Paintmaker Matt Kelly shares a day in the life at R&F making encaustic paint and Pigment Sticks:
One of the most frequently asked questions about encaustic painting is “What is the right surface to paint on?” The mechanics of adhesion in oil and acrylic are well established but there is no equally standard body of knowledge about the adhesion of encaustic to various surfaces.
In 2008, when we worked with the chemists who helped us develop our Encaustic Gesso, it was necessary to test its performance. We needed to know how well the gesso adhered to a panel and how well encaustic paint would adhere to the gesso. This became all the more crucial when we partnered with Ampersand Art Supply to create a machine-made panel based on our Encaustic Gesso. Encausticbord™ had to be both durable and seductively inviting to work on. It was also important that it would be suitable for multi-media use since encaustic is so often used in conjunction with other mediums and materials.
Once it was clear that the Encausticbord™ worked well with oil, water, and wax based mediums, we applied a series of systematic tests for durability that we had used when we released our brushable Encaustic Gesso.
The first and simplest test, of course, is to freeze a painted panel and then slam it to see if the paint will break off. We have been using “The Freezer Test” since the early nineties when we needed a simple way to help artists determine compatibility of their substrate with encaustic. This mainly tells you how well the painting should hold up under acute impact when shipped in cold weather.
The longevity of a painting however, depends on many variables, the most important of which are the gradual fluctuations in temperature and humidity that take place over long periods of time in normal conditions for exhibiting or storing artwork.
To simulate this, we have developed a procedure of cycling painted panels through freezing and thawing periods to exaggerate those fluctuations in temperature. We follow this with quantifiable stress tests designed to detach any areas of paint that became vulnerable from the repeated contraction and expansion of the freezer test.
We repeat these tests using a range of colors, because, as most of you who work in encaustic know, every pigment has a characteristic effect on the wax (as it does on other mediums). Umbers, for example make the wax very hard and brittle. Cadmiums make it soft. Titanium white can make it gummy. Each family of colors has to pass the test for a ground to be considered suitable for encaustic.
How dependable are these tests? It’s fairly easy to say if you’re talking about a couple of decades. Most of us have experienced how materials behave in that amount of time. We know from the Fayum portraits that beeswax will last 2 millennia and longer. Yet our modern pigments differ from the ancient ones. The supports and grounds we work on are also different. This is why it is important to continue developing tests to simulate fluctuations in the environment over time. It is important to test the effects of temperature, humidity, light, vibrations, pollution, and phases of aging in the medium that over time can break down the structure of the paint and cause the separation of one material from another.
The methods used in these tests do not result in predictions, only educated guesses. What they can do is separate materials with short-term durability from those that promise to survive much longer.
One last word about shipping in cold weather: Most artwork is fragile in extreme cold, even work that is made with materials that easily withstand normal temperature fluctuation. The best precaution in any instance is careful packaging and, when feasible, expedited shipping time.
Last weeks Encaustic for Sculptors workshop taught by R&F’s Kelly McGrath was a huge hit. Students were introduced to many innovative 3D techniques and they produced an impressive body of work in just three days.
We are looking forward to an exciting year of mixed media and collaborative workshops as well as our tried and true comprehensive courses in in both encaustic and Pigment Stick. Also keep an eye out for more in our series of visiting artists. This year we are thrilled to have Lisa Pressman, Lorraine Glessner, Cat Crotchett, and Alexandre Masino here at R&F!!
The last of 2010’s Visiting Artist Workshops at R&F wrapped-up last week with Cari Hernandez, who came from Northern California to share some of her alternative methods of object making in a dynamic 3 day workshop. Cari got her class all charged up! If you missed out, or are not aware of Cari’s work take a look here.
The Visiting Artist Series is one of our favorite programs because it brings popular working artists to our studio facility to share exciting techniques with a small group of lucky students. Be on the lookout in 2011 for another installment of this incredibly successful series. Teaching artists on the roster include: Cat Crotchett, and Alexandre Masino, and Lorraine Glessner.
Tonight is the opening of WORKING WITH WAX: Contemporary Encaustic Painting in Northern California at Santa Rosa Junior College Art Gallery. This exhibition is curated by Thomas Morphis and is on view through March 6th, 2010. Featured are innovative Northern California artists who have been exploring the physical and expressive possibilities of working in beeswax. Artists include Tracey Adams, Mary Black, Emily Clawson, Robin Denevan, Eileen Goldenberg, Howard Hersh, Lisa Kairos, Julie Nelson, Mark Perlman, Carrie Ann Plank and Eleanor Wood.
There will also be an Artist’s Talk with Mark Perlman on January 25th from 12-1:30pm in the Newman Auditorium.
If you are in the Northern Bay Area be sure to check out an Encaustic Demo with Mary Black (featuring R&F Handmade Paints) on February 4th from 1-4pm in the Art Gallery. This Demo will provide a hands-on experience exploring the encaustic process that will be sure to get you hooked.
For more information please go to:
Following up on the excellent pictures of George Mason and his monotypes, we thought artists might like to see some additional options in the same process. All will be covered in an upcoming workshop taught by Paula Roland, Encaustic Monotype and Beyond, December 1-4, 2009 held at R&F in Kingston, NY as part of R&F’s Visiting Artist Series.
The contemporary nature of wax, combined with the spontaneity of the monotype, opens up endless possibilities for artists. This engaging process draws you in and gets you out of your conscious mind. Ideas come from the spirit of play. It’s been called “addictive” by more than one artist and a “meditation” by others. For Paula, “ …the encaustic monotype is a stepping off point and a way to extend the process to mixed media drawing, painting and even installation art”.
Roland will help artists develop works that match their vision by suggesting various strategies, techniques and learning experiences. Despite looking easy, it can be difficult to achieve your goals! Changes in approach, temperature, paper, and even pigment to wax ratio, all effect outcome and having an experienced guide is important.
One accomplished artist who has incorporated the encaustic monotype is Tracey Adams. Her wax prints, with elements of heated drawing, are often embedded in her paintings, as shown in Imago 4.
At one of Paula Roland’s recent workshops, Kim Keller created this drawing on the HotBox, the equipment used for the monotype (no press needed!). Kim combines wax printing, drawing, and collage with paper and string.
The December workshop at R&F will coincide with a solo exhibition by Paula in R&F’s gallery. The framed and back-lit wax monotypes pictured above were shown at the 2009 Encaustic Painting Conference. For the R&F show, she will cut apart, layer, and reconfigure similar pieces into an installation. Paula will also exhibit new graphite painting/drawing on dipped paper. The opening is December 5—hope to see you there!
Paula Roland’s Encaustic Monotype and Beyond Workshop / December 1-4, 2009 at R&F, Kingston, NY
Paula Roland Solo Exhibition at the Gallery at R&F / December 5, 2009, - January 23, 2010 / Reception December 5th, 5-7 PM with an informal artist’s talk at 5pm
You may be aware of the wonderful instructional encaustic books by Joanne Mattera and Linda Womack. Now we have a beautiful new book by Patricia Seggebruch called Encaustic Workshop: Artistic Techniques for Working with Wax.
From the jacket:
“In it’s purest form, encaustic painting is as simple as applying melted beeswax to an absorbent surface. In Encaustic Workshop, it becomes much more: a dynamic medium where anything goes and the possibilities are endless. Packed with step-by-step techniques, helpful tips and diverse examples of completed works, Encaustic Workshop brings all the accessibility and excitement of a mixed-media workshop to your own workspace. If you’re a beginner, you’ll find everything you need to know to get started. If you’re a more advanced crafter or fine artist, you’ll discover things you never knew you could do with encaustic.”
Browse all of our books here.