Experimenting with Photographs in Encaustic

After attending an excellent presentation by Danielle Correia at last year’s Encaustic Conference on working with encaustic on photographs, I have done some experimenting of my own.

Photograph Dipped in Wax:
When I dipped a photo into wax the whole image released from the photo paper -not good! What went well was dipping a photo printed on computer paper. The paper became transparent, which was a beautiful effect on its own. I added just a little bit of dabbing and went over the edge of the photo onto the paper. Here is the result.

Dipped photo (computer paper)

Matte photo paper, glued on hard board:
I had the same photo printed off on matte photo paper (6×8). This one I glued with matte medium on a piece of hardboard, then added clear medium on top. In the next step I built up texture, especially where the trees were and at the concrete boat launch area at the bottom. The texture was highlighted with a contrasting colour, light for the trees and dark for the foreground. The rocks were painted over with dark wax (my favourite indigo again!), using the tip of the iron. This piece has a totally different feel, but I still like it very much.

Matte photo paper, glued on hard board

I am now preparing to teach a workshop on “Encaustic and Photographs”. Here are a few recent experiments in preparation for the class.

Photograph Printed on heavy cardstock:
This one was printed with my inkjet printer on heavy cardstock. I started colouring with coloured pencils, then coating with medium, using a brush. After fusing I added more colour with wax this time and finally rubbed the piece with copper magic powder, which sticks nicely to any texture. The original photo was of a couple of birch tree trunks, but it has now a much more abstract feeling.

Printed on heavy cardstock



Photo Printed on Arches Velin Museum Rag:

This time the photo was printed, again with my inkjet, on special paper: Arches Velin Museum Rag, which is a beautiful, smooth paper. I cranked up the colours a bit with a photo editor and by accident I printed the image twice, but it really was a nice effect, so I decided to run with it. After printing the photo was dipped in a bath with medium and coloured with Panpastels. The Panpastels started to run and bead up beautifully while I was fusing.

Printed on Arches Velin Museum Rag

Photograph printed on glossy paper:
The last one is a 4×6 photo printed on glossy paper. I sanded the photo a bit, to make it more receptive to the wax, then coated it with medium. I rubbed several colours of alcohol ink over it, blending and lifting here and there to bring out the big flower to the right and the smaller one on the left. In the lower left corner I added more medium and pressed some netting in the soft wax. After removing the netting the texture was enhanced with more alcohol ink. The dark shading on the right is done with Panpastels.

printed on glossy paper

I would love to read your comments. How have you experimented with photographs in your encaustic artwork?

Thea Haubrich

Dutch artist Thea Haubrich studied at the Encaustic Academie in Germany to become a teacher of Encaustic. In 2004 she moved to British Columbia, Canada and now offers Encaustic Painting courses all over the South Okanagan and beyond. She is the founder of TwinLakes Encaustic Art Ltd.

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25 comments on “Experimenting with Photographs in Encaustic
  1. These are beautiful! As a longtime photographer that is now dabbling more into mixed media, I see this as a wonderful new way to marry my two loves! Thank you!!!

  2. Very nice information about photos and wax, Thea.

  3. Judy Wood says:

    I use photos or photo elements in many of my encaustics. One word of caution re inkjet prints is there is a big difference between dye based and pigment based inks. Your inks “releasing” when dipped in wax make me wonder if your printer uses dye-based inks. They will fade/colour shift, dissolve if wet, and are generally not stable over the long haul. Dye based inks are much more common than pigment, but for art use, pigment inks are the way to go.

  4. Thea says:

    Thanks, Mique & Cheryl!
    @ Judy: the project where the ink released from the photo was with a commercially printed photograph. I do notice that the inkjet prints smear a little when adding wax.
    Thanks for the heads up about dye based and pigment inks! I’ll see if I can find pigment inks to put in my inkjet printer.

  5. Kim Molitor says:

    Thanks for sharing! I just started experimenting with my photos as well – just like everything else with encaustic – it’s very addictive!

  6. Ruth says:

    Thanks for this great post Thea. I’ve only used photos as collage elements and as photocopy transfers so I’m excited to give this a try.

  7. Judy Wood says:

    Thea–if only it were that easy (just putting other inks in your printer). Inkjet printers take either one or the other type of ink and they are not interchangeable, so if your printer takes dye-based inks, you’d have to buy a new printer that takes pigment. You could try using a sealing spray over your inkjet print which should help to prevent blurring/smearing, but keep in mind that you will still potentially have fading over time with dye-based inks. I wonder if your commercially printed image was on glossy paper as well? That might make a difference. I only use matte photo papers so don’t have any direct experience with that issue, but it could be a contributing factor. Always so many ways to go astray!!

  8. Thea says:

    Thanks for all that info, Judy! I guess I would have to warn my students that the final artwork is not archivally sound….most of us won’t get into the cost of buying a special printer for their artmaking.
    But I guess the prints from London Drugs e.a. will use pigment inks, don’t they? I had some printed on matte paper, but it still felt pretty “glossy” to me. Wonder if the wax has enough tooth to sink in. Any thoughts on that??

  9. Ruth says:

    Judy mine is a laser printer… do you know how laser compares to ink jet when printing photos for use in encaustic?

  10. My 2 cents. In doing research into the dye and toner based inks… Pigment inks are good, dye not good for holding up the color over time. However, I have had cheap pigment ink printers that died on me after 14 months with a lot of expensive inks left unused. The best thing is to know what is the use for the printer before buying or have two printers. I rarely use color for a transfer or to be utilized in a painting so I have a mono laser ( B&W)… all lasers are safe in black. I am not so sure all are for color. Do some checking and research.

    You can buy a great, but expensive printer that uses pigment inks that you buy in large bottles instead of cartridges… and then they feed into your printer. This is what people use to make their giclees. Paper is another matter. Match the paper to the printer and to the project you are working on. Use gloss if you want the ink to transfer, use matte if you want the ink to stay in the paper. Use a paper that works well with the brand of printer….many times start with the same brand of paper as the printer. they are made to go together.

    Think a bit about spraying as it might keep the wax from adhering well is my thought. Otherwise it would work to help the ink not smear or to help the UV protection for other projects.

    It’s hard to give a cut and dried answer without know the exact purpose and the specifics of the project.

    Hope this is not more than you wanted to know :>)

  11. Hylla Evans says:

    Cheryl and Judy are on the right track with helpful advice. I’ll just add a couple points:
    Photo papers have significant amount of sizing in them even if they are matte surface. That sizing makes them far less absorbent. To hold a layer or more of wax, we need more absorbency.
    Dye based inks are not lightfast, meaning they fade pretty quickly so are not suitable for artwork.
    If you choose pigment based inks, don’t rely on the sales claims of how long they hold up. Those claims are not meant for constant exposure to indoor light the way art hung on a wall is. I urge you to contact the CHEMIST at the manufacturer (not the marketing dept) and ask for the lightfastness rating for fine art use.

  12. Listen to Hylla…. she knows her stuff. I am all for playing and experimenting, BUT, know what your materials can do or not do if you plan to sell it to someone.

  13. Hylla Evans says:

    That’s very sweet, Cheryl. It’s an incredibly kind way of saying that I’m obsessive about permanence and technical quality of materials.
    One presenter combined all kinds of inks and xeroxes in her collage and I asked if she was concerned about permanence. She responded emphatically, “They’ve lasted three years!”
    So I guess we all have different ideas of what ‘archival’ means.
    The Fayum portraits are over 2,000 years old. If we’re going to do things another way, let’s try to make them at least as good as the artists who went before us.

  14. heh heh… at least a couple of hundred years.

  15. Judy Wood says:

    Thea–you’d need to ask London Drugs what they use for inks. I have used Epson matte presentation paper successfully and also have printed on tissue or thin rice papers. There are products you can buy (Golden digital ground or Inkaid) to precoat any paper to make it user-friendly for printing on with inkjets. I’ve tried them with some of the less conventional papers and then used them with encaustic and they have worked well also. Seems to me I have also used encaustic with some of the ones I have lightly sprayed with sealer, but I might be mistaken there, as I was working on acrylic mixed media pieces and encaustic mixed media at the same time. :-)

  16. Thea says:

    Wow, thanks for all this EXCELLENT feedback!
    I will certainly keep all in mind and alert my students in workshops about the archival issues.
    Some just want to have fun and won’t be concerned much, but it is always better to be informed.
    BTW: I know through a professional photographer friend that the London Drug products are excellent, so will focus more on using those.

  17. Vicki Rulli says:

    Also – when working on paper you need to coat the bottom side of the paper so the wax doesn’t absorb thru. If you coat the top side of your paper or if your paper has a coating on the top – over time the wax can (and probably will) crack…and maybe fall off.
    We print our photographs using a wide format printer from canon – and use a bamboo fiber paper from Germany.

  18. Thea says:

    Vicky, I’m confused….I thought the bleeding of the wax through the paper, making it translucent, was one of the assets of the technique…?
    I see your point about the topside of the paper; there should be no coating.

  19. Susan Stayer says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiments with us. They’re so interesting!

  20. I have done some work with photos professionally printed, with the silver emulsion process, on cotton rag art paper. The print is archival (as archival as any silver emulsion print can be) and the paper is absorbent. I usually mount the image on encaustic board with acrylic medium (being careful not to get any on the top). Then I do whatever enhancements I choose from there. The prints are pricey but archival quality can be assured. I have my prints done at MPix.com One of these images is on my website at http://www.stephaniegreenart.com/Vanishing_and_others.php

  21. Nancy Ori says:

    I am starting in encaustic and using inkjet photographs. Encaustic specialists seem to use the word medium a lot. Sometimes they are referring to gel medium and sometimes to wax. I need to know how to get a large photo to cover the whole surface of a panel. What do you recommend to stick it on with? Some people have said acrylic heavy gel medium and others are just using white or wood glue. Any preference?

  22. Thea says:

    Hi Nancy,
    yes, the use of “medium” for both wax and gel medium can be confusing! Just know that the two are not compatible, as gel medium is a water based product.
    To glue your photo down it depends on what kind of paper you printed it on. You do not want any glue to bleed through, as that would interfere with the wax.
    Here is a tutorial to glue watercolour paper to board, but photos would work just as well.

  23. Grace Jaara says:

    Thanks for the “how to” videos. Have been using encaustic for a while. Now will experiment with some of the techniques I just learned about. Thanks again.

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