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Back to Encaustics September 21, 2009

Posted by Beth in Art.

It’s been quite awhile since I have had time to write on my Calla Lily encaustic piece. I finished the piece weeks ago (I had to–the electric palate was on loan from my son’s art teacher and had to be returned when school started again at the end of August.)

When I last wrote, I had finished three images I wanted to combine into one larger piece.
Cala #2 d 003 Cala #3  plant c 001-blog Calla ily #4b final b crop cor-blog

I envisioned ending up with a set of four with the 4th image as something a bit different to provide some contrast. In my photo collection, I had a close-up shot of a calla lily leaf which I liked and though would serve that purpose:Calla Lily Leaf 1

I began the process by fusing the photo to a claybord and then adding a layer of clear wax:

Cala Leaf  stage I

Next I painted each half of the leaf with a block of base color, and then fused to a smooth surface. To capture the straight fine lines of the leaf veins, I chose the intarsia technique. For the wide veins, I used a pencil to carve the grooves before filling them in with  contrasting color.

Calla leaf Stage II cropped X Calla leaf Stage III 008-crop

After scraping off the excess wax to expose the filled-in grooves, I used push-pin to carve the thinner veins. as these groves were too fine to be filled by wax, I filled them with oil paint instead, wiping off the excess with a rag dampened with turpenoid.

Calla leaf Stage IVbclose-crop

Cala Leaf Stage V 018-crop Calla leaf  Stage IV oils

I was feeling pretty good about how it turned out–but I wanted to smooth out the surface. Afraid that if I simply fused at this stage, the wax would melt and distort my straight lines, I decided to put on a protective wax layer first—-and I ruined it!

Calla leaf Stage VI 019-crop

All my beautiful clarity was now obscured by the milky opacity of the wax.  I tried to scrape and refuse to get the the top coating of wax as thin as possible, but I never was able to achieve the look I desired.

I eventually went through 5 more attempts to capture in wax the image I had in my mind. Along the way I learned a lot–perhaps the most important lesson was how much closer I was able to come to creating my desired image through  tediously repeating the process, each time with slight modifications. I felt caught up in a scientific experiment as much as in an artistic creation–but that just added to its appeal for me.

Here is a bit of what I learned:

The scraping stage of the intarsia process is MUCH easier if I used a fine brush to add the minimum amount of wax needed to fill the grooves.–and the smother the surface before carving, the better. Also, I could add more realism to the final image by varying the color of the wax and paint I used as filler. I printed off a copy of my photo to use for color testing, and that further improved my ability to reproduce the subtleties.

Here is the leaf in base colors. I was able to get a very smooth surface by putting the claybord right on top of the hot palate and letting it heat up until the wax  melted. The trick then was to get it off without jostling it  or the colors would run.

Lily leaf #2 I -crop

Below is my color tester:

Lily leaf photo for collor checks

If you look closely, you can see the filler wax changes from yellow-white to yellow. If I was to do it again, I would try for a more gradual shift.

Leaf #5 Intarsia I best-cropped

And here is the final result:

Leaf #5- final-croped

It was looking good–but not quite there yet.  When I placed this leaf image with all its sharp definition and straight lines  next to the softer blended-by-melting colors of the flower images, the effect was jarring and out of place.

I tried lightly fusing to soften the lines, but it still wasn’t quite right.

LEaf #5 -final post more fusing-cropped

Especially when I put it with the others.

Encaustic Lily set 001

It looks better here than it did “live.” I did like it, but wasn’t quite satisfied.  My son kept telling me that the leaf didn’t fit at all.  I didn’t understand why not because I saw it as all part of a set of different points of view on the same calla lily. For me, the subject tied it all together. After multiple conversations, my son finally stated “It may fit together to you because you know they are all calla lilies, but is doesn’t work visually.”  He wanted my 4th image to have the same style as the others: a black background and central image. In spite of the days of effort I had put into the improving the leaf, I decided to give his idea a try. In the end, I liked the new leaf best.

The last step was to glue the four smaller images onto a larger claybord. For my first real attempt at encaustic, I am pretty pleased!

CAlla Lily set c-cropped

Post series: New Project,   Calla Lily #2,  Calla Lily #3,  Calla Lily #4 Back to Encaustics

My encaustic set-up August 14, 2009

Posted by Beth in Art, Personal.
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Here’s a few photos to show the simple set up I have—just in case you want to “try this at home.”  I also can’t recommend enough Lisa’s series on encaustic techniques over at Open Studio. She taught me the basics to get me started.

I bought the claybords from Blick Art Materials.


The wax and paint I bought from R&F Paints.

Beeswax_White Encaustic_Primar_49fe31379c87e

For the summer, my son is borrowing the palette, heat gun and some brushes from his school’s art teacher. I am taking advantage of that since a palette can cost close to $300 if you include the thermometer. another alternative is to use a $30 griddle from some place like Target or amazon.com, but the surface is black and makes the colors harder to see.


My son did the initial set up so he could watch TV while he worked.  I would have set it up to look out our window at the ocean, but otherwise I like his set up.

table set up

Note the heat resistant table top and lots of paper towels.

heat gun paint box 2 pallate and brushes

Heat gun, my paint box and a close up of the palette and brushes.

The small bread pan holds paraffin for cleaning the brushes between colors, and the larger pan holds clear bees wax or medium. (Medium is a mix of bees wax and damar –a tree resin which serves to harden and stabilize the wax.) The thermometer is to help you keep the palette at around 220 degrees–hot enough to keep the wax melted without scorching or burning.

I buy my brushes at our local hardware store which is the place in our small town that sells art supplies. Once you dip them in the wax though, don’t expect to use them for anything else!! Another tip is not to use plain aluminum or iron pans as they will discolor the wax over time.  Galvanized steel is ok.

I think that’s is for now. Off to more painting!

Calla Lily #4 August 13, 2009

Posted by Beth in Art, Personal.
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Ooo boy. I learned on this one!

Here’s what I started from, a photo with a coat of clear wax on top.

Cala #3  plant 004

Once again, I painted the black background first:Calla lily #4  I black bg-crop  X

And then the flower and leaves:

Calla Lily #4 II painted CU-top cropCalla Lily #4 II painted CU bottom

I then fused the wax with a heat gun.  As I had learned before–but forgot to apply the knowledge this time–the white takes longer to melt, so by the time I had it sufficiently melted, the rest had flowed and distorted.

Calla Lily #4  III fusing cropped

I didn’t like the results, so I simply placed the painting face down on the palette and melted the wax off back down to the photo.  Now I could start over, and without the layer of clear wax which tends to increase the tendency of the colors to flow and distort. I also painted and fused the white paint before painting any of the other colors. Here is what it looked like with the flower fused, and the black painted but not yet fused.

Calla Lily #4b II top CU X Calla Lily #4b II flower CU fused-2

After fusing the whole painting, I still was not satisfied, so I did some touch up and gently refused several times.  Here’s the final result. It is my least favorite of the series. The thin stalks were hard to keep straight and the leaves dominate over the flower. If I make another attempt, I will put fewer contrasting colors in the leaves to avoid the distraction it makes and enlarge the white flower top to make it more of the central eye-catcher.

Calla ily #4b final b crop cor

What did I learn?

Do not put a layer of clear wax between the photo and the pigmented wax.

Be sure to paint and fuse the white paint first.

Pay attention to the overall balance in the image so that the less important parts don’t visually dominate.


Post series: New Project,   Calla Lily #2,  Calla Lily #3,  Calla Lily #4 Back to Encaustics

Calla Lily #3 July 30, 2009

Posted by Beth in Art, Personal.
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This morning I played hooky from packing for a camping trip in order to  to work on my calla lily series.  I really want more time to myself these days–and it was a pleasant treat to squeeze this in.

Yet another technique variation–though this didn’t occur on purpose.  After my first calla lily encaustic, I embedded three other photos as prep to painting over them.  Here is currently what 2 of them look like:

encaustic cala plant 004 encaustic leaf

The third I can’t show you because it is what I painted over.  Yesterday’s painting had no overcoat of clear wax. Instead, once I had pressed the photo onto a bed of wax, I used the encaustic paints directly on the photo. Today, there was a coat of clear wax upon which I put the color. When I went to fuse the layers with the heat gun, the clear wax underneath also melted–and as pigment is denser than the wax, the clear wax has a tendency to float to the top disrupting the color in odd places. I had to do a lot of touch up to the black areas…which made the surface irregular…which required more melting to smooth it out. This made the colors of the flower melt more and loose some of their definition. The end result is irregular, but still rather striking (or at least I think so.)

This time I also tried painting all the white areas first, and them doing a preliminary fusing. This is because white melts at a higher temperature. Yesterday I had trouble with the other colors getting too runny and starting to flow into each other before the white was sufficiently melted.  Getting the right sequence of colors and melting will take some experience.

The other struggle I had was trying to get a good photo of my end result. Because the surface still is not very smooth, the ambient light catches in odd spots and reflecting back to create areas of white where there really are none on the piece.  If I take the photo in  low light, the result is grainy.  Using a flash is a disaster.

Here’s the best I could accomplish–with the original photo on the right for comparison:

encaustic plant c 001 Calla Lily 001

The camera is doing some funny things to the colors because in the actual painting, the leaves are much more green and less yellow which is more pleasing to me.

There are some other tricks in encaustic which I can experiment with–like carving into a ground layer of wax (that’s called intarsia), then filling in the carved areas by painting over them with another color and finally scraping away the excess (see Lisa’s explanation here on Intarsia.) But for now, I will forge ahead on this series, concentrating on color mixing and the sequence of my fusings.

Post series: New Project,   Calla Lily #2,  Calla Lily #3,  Calla Lily #4 Back to Encaustics

Calla Lily #2 July 29, 2009

Posted by Beth in Art, Personal.
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Ooooo. I had time to mess with the encaustic today. If you read my previous post, you know that my first technique was to embed a photo in clear beeswax and then touch it up using encaustic paint. I wanted to try and make the colors bolder and with more contrast—instead of having the milky-translucence of clear wax on top. So today, after embedding the photo, I used paint on the entire surface, including the black background. The result is quite different, and I learned a lot.

I have never tried to mix-to-match colors before (ever!), so that was a fun challenge. (Addendum: to get the shadow-gray to look right I had to add in green and yellow. Who would have thought!) Also, the various colors melt at different temperatures (I use a heat gun to melt each layer to fuse them) so it was a challenge to melt enough to remove texture and heavy brush stokes without having everything melt into mush.

Anyway—I like both effects. They are just different. It’s difficult to show the detail, but here they are. Which do you like best?

First method:

encaustic 002-sq

Second method:

encaustic cala d 003

Post series: New Project,   Calla Lily #2,  Calla Lily #3,  Calla Lily #4 Back to Encaustics