Home again, home again

Just back from a week painting on an island in Penobscot Bay with new work, a decision to move from pastels to oils and still-life to landscapes, three full camera cards and a pack full of laundry.

Two small studies of Bear Island.

Bear Island I

Bear Island II

Many thanks to the folks who made this possible and provided exuberant company, serious inspiration and very, very good food. And here’s the link to the eminently practical Macabi skirt I promised!

Now I have to get out into the garden, bu first – a rainbow over Penobscot Bay:

not photo-shopped


Great Spruce Head Island, 6/23 – 6/29/2012

Eight tubes of paint, five brushes (thanks, R!), stand oil and turp, paper towels, 5 boards (that’s way too many), 10 pieces of paper (ditto), a Mason jar of shellac and chip brushes, mosquito/tick repellant, sunscreen, hat, windbreaker, socks, running gear (hells yeah), 10 lbs of fresh herbs for Barney the Chef (not even kidding), a world of pencils, white plastic erasers, blue masking tape, Alleve and Absorbine Jr., 3 Kind bars, a Kindle Fire, a Tracfone, a pac of USB’s, camera, 2 memory cards for same, 2 Moleskine notebooks.¬† I think I’m ready.

Ready set go

TBC. . .

On the easel

I’ve been doing studies of Flemish masters lately, and reading about their techniques and working methods. Some things will remain out of my reach – I can’t see coming across a stash of real parchment – but the ideas about what color ink provides the widest spectrum of tones for landscape drawing (sepia, enhanced with brick dust) and a visual vocabulary of marks with a bamboo pen have been interesting and useful.

Several sources suggest using fixative at regular intervals.¬† I’m finding that it does indeed make the surface more uniform and prevents incidental damage from my dirty fingers as I work. It also means extra time lugging the drawing and an easel outside on a lovely spring day, but sometimes we have to suffer for our art, right? This is a collection of early spring flowers; red maple blossoms, bergenia, and dandelion, in a tarnished silver pitcher, about half-way to finished.

spring setup

Encaustic painting, Act 1, Scene 2

Last Monday I coated 4 Homasote and gesso panels with a thin coat of wax medium. On Thursday I had a chance to mix some colors and experiment with actual paint.

Thug life bird

My experience so far:

  • The base coat of wax medium should be thinner and less textured. It really is startling how quickly the wax hardens on the brush. I need to use shorter strokes and not try to “rebrush” into the hardened surface.
  • Fusing the wax medium to the board with a heat gun is efficient and makes a slick, hard painting surface. The process does not do as much as I thought it would to smooth out the bumps, however. You’d think the wax would melt flat to the surface, but no. Perhaps I’m not heating it long enough – time for another experiment.
  • Wow, the wax hardens quickly. I am learning to hold the brush in the small pot of pigment and wax (heated to molten on the griddle) until I am mentally ready to place that mark on the board. It’s a wonderful disciplinary exercise.
  • The painting is always dry – that is, the surface of the drawing is always ready for a new mark to be added. It was also very easy to scrape the wax away. This is a wet media with all the advantages of a dry media – cool.
  • Fusing the paint layers to each other is an additional, separate skill set. Too little and the layers stay dry and adjacent to each other. Too much and the pigmented wax blurs as it all slags together. Somewhere in the middle is a chance to overlap translucent layers with distinct edges to really show off the medium.
  • Blue jays are noisy thugs, but very entertaining to draw.


Encaustic Painting, Act 1 Scene 1

The supplies are corralled on the new, plastic-draped, work surface and I had to take some photos because nothing you see here will ever be this shiny ever again.


The first step is to make the plain wax medium: beeswax and damar resin in a ratio of 8 : 1. Or 10 : 1 or absolutely no more than 9 : 1, or possibly just until the mixture “looks right”. Every source I found had his or her own convictions. Beeswax is the medium that will carry the pigment to the surface and the damar raises the melting point of the wax enough to fix the result. Too little and the painting will react to moisture in the air with a white “bloom” and never fully dry, too much and the surface will crack and peel.


I’m using beeswax from our hives because we have pounds and pounds of the stuff. It’s like a natural resource around here. This first batch is a mix of yellow and white – the lighter wax was bleached by longer exposure to sunlight. It took me the entire summer to figure out that I could get lovely white beeswax simply by forgetting a batch in the solar melter for a few days but by that time it was September and the days were too short to re-engineer the yellow batches. Encaustic painting uses such thin layers that I don’t think the tint will make much difference, but we’ll see. I admit that I like the gold color produced by all those tiny bee feet tracking¬† pollen and propolis around the hive interior like children on Grandma’s kitchen linoleum.

I never noticed that our kitchen drop scale (pictured by the double boiler above) is calibrated in Newtons. Fortunately I was working from a ratio so all I cared about were the markings but seriously, Newtons?

The first batch is done and poured off into small stainless steel “monkey cups” to cool. It did indeed take longer than I thought it would for the damar to melt into the wax. The online boards repeatedly warn not to short-cut this step; “It takes as long as it takes!” The gentleman who insisted that the wax has a different “feel” once the resin is incorporated also had a point. The transition was not unlike testing custard or jelly on a spoon – difficult to describe but easy to see in practice. As with my first forays into beekeeping lore I feel more confident in the source material now that I’ve seen it in action.

Tomorrow I can pop out the solid wax and clean any sediment off the bottom in preparation for melting it again and brushing a thin coat on the painting surface. Act 1, Scene 2 coming up!



Work no longer in progress, Asters part 9

There’s a lovely local saying that goes; “Stick a fork in’er, she’s done!”.

Tomorrow – assuming it stops snowing – I’ll take a proper photo of the drawing in natural light and that will be the final post in this series. My thanks to everyone who has come along for the ride for the encouragement and interesting comments. Onward!

Work in progress, Asters part 8

Three days ago I thought this drawing would be finished in one more session, and I don’t know what I smoked to come to that conclusion but I’d love to have some more?

My formula for adding “noise” is complex, but regular. Regular hasn’t translated to easy yet, and it’s a struggle to keep the ratio of marks consistent and too easy to fall into a pattern of “outlines vs. squiggles”. I imagine, as I’m working through every square half inch, that I will be more facile after (another) few decades of constant practice.

Work in progress, part 7

The surface is complete. Everything is in place according to my sketches, notes, photos and color swatches from last August. (It is minus 2.2 F right now, and August seems a long time gone.) This drawing is an experiment, and the next step is to add Stochiastic noise – elements of “bad data” that cloud how I see things, but that I’ve never managed to put into a drawing. I’ve found a formula that may help me draw it in, though – make my drawings that much closer to my vision. One more post, I think, before it’s done.