Tag Archives: autumn

Encaustics: warm work for cold days

Ecaustic paint is a mixture of pigment and beeswax, tempered with damar varnish and kept molten on a hot plate or griddle. Now that the temperature is dropping and snow is piling up on the studio stairs the thought of a cold November day spent leaning over warm dishes of fragrant wax is very tempting. My set-up consists of an electric pancake griddle, metal condiment dishes purchased in bulk from a restaurant supply store, and hog bristle brushes.

hot plate encaustic

I use a 1:10 part mix of bagged damar crystals melted into plain, unfiltered beeswax. The damar is available from most art supply stores – don’t use damar varnish because it contains solvents. Filtered, bleached, and cleaned beeswax is also available.  I use wax from my beehives and it’s VERY unfiltered so I do pick bees, sticks, and flower parts out of it occasionally.

You can purchase special encaustic painting surfaces but any sturdy, stable surface will do. Canvas and other fabric mounts will crack and peel when the wax hardens. This is an ancient technique and extremely durable when the surface is stable. Special paint and brushes are available, but honestly oil pigment (not more than 1:20) and regular bristle brushes work just as well. Make a place to rest your brushes on the heat source to melt the wax coating. Keep your fingers away from the metal ferrules – they will be very hot!

There are many detailed tutorials on the web on encaustic media. Most are very good on the basic steps but I’ve been disappointed in the imagery. Don’t assume that the wax somehow demands soft colors and undefined contours! This is the first in a series of bouquet paintings from Thuya Lodge, part of the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve on Mount Desert island. This piece will be available at their auction in 2015: Nasturtium in a Brown Vase, 16 x 12, encaustic media.

nasturiums-in-a-brown-vase

New work

It’s November, and the garden is gray and cold so it’s time to finish up all those paintings I started of roses back in July and August! This one is Königin von Danemark (Queen of Denmark), a Portland rose introduced in 1826. It blooms all season – in fact it would probably be blooming right now except that the deer got to it a few nights ago. Very sad, but stay tuned for updates on an improved electric fence mapping project.

Königin von Danemark

Roses in a Green Glass, 24 x 18, oil on panel.

Studio update 4.0

Today we have stairs to the second story! This is the view from the alpine garden looking east.

garden view

. . .and a better view of the new staircase.
front stairs

Looking down the stairs to the driveway and our gravel road, just as the crew from John Atkinson Builders is leaving. . .

drivewayHere’s the view into what will be my workspace. . . all that north light is will be nice to work under.

APo interiorThe south wall with sliding doors facing the house. . .

south wallAnd finally, the view out the big north wall window into the swamp. It will be wonderful to see this change with the seasons – I can’t wait for snow.

north wall

New work, new idiom

It has been a long three months of working through the idea of painting a background. My still life set-up area is not ideal; the hoop house walls are a plastic film that distorts colors and images behind it and my drapery arrangements are fixed as to height and weight. I’m getting more accomplished at setting up objects that relate to the structures they’re sitting on, but it’s all new to me – I’ve always been a big fan of “dump the oranges on to the table-top and paint them as they lay”. That philosophy (or lack of same) just isn’t working for me any more. I either need to move into Cezanne’s kitchen – where every view seems to be a paintable one – or I need to pay attention and integrate all the information available. The second choice seems more sustainable, but I’m not totally discounting the move to Paris.

New work under the new idiom, just dipping my toes in and painting the green and slippery tones that were really behind the set-up. Oil on board, 16″ x 20″, Roses in a Spanish Cup:

Roses in a Spanish Cup

Studio update (let’s see, I think we’re up to 3.0!)

As an update on the 14′ x 20′ studio building project in the back yard – we have achieved window trim! And it’s beautiful.

window trim detail

These small casement windows will provide excellent ventilation. There are also large windows on the north wall, and newly installed glass sliding doors into the second floor. The crew had to take them apart to get them up there on the scaffolding – good news is that nobody died. Those sliders weigh a ton.

glass sliders

Here’s the first look into my space on the second floor (just before the doors went in). This is going to be a wonderful place to paint!

second floor interior

Still to do: battens, remaining trim, roof, and stairs on the exterior, first floor flooring and track lighting inside. Stay tuned. . .

 

 

Update from the hive

We’ve had very pleasant weather for far longer than is usually the case in October. There have been a few chilly clear nights but no hard frost here yet and the temperature is predicted to stay above 40 right through next week. Temperature doesn’t rule every living thing, however, and the pumpkins, green beans, tomatoes, and the bees, are all closing down as the day-length contracts and we move inexorably toward the winter solstice. We’ll see just over 8 hours of sun on December 21st vs. exactly 11 hours today.

Our bees have had a rough summer. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why there were so many corpses lying around (drones? disease?) the hive entrance, but I finally caught the culprit – we have predators! Bald-faced hornets are a North American species known for their large paper nests and for stinging aggressively in defense of their home turf. I’ve noticed them hanging around the fruit in the compost heap, but they have also been attacking the weaker of our two hives, robbing the honey stores and larvae and impeding the growth of the colony.

I picked up an old monograph on beekeeping at the Jesup Library book sale a few years ago. The cover is missing, so I can’t credit the author, but it includes some basic information about combining colonies when one is disadvantaged. The author suggests that this is easier on the bees when they have a common enemy – approaching cold weather, for instance, or predators. We have both, so I decided to give it a try. The weaker colony isn’t going to make it through the Maine winter by itself in any case.

I opened both hives and found that “Vanilla” (we name the hives for the color of their paint!) had not yet built out the outside frames with eggs or larvae. I removed those and then slid the active frames all the way to the outside wall on one side. Then there was just enough space to drop in the four active frames from “Pistachio” – it was a tight fit – against the other hive-box wall, with a section of newsprint between the two, formerly separate, colonies.

Merged frames

There were crowds of bees in the air during this maneuver, but I didn’t get stung and everything seemed to settle down rather quickly. I put on some sugar cake and buttoned everything back up with a Styrofoam box feeder on top (for a February syrup feeding). I left the Pistachio hive open, but empty of frames, figuring that workers might still be returning to that box. I may have sacrificed the field bees with this move, because the guard bees from Vanilla won’t be inclined to let them in.

Later in the day I found a moderate amount of activity but no fighting or new corpses. I imagine there will be some evidence tomorrow as the hive cleans itself out. I reduced the main entrance to provide more security and closed the top entrance loosely with grass that the bees can push away if need be. There were guard bees behind the reducer and they repelled a wasp while I watched, so that’s a good sign!

hives after merging

So now we wait and see – pretty much the gardening motto around here. I will no doubt be driving up to Skowhegan to Abnaki Apiaries next spring to pick up a new nuc hive, and return the boxes from this spring. Onward!

Studio Update, 2.0

John Atkinson’s crew has been busy all week working on the studio under balmy blue October skies. They added square casement windows to R’s space on the first floor, and installed the front door.

studio construction front door

The water-table is pressure treated lumber and needs to stay unpainted for a year. The board and batten siding is stained “Colonial Gray” – there won’t be another trim color because the building is just too small for that much detail.

board and battenThe interior of the first floor. . .

studio interior. . . already looks more like a room with the door on! I came home yesterday and found that the big windows on the left had been installed – very nice, very huge. I guess I need another post here once I grab some photos during daylight. For now, a view down the driveway from earlier this week:

studio driveway