My challenge – to capture the likeness of sunset and the wonderful silhouettes it provided. My husband was playing with his new digital SLR camera during the summer, trying to heighten the colours with different lenses and exposures. He took this picture of our daughter on the dock at a lovely cottage we rented on Haliburton Lake.
After converting the image to grey scale, I increased the contrast and brightness of the image to heighten the black of the figure in foreground. I reversed the image and printed it on a laser printer (you could use an ink jet to print it and then photocopy it, but you would lose the resolution of the details).
Since I’m a scientist by training, I wanted to experiment using two different types of rigid supports. My tried-and-true wood panel and newcomer – Claybord by Ampersand (purchased at Curry’s Art Supplies). (I wanted to try the new Encausticbord, but I’ll have to order this online since the retail shop near me didn’t have any in stock.) Patricia Seggebruch swears by Encausticbord for its unique properties (can be scratched into, light-weight, truly white surface, etc.). Cost-wise, my 5×7 inch panel (1/8 inch thick) was about $2.22 (3 pack was $5.89 + HST), while my wood panel was probably about 25 cents (not counting my husband’s labour to cut it into pieces for me).
It was easier to get a smooth surface with fewer coats of clear encaustic medium (EM). I could heat the Claybord, but did find it tricky to manipulate the thin panel without toasting my fingers with the heat gun. I prepped my wood panel with several (5-6) coats of natural EM (again, more cost-effective to use my homemade EM).
I choose several colours of oil paint tubes that I felt were best represented in the sunset. I melted the oil paint into tins of melted clear EM (since I wanted ‘pure’ colours, I felt it was best to use clear EM). You can see the coil of paint at the bottom of the tin – some colours seem to melt more evenly into the melted EM (I used craft/popsicle sticks to help mix it, then a brush to render it smooth). Phthalo Blue took forever to mix in (and still had a few chunky bits leftover).
I tried to apply my paint in parallel between the two substrates, Claybord and wood panel. Obviously, the encaustic paint wouldn’t be able to be applied exactly the same way (I’m not a robot), but I did try to keep the same feel in the works, using the colour photograph as my point of reference.
I tried a few combinations of paint arrangements – sometimes fusing between layers, other times blurring them together with applied heat. I tried using the blow torch to fuse the colours together, and although I loved the look of the quick marbling of colours together, the heat was way too unpredictable – even with a low flame, occasionally the torch would ‘hiccup’ and send out a really hot blast of flame (think drunken dragon) and I would burn out my wax in that particular spot (bald spots, yikes!). I went back to using the slow and steady heat gun instead.
After a few hours of adding paint, fusing, adding more paint, fusing I was beginning to feel like I was going in circles with the two paintings. Sometimes I felt like I was getting close to capturing what I saw in the sunset and then everything would look horribly garish. I remembered why I preferred making mixed media works rather than trying to make something look like a photograph – representative work is hard!
After cursing and complaining to Dave about why I hated painting sunsets (I always think they look easy, silly me), he suggested that I was getting hung up on using too many colours, and that the water was really only one shade of pink. Taking his suggestion, I painted a pink glaze (diluted pink paint in lots of clear EM) over top of the water – and Eureka! Finally, the painted lake looked like the photo lake! I used natural EM over the sky (I debated using a purple glaze, but didn’t want to lose all my yellows and blues) since it had a yellow tint to it already. (Mental note – next time don’t sweat the details of the colours – use a tinted over-glaze to pull it together.)
Next comes the fun part – the image transfer. This was definitely the best part of the encaustic workshop I took with Andrea Bird. It was like learning a super cool magic trick! (Even cooler than my brother showing me how to make homemade tattoos from beer bottle labels and Deep Woods Off bug spray – which is really cool, but probably not very good for you.)
Step 1 – take a black and white photocopy (fresh is best) and put facedown onto a cooled painting with a smooth surface. Step 2 – use a spoon to ‘burnish’ (rub) the toner from the paper onto the wax (the paper starts to look shiny where you burnished it. Step 3 – Burnish until you can’t burnish anymore, then burnish it again (you don’t want to miss any toner or you’ll lose details). Step 4 – Take a bowl of water and start to wet the paper, using your fingers to rub the wet, crumbly paper off the painting (you’ll see the fibres coming away from the toner), being careful not to pull the toner off the painting. (Mental note – leave more of a blank paper border around heavy toner edges, otherwise the edge rips too easily.) And voila – magic! If all has gone well, you will have a perfect transfer of your blacks from your photocopy onto your painting.
I ended up with a wrinkly image on the Claybord panel, while the transfer onto the wood panel went perfectly (see below). I have no idea why the transfer didn’t go as smoothly onto the Claybord. I also had to be careful not to overfuse the image, as the transfer would ‘blow up’ (dissolve) into the melted wax if overheated. (I found it much harder to work with this thin panel: burning my fingers, have the wax pool and glue the panel to my table, etc.). Perhaps the cradled Encausticbords would be better – but they would also be a lot more expensive to use (>$10 for 8 x 8 x 3/4 cradle). I think for now I’ll stick to using my wood panels.
Since the wood panel was larger than the image, I used a oil-based paint pen to scribble onto the bottom of the image – trying to reduce the starkness of the image on the painting (i.e. not just ‘plonked’ on top of the painting). While the oil paint pen wrote OK on the surface of the wax, it tended to lift and drift a bit when I put clear EM over it. Not quite what I expected, but it worked well enough.
I gave this painting to my mother-in-law as a present for looking after my two children over the Christmas holidays. It’s been a great luxury to hide out in my studio and avoid the usual household chores! Many thanks, Grandma Pat!