colours as I need, and then save the pucks of colour if I have any left over. I can remelt later if I need that colour again. I can add more or less medium to change the transparency if I want. If you are using the technique of painting with the actual Iron, you will need to pre make the colours in pucks. I'll mention the stage you would do that in.

Lets get started.
First thing you should do is prepare your materials.

Gather your tools: a double boiler (or a mask shift one. I used a camping pot in a frying pan with water in it.), your muffin tin or liners to mold your medium pucks (cakes), a mortar and pestle, or baggies and a hammer (to crush your resin), your beeswax, your resin crystals, your scale, your spoon/ladle, thermometer, and hotplate or stove.

Measure out your amounts of wax to resin. You need to think about the ratio you want. 8:1 ration wax to resin is good (I part resin to 8 parts wax), but this is totally personal. the more resin the harder your wax will be, the less resin, the softer. work with what works for you. I wont go into actual measurements here, because I just eyeballed mine really... :p

Resin: you need to crush your resin into a fine powder. you can do this a couple ways, in a bag with a hammer. I suggest covering it with a towel to avoid dust flying, because you'll hammer the heck outta the bag its in. you need to crush it as fine as you can. the white powdery part is ideal. the big rocks here are going to have you over a stove for 3 hours melting it... make it fine like a dust. Resin take a while to melt, do anything you can to help it along.

Wax: I used beeswax from The honeybee Centre for my medium today. I got a big 15lb bag of it, chipped from a huge block. I liked it chipped off because it was easier to deal with. I have big blocks right now that are just too laborious to spend the time breaking apart. HAHA! my wax was a rich yellow. I adore it.

You start by melting this in your double boiler. Set the heat to a medium temperature. As you can see in my picture, I wrapped my frying pan part of my double boiler in tin foil. I don't remember my reasoning. but it sure made it look rugged. The pot the wax is in, is a camping pot. The handle gets hot. Take care not to burn yourself obviously.

You can see from this next picture, the wax is a warm rich yellow. I love this part of the beeswax, but if you want to have a white base then you can use filtered wax that has had the coloured pollen removed. Different places that make beeswax will have different colours from bright golden yellow, to dark almost brown. This has to do with the pollen in the wax. Different regions have different plants that the pollen comes in. It's awesome!
Anyways, Melt your wax until its completely liquid.

Once the wax is completely melted, you can add in your resin. I'm impatient and didn't crush my resin well enough so mines all lumpy and took ages to melt, so don't skimp on the crushing. here is the resin in the wax. It will be sticky. remember, its tree resin AKA, SAP... It will become sappy and sticky. just stir stir stir and give it time to melt. Keep the temperature around 200 degrees, but never over 250 degrees. Don't rush, you'll just burn it.

Soon it will be all melted. See, it looks like melted wax, but the resin is adding the properties you need. more brittleness, and polish ability, and less oxidization.

If you need to add more water to your double boiler, heat it up first so you don't drop your temperature. It will make it take longer.

Once you have your medium all melted together, ladle it into your moulds or pour it in. I used these handy little silicone muffin 'papers' for mine. they keep their shape. but don't over fill. 2/3rd is best. these ones were bunched together so they were all funny shaped LOL!
As the cakes or Pucks cool, they will turn lighter and opaque.
make sure you peel them out of the cups only if they are fully set. you don't want to get burned by shoving your finger in a half molten cake. If you are wanting to make pre pigmented blocks, you would add the colour in the mold when its still molten. stir it up to mix in the colour and let it set.

Once its hardened I like to heat a knife, and carve an M into the top of it. This way I know it's a cake of Medium. If I have to break down my wax into pucks later, or I make a colour that's similar I don't want to mix them up.

Sometimes the resin will have some bits of tree in it. you will see this in the melting process, but don't let it concern you at all. once you pour the pucks into the moulds and it set,s the impurities will settle the the bottom. you can either carve the layer off, or your can melt it and wipe it off. either way, its easy to remove.

This is my pile of Pucks. They're a nice yellow colour, and they're solid and ready to use in painting. I compared it to the R&F encaustic medium I had, and its very similar, so I guess I did a good job in that :) mines just a bit yellower, which I like more.

The 3 pucks in the middle are some leftover R&F encaustic medium I had. the coloured pucks are my pigmented medium from a previous painting I had worked on. I just save my left over colours by letting them set in the mold and popping them out. I store them in the art bin.

And that is all there is to making your encaustic medium! Its fun to do.
Be careful of possible burns, and work in a well ventilated area, and all will be well.

Next blog will be Using your medium, and creating an encaustic painting :D stay tuned

Encaustics Part 1: Tools you will need

My good friend Limnides has expressed an interest in encaustics that I've been raving about, so this has prompted me to get my ass in gear to make my blog posts about encaustics! Yay! I'm going to do separate blogs for each section and make it as thorough as possible.

For this series of blogs, I'm going to not only put in my own experiences, but I'm also going to be pulling in resources from some research I've done, just to make it as well rounded as possible. I'm also going to go in depth into each of the tools you need as well. A lot of the time i get lists of tools, but not why they're used so you can't properly improvise if you cant find them.

Here we go, If you want to Make your own medium and paint with encaustics, here is a list of the tools you will need:

A kitchen scale. Something that will measure in small increments. something like a weight watchers scale or something. Very cheap at wal-mart or something.

Mine was fancy, and suited my style. HAHA! it was $15 at value Village. The top dish comes off and I use it for all sorts of things, and its easy to adjust it :)

anyways, you need to be able to read it, and you need to be able to measure fairly accurately. I don't really need it for more than a pound of wax at a time, but depending in the quantities you want to make of medium, you might need something that goes higher.

A "hot palette" - This is going to be whatever you can come up with. A Griddle with a flat surface with adjustable temperature, or in my case, a Cookie sheet wrapped in tinfoil placed over the 2 front burners on my stove. Griddles tend to work better because of the more uniform heating of the surface.

A thermometer - to monitor the temperature of your wax. don't ever let your wax or resin get over 225°. there is no need. The resin in Medium when you make it can get around 200 to melt, but other than that, keep it as low as possible to keep molten, but Never boil. Beeswax melts at 178°, so it shouldn't be much more than that. Just keep it real people :)

Paint Cups - Little metal cups to melt wax, medium and pigments in for each colour you wish to use. Mini load pans, cupcake pans, and other sorts of metal cups do wonders. I went to the thrift store and picked up all the little camping cups and stuff I could find. These will go on top of your "hot palette". they need to be wide enough to fit in the width of whatever you are painting with. This is not necessary if you are painting by applying wax directly to Irons. This is for the method of painting I use, that requires brushes. If you are applying wax on irons, you need to pre make or buy your blocks of medium with Pigment in them. more on that later.

Tacking Iron - Or any kind of travel iron that has no holes. a steam iron wont do. having said that, I searched high and low for such a tool, and besides the Iron you can buy for encaustics specifically, I have found nothing. I've been to every thift store, looked at travel irons... Everything has freaking steam holes... So, I modified ours. I wrapped it in tin foil. In the future I may make a more permanent modification with some actual metal plate, but for now the tin foil is working. Its a bit heavy. If you do the same thing, try getting a small travel iron.

Do not leave water in the iron if it is a covered steam iron. Noisy strangeness occurs! HAHA! Love the wax dripping off the bottom of mine? HAHA! my sister didn't :) you need to use a low setting.

Brushes - I'm not crazy! Its true, i use paintbrushes. I learned this technique for encaustics from 2 amazing artists, Suzanne kay, and Maria Josenhans. The brushes need to be natural hair. I generally stay away from natural hair because there is a huge amount of cruelty in the animal hair/ paint brush industry, but I made an ethical exception and got these Escoda Hog hair brushes. They're a great investment. and you never have to wash them. the hardened wax does nothing to harm the bristles. You cant use synthetic because they will melt and stink. Get only Top quality brushes! the last thing you want is embedded little hairs in you painting... or is it?

Silicone Muffin tray or wrappers - you can also use things like metal muffin tins, or the like but if you want to make pucks of medium or pigment blocks you need to pour them into some kind of mold that you can pop them out of. Silicone is the best for plain ease.

Other items: a Ladle that is all metal to spoon your medium into the molds, a little knife to clean up the grit off your pucks, and a mortar and pestle to grind resin if you are making medium (you can also use a bag and beat it with a rolling pin), a double boiler is good (or a makeshift one. it buffers the heat on the wax so it wont burn).

You will probably find other tools to create various textures and effects as well. Just remember that once you use something for encaustics, Never use it on food again! you must dedicate your tools to this art. I suggest buying things specifically for it.

Cleaning tools is easy, just wipe them off when they're hot... I tend to let the wax harden on them.

Now you have all the tools, you'll need supplies as well. you know, to paint!


You need to use a rigid support to paint on. I used ungesso-ed cradled panels from Opus Framing. you can use some primed surfaces but I prefer the raw wood look. You need a porous surface. Acrylic gesso will not do. stick to wood panels, or canvas wrapped panels if you want the texture.

Medium :
If you aren't making encaustic Medium yourself, you will need to have some. Un-pigmented medium can have pigments mixed in, or you can buy the coloured pigment sticks as well.
You can also Tint your medium with Oil sticks, or Powdered Pigments. When using powdered pigments, use a mask. for the love of god, do not breathe that stuff in. Turn off all fans and close breezy windows. you want ventilation, but you need to not have that stuff blowing around. If you are scooping Cadmium red and a breeze blows it in your face, you are potentially in trouble.

I use oil paint, but beware, not all paints can be heated. If your colour contains cyanide, or other known toxic chemicals, do not heat them! I will have a list of pigments (with the pigment code: IE: PW4 listed.) to avoid here:

PW4 : Zinc White/Flake white - Sometimes still contains lead, but it also does messy strange things when heated even if it is synthetic. Avoid.

PB27: Prussian blue - Contains cyanide. Avoid.

PR83: Alizarin Crimson - The "permenant alizarin" and other hue pigments are okay, but the PR83, alizarin genuine pigment is not. Avoid.

PBK7.9 Ivory Black - Uses burning to create the pigment, so it reacts funny to more heat. Avoid.
PBK1.6 Peach black - Same problems as PBK7.9.

"Madder" & "Lake" colours should be avoided because they use the same chemicals/materials as the alizarin, and are often fugative.

Phthalo Colours are OKAY to use. Many believe they are not, but the mistake is in believing they contain cyanide, they do not, they contain Cyanine, which is okay to heat.

Cadmium's - the heating of cadmium's actually isn't the problem, the colours are just unstable. (Cadmium's are actually heated to achieve different colours to make the original pigments). I've not had any major problems yet using them.

Hansa Yellow - In  discussion with they mentioned that hansa yellow gives off toxic fumes at 300 degrees.

A note on using Oil paints:
Linseed oil in Oil paints makes your wax a bit softer too, so keep that in mind when you are using it. Once you get making your own mediums, you can modify the ratio of resin to wax to compensate for that. also putting your paint on tissue or paper towels before you use it will absorb some of the oil.

If you are Making your medium:

Darmar Resin Crystals (NOT damar Varnish). you want the resin crystals to melt into the wax. this created a higher melting point for your paintings so it doesn't melt if you turn on the oven to make dinner, and it also makes your painting polish able. It also stops the oxidization of the wax which causes the "blooming" you will see on beeswax, that's the white dusty stuff on your candles. you can always buff up your paintings with a soft cloth anyways if you do get bloom.

Beeswax (do not get bleached. either use raw, or filtered. Bleaching not only is toxic when heated, but it will yellow. Filtering removes the pollen that colours the wax, bleaching only discolours it, the colour will come back in time, but you'll be dead before you see it for heating bleach.) I personally like the rich colours of Pure beeswax. I have two sources for my wax. HoneyBee centre in Surrey BC, and Planet Bee in Vernon. both have reasonable prices, and PlanetBee ships. Honeybee Centre has a more golden yellow colour to the wax, where planet Bee has a darker colour.

You might want to try other waxes, to get other properties from them, but I like beeswax for its wonderful rich colour, and the wonderful scent. Encaustic paintings are an all over sensory experience to view and to paint. If you haven't seen, touched, and smelled an encaustic painting in person, you haven't lived. You must see one in person to fully appreciate the depth that layering the wax achieves, the feeling of the wax, and the smell of it.. Its amazing! To reduce cost if beeswax is a bit pricey for you, add up to 50% microcrystalline wax and you will keep those properties in beeswax that we love. Carnauba in small quantities (10% or less) will add some brittleness to to the wax, but paraffin is too brittle, and is a petroleum product. Boo.

Thats about it for supplies for now. If I think of something I miss, I'll come back and edit and add to this. And I'll get that bad pigment list updated ASAP.

Next up: Making Medium!

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Plein-Air wet canvas Carrier (tutorial)

So, We went painting in Stanley Park last weekend and I needed a way to carry my paintings to and from the park while they were still wet (oil paint). This posed an interesting problem for me. I could buy a 10$ wet canvas carrier, that only carried 2 stretched canvases of equal size, or make something else. I prefer painting on a rigid surface, so my friend Maria mentioned a book she had that had made a box to carry them taped or mounted on boards. Well not being a carpenter or good with a ruler, I modified this idea.

My wet canvas carrier is extremely inexpensive. Each board is only 2-3$ and the spacers are only 5 cents each. here is what you need:

Masonite, or hard boards cut into the sizes you paint on giving a generous space around the edges. Example.: My canvases were around 10x10 on a 12x16 board size.

Rubber Framing bumpers. they have to be the dense rubber kind, not the foam or felt. They need to provide enough space for the canvas, and the paint with some air flow.

a strap and box (optional) the strap holds it all together, and a box to carry it in wouldn't hurt, but I didn't have one, I just slipped it in my backpack.

Okay, Here is what you do!

Step 1

Take your Masonite, and put about 6 bumpers on it. One on each corner, and one on each side of the long side (seen in the figure to the left). Save one Masonite board that you don't put bumpers on.

As you can see I've also taped on a piece of Primed linen canvas as well.I'd recommend more tape, but whatever works for you. Just keep in mind, the space is limited so the flatter the better.
The Linen I bought in a large roll, and cut into the desired pieces. It's 7 oz, clear primed. I got it at Opus Framing and art. Regular price at the time of purchase was a steal at $215 for 5ft by 10 metres. I got it on sale, and split it, and the cost with a friend. I had 5 meters for $75 and it will last a LONG time! LOL!

Anyways, add the bumpers to as many boards as you think you can carry comfortably. each board will hold one canvas, unless you put one on the back of each as well, but if you do an impasto technique, you might find yourself wanting more space, or having paintings rub and transfer. It's best to leave enough space for the slight bowing that accidental pressure will cause.

Step 2

Once you have all your boards done, you just have to stack them together (see above photo) as you can see it leaves just enough space for the painting in there. but the top is exposed. Good thing you saved that piece of extra Masonite. it becomes your lid. you just lay it on top of the top boards bumpers, sealing everything in.
Now I experimented, because I ran out of Masonite and I wanted more paintings, and so I tried Chloroplast... No go... It's not rigid enough to properly protect the paintings. so Pretend in all these photos that the white board is actually Masonite!
This is the result of using Masonite.. .don't worry. I had put a bad painting there to test, it didn't ruin anything wonderful haha.

So anyways, heres the final bundle. (except the top would be Masonite). Everything is safe, now you just need either cord, or belts to strap it together. I used a belt, and cinched it around the 2 edges. Just make sure you wrap the belts or straps across where the bumpers are. If you don't you are creating pressure where there is no support. you will cause bowing and put pressure on your wet paint!
It's that easy! Granted this is a rather rudamentary thing, but for hardcore plein-air painters you could probably invest in a box or some kind, and get some grooves cut to slide your boards in, but for people with limited budgets and time, this would be perfect. I use it and its grande.

Hope this was useful!

If you want to make panel carrying boxes, I found a couple tutorials on that as well:

Wooden box

Foamcore box.

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