WHAT IS ENCAUSTIC?
Currently I have an exhibition at the Arts Café at the Gold Coast City Gallery. The works being exhibited are 10 Encaustic paintings. I also have one Encaustic painting hanging in the Border Art Prize at the GCCG.
When asked about my art practice, I tell people that the latest passion in my artwork is that I have begun exploring the art of Encaustic. Many people have not heard of beeswax being used in artwork, and I am frequently asked, “What is Encaustic”. Following is a brief background:
Encaustic is a Greek word meaning “to heat or burn in” (enkaustikos). Heat is used throughout the entire process of encaustic painting, beginning with the melting of beeswax and damar resin to fusing in layers of wax. Encaustic consists of natural bees wax and damar resin (crystallized tree sap) and is used in a molten state (please note - not damar varnish). The clear encaustic medium used alone has a beautiful transparency, as well as adhesive qualities – and many encaustic artists frequently use collage in their artwork. Colour can be obtained by adding pigments to the medium. Encaustic medium is melted and applied with a brush or any tool that the artist can find to create beautiful texture and markings. Each layer is then reheated with a heat gun or torch to fuse it to the previous layer.
Encaustic painting is one of the world’s oldest art forms. Despite being over 2000 years old, encaustic works are still on display in museums today, withstanding the test of time with minimal cracking and without having faded or darkened in colour.
Three thousand years ago, beeswax and pigments were used by Greek shipbuilders to caulk and adorn their sailing ships. As well, it was used by Greek artists to adorn sculptures, murals, and even architecture. They also used wax paint to highlight the marble statues around the Acropolis. About 1000 years later, during the Fayum period, Egyptian artists began to use encaustics to paint their incredibly beautiful and durable mummy portraits.
The most well known of all encaustic works are the Fayum funeral portraits painted during the 1st through to 3rd centuries A.D. by Greek painters in Egypt. A portrait of the deceased, generally one that was painted during their prime of life, but sometimes after death, was placed over the person’s mummy as a memorial. Many of these ancient encaustic works are still survive today, and the colour has remained fresh due to the protection of the wax.
Because the ancient techniques of using encaustic was very laborious and time consuming, during the Middle Ages, artists began to turn to using tempera, fresco and oil painting techniques that did not require the use of charcoal fires which was required to liquefy the wax paints. Encaustic faded into obscurity for centuries, but in recent times has experienced a renaissance.
In the 1920’s Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera sometimes used encaustic painting, and Belgian artist James Ensor also experimented with it. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Jasper John became one of the few artists who began using encaustic as his mainstream artwork, and gained acclaim for his flag series of encaustic paintings. During the 20th century, there has been a rebirth of encaustic on a major scale. Today the easy availability of portable electric heating devices and the variety of tools has made the use of encaustic more accessible, and it is gaining in popularity with artists around the world.
Encaustic is a very popular medium with many artists today as it is an extremely versatile medium. Artists can paint, print, collage, and sculpt. It can include mixed media applications such as photography, paper arts, and digital art.
Care of Encaustic Art:
Encaustic artworks are extremely archival, but as with any fine art, care must be taken. There is no fear of the work melting in normal conditions, as the wax and resin will not melt unless exposed to temperatures over 65 degrees Celsius (or 150 deg Fahrenheit). It would not be advisable to leave a painting in a car on a hot day, nor hanging it in front of a window with direct hot sunlight. They are also sensitive to freezing cold temperatures.
Sometimes, over time, the colours can “bloom” or become cloudy. If your painting appears indistinct, simply rub the surface with soft material like an old tee shirt, or a nylon stocking. The work will then regain its gloss.
If you Google Encaustic, there is a mountain of information available on the web about Encaustic painting, how to apply it, how to make the medium. There are also many excellent books available - my two favourites are "The Art of Encaustic Painting" by Joanne Mattera, and "Encaustic Art" by Lissa Rankin. But there are many more. Also there are many Encaustic Art Groups on Facebook, and I have learnt so much from the wonderful artists that share their work and information on Facebook.
References: http://www.eainm.com/what-is-encaustic/, http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/antiquity/fayum-mummy-portraits.htm, http://encausticpaints.com/Resources/HistoryofEncaustic/tabid/407/Default.aspx
For as long as I can remember, I have been able to effortlessly and accurately sketch or draw an object or persons likeness. I had an innate ability to look at a person or object, and accurately gauge the size, shape and colour, and distance, memorise that information and put it down on paper. As a child and teenager, I particularly loved to draw faces to obtain a realistic likeness to that person. This love also extended to drawing animals, and a lot of my teen years was spent drawing both from magazine photographs and from life. This expanded both to drawing from life and using my own photographs as reference.
Later, when I wanted to paint a landscape, building, or portrait of a person, I would complete a charcoal or pencil work as a preliminary study to work out composition, light and shade, and get a feeling for the subject. This enabled me to see things as they really are. Most of the time, my drawings were complete artworks in themselves.
Drawing dates back to pre-history and was the earliest form of non-verbal communication between humans. Drawing is a way to communicate thoughts and feelings, and enables us to see the world as it really is.
As Leonardo da Vinci once said,
“Painting embraces all the ten functions of the eyes, that is to say, darkness, light, body and colour, shape and location, distance and closeness, motion and rest.”
Some artists live in one part of the Universe of Art and explore a theme or themes. I have been strongly attracted to the exploration of different mediums, across the whole Universe of Art.
My early years involved mostly oil and charcoal, with forays into watercolour, pastel and acrylic. With these mediums, I explored landscapes, portraits, abstracts and surreal.
Recently, my life changed to allow more time for art, leading me into vigorous exploration of new areas of art. My two major new areas are encaustic art using hot beeswax and resin art using epoxy resin. At the same time, my life also changed with my marriage to a scientist with an interest in astrophotography and, with him, I have explored combining star images with charcoal drawings to convey the meaning of the Universe of Stars.
Painting with hot beeswax:
The ancient Greek art of encaustic painting with hot beeswax is another major realm in the Universe of Art. Moving into a new house with a new husband gave me the opportunity to explore this exciting new art realm, since this form of art needs considerable work in establishing a dedicated studio and developing new and unusual art techniques.
From 2014 to 2016, I developed abstract, image transfer and realist works, the latter focussing on a shipwreck series, which culminated in a solo exhibition called “The Last Fleet” at the Gold Coast City gallery in 2016.
I have also used the image transfer variation of encaustic painting to produce a series based on Australian native birds.
Painting with resin:
Over the last year, I entered yet another new realm of the Universe of Art: painting with epoxy resin. Like encaustic painting, this art form needs a dedicated studio, specific equipment, new techniques and a new approach to art. I am still exploring new variations of this exciting new realm of the Universe of Art but this exciting new area has already led to another solo exhibition called “New Beginnings”, at the One Arts Gallery, Isle of Capri, Gold Coast Queensland in the month of May 2017.
What is resin?:
Epoxy Resin used in art is an adhesive, plastic material made from synthetic polymers and mixed with a hardener in a specific ratio which varies for different brands. Coloured pigments are added, and the mixture is generally poured onto a surface, mostly MDF, but sometimes other surfaces. When cured, it becomes a very tough and hard surface.
When resin, hardener and coloured pigments are mixed, it is in a fluid form and extremely sticky – a bit like honey. An artist has to work very quickly to achieve their art with resin as it starts to cure after about 40 minutes – although it is possible to work a little longer before it becomes more like toffee. Then it must be left undisturbed until at least the next day before progressing further with it.
Frequently I work with multiple layers to achieve incredible depth, so depending upon how many layers I use, a good artwork can take several days to develop. The affects achieved with resin depend upon various ways that it is applied to the surface, and each artist develops their own techniques for manipulating the fluid medium to get the effects they want. There is much more involved than just “throwing coloured resin onto a surface”. An artist needs to develop a lot of skill to develop a unique and beautiful work.
Applying heat either with a torch or heat gun is an important step for proper curing of the resin and hardener mix. Proper mixing and exact volumes of resin and hardener are required for adequate curing. Whilst it becomes quite solid to touch within 5 to 7 hours, it requires up to 48 hours for a complete cure.
Epoxy Resin requires a moderate level of safety precautions to avoid contact with the skin and eyes as well as avoiding the accumulation of vapours in the room. I wear protective clothing, nitrate gloves, and work in a room with cross-flow ventilation and when using solvents, a carbon mask.
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