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Yard art

GASLAMP – 6×6″ mixed media encaustic

IMG_0580The gas lamp in my front yard was the inspiration here.  Here is the original photo which I photoshopped out the background.  I then did an image transfer to encaustic background and added an intarsia flame.  Topcoated with resin.

Mr Sun – 6×6″ mixed media encaustic

IMG_0578In the gardens we have a couple of these metal/glass prism stakes.  I again ran my photo through photoshop to strip out the background, then did an image transfer – this time to an abstract color mix covered with layers of plain encaustic.  I then etched out the layers of plain encaustic to reveal the base.

The center face I printed on inkjet paper and glued to aluminum foil, then encased in encaustic.  A resin topcoat is added.

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Happy PI day

Happy PI day – 6×6″ mixed media encaustic

For relaxation I love to do the New York Times crosswords.  I have a yearly subscription and use the Crosswords app on my android tablet.  After/if I finish I read Rex Parker’s blog as he provides a daily (sometimes biting) critique.  They get published at 9pm the day before publication date, so doing them before I head to bed puts me in a relaxed state.

Monday through about Thursday, that is.  Monday is the easiest and they get progressively harder through the week.  Saturday is beyond me, and I will sneak a peek at Rex’s column to see if he gives the Sunday (which is large) an ‘easy’ mark.  Monday-Thursday almost always have a theme, or some trick to them that hopefully results in an ‘aha’ moment when the puzzle makes sense.

National PI day is March 14 (or 3.14.year).  But it wasn’t until a week or two later that a PI-themed puzzle was published.  Sometimes the Thursday puzzles are a rebus where one square can have multiple letters in it.  It this year’s case (spoiler alert) some squares contained the letters “PI” and the answers were like the TV show  “Magnum PI” crossed with the film “Life of PI”.

Anyway that gave me the inspiration to create the PI symbol with intarsia technique.  For the PI digits a simple Google search found a website with PI calculated to the millionth digit.  I was hesitant about attempting a photo transfer since my PI symbol was looking pretty good, so I opted to print the digits on office paper and encase in encaustic.  A resit topcoat is added.

I’m going to be doing a larger version of this, maybe adding in some graphics with PI-related equations.


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You’re not going to throw that away, are you?

Frame pinwheel – 6×6″ mixed media encaustic

My earth-conscious friends would be appalled at the amount of paper towels this endeavor consumes.  But I am re-purposing all the pine shelving that has been stored in the attic of the garage for 20 years — making my own frames stands for my pieces.  In fact as I looked at my scrap wood from the frames I saw I could piece them together into a pinwheel.  So I stained, glued, and put a polyurethane top coat on a set of four, then embedded in plain encaustic.  This was my first mixed media 3-D piece.

Birthday bag – 6×6″ mixed media encaustic

Another encaustic artist I like with high Google visibility is Lisa Kairos.  Inspired by her paper strip encasing I intercepted a birthday gift bag that was headed for the trash, sliced it up, and put it down on plain encaustic.  It also went through the resin topcoat factor for a glass shine.

Etchings – 6×6″ encaustic & resin

In researching encaustics on the Internet, one thing you hear is that if you don’t like something, just pull it up or scrape it off and start over.  This piece started off as the background for one of my guillochés but the color was off and ran badly over and under the image.  So I ripped out the graphic, put down several coats of plain encaustic and etched out some random lines with a small screwdriver. The blocks at the bottom right and middle-upperish left were pulled up and flipped over.   A resin topcoat is added.

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Salli Babbit workshop – shellac & fire

Shellac&Fire1If you Google ‘houston encaustic classes’ then Salli Babbit is one of the leading results.

Salli has monthly workshops which usually feature some aspect of encaustic method.  I went for first time to her March 2014 workshop where the topic was ‘Shellac and fire’.  Everybody had two panels to prepare with gesso and air dry, then create some sort of encaustic artwork.

After the piece was prepared, then we went outside, slathered on a coat of shellac, set it down on the sidewalk, then set it ablaze with a blowtorch.  This results in an amber-colored crackle effect.

One guy had created a very nice scene of a church window – very detailed.  But when it burned I watched in sort of mild shock as the detail dissolved and merged everything together.

Shellac&Fire2My two pieces were pretty basic.  There were about 15 people to share a couple hotplates of encaustic wax and brushes.  So I just made a couple pieces of color stripes, went thick with the shellac and let both pieces burn out themselves.

Salli explained some options:  a) don’t put shellac over the whole piece;  b) blow it out before the burn completes;  c) thick versus thin applications of shellac;  d) clear versus amber shellac.

I had to leave these at the workshop as they were too wet and sticky to take home with me on the train.  And even after a couple of days they were still tacky.  So extra drying time is a factor.

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I’m just trying to be transparent here


Inkjet printing on transparency film is the subject of these two pieces.

IMG_20140307_131947944[1]Springtime in Houston yields an abundance of floral beauty.  I snapped a photo of a neighborhood redbud with my smartphone and cropped out all the power lines and sky with photoshop, then printed it on transparency film, wanting to see how well the transparency film became invisible encased in encaustic, showing the full view of the underlying encaustic-painted sky.  Could I avoid tedious scissor work?

I paired it with an image transfer of text snagged off Wikipedia.

To me the color printing on the transparency lost a lot of its vibrancy.  And I should not have chopped off the image so obviously.

And I learned that once you have a finger print or smudge on the transparency, just throw it away.  Windex destroys it.  Best to use latex gloves.

SnapdragonIMG_0560Next came a photo from some of the snapdragons blooming in my front yard.  I attempted a green screen — well cheap red plastic table covering actually, supported by tomato cage wire — to help with the photo masking in photoshop.

It came out much better, and went on to get the full resin topcoat treatment.

I subsequently ordered a green screen fabric off Amazon.

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Variations on a white rose

12" x 12" mixed media encaustic on plywood
Variations on a white rose – 12″ x 12″ mixed media encaustic

IMG_20140323_153258063[1]The inspiration for this piece came from a centerpiece at an anniversary party for a couple of our friends, combined with a dose of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe heaped in.

Here is the original photo I took with my smartphone.

Using Photoshop I removed all the background imagery.  I didn’t want to deal with any background interference from my encaustic background so I printed the image on my inkjet and glued it onto aluminum foil.  I ironed it then burnished it into a 6×6 panel which I had created a yellow background.

For the remaining panels I let photoshop show off its prowess with its built-in filtering.

The upper right is a mosaic filter.
The bottom left is a saran wrap filter.
And the bottom right is the bas relief filter.

I then mounted all four pieces onto MDF board and put on a couple topcoats of resin.

I will be framing it in the coming days.

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As a kid growing up in the 60-70s I of course had a Spirograph set.  Who could resist making those beautiful geometric patters?

The reality was yes, you could draw some spectacular shapes, but a) you had to have a reliable set of color pens; b) you could not let the gears slip; and c) even if everything went great you were still left with artwork that had pinholes stuck through it.  Yes, my quest for perfection and critique were evident even back then.

So with today’s graphics programs, shifting gears, blotchy pens, and pinholes are a thing of the past.

On my home computer I had an old copy of Macromedia Fireworks for manipulating the graphics of the websites I maintained over the years.  But a Google/YouTube search for how to make spirographs — or technically guilloché — predominantly utilized Adobe Illustrator.  I decided I would sign up for Adobe’s 30-day free trial of their Creative Cloud suite which includes Photoshop and Illustrator.  (I also had to upgrade my PC’s OS as I learned Vista is not a supported platform.)

Based on my koi encasement from one of my test pieces, I didn’t think I would have any problems.  Oh no, there was plenty still to learn.


From a base of watercolor paper on plywood I put down a few smooth layers of encaustic medium and then colored the edges.  My intent was to have the color just approach the graphic.
The guilloche I printed on plain printer paper with my inkjet printer, cut around the graphic carefully with scissors and then burnished into the wax.  Then I started up the heat gun to fuse.

You’ll notice the wax running on top of the graphic on the upper left and bottom left, and running under the graphic on the right side.  Grrr.

Another problem with this was that the paper was curling up at points along the edge.  My attempts to deal with that problem only made things worse.  Chalk another one up to lessons learned.

Spiro1My next piece turned out much better with the color controlled along the edges.  This piece went on to get a resin top coat.

Spiro3I then took another stab at the first guilloche, going with the yellowish border color as a possible companion piece.  I also began altering the background color of my graphics to better meld in with the uncolored encaustic media I was attaching to.

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The early test pieces

I started my encaustic endeavor with six 6×6 inch test pieces, looking to see what worked and what didn’t.  It was pretty clear there was a lot more “what didn’t work” learnings.

I remember in college taking a computer engineering digital electronics class, working with diodes, resistors, and transistors.  One project had us build a circuit to demonstrate that 2 + 2 = 4, or somesuch goal.  My friend Ronald Peterson put his together, flipped the switch, and it worked flawlessly.  Mine did not.  Nor did it work with the second attempt.  But my takeaway was that if I didn’t make mistakes, I could not learn from them.

I am still a card carrying Project Management Institute certified Project Management Professional (at least until they want my renewal dues).  So in the spirit of properly documenting each project’s Lessons Learned, here we go:

Palm trees image transfer #1


There are dozens of videos on YouTube on how to do an image transfer onto encuastic, and Jon Peters does a good video on this.  But they all seemed to be premised on burnishing and more burnishing, then wetting the paper and daintily rubbing with your finger until the paper dissolved.

And be happy with the imperfect results.

Evident on the left palm is that chunks of the trunk didn’t transfer.  On the right palm what happened is that entire sections of the tree started floating away as I was fusing with my hot air gun.  Maybe I should have burnished for twice as long?  Been more dainty with the rubbing?

At least the background sky looked credible.

 Palm trees image transfer #2

Test2Same song, second verse.  This time I was especially careful to burnish twice as long, and was especially delicate with the paper rubbing.

I didn’t even finish – I knew it was just not happening.  The right palm especially the trunk got lopped off, and its left palm frond is a mess.  The white haze on the palms is the paper I didn’t finish rubbing off or fusing.

There had to be a better way to do image transfers that were consistent and some reasonable approach to perfection.  This method wasn’t it.

Still I was gaining experience with fusing techniques with my 20-year-old paint stripper hot air gun.  My background was smooth as a baby’s butt and had no bubbles.

Test piece #3

Test3Andy Braitman of Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff has a multi-part YouTube series on creating an encaustic lakefront scene.  He builds layers upon layers of wax, and demonstrates manipulating and embedding techniques.

So this is just some experimentation with layering different colors   Mainly just blue, green, and white since that was all the colors and brushes I had out.

I noticed my titanium white was crackling and becoming iceberg-like.  Something interesting but not what I was wanting.  Hmmm.  What caused that to happen?

Embedding, encasing, and intarsia

Test4Andy Braitman also demonstrated adding powders and other materials into the art.  I didn’t have any vermiculite but I did have some Miracle Grow plant food and soldering wire, so in they went.

I noticed the process of covering the soldering wire with wax really dulled down the sharpness of the silver.  And now weeks later I see that the Miracle Grow is starting to deteriorate.

And the white iceberging effect was even more pronounced in this.

But the intarsia test at the bottome right is what was remarkable about this for me.  Wow, that really worked, looked good, and had the precision factor I was after.

 Finally a semi-decent image transfer

Test5My search for how to do successful image transfers was answered not by Googling “encaustic transfers”, but instead over on the woodworkers’ YouTube channels, namely Steve Ramsey whose 2-minute video was the key to success.

It wasn’t 100% perfection, but close enough to where a little touch up with a black sharpie could render it pretty darned good.

The music is from one of my old piano books, scanned into Macromedia Fireworks, scaled, and reversed.  Underneath I had encased a piano keys graphic I pulled down from the web.  Although I was happy with the transfer I wanted the piano keys edges to disappear.  Would transparency film work better?

First koi test

Test6So I have a huge koi pond taking up most of the front yard.  Koi will be working their way into my art for sure.  I was really intrigued by a piece that Lynne Bowden has on her website.

The koi was scanned in and scaled from a bag of Mazuri koi food.  That green on the left fin is from a lily pad that was semi covering it.  Creating my own koi image to own is high on my list.  But do I use graphic images or hope the encaustic will follow orders and render something nice.

The kanji koi symbols in the upper right are something I lifted from the internet years ago and used on the Lone Star Koi Club’s website which I maintain.  This is actually a color image transfer using the Steve Ramsey technique.  It came out OK but I plan to do my next koi piece with intarsia-fashioned kanji symbols.

That was the end of my six test blocks of plywood.  On to phase two!