A few of you have asked about the process of encaustic and I thought I could supply some answers today. The short version is that basically it’s a process of layering wax and removing wax.
Yes, “Wax on, wax off.”
I start with several layers of clear wax, then begin to apply color. With each layer, I’m adding heat, so that the layers of wax adhere to one another and create a solid structure to the piece. For that, I usually use a butane torch, but I’ve also used an iron, a heat gun and even matches.
I keep my wax colors in small metal tins on a pancake griddle, so they’re ready and waiting. And I use all sorts of things for pulling the wax away– like potter’s tools, a few random things from the kitchen, and even a dental pick.
Once the wax is warm, I start drawing with one of the tools. Then I’ll lay another color down in to whatever I’ve carved away. Then I’ll let that cool and scrape away the excess. Perhaps I’ll start applying color then, and all the while I’m adding a layer or two of clear wax to help hold everything together and add a little depth.
Eventually something begins to emerge.
The challenge is that one little distraction while applying heat, or a slip of a sharp metal point in to warm wax can totally change a painting. It can be delicate work.
But it’s also forgiving. If I don’t like what I see, I can always melt it back and begin again. I try to remember– if I created it once, I can always recreate it. (Sometimes that helps. Sometimes I just stomp my foot and sigh.)
The moment of magic is when the image begins to emerge– it’s not fully formed, yet it’s clearly exactly what I’m aiming for. That’s the sweet spot. If I work much more, usually I’ll lose the magic.
It means that sometimes things aren’t as precise as I’d like, or maybe the edges are a little fuzzier that I intended. But that’s how life is, right?
You add what you need, then take away what isn’t working. Eventually, something begins to build and while you don’t see every angle, you know you have something good happening.
It’s another lesson in trusting myself.