It’s another early morning in my studio, and I am ready to add the first layers of clear encaustic medium to the birch panel.
How I layer and fuse the medium plays a role in how the painting turns out. It makes all the difference how the wax lays down and adheres to the wood. Did I take my time to create the perfect foundation? Or will its imperfection be the defining statement of the finished piece?
Time to start. The gesso has dried. The panel is sanded and dust-free. The sides are masked.
When the beeswax is mixed with a natural tree sap called damar resin, it becomes Encaustic Medium. The damar resin increases the hardness and durability of the wax and gives it a beautiful lasting luster that wax does not have on its own. It also raises the melting point near 200 degrees Fahrenheit, so there is no fear of your original artwork melting; however, it’s best to keep your encaustic painting out of direct sunlight and around 70 – 85 degrees.
It’s easy to romance about being an artist. It sounds so mystical – creative spirit flowing through. And it is – once the prep work is complete. Like cooking, cleaning and all chores, there is a strong feeling of accomplishment after hard work. Preparing the panels, cleaning the brushes, creating a palette: this is my spiritual practice of “chopping wood and carrying water.”
Fusing is the most important step with this medium. If a layer is not fused properly to the layer beneath, it can chip or crack, especially at the edges. There are many tools to choose from, each with their own properties: blowtorch, propane or butane, heat gun, and iron. Every tool has its unique quirks and personality, and like most encaustic artists, I have my favorite.
Patience and practice are key.
After I learned the basics of encaustic painting and gained some mastery in this medium (after thousands of hours), it became a solo journey of experiential discovery. There are very few resources I know to turn to. Even when I think I have discovered a new technique and I try to repeat it, the slightest change can alter the outcome. Is it rainy today, or sunny and hot? How heavy is my hand? How fast is my motion? How high is the flame? What is the consistency of wax and pigment? These are some of the variables infused into every painting. Even my energy at that given moment will be revealed in my work. Perhaps it’s this feeling that resonates with you. Is that what connects us?
How do I feel this morning? Energetic and turbulent? Calm and still?
During this suspended time of sheltering at home, I have slowed down to fill the days. Long ago, I learned the hard lesson to accept “what is” without altering or resisting. I’m able to live moment to moment with little anxiety for the future or nostalgia of the past. It serves me well now.
I have the gift of time to contemplate the smallest details, such as discovering a new reverence for my studio, respect for the materials I use, and honoring the way I feel on this particular day.
Seeing with open eyes. Hearing in new ways.
Peace All Ways,