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Phil Madley "Wax Works: Encaustic"
29 April 2014

Visit Phil at www.philmadley.com - Back to History Page

Phil introduced encaustic as one of the oldest, brightest, most colour-fast and least well-known of painting mediums.

All that the ancient Egyptians needed for their encaustic paintings was beeswax, pigments and fire. Today you can buy coloured beeswax blocks and use electrically heated irons to melt and spread the wax.

Ordinary travel and soldering irons are no good because their thermostats are not calibrated properly and their surfaces are coated (which affects spreading and cleaning). Phil sells 'proper' encaustic starter kits for between about £50 and £80 (here). The main tool looks like a small travel iron but you get a wider range of effects if you buy a stylus, too. The stylus is like an ordinary electical soldering iron, but comes with a range of interchangeable ends (points, triangles, flat plates, wire brushes etc.).

Another useful tool is a heat gun to blow wax around the picture (an electic paint-stripper is ideal). This is particularly useful for larger paintings on MDF board.
One very effective picture he had brought had been done on black card using white, yellow and blue waxes, with a heat gun as the main tool.

Another, on white, showed the psychadelic results that the heat gun can give, blowing and blending several colours.

For the first of the many examples he did during the demo he used only one colour (purple). He melted this onto the iron, spreading it over he whole surface. Then he placed the iron onto the card (glossy art card is ideal) and moved it around a little, leaving the wax much thinner in some places than in others.
He started by demonstrating the lovely textures you get as you lift the flat of the iron off the card. Then he completely transformed it by turning the iron on its side and pulling radial lines out from the centre with the curved end of the edge (near the point). There must have been some clever flicks-of-the-wrist to get the lighter and darker radials.

Phil wiped the iron clean every time he changed colour - kitchen paper. For his next example he melted several different colours onto the iron and put these on quite carefully, so they did not mix enough to lose brightness. Then, using the edge of the iron even closer to the point he drew three sets of spiky radial "petals".
He finished the flowers by loading black onto a stylus and dotting this into the centre. He then used a scriber to push wax away (exposing dots of white card).

The next demo was quite time-consuming. Yellow and blue were put onto the card with the flat of the iron.

Then, starting a little way from the yellow centre, he made a series of long tangential strokes with the edge of the iron. This mixed the colours, making green. After completing one circle he moved out a little and repeated the exercise several more times. The result had a very three-dimensional spinning spiral look.
"Can you do landscapes?" said someone.

Immediately, yellow and black were applied to a new white card and the top third was roughly smoothed over (two strokes). Then Phil worked across the width of the card with the point of the iron, twisting and pushing to add interest to the resulting distant hills.

Then I got puzzled. He ran the straight edge of the iron repeatedly across the picture, apparently just drawing a straight line over and over again. Eventually I realised he was very gradually working down the page, making very convincing watery ripples.
More work with the point of the iron created foreground rocks. Putting it flat and then lifting gave texture (vegetation), strokes with the stylus made other vegetation and more black created a foreground tree. Foliage appeared from a wire brush end on the stylus.

"How about portaits?" said someone else. "I don't go for a likeness but one can do figures". On goes a dark splodge (he used red and black) and with one of the narrow rectangular blades in the stylus you can easily work back to the white of the card.

Town-scapes? By speading some colour over the card and exploiting the stylus tools, you can make very impressive abstract ones.
Metallic pigments can be good too. For his final example Phil dribbled blobs of colour, spread them with the heat gun, added several silvery streaks and then heat-gunned them. Brilliant effect!

Thanks, Phil, for a most informative and entertaining evening.

Examples of abstract city-scapes


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