Monday, October 04, 2010

On the Cheap with E. Marie ... Encaustic!

Thanks to a basically nonexistant budget for supplies and a few other unfortunate factors, my students and I have been footing the cost of art supplies for my more hands-on Creativity class. That means we've been doing art on the cheap: using crayons and sharpies and recycled materials, rubber stamps and old magazines and glue and paint and glitter. They're great students, though, and they deserve more. So I asked them recently what kind of specific artforms they would like to see demonstrated and play a bit with in class, without having to go out and buy all the stuff themselves, and along with tie-dye, photography and bookmaking, encaustic came up.

Well, okay. It came up because I brought it up.

I've never done encaustic. I like the idea of it, painting with hot wax, and I've seen some pretty impressive uses of the technique, like the Starn Twins' encaustic-layered photographs. I'm captivated by some of the  videos I've seen: blowing hot wet colored wax into swirls and patterns, carving into layers of wax to reveal striations of color. And it seems like one of those media that can produce fascinating results almost entirely by accident, which given my blissful freedom from any formal knowledge of technique, will pretty much be what encaustic is about for me. When I mentioned it, faces all around the room broke into big smiles and excited expressions. The word "cool" was heard. Everyone seemed to think that would be a great idea.

As it turns out, it can be a really expensive idea. The "studio starter kit" at Jerry's Artarama includes an "electric palette" and a series of heated tools along with the basic wax and medium, and crests $600. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's not something I can manage on my massive adjunct salary, which nets me right about $1000 per month. Second of all, I'd like to show my students something they can manage to replicate on their own if they choose, and none of them seem to have $600 extra dollars either ... nor should they have to spend that just to try out an artistic medium that they might or might not find a resonnance for later on.

So I'm making the World's Cheapest Encaustic Kit. I'll have to test these things and see how well they work out before dragging them into class, but I'm game to do it if it works.

Here's what the WCEK includes:
1. "electric palette" aka known as a hotplate, with an alternate "electric palette" aka as a teflon-coated electric frypan. Both of these were acquired at thrift shops in Berkeley, most likely neither cost more than $5.

2. Heat gun. I happen to have a small heat gun which I used for embossing. I'm not sure it's hot enough for encaustic, but I'll test it and see.

3. Pallette thermometer ... I have several cooking thermometers that I imagine will work just fine. If not, they're also inexpensive.

4. Pallette cups. These specialized containers are basically cans. Other web sites recommend muffin tins. I'm not a baker so I don't have any muffin tins, but they're easy to find in thrift shops also. One thing I do have is cat food cans--lots and lots of cat food cans. I'm thinking they'll make fabulous pallette cups.

That just leaves brushes or something to get the medium onto the board or paper, scrapers and manipulation tools (which can be anything), another heating source (old hand iron, anyone?), and the encaustic medium and colors themselves. The "intro set" of encaustic medium and colors is a whopping $42. Not free, but way better than $600. I'm guessing my Encaustic-on-the-Cheap kit will not top $100.

Testing starts soon ... I'll keep you posted on the results.