I’ve been slowly working up to larger paintings since we moved into the new studio last winter. The larger space is helpful but there are other factors as well, such as brush size, paint consistency, and composition. Fortunately all those very disparate things seem to be growing together. This new painting is the next standard size up: 24″ x 36″ and seemed like a whole new country after working on 18″ x 24″ panels for years. Now that I’m working on a few pieces this size I can hardly wait to move up to 48 x 72!
Apples on a Yellow Cloth, 24 x 36, oil on panel
A still life of all the flowers that grow along the paths and roadways on the island: mallow, borage, goatsbeard (Aruncus), echinecea, sage, and thistle. I’ve made myself a note not to try borage again for a while – it was incredibly difficult to make sense of in the drawing!
Acadian Bouquet, 24 x 18 inches, oil on panel
New encaustic on the easel:
On Sundays I have time to heat the wax and really think through the layers I need to produce complex colors in layers of wax. Encaustic bears a great resemblance to printmaking media, in that each mark is finite and permanent; there is no moving the color around after that first brushstroke. Of course, our winter days are so short I don’t have enough daylight to take a photo of the finished piece until the following Saturday, but I’ll try to post these on a weekly schedule. Next up, a small white vase with a pink spider mum against a gray sky and an entirely new vocabulary of colors to learn.
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.
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.
I have a new mantra: Wait for Everything to be Dry, and a new policy on using mediums (linseed oil, etc.) in my paint: Don’t Use Any Medium, and a new slogan written on the wall of the studio in black marker: Really, Wait for It To Dry. This is the first piece I’ve finished with all the rules in place and I’m very pleased with it.
Red Flowers, White Pitcher. 24 x 18, oil on panel.
Up next, and Blagden Preserve landscape using the same constraints keeps life interesting. . .
I was down in the studio on this glorious Maine morning to clean and organize, and realized I’ve never posted a photo of “Clara’s Vase with Nasturtiums”. This vase is has been very difficult to merge with the softer forms of plants and drapery in past studies. I think my current experiment with Cezanne’s shorter, exploratory brushstrokes have given me more capacity for that type of change in substance.
Clara’s Vase with Nasturtiums, 20 x 16, oil on panel
Still working on the background staying toward the back, and enjoying improved light under the new studio.
Gladiolas in a Blue Jar, 24″ x 18″, oil on panel.
Now that I have this new idea firmly in hand I can’t seem to put the brushes down.
Zinnias and Cherry Tomatoes, 20″ x 16″, oil on panel.
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: