Painting layers of wax on a surface can get pretty heavy so it’s important to have a strong support for your painting. This helps prevent flexing or cracking of the wax. You don’t want your painting to peel off the background! There are many suitable surfaces for painting on but I’m going to show you how I prep a wood board for painting. Here is a plain, marine grade plywood board I found left over from a former project. I need to prime the surface.
I have a cookie tub of wax scrapings. This is a great little resource and makes my green heart happy because I never throw away the wax. It can always be used in the future. Sometimes I can pull certain colors out to tint. Sometimes, I throw wax on the griddle and use whatever color emerges.
Here I grabbed some cold wax scrapings which I heated up on my pancake griddle palette. Then I brushed the molten wax onto the wood with a sponge brush. The wax leftovers came out a light gray color but it doesn’t matter because I know I’m going to pile on more wax and this layer won’t be seen.
Each layer of wax needs to be heat set and bonded. Here, I use a larger iron to fuse the first layer to the wood.
I knew that I wanted to experiment with scoring lines deeply into the wax. After the first gray layer and a purple layer, I added another six layers of white wax, making sure to heat fuse each layer after application. Then I took an x-acto knife and pottery scoring tool to scrape lines into the wax. I want to create a deep enough groove that will hold another color of wax. These lines are not random. I always look at something for reference – even when experimenting like this. It gives me bones on which to later hang my composition.
When you score into the wax, it creates little ridges on the sides of your groove…like a snowplow when it clears the street. You need to remove the ridges so that your surface is level. I used an x-acto knife and a scraping tool to clean the edges. Here are all the scrapings. They look interesting! I’ll probably experiment with fusing them onto a surface with a heat gun.
I dripped hot, black wax into the little grooves, making sure the wax settled down into my marks.
Once I filled all the lines with black wax (which actually takes a while), I used a scraping tool to remove the excess wax and bring the layers level with the white wax. Here you can see a cleaned up line and the dripped line.
Oops! I scraped away the wax before it was cool enough and the wax smeared. This might create a nice effect but I’m going to wait for it to cool off and clean up my mess. It’s a little tricky and just takes some experience working with the wax. You don’t want the wax to be so hard and cold that it’s tough to remove. At the same time, you don’t want it to be so warm that it drags across your surface like this.
I continue to scrape away the excess black wax and I like what I see. It’s a nice effect.
As I scrape, I save the shavings off to the side.
Then I roll them up into a ball and toss them into my wax tub for future use. This is one of many reasons why I like encaustic. It’s a very sustainable art form. The wax can be reused indefinitely. Beeswax is also a sealant and a preservative so paintings last a very long time. Known paintings today such as the famous Fayum portraits were painted on tombs from Roman Egypt around 100-350 A.D.
I’m happy with my surface. I can see some of the original grey and purple layers that I first laid down peeping through. I’m not concerned about the color because it will either add to the piece or be covered up as I work on this painting.