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Cardboard as a substrate for encaustic painting

Cardboard as a Substrate for Encaustic Painting

Cardboard as a substrate for Art

I first thought of using cardboard as a substrate because I had a couple of frames that weren’t standard sizes. By cutting and gluing back together strips of cardboard I was able to fashion a textured substrate that fit the odd size frames.

I was surprised to learn that Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Edvard Munch, among others, used cardboard substrates (source). Many contemporary artists have explored the possibilities of cardboard due to its availability, versatility, and sustainability.

Jan J. Schoonhoven (1914–1994) was a Dutch artist known for his geometric and minimalist artworks. He often used cardboard as a primary material in his creations. Schoonhoven’s use of cardboard was part of his exploration of light, shadow, and texture. Seeing his work online, influenced my direction in these works.

For Playing With Fire, I cut strips of corrugated cardboard, then glued them together, corrugation side up. For Burnt Offering, I cut and glued together thicker strips of honeycomb cardboard. I used India Ink on the honeycomb cardboard before adding black wax. And yes, sometimes when I fused the wax, the cardboard caught fire. I deliberately let it catch to scorch the cardboard, I smothered the flame with a silicone pot holder but, when left, the flame quickly extinguished itself. My smoke detector went off a few times and my daughter came down and asked me if I was playing with fire… hence the title.

Cardboard is an ideal substrate for encaustic artwork, it is light-weight, absorbent, and rigid. It can be cut and glued together to create substrates of any size and shape. It is also free when rescued from recycling bins. The rigid cardboard substrate creates a textured surface that isn’t as fragile as some of my encaustic accretion works. By using cardboard to create the underlying texture, I use less encaustic paint on the surface.

AND, encaustic is an ideal medium for cardboard; the wax coats the cardboard sealing it and making it impervious to moisture in fact the ancient Greeks used wax and resin to waterproof and decorate their ships.

Materials & Supplies Required:

  • Cardboard – either corrugated or honeycomb
  • Cutting Mat
  • Exacto Knife
  • A mask – so you don’t breathe in airborne fibres from the cardboard
  • Ventilation – as with any encaustic painting
  • Fire Extinguisher / Fire blanket
  • Glue – I used Christina Lovisa’s Recipe
  • Wooden Panel – For the small unframed works I used inexpensive panels
  • Wood Glue for adhering the cardboard to the wooden panel or into a frame
  • Encaustic paints

Use different types of cardboard and cut them in different ways for different textural results. I realized that the cardboard substrates didn’t need to be framed, so I created small cardboard substrates that I glued to cheap wooden panels to make them easy to hang.

The design of honeycomb cardboard draws inspiration from the honeycomb structure found in beehives in nature. The hexagonal shape is an efficient and stable geometric pattern, providing strength and rigidity with minimal material while keeping it relatively lightweight.

These works are available to view and purchase in my solo show Elements of Nature at Propeller Art Gallery until December 3, 2023.

I don’t know about you but I’m excited to create cardboard substrates of various shapes and sizes for future encaustic painting projects. I would love to see examples of how you’ve used cardboard, please post in the All Things Encaustic Facebook Group.

About Ruth Maude

I enjoy experimenting with a variety of encaustic materials, techniques and tools. Everything I learn pushes my creative journey in new directions. I share what I've learned with other artists through my blog All Things Encaustic.

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7 thoughts on “Cardboard as a Substrate for Encaustic Painting”

  1. Ruth, you are a huge inspiration! I’ve been exploring accretion and other ways to create texture with encaustic for some time and then discovered your work, which consistently amazes me. Thank you so much for sharing your discoveries and techniques.

  2. I was under the impression that one had to work with wood because the weight of the layers of the encaustic would make any canvas or other substance bow underneath it. I do a lot of my work on cardboard because I like the texture and I like being iconoclastic by not using a traditional canvas substrate. Until this blog of yours it never occurred to me to cut pieces of cardboard and arrange them on cardboard thereby adding even more delicious texture! But my question still is, doesn’t the weight of the encaustic layers involved mean that you have to use wood underneath the cardboard to support it? Thank you! PS I absolutely adore the work that you just showed above. Such texture and depth It makes my soul sing!

    1. Thank you, Rebecca!

      Canvas will flex under the wax, that’s correct. When I propose using cardboard I’m not talking about a single piece of cardboard. You would glue sheets together to create a substrate that is thick enough and rigid enough. Honeycomb cardboard works well as it is depending on the thickness. I found that using a wood substrate underneath made it easier to wire and hang the unframed pieces. If you are using a lot of encaustic medium then you might need the extra support from the wood. The two works that are framed are all cardboard, they are wired from the frame.

      1. The texture is fantastic
        Design possibilities are infinite
        I really enjoyed seeing your work.

        I hope to give the cardboard substrates a try with encaustics. Thanks for sharing your information and experience.

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