Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Waxing Eloquent

If you're one of the loyal 2.3 readers of this blog, you'll know that I recently tried my hand at encaustic. I've been interested in encaustic ever since I saw what the Starn Twins were doing with black and white silver gelatin prints and beeswax, and a few more encounters with very creative and intensively fine-art uses of the medium really piqued my interest. Simultaneously, I was a bit hesitant; it's one of those areas that can start to feel a bit craftish ... not that there's anything wrong with that, I do kind of craft-y things all the time. But I wasn't looking for another hobby material, I specifically wanted to expand my fine art range. So I signed up for an encaustic collage class with a nationally-recognized artist who, although she was a painter for many years, now works exclusively with encaustic.

my on-the-cheap setup
 The bar to entry is pretty low with encaustic. Thanks to my previous goofing around with things like acrylic paint and embossing, I already had a selection of natural bristle brushes and a handy little heat gun. I was able to forgo the fancy electric "heated palette" (about $600) and special tins and instead I use a thrift-shop electric frying pan (with a thrift shop hotplate for back-up), and cat food cans to hold my pigmented wax selection. So to start this adventure, I wound up buying a few encaustic boards (although you can use anything absorbant and rigid, including plain old plywood) and some encaustic medium and pigmented wax, for a grand total of about $45. A few extra $2 brushes from the hardware store, and I was set. At that point I was guessing I probably wouldn't take to it, since any artistic practice that costs less than a million dollars to start and maintain doesn't seem to be my thing.

But I must say, my days of staring jealously at people who can be artistically fulfilled for the price of a pencil and a sketchbook may be coming to an end.

Fly, 3x5 inches

It's been a couple of weeks now and I've produced a handful of pieces; I like each one I do better than the last. The kind of flailing "how does this work again?" approach has been replaced by more deliberation, conceptual ideas, and artistic intent. The pieces have titles, and a point. Although it's possible (probable) that "eloquent" is the wrong word for the way I'm approaching encaustic. Enthusiastic might be better; experimental definitely fits. I'm taking it on with the same nutty intensity I have for my photo and video work, and I'm actively thinking of ways to integrate my photographic work with the wax. I get to use a lot of my weird predilections and art stuff I've collected over the years without really knowing what I was going to do with them: the massive paper and fabric collections, the rubber stamps, the weird carving and impression-making devices I was never sure why I had. My little random wire wiggles now have a place to go, and all those thread embellishments will find their way onto wax-coated panels at some point, too. Beads and scraps of polymer clay experiments and pigments and burnishers all potentially have a place. I get to use everything, and I get to use my hands. It doesn't require even one second in front of the computer. And I get to work small. Really small. My largest piece to date has been 8 x 10 inches. For someone used to printing color photos 30 x 40, this is a treat indeed.

Textures of Fall
5x7 inches
 I'm enjoying working with texture, as well; even though my photographs are often OF texture, by virtue of their medium they are themselves texture-free. So I'm finding a lot to like, and I'm feeling pretty content with encaustic right now. I have the basic techniques down, but I'm giving myself a lot of latitude to try things and experiment and not be attached to things working in a particular way--or even working at all. It might just be because it's all still new, but I'm finding it fascinating, and it actually feels like I'm finding my voice. At any rate, I'm definitely learning to appreciate the different approaches available to me and the effects I'm able to achieve even with my limited experience and "on the cheap" set-up. It seems to respond very nicely to intent, and to vision, and the possibilities seem almost limitless.


Ann Tracy said...

ah ha! you actually paint with the wax? I had thought that you painted with acrylic and coated different layers with wax.... can't wait to see where you go with this E Marie!

E. Marie said...

Actually, Ann, that wouldn't be possible. Acrylic and wax are not friends; the wax will not bond to it and it "slips off." It's one of the few mediums that just doesn't work with encaustic.

Image transfers with encaustic are the easiest thing I've ever tried, I'll be talking about those in a future post.