Thursday, May 26, 2016

I'm melting!! A Greek Exploring the Ancient Process of Encaustic

Recently I have decided to dive head-first into encaustic painting. Encaustic basically means making pieces of art with melted wax. This technique, which was found in art as early as the 1st Century BC, incorporates heat to create layers of pigment. The word originates from the Greek word, "Enkaustikos", which means, "To burn in".

I've found it to be an absolutely LIMITLESS medium. It's so much fun to put layer upon layer, and using sculpting tools to remove layers, revealing things underneath. It also allows for some pretty fun incorporation of many many other media, including but not limited to- photographs, drawings, oil pastel, chalk pastel, alcohol ink, found items including metal, wood, etc. plastics - just about anything you can imagine. I also loved what I learned about applying wood glue to the wood and using a torch to burn it. It gives some amazing texture to work with.

Over the past few months I've been experimenting with some fun works. This first piece came to me when I was looking at pencil shavings on my desk. I was submitting for an art show titled "Viva la Diva" at the Orlando Museum of Art, and had done some concept sketching for female figures with a frill. Little did I know as I was conceiving this idea that right in front of my face, I would find my perfect material from discarded remnants of another project.

My vision turned at this point to a ballerina. My concept came from my own memory as a dancer when I was young, and my love for nature. I wanted to convey a connection between the young woman and the energy of the outdoors. 

In doing this, I decided to allow the wood of the substrate itself to show through and represent the wooded scene behind the lady. First, I drew the lady onto the wood base, and used my woodturner to make a basic outline of the figure and the trees so that I could keep an eye on where everything was and possibly keep some of the lines in the end.

I had seen a video online which showed "wood glue burning". Basically, painting something on using wood glue, using a torch, and allowing the glue to blister and burn. This then creates an interesting texture to the surface, and in my case, actually created the look of bark on a tree, and even allowed for the actual wood to burn, which I wanted, to create a double earthy effect. 

The following photo is actually from a more recent project, but it shows what happens to the wood glue really well. 

In the case of the ballerina piece, The wood glue was the tree trunks and barre. I allowed the fire to burn parts of the wood itself as well as you can see below.

After the burning of the wood and the wood glue, I added several layers of encaustic medium - which is basically  beeswax mixed with a resin. As I did this, I added piece by piece, the pencil shavings that would become her tutu.  In between the layers, the heat gun is applied - to fuse the layers together. In some cases I used my sculpting tools to pull off wax in order to create the layering effect and dimension I wanted. I also sprinkled some of the colored actual pencil parts - they almost looked like "confetti" and I wanted them to create a magical effect to the natural background.

 From there, I decided to actually add oil pastel rather than the pigmented wax that I have. I did not want to overpower the texture or burn effect on the wood. I just wanted to add a bit of color to bring out the color of the pencil shavings on the skirt and to add some depth and interest. Again, every layer of oil pastel covered in wax medium and then heated with the heat gun to burn in the layers. Using clay carving tools to pull layers off when I chose to. More medium. Heat. etc.

I added in some ground to the dancer, reflection and shadow, a wall to the left to rest the barre, all with oil pastel, worked with pulling off layers and putting more on some more, each layer covered with wax medium and melted with the heat gun. Below is a photo of the final piece. 

I was so proud to present the piece at the 25th Annual Orlando Fringe Festival. It got special recognition in Watermark Online, which listed it as one of the "Top 10 Fringe-iest Pieces at Visual Fringe", and describing it as such: 

"This abstract depiction of a ballet dancer on a fiery and bold background combines two key aspects of Fringe: dedicated performance and courageous passion."

It is always an amazing thing when a complete stranger sees your vision just the way you did. How incredibly grateful I am for the whole experience. Since this piece I've made several more and learned even more about what encaustic can do. I hope to share some of that with you in the not-too-distant future.

Encaustic is a messy, interesting, baffling, frustrating, beautiful, challenging, limitless medium.

And I guess that's why it seems to be one of the best thing I've found so far.