The second week I was at Arrowmont, I took an encaustic painting class. Encaustic, for those unfamiliar, is essentially painting with hot wax. The instructor was encaustic painter and ceramic artist K Rhynus Cesark. Her crossover talents created a perfect learning environment for me and I was able to learn a lot of different approaches to encaustics, including painting on board, painting on ceramics, and casting with wax.
I think the most interesting photos I have are from the casting process, so I decided to share those with you. Luckily, if you recall from the last post I already had a ready-to-use plaster mold left over from my last class, which casts one half of an opened book. The clay book was “F” for Fox, so I decided on “R” for Rabbit for my wax book.
To begin the casting process, the plaster mold had to be soaked in water for about 25 minutes in order to ensure the eventual release of the cast wax. Otherwise you end up with wax permanently affixed to your mold. When the mold was ready, liquid hot wax was poured into the mold:
Now, I didn’t want the thing to be solid since that would use up an unnecessary amount of wax. And by the way, anytime in this post I say “wax,” what I am really referring to is “wax medium.” Which! I should mention! is beeswax mixed with damar resin: NOT just 100% beeswax as one might think. The resin helps the wax cure to a harder and more durable finish. However, its fumes are also toxic, so we had fans going constantly in a well-ventilated space. This is part of what made this process, while not imminently life-threatening, the most dangerous thing I attempted this summer. The other two factors were: 1) the hot wax is about 200 degrees F when you are working with it, 2) there was much handling of razor blades, and 3) we used propane torches!! Safety first!
I wish I had an ultra-cool picture of me working the blowtorch to show you but alas, I have no such photo. What I can show you is a profound piece of blowtorch wisdom brought to us by the metals class:
Anyhow, after casting several layers of wax into the mold to make a hollow page, I repeated the process to make the opposite page. Popped them both out and here’s our book:
But it still needed a back cover. So I cast a flat slab, manipulated it some with the aid of the aforementioned blowtorch and the heated flat griddle we all warmed our wax on, and attached it:
There’s a real, bonafide book in the background I used to help get it right. After the attachment it was time for the fun part: adding the rabbit design.
One of the really neat things about wax is its ability to grab onto images on paper. If you stick a drawn or printed image down on the wax and rub it in with a spoon, the image will actually transfer down onto the wax, due to the stickiness of the wax layer. It’s reminiscent of the silly-putty newspaper transfers I did as a kid. The caveat is that certain types of printer ink work better than others, and we had a whole run-around with that at the workshop, going all over Arrowmont’s campus to find the ideal printer for wax transfers. It also turns out that regular pencil graphite from a sketch transfers beautifully. I sketched my rabbit drawing on onionskin paper and transferred it on.
Here you can see a close up of the rabbit’s back in graphite, as well as the coordinating clover I drew up in the top right corner. You can see here that I’ve already started carving each individual clover into the wax.
That brings us to the next step: the carving and filling process! In ceramics we have a similar technique called mishima, so I kept thinking of this as mishima on wax. I used the guidelines of my transferred sketch to thoroughly carve out each element of the drawing. Then, using black oil paint and black encaustic paint, I filled in the carvings. It looks a mess initially because when you apply the black paint it just goes all over the place. Eventually, you scrape the excess back with a flat edge razor blade and reveal the design. Here’s a photo where I’ve just begun the scraping process, so you can see scraped and un-scraped areas:
Finally, after all the carving and scraping is done, we have the final product!