Trying New Things

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something. - Neil Gaiman

8x8 Encaustic mixed media. Wax, resin, metal leaf, oil paint, antique books and papers.

A few years back I fell in love with encaustic art. That year for my birthday I bought myself (very) minimal encaustic supplies to try out: A bag of beeswax and resin, a mini skilled to heat it up in, and a Hake brush. I was so excited about the project that I jumped right in without any idea what I was doing...and I failed miserably. I ended up with a lumpy yellow layer of wax on a wood panel with a few scratch marks in it. Not exactly a masterpiece. In defeat, I put my supplies in a cabinet and forgot about them.

Recently, while trying to make more things fit into my art cabinet than there was room for, I found those discarded supplies. My discovery prompted a Pinterest search that evening for Encaustic Paintings.....And very quickly I was in love again. Wanting to give it a second try, I did some research in hope of failing less miserably this time. I watched dozens of youtube videos of artist heating, pouring and painting hot wax. I read about heat guns vs. torches, alcohol ink vs India ink, methods for coloring the wax, methods of shellac burning (sooo cool), methods for laying down your base layers... I. Was. Excited. And how could I fail? This time I was prepared....

After laying down the first layers of wax on my panels I was ready to try out some of the techniques I had learned online. The thing I was most excited to try was the shellac burn. Shellac is a resin secreted on trees from the female lac bug in India. It is collected and combined with alcohol and sold as a wood finish and easily available online or at your local hardware store. The shellac can be colored with dry pigment or laid on top of alcohol ink. You brush it onto the surface of an encaustic painting then light it on fire. (Fun!) The alcohol burns off and leaves beautiful open cell marks on the wax.

I prepared three colors of shellac with powder pigment: gold, bronze and dark grey. I also colored two small batches of clear encaustic medium with a pea size amount of oil paint in each, one dark blue, one green. I brushed the shellac on with a sponge brush and lit it on fire. I repeated the process with alcohol inks, then experimented with soft pastels and practiced carving marks into the surface of the warm wax. It was all very satisfying. What wasn't satisfying was the big mess I was making on the panels. All the techniques were working, but what I was creating wasn't working for me. I tried adding more wax and less color. Then I added more color and less wax. But it was still just a mess. I had to put it down and walk away, not forever, just for the night. I was frustrated and I was disappointed. I had failed again. I need to sleep on it and see what I could make of it all in the morning.


I struggled that night. How could something I was so excited about doing make me feel so disappointed? What was I doing wrong? I had watched all the videos, I felt passionate when I saw what other people were creating, I was using the same colors as them, the same materials as them, the same methods as them....Oh....That was the problem, wasn't it? I was trying to create something by copying what other artists had done. I was channeling their artistic perspective, not my own. (sigh)


The next morning I got up early and went out to my studio space. My favorite materials to work with are discarded falling apart antique books. I scour yard sales and thrift stores for the the most neglected, most unwanted books. The ones with missing covers, torn out pages, bindings that are barley hanging together. I treasure them and use them in all kinds of mixed media projects.

While yesterday's wax was heating up on the electric griddle I pulled out a box of antique book bits and pieces. I needed to try encaustic painting coming from my own perspective as an artist. I began dipping items from the box into the wax, laying them onto the panels from yesterday within additional layers of white and clear wax.

After several layers I added some gold metal leaf as well. Before long I had two small panels resembling something that felt more like me. I was excited again. I put those aside and pulled out two larger panels and began again.


After applying the base layers I coated the surface in black and burnt sienna oil paint, fusing it into the layer of wax below. I added vintage paper, gold leaf and white oil paint in between more layers of wax.



I finished off each panel with some bigger pieces from the antique books.


Overall, I was very happy to rediscover encaustics. And lesson learned: Continue to try new things, push new boundaries, but keep one's perspective along the way. I can't wait to warm up more wax and try my hand at some bigger pieces.


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