Facing a Blank Canvas
As a self-taught mixed media artist, I often reflect back on my earlier works to analyze the approach and results. It helps me to understand my own methodologies and common practice. I think back to some of my very first mixed media classes and remember being in that place of ultimate confusion when it came time to start a painting. What to paint? How to paint it? It all seemed like the weight of the world was resting on my shoulders and I had three hours to prove myself!
Building up and excavating collage layers
So that I wouldn’t embarrass myself, I would begin by collaging some random paper on a board or canvas. When it appeared that I didn’t have any rhyme or reason to this “work of art”, I would begin to paint over it covering all of the collage in its entirety. It did seem safe but also a little bit like a waste of time. Why had I bothered to collage? I did get some layers and some texture but all of the pattern, colour, and imagery were gone. So, I decided to sand some of the paint off. Wow! As a result, I got even more texture as bits of paper ripped and tore off. Layers of text and colours popped through and I liked what I saw.
This prompted me to think, if I like two layers, imagine how much I’d enjoy this if I continued with more layers? So, out came a bit more collage, then more paint. I experimented with using baby wipes in between the layers instead of always the sandpaper. Sandpaper, as it turned out, is for heavy removal and distressing, the baby wipes however offered a more subtle excavation. The more I played, the more distressed and beautiful my paintings would become. I would enjoy the richness and the history the layers had offered.
I Believe in Backgrounds
One of the reasons we enjoy time-weathered paint finishes and surfaces today is because of the layers that give only a glimpse into the slices of time provided by each one. Each layer was created by someone who was attempting to cover up and beautify what time and the elements were slowly working away at destroying. There is history in that and that is something we can appreciate.
As I look back into all of my artworks, since the beginning, it occurs to me that I believe in backgrounds. These relics and excavations are the backbone of each and every painting I’ve made. Not all of the background remains visible anymore but I do know that they all share a history. A history in the layers and the traditions I’ve set for my own work.
I used to paint primarily in acrylics in my mixed media paintings. Today I generally use non-acrylic based paints so that I can add encaustic wax on top—as seen in my book Two Worlds Collide.
My Two World’s Collide background recipe
The recipe below is for a background made for an encaustic/mixed media friendly painting.
- Wood panel or wooden substrate.
- Collage papers in all textures, colours, patters and paper types.
- Matte finish Mod Podge or cellulose glue (wallpaper paste).
- Milk paints or mineral paints (available commercially as Chalk Paints).
- Baby Wipes
- Rip papers into various size pieces. Make a pile beside you
- Using a 1-2” flat brush for acrylics, lightly coat with Mod Podge the back of a piece of paper as well as the board surface you are adhering it to. “Collage” the piece down using your fingers or a plastic
“credit card” to make sure the two surfaces are stuck together
- Keep overlapping and covering all surfaces of the board
- Dry the paper a little with a heat gun on low
- Paint over the entire surface using a non-acrylic Milk Paint or Chalk Paint in a light colour –
- Dry the paint with a heat gun on low
- Sand and distress the surface using course-grit sandpaper
- Add a bit more collage randomly or in response to the first layers
- Add more paint in a different colour
- This time, try sanding a little and using the baby wipes to gently “eat through” the paint in
some areas. It is a more gentle paint-removal technique
Repeat these steps as many times as desired until the perfect aged background is achieved. Your background is ready to apply a layer of well-fused clear encaustic medium to the surface and then continue to treat it as an encaustic painting.
Who’s with me?
Do you love to create collage layers and texture? Let’s talk about it in the comment section below.