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).
- Chalk Paints or Milk Paints.
- Baby Wipes
- Rip papers into various size pieces. Make a pile beside you
- Using a 1-2” flat brush, lightly coat with Mod Podge both the back of the paper and the panel you are adhering the paper to. “Collage” the piece down using your fingers or an old 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.
- Give yourself permission to play - February 8, 2019
- Yes, you can use Chalk Paint in place of Encaustic Gesso - August 3, 2018
- Mixed Media Collage as a Foundation for Encaustic Painting - March 25, 2018
28 thoughts on “Mixed Media Collage as a Foundation for Encaustic Painting”
Is there any clear medium to apply over acrylics to have them accept the hot wax medium?
This response is a bit late as I’ve just read this post and really enjoying the information! I have been able to sand acrylic pieces, then also coat with clear gesso, which creates a very toothy surface…even for pastel applications. I have applied encaustic medium successfully over this clear gessoed surface with no problems. Not sure how long this will last…so far, over a year.
I would suggest trying a few small samples of this process.
I also want to add that I’m very excited to try milk paints or chalk paint over encaustic surfaces for additional texture and visual impact. Thanks so much for this article and information.
Thank you for sharing your process!
So my first layer is a scene I sketched using permanent ink and then added watercolor washes on rice paper. I adheared it to a wood panel and then covered it with several layers of encaustic medium. Now I have a foreground image painted with milk paint directly on to the encaustic medium top layer. Is it ok to add another layer of encaustic medium over my milk paint image?
Absolutely! The encaustic medium will seal the milk paint in beautifully.
Love…..LOVE your Style & info!!!!
So much appreciated!!!
I have a question for you. If I’m going to do an image transfer onto wood, encausticbord or even a clean canvas (or muslin fabric?) can I use Annie Sloan wax for chalk paint as a primer?
Good question Kelly, thanks for asking! Technically you can use the Annie Sloan wax over your transfer as a primer, I am assuming you mean as a bridge to transition it into an encaustic piece. A word of caution though, and the reason I don’t use it, is because it is full of chemical solvents. I tend to fuse with my torch (vs a heat gun), and the Annie Sloan wax is highly flammable because of the solvents. It is also rather noxious to breathe so it is not my favourite. I actually like a beeswax polish called Clapman’s that is available through Amazon. It fuses nicely by leaving it to melt on the painting in the sun for five-ten mins or so. Then I bring it back inside to cool down and harden. IT would then be set to wax over with encaustic.
Have fun experimenting!
Also, sorry I left this part out, I would use encaustic medium as another layer over the image transfer when I add my mixed media?
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
I love working with encaustic wax. I am very excited to try the chalk or milk paint. I have redone many pieces of furniture with chalk paint and have created still life and abstract paintings with chalk paint but I have not married up the two media. Next chapter to be explored. Thanks for your posts most appreciated!
Have fun with it Debra! Thanks for your comment.
So, if I collage using mod podge, can I layer encaustic paint on top of that? Should I put any encaustic medium down first?
I’m trying to mimic a Jasper Johns white flag piece and have already begun with mod podge and newspaper strips, but have not laid down any paint or encaustic yet.
Thanks Matt for your question. In reference to the article posted by R&F, Myths and Realities about Acrylic Gesso and Encaustic, it is not the actual material itself that is offensive to encaustic (shiny acrylic), rather the properties of it. In my book, Two Worlds Collide, I do talk about using Liquitex, clear gesso over top of ModPodge because of the toothy-nature it lends to the surface once dry. Encaustic medium then has the gritty surface it needs for proper adhesion to the base layer.
Hope that helps!
I saw some amazing work of Alicia Tormey on line, I was intrigued!
As a painter in traditional ,mixed media &a texture freak ,I just took whatever I had on hand, Acrylic,household paint , plus a variety of dried leaves(wasps nest ).It was FUN.Wax in coloured blocks.The iron which had several wax colours was pushed across a panel that was emulsion washed.
It is still intact! I call them my happy accidents.I have also over painted anything I felt didn’t work. Again with wax/Acrylic.
I am new to encaustic work and did not know that acrylics should not be used. Why is that? Is it because they can melt? I would think the wax would melt before anything acrylic would melt.
Thanks Karen for your question. You cannot effectively use acrylics with encaustic not because of the melting point, but rather because the properties of the acrylics alone are not a good binder for the encaustic to stick “fuse” to it. Traditionally, encaustic needs a porous, “toothy”, surface to bind to, which acrylic without additives such as chalk, can properly adhere to. Basically, the surface to which you are adding wax cannot be slick and shiny. Hope that helps and best of “fun” exploring encaustic!
Thanks for your question Karen. The melting point of acrylic is not the issue when attempting to combine it with encaustic medium. The issue rather is the slick, shiny properties of acrylic. Encaustic requires a toothy, absorbing, non-porous surface in order to stick, fuse, to it. Happy exploring with encaustic!
Hi Christina, not having luck with the chalk paint supplier in Ontario. But I did find Lee Vally tools have milk paint powder. I just want white, would this be a good option?
This is a fantastic option for you as there is no acrylic whatsoever in milk paint.
You’ve inspired me! I’m new to encaustics and I love it . Thank you for sharing your process.
Happy to help Risa!
Hi can you give me a brand name for a non acrylic chalk paint. I can only seem to find acrylic. Thank you!
Great question Brenda – “chalk” paints are made up of a few basic ingredients; water, lime, pigment and magnesium (chalk). Acrylic medium is a type of “glue” that all chalk paints have added to allow the paint to stick to the surface its being applied to so primer isn’t necessary. The amount of adhesive in each chalk paint is how I compare the usefulness as a brand for encaustic collage. You want to use brands that have very little adhesive in it. Annie Sloan, VanGogh and VM&D (Vintage Market and Design), are super “chalky” and as a result work really well under the encaustic. The brands that I would stay clear of are the ones that contain latex – usually any paint brand that has added “gypsum” to give it the matte finish, including Rustoleum and Chalked (found in hardware stores). I would also avoid the recipe for DIY chalk paint that starts with latex house paint as a base.
If you want a completely plastic free paint, then I would chose the milk paint option which has casein in it that acts as a binder. I love the brand The Real Milk Paint co.
I hope that clarifies things a little.
Thank you for sharing these wonderful ideas. Great inspiration.
You’re welcome! Enjoy and happy art-making.
Greetings Christina. Thanks for this posting. Do you ever use Mod podge or Elmers glue to collage over encaustic? I heat the surface with a few heat gun passes, apply the paper, cloth, lace, tissue paper using glue. Next more encaustic layers…once hardened, I do some excavations.
I don’t know how “archival ‘ these works are, but I advise my buyers to use caution regarding heat, sun and give buffing instructions.
So far, so good. I am Dee in Johannesburg, Michigan.
HI Dee – Thanks for your reply and comments. This is a good really good question you ask – do I use glue to adhere elements on top of the encaustic wax? The short answer is yes but I don’t use ModPodge or Elmer’s glue. To understand the longevity and the archival quality of this process we have to first ask ourselves what we are trying to achieve. This is the long answer. Glue is there only to hold the elements in place and to prevent the wax from trying to excrete them. Since the glue will not actually bond to the wax, we let it dry and then it creates a layer which we then sandwich in between more wax medium – none of which have fused to the previous layer. This is part that is a problem for me. I try to achieve the same principle of holding elements in place while using products which have a better chance at not peeling away from the wax. I use a cellulose based glue -wallpaper paste. You purchase this as powder at hardware stores and just mix a little at a time. It is cost effective and serves my purposes better than glue. Since it does not contain acrylic or plastic of any kind, in my experience the sandwiched layers of encaustic medium and mixed media elements, are better embedded, fused and incorporated into a more stable painting.
I hope that helps and gives you something new to try. Happy art-making!
I will get some wall paper glue. Thanks Christina. So far, none of my glued collage elements have escaped. I use wood burning tools as well as a heat gun. When I work on a piece I actually sit on my butt in a very comfortable chair next to 4 Walnut Hallow burning pens with varoius tips and an Optima Wood burner. I apply encaustic medium and paint one drop at a time. I am able to fuse this way. I coat each entire layer with R&F medium and the heat gun.
Gee, now i know why a work on 10 pieces at a time! I put many hours into the process. Gotta love the process. Dee