Getting Muddy – using Drywall Mud for Texture

Posted by on May 18, 2012 in Blog | Comments Off on Getting Muddy – using Drywall Mud for Texture

I really enjoy texture in abstract paintings.  In my past large-scale acrylic abstracts, I used a combination of raw canvas pieces and acrylic modeling paste applied onto my canvas to build up the base texture.  Once the texture was dry, I could paint with acrylics paints and mediums and not have to worry about the texture cracking or flaking off the canvas.

"Whirlpool" by Alexandra Reid

I wanted to have this same texture with my encaustic paintings, but without the added expense of having to build up such a deep surface of wax first.  I had been reading about the use of plaster with encaustics, both from an encaustic artist point of view (Daniella Woolf – ‘The Encaustic Studio’), and from plaster artists’ point of view (Stephanie Lee & Judy Wise – ‘Plaster Studio’).

The Encaustic Studio - Daniella Woolf

Plaster Studio - Stephanie Lee & Judy Wise

The plaster artists’ approach intrigued me, since they used acrylics paints (already have loads) and drywall mud (lots on hand from my husband’s building projects), with a final top coat of encaustic.  I wanted to see if I could get my heavily textured abstract with the buttery richness of encaustic (and not break the bank!).

I decided to make a diptych (two panel painting) – the paintings could be stand-alone, but would work together as a complimentary pair, both color-wise and texture-wise.

First step, to spread a thin layer of drywall mud (pre-mixed wall plaster).  I really enjoy this step – it feels like you’re frosting a cake.

Spreading the drywall mud onto wood panel with spatula.

Once the mud was spread out evenly with the spatula, I used a trowel (from Home Depot) that is meant for applying adhesive for ceramic tiles.  It had quite large, square teeth giving a nice set of parallel grooves in the mud.  I used a second trowel with smaller, triangular teeth to create a finer set of lines in the mud.

Combing lines through the wet drywall mud with a trowel.

After creating very linear patterns in the mud, I wanted to break up the uniformity of the lines by imprinting circle patterns.  I used a set of circle cookie cutters (set of 3, different sizes).  I twisted the cookie cutter to get a wider circle impression in the mud.

Making circle impressions in wet drywall mud with a cookie cutter.

I repeated the same process with the drywall mud, trowels and cookie cutters on the second panel, but in a different design.  I left the panels to dry for at least 48 hours to make certain that the plaster had cured.

Wood panel number 1 with textured drywall mud.

Wood panel number 2 with textured drywall mud.

Once dry (at least 48 hours), I started to coat the panels in a base coat of red acrylic paint, adding a bit of water to it in order to have it spread more evenly into the plaster grooves.

Watered down red acrylic paint used as a base coat over the dried plaster.

Next, I used a complementary wheel color, green to contrast to the base red coat.  It was really different for me to work in acrylics again after working for the past year in encaustics – the acrylic paint stayed wet!  But, this allowed me to create nice blends of color and tone-on-tone that I hadn’t quite mastered with encaustic painting.

Color wheel complementary green acrylic paint mixed wet on wet over red base coat.

I let those colors dry and then brought out some metallic acrylic paints that I thought would really make the texture pop.  I stayed with the warm tones, and choose copper and gold colors.  I mixed the metallics into the reds and greens, but felt that the iridescence was lacking.

Next I used the copper and gold directly onto the painting as highlights.  Now, the texture was defined with the highlights and shadows of the complimentary colors.

Copper and gold metallic acrylic paints used to highlight texture.

Happy with my acrylic painting, I prepared the clear encaustic medium (EM) for the final top coat.  I brushed a thin layer of melted EM across the grooves.

Clear coat of melted encaustic medium brushed on as a top coat.

I now noticed a potential issue with a textured surface and encaustic painting – the wax pooled into the grooves and started to level them off, becoming cloudy in the process.  Not a look that I was going for!

Cooled encaustic medium has remained in grooves and turned cloudy.

I tipped the wax coated panels at a 45C angle and slow melted the excess wax off the panel.  I had to rotate the panel a full 360C to keep the wax from puddling into the grooves.  Finally, I had the clear, transparent glow of encaustic with the colors of the acrylic painting show through.

Thin layer of encaustic medium over acrylic paints on textured plaster wood panels.

I called the finished abstracts, ‘Moons of Mars’ I and II.  The colors and the circle shapes suggested the alien landscape of a faraway planet.  You can visit my finished works at my online Etsy store, ‘Lexi Reid Studio’.

'Moons of Mars I' by Alexandra Reid

'Moons of Mars II' by Alexandra Reid