Encaustic, by its nature, pulls us – as artists – into new territory. This is one of the aspects of it that I love. There is a sense that the medium is always at least one step ahead of us, gesturing playfully to “Check this out!” or “What would happen if…?” At the beginning of my exploration with encaustic, I was not surprised by this, as with any new medium, the possibilities feel endless. Now, ten years later, I marvel that I’m still being pulled into trying new things. Now I am just as (if not more) engaged than ever. Although I’ve heard encaustic called many things over the years – spontaneous, luscious, forgiving, frustrating, versatile, challenging, experimental… I’ve never heard “boring”! There is a real sense of wonder and play we experience when working with hardened beeswax and paint.
It is this sense of play that particularly fuels me as an artist and teacher. When my friend, encaustic student and website designer Ruth Maude asked me to write a post for her new blog, I choose to focus on this sense of play – particularly by sharing one ironing technique that I’ve developed. I’m happy and fortunate to teach this at the Annual Encaustic Conference organized by the enthusiastic champion of encaustic, Joanne Mattera. Her book “The Art of Encaustic Painting”, inspired so many of us to try it out and the Annual Conference (now in its 5th year) brings encaustic artists from all corners of the globe to share ideas, techniques, supplies, and of course our art with each other in a supportive, giving environment. I will be teaching again this year in Provincetown, Mass. in early June, at the Truro Centre for the Arts, and look forward to seeing so many of my friends (and coming home with my head full to the brim with new ideas)!
For years I used a heat gun and blow torch as my tools – often trying out the iron but not really knowing what to do with it. I usually ended up with mud. For one thing I was using a regular iron with holes in it, and this didn’t help – but it was also a matter of needing to spend more time with it. So, I gave myself permission to spend a year playing with the iron as part of my art practice. It’s now become an indispensable part of my studio and a favorite tool. Now I regularly use all three fusing tools with each piece, getting a variety of surface textures.
For those of you who are new to the iron, I’d like to share my favorite technique. First, the tool: I found and use the “Encaustic Art” Iron, developed by Michael Bossom. It is compact, sturdy, has no holes and maintains the correct temperature. These features make it perfect for encaustic. It also doubles as a mini hot plate (when we need to melt just one pot of wax). I recommend this and also sell it on my art supply website.
My favorite ironing tip: Ironing over drips/drops:
Create drips or drops of encaustic wax on your painting and allow them to harden completely (do not fuse). Layer on an over-coating of medium – be sure to cover right up to the edge of each drip/drop. Here we are fusing two layers of wax at the same time, with some spectacular results! The motion with the iron needs to be ‘across and down’, not back and forth, or the drips/drops will smear. I’m talking about one quick, firm pass with the iron, keeping it clean on a pad of paper towel after each swipe. You should see the drips/drops ‘pop’ (become more apparent) as the iron wants to push the top layer of wax down into the low spots. This is one thing that the iron does best: pushes medium down, allowing whatever texture is there below to ‘pop’ up. This works for any texture, not only drips/drops. Have fun, experiment, see what happens!