Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Adventures in Art

This summer I went to camp. Art Camp.

I wanted to do something different with my photography and I wanted to paint. I found a medium that lets a person combine those two. All I needed to do was learn.

Encaustic painting is painting with hot wax and pigment.  A medium both old and innovative. Power tools are involved. And lots and lots of really hot stuff.

I spent four days learning different techniques. It was fun.

There was one sweaty afternoon though, I was visited by the ghost of Vacation Bible School, but I sent the beast with his lace up leather wallet packing back into the ether. Enough is enough, after all.

Home again, we set up a studio space where I could continue the project. Bought various hot elements, new and second hand, and away I went.

Mostly, encaustic is painted on wood. One technique to get nice patterns is to add some color to clear shellac, sponge the shellac on the board, light the shellac with a propane torch and watch it burn lovely patterns for an under painting.

Power tool, baby. This is the one I wanted to try first.

Here's where I should mention how wonderful it is to have family who support my artistic endeavors.

I applied the wax, tinted the clear shellac with alcohol ink, dripped in on the panel, and whoosh, lit the propane torch and touched it to the puddle.

What I didn't realize at the time was the lovely table with fire bricks that Dearest (husband and btw local Fire Chief) had provided was not level so the burning shellac bubbled while it slid off the panel, off the bricks and set the table on fire.

My artwork looked like this.

Hardly a lovely under painting.

When the fire was out, Dearest said, "What's it supposed to do?"


Then he leveled the table.

I scrapped most of the mess off and slapped something else on top of it. Which, I understand, is perfectly acceptable encaustic technique, although a person should probably skip the unintended fire part.

So, I fiddled, scraped, painted, fused -- heat is applied to the painting to fuse all layers via heat gun which is like a super-powered hair dryer, or propane torch -- scraped and finally ended up with this.

I stopped because a heart-shaped texture appeared and it was so sweet, I couldn't bear to accidentally destroy it, hence, I declared this painting is finished.


The heart-shaped depression doesn't show in this picture, but some of what is very nice about encaustic does.

The 3D illusion.

Careful waxing creates a window into the painting that is just amazing to me.

Not that I've mastered careful waxing yet. I'm more of a splash, oops, oh-look-at-that painter right now. But I have the inclination to continue.

Power tools, baby.


  1. Cynthia, I love this post and your results!!! I've purchased the blow torch but have yet to remove it from its box:) I've finished several small pieces that I'm very happy about and several that are, oh well, good practices and now remain to be scraped'll remember scraping is my favorite part anyway. Although it is nicer to end with a beautifully scraped piece rather than the piece that HAS TO BE totally scraped in the garbage. ANyway, my attitude is that it takes a lot of practice and a lot of flubs and when an image emerges beautifully, I'll know it, as you did. Thanks for sharing. Happy waxing - Dianna

  2. Thanks, Dianna.

    I've been watching You Tube videos of encaustic painters, and some of them say, torch fusing causes or allows less of the outgassing from the wood -- which I'm having a terrible time with. I'll leave a lovely smooth piece on the table and in the morning will have lots of little pin holes from air bubbles -- which is what sent me googling for answers.

    I don't know how this adventure will turn out, but it promises to be a fun one.

    Your website is lovely, btw.



  3. I'm totally loving your post. I too am a photographer that has fallen in love with encaustic's. I loved camp and love you finished piece. Keep painting & posting bz

    1. Camp was great. I'll be checking your blog to see how you fare putting pix in encaustic.

  4. Yikes! Sounds like fun :-) And I love your finished piece!

    1. The tricky part is getting the photographs in the waxy strata. Still working on that. It makes them look ghost-like and/or they seem to float within the painting. Very cool. Once I can manage it.

  5. Cynthia your post is fantastic and your art delicious :) Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Well, I'm learning from the best.


  6. So fun to hear that you're all set up for encaustic at home and with a 'torching table"! What a clever idea...sometimes the best pieces are from happy accidents. Keep getting waxy...and posting your work!

    1. It's an old habit from my darkroom days. A wet side and a dry side. Now I have a hot table and a cold table. It's working so far. And the torching table is outside. So, I guess I have a hot table and a half.

  7. Anonymous5:39 PM

    Cynthia - great stuff - creating art is all the more fun when a little danger(fire) is involved - keep it waxy! Lisa

    1. Kind of like that old "thrill of victory" . . .

      Fire extinguisher at the ready.


Glad to hear from you!