Behind the Scenes is the Studio: If You Want to Get Lost, Follow Me

lost etch detail.jpg

When I tell people my medium is hot wax, I often get funny looks. "Like, you drip candles?" or "Ummm... with melted Crayolas?" or "You paint them, then you seal them with wax?" and lots of other interesting (possibly fun) variations. The truth is, I use pigmented wax - special encaustic paints (like Encaustikos Hot Sticks) -- and melt them to between 200-250 degrees then apply the hot pigmented wax in its fluid form to my wood canvases (from American Easel). The fluid wax becomes a stunningly rich palette for painting that readily incorporates collaged materials and, my favorite technique, etching.

There is quite a bit that goes into an encaustic painting.  And each Thursday during these "behind the scenes" posts, I will go into more detail on specific techniques.  Today, I am just going to share some details that when into "If You Want to Get Lost, Follow Me."  In this painting,  as with much of my work, I incorporate many detailed patterns. Something about the meshing of disparate textues feels like the way memory works with its fragmented colorscapes and phrases. For each new color block in the patterns, I  use a dedicated brush or one  that is "rinsed" in hot slick wax and cleaned before re-use. You may notice quite a few brushes in my studio! This is because I need to keep my colors high-impact rather than muddied, and wax, once cooled, dries right on the brush quickly.

With encaustic paint, laying down the colors you see here also involves not just "mixing" color but "melting" color. This is particularly challenging with transitions like the dark to light yellow in the skyline of "If You Want to Get Lost, Follow Me." To get that transition to look "right," I warmed one tin of pthalo blue highly diluted with clear wax encaustic medium, and I layered thousands of strokes on top of one another. Then I warmed a highly diluted ultramarine blue and continued up the skyline to the starry ceiling with thousands more strokes. Blending down into the yellow of the fading sun was more challenging as I needed it to be a baby blue to yellow transition that could not muddy up to green (and blue/yellow makes green, so this was an obstacle). To be honest, I am not sure how I got the colors to be right.  I just kept mixing light blues until something said "YES."

Another different thing about using hot wax is that layers must be fused with a heat gun or flame (or heat lamp for some patient people). I always hold my breath during fusing because it's quite magical.  Details get melted away -- there is an air of mystery as to what will stay and what will go.  You may notice a "blurriness" to the figures in this painting. This is because they are made of melted wax that has been laid down and then re-melted in a way that blurs the "lines."

I will talk more about all of these processes and others in coming posts.

If you have any questions about my process, please ask me in a comment!