yesterday i spend some time playing in the art studio, exploring the process of making encaustics with my iphoneography. while setting up my supplies i took the above self portrait (because if you know me, you’ll know that this is how i process new things, always in the NOW of the moment with selfies)
for the past month or so, the word “encaustic” has popped in and out of my peripheral vision making its way into my vocabulary. then, at the beginning of february when i stood before a variety of artwork hanging at the Enormously Tiny art opening at Nahcotta in Portsmouth, i was completely smitten with a variety of mixed media collage. i felt myself drawn to the surface… and knew i had to get my hands on some wax. i happen to have a partner that is completely supportive and inspiring when it comes to trying out new art. together, artfarmer and i ventured somewhat excitedly into encaustics with the supplies we had on hand (and a studio with glorious light).
there’s something about the encaustic process that i love, yes, the making with my own hands. but there’s also something about the finished product that is very inviting. it’s quiet and non-obtrusive. it’s warm and subtle. i thought it would be a fun process to work with some of my iphoneography and now i’m hooked.
after posting that self portrait on instagram and flickr yesterday, quite a few people were interested in what i was doing or how i was going about doing it. so i thought i’d put together a tutorial of sorts to describe my process. (now, keep in mind, there are millions of ways to create encaustics, and mix encaustic paints, and encorporate them into mixed media collages. once you get your hands into it, you’ll find a rhythm that best suits you and your project. since i am coming at this medium as a photographer, i might do things differently than other tutorials you’ll find online. i wanted my finished product to be quiet. i wanted the image to draw you in closer, i didn’t want the wax to jump out loudly to get your attention, and so this is how i approached learning how to make iphoneography + encaustics.)
these are the supplies i gathered:
wood painting panels from the local art supply (4×4, 5×5, 8×8)
square print photos from postalpix
i want to talk for a minute about the wax. i plan on trying a variety of waxes, i chose synthetic beeswax over pure beeswax based solely on color. like i mentioned before, i really wanted to add a subtlety to the image. most of the images i wanted to remain golden but not too dark. the first few encaustics i made i really loved. the surface was smooth like butter. later, i tried my hand with paraffin wax because some of my more blue and turquoise photos i thought would look good with a clear wax. i found the paraffin not to be of my liking for this particular project. it melted rather quickly and ran like water. because of this, i found it more frustrating to work with and i wasn’t pleased with the final product. any bit of heat from the iron removed all the paraffin wax very quickly. the process was unsatisfying and so i went back to the synthetic beeswax that i preferred.
how i began:
- i laid out the wood panel and image i wanted to use (dusted off the wood and laid both on a clean paper surface on my work table)
- i sprayed both the back of the photo and the front of the wood panel with spray adhesive, making sure to cover all the corners well
- then i let it sit and dry for a minute (i took this time to do others, by the time i was done with the last one, the first one was dry)
- at this point i turned each wood panel over and got out my exacto knife to make sure i had a nice clean edge to my image. this meant sometimes shaving off 1/8 inch of the photo using the wood edge as my guide to keep things straight and square.
- gather up your torch and wax, with a low flame begin dripping the wax onto the image (i like starting out thick, so i cover the entire thing completely leaving no holes where the photo is not protected by wax)
- let it sit to dry for a minute or so
at this point it begins to look very milky and thick. i lay my wax paper down over top the image and with the iron set on low heat, i begin ironing. this heats the wax and helps it move in whatever direction i choose. i learned that if the iron is too hot it can pull up the image from the wood panel (or worse, can peel some of the image off the actual photo paper!) i’ve had great luck with the prints i had printed from my iphone via postalpix. i tried one image printed on hp matte paper and it burned in a weird way under the wax… now whether that was me or the photo paper i’m not sure. for now i’m sticking with postal pix as my source for printed iphone images as i’ve had the best luck with their prints.
i like texture, but i really prefer a smooth surface. i just don’t want the introduction of wax to take away anything from the image but add to it in a complimentary fashion. so i might iron once or twice or three times to remove as much wax as i feel the image needs. the above photo is after i ironed the image just once. it was still thick in parts and i believe it only needed one more push of wax to get the surface how i wanted it. this is when i would get the feeling that the piece was nearly done.
i’d pay special attention to how quickly i move the iron, what weight i am pushing the wax, and in what direction i move the iron. in one final movement i move the wax paper with the iron, then lift the wax paper as quickly as i can to leave a smooth surface. if there are bumps or streaks i may iron them out or just leave them on the image to add to the texture (to me, it depends on where the thickness is placed over the image as i want certain parts of the image to stand out more) i try to push the wax in the direction of the composition of the photo, if that makes sense. vertically if the image calls for it, or diagonally as i did with the image of river with his cousins on the tire swing.
you can see something of the texture here in this mosaic. it’s difficult to photograph, and yet it’s exactly what makes the finished product for me. the texture and the surface draw me in and also let me know when the piece is done.
when it’s done i let it sit and dry for a minute or so. there will be wax drips down each side of the wood panel. i prefer to iron these out rather than leaving them thicker and streaky (i press the iron to each of the wood sides) to make it look more sealed and clean (and ready to hang).
and then it’s done!
i’ve made about a dozen of these encaustics with my iphoneography, choosing images based on preference and what i thought would work with with contrast and depth coated with wax.
together, artfarmer and i have quite a collection of iphoneography for our art wall. it’s always growing and changing, and a favorite spot in our yurt. it’s a collective mix of framed prints, aluminum prints (also from postalpix) and now encaustics on a variety of wood panels to round out the collection.