ENCAUSTICS & COLLAGE (info & history below)
I love cutting and pasting pretty papers onto a blank page! I learned the basics of collaging from my grandma ~ I still have two little pairs of the steel, round-end scissors she let us use as kids when we came to visit. Her theory seemed to be that kids were naturally creative so she would give us scrap paper, crayons, scissors & a glue pot with an old Sears Catalog or the funny papers, and we were good to go for a couple of hours happily cutting and pasting away! I've never lost that love of collaging pretty pictures. Even on vacations, I drive my husband insane with my habit of picking up every tourist magazine and gallery card I see, just to peruse them later so I can cut out the colorful images & words, and store them in the appropriate zip bags to make collages when I have a slow afternoon.
I had never gone much further with my collages than an indulgent afternoon on vacation or a lazy morning w/ my journals ~ until I met Larry Calkins (www.calkinsart.com). He's a masterful encaustics artist here in the Pacific Northwest, and I've learned an abundance of creative techniques from him that have helped me meld my various art passions into better pieces of art. If you ever get a chance to take one of his classes, you will immediately want to take another after seeing and doing as much as you can in your first session with him. He's a walking encyclopedia of great techniques and old recipes, but best of all he loves to share resources and information to spark that creative urge in his students ~ my grandma would have loved him!
*Put simply, Encaustics is the art of "painting with wax" and it goes back thousands of years (see below for some highlights on its history). After a couple of "Larry" classes, alot of internet and book research, and various art afternoons with encaustic affecionadoes, I have come to a process that works for me. I mix a ratio of filtered bees wax with Damar crystals to create a less expensive (but just as good) version of encaustic medium than I can buy thru an art store. To my medium I add either oil paints OR pure pigments to get the various saturated colors or luminous glazes I want for each project (you must take the appropriate safety precautions when working with pigments, because some of them are toxic). I love that sappy warm aroma of melting bees wax and damar, but I make sure to have proper ventillation when I'm working for any length of time, especially when I have all the solder irons, shellacs, and encaustic paints going in the studio. I keep everything melted around 180-200F using an assortment of pancake griddles and electric skillets. (never heat the beeswax over 250F or you will begin to create toxic fumes as the wax starts to breakdown!) Old bread pans and clean 3 oz or 5.5 oz cat food tins make perfect "pots" for my clear & colored waxes respectively. I use wooden clothes pin handles to move the pots around ~ that's a little tip from my encaustic artist friend Carol Ross! Because I already have a "light-industrial certified studio w/ ventillation and fire walls" for my glass flameworking torches, I am very comfortable using propane and micro butane torches to fuse the wax layers, but I also have heat guns & various solder and flat irons for students who don't like to use a torch. I find I get better control of the movement of my wax when I am fusing a layer with a torch than with a heat gun, but they each have their purposes.
I usually start with a pourous wood board of some sort, and collage-on magazine cutouts, free hand cut paper forms, torn bits and pieces, copies of my own prints, etchings, monotypes & chine colle pieces, copies of photographs, fabric pieces, tissue transfers, this and that ~ whatever I find in my huge stash of saved stuff to create a reference background. Once I get a satisfactory base, I may distress the surface w/ a sander or a butane torch, or maybe not. I start working with the wax, adding layers and glazes, painting in details with my colored wax, and using shellacs, inks, stains, and various micas & precious metal leaf to create special effects, so that I get just the right balance in a piece before I call it "done". It usually takes several weeks of working on mulitple pieces here and there before I start to see any light at the end of my creative tunnel. I love that perfect moment when I get to the place where I feel good enough about a piece to finally name it and call it ready to show. I have found that some of my original study boards and studio demo pieces make great backgrounds to build up a new and better work on top.
As I learned from Larry along the way, don't be afraid to work over the top of some area in your work that you think you love, else you won't push your work as far as you can when you are not afraid to ruin it. I would add to that great advice the following sage wisdom ~ know when to stop! As Dr. Talley told me eons ago, the enemy of good is better. Yes, wax can be melted off, but oh how I hate starting over or re-working a section when I've gone too far and ruined what had been the makings of a good piece to my mind's eye.
Next time you are searching for your creative urge, pull out a pair of scissors, some white glue, a couple of old magazines, and just get busy cutting, pasting and playing! Treat yourself to a class with Larry and then things will really take off with your art process! If you already have a working familarity with encaustics and need a place to make a mess OR just need access to all the equipment, tools, wax paints, and specialty materials (bring your own boards and collage papers), you can reserve time in one of my Encaustics Open Studios (click Classes tab above for pricing and dates). I am always more than happy to demo the techniques I use, but for the most part be prepared to have fun working on your own art while the rest of the gang works on theirs!
STRIKING ART STUDIO
*NOTE: A great reference book on this process is The Art of Encaustic Painting by Joanne Mattera. There are also some great websites you can browse if you bing the words "Encaustic Painting History". Here is the note that I include on each piece of Encaustic art that I sell:
Encaustic Painting is one of the very oldest of art forms, dating back to the Greeks of the 4th and 5th centuries BC, who used hot wax to seal the cracks in their ships. The Greek term “enkaustikos” means to burn in, hence the name encaustics, because the wax is heated to fuse it to the substrate. An art form naturally evolved from sealing cracks to painting surface decorations on their ships, to later decorating art vessels, marble surfaces and plasters, to painting portraits. The most recognizable encaustic paintings of antiquity are the famous funerary Fayum portraits from Egypt’s Roman period (1st century and onwards), when portraits of the affluent were painted and gilded onto wooden panels which were then set into their mummy casings. Many of these wax paintings have lasted through two millennia with their colors still intact and brilliant! The discovery of encaustic artifacts atHerculaneum and Pompeii in the mid 18th century AD heralded a revival of research into encaustic materials and painting techniques. Twentieth century artists, such as Jasper Johns and George Roualt, have enjoyed a resurgence of the medium, in part due to the availability of electric heating tools and to encaustic’s flexibility in offering both thin glazes and thick impasto techniques used to create rich and vibrant works of art!
This painting was done with many materials, including encaustic paints I make from natural beeswax and resin crystals (from damar fir trees) mixed and tinted with pure pigments or fine oil paints. You should not expose an encaustic painting to direct sunlight or intense cold, nor place it over a heating register ~ extreme temperatures and sunlight will damage any fine painting. Periodically you will need to gently buff the wax surface with a soft lint-free cloth to restore the luminosity of the encaustic painting. I hope you enjoy my artwork and the stories they tell! Jamie McKay ©2009