Painting in a grid: drawing the line!

For years, before encaustic, I painted in a grid, and my pieces often reminded people of quilts. Then along came the wax and my grid was gone! The wax didn’t want to flow into squares and rectangles, and so I let go… and went with the flow of the wax. This was a huge learning for me. I really had to give in to the wax, and learn from it. I learned many things about letting go of attachment, about layering, and seeing what the wax wanted to do.

It was only after nine years of ‘no grid’ that I began to wonder if I could find a way to incorporate the grid once again. So, I experimented and found a way to do it. There are, no doubt, many other ways, but here is mine.

The piece was going to be a celebration of all that I’d learned over the nine years of doing encaustic. There would be 121 squares, each 3″x3″ on a birch substrate that was 36″x36″x2″deep.

To begin, I layered on several coats of mud wax (you know, the wax you scrape off and think you’ll use one day) made with adding more black or paynes grey oil paint. By several, I mean at least 6 – 8 thick layers, fused mostly with the blow torch and/or iron. This keeps the layers smooth.

Then I started to add layers of clear, yellow medium with no paint in it… as a barrier between the dark and what would eventually be the lighter wax.

I gradually added white to the clear medium, making a semi-transparent glaze of medium. As each layer went on, the black below became completely obscured. Now I have this big, creamy white expanse of wax that I could draw the grid on.

I used a yard stick, and measured out the grid I wanted, with a sharp gouging tool. I joined the lines, making a relatively deep gouge down to the black, but being careful not to go all the way to the wood. It is best to do this gouging, or line drawing, when the wax has somewhat cooled. It makes the job easier if is cool, but not cured/too hard. If you are coming back to your piece after a day or two away, simply heat up gently with the heat gun or blow torch where you want to draw the line. You will begin to get a sense of the right temperature for the wax for this process. There will be a burr on the edge of the straight line you’ve drawn, and you’ll need to scoop that burr up for a future ‘mud pot’. It is necessary to go over each line several times, and to clean up the edge each time too. This is a lengthy process, not for the faint of heart. You have to be committed! Once the grid is delineated, you can begin to focus on each square like it is a separate collage/painting.

In the piece featured here, I have used masking to isolate certain squares, and also worked vertically to incorporate drips, as I brought all the various squares into a piece that would work as a whole.

This painting: “Where She’s Been”, was done in 2009, and remains one of my favourite pieces. I really did celebrate all I’ve learned, and pushed myself into new ways of working through the making of this. It took me down a path of creating a whole series with the grid, and it’s a theme I return to again and again… I love the contrast of the regular grid with the organic, flowing nature of the wax… and maybe too it’s a desire for control? Who can say? All I know is that I’m having fun… and that is what it’s all about!

09-Where-Shes-Been

Andrea Bird

About Andrea Bird

Andrea Bird graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto. She has been teaching and showing collage and encaustic for over 20 years. She is madly in love with the process of painting with beewax, and spent a year teaching herself ways to use the iron. Having just opened an encaustic school "the hive" just north of Toronto, she is fulfilling a long-held dream.

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2 thoughts on “Painting in a grid: drawing the line!


  1. Hi! sono italiana e adoro l’encausto. Mi è piaciuto come fai la tua griglia. Voglio fare un lavoro con gli strati di cera come hai spiegato tu. Quando sarà fatto ti invierò una foto.
    anch’io sono un membro di Encautic Art.
    A presto! Buon lavoro.

    ———– translation from Google Translate ————————

    Hi! I’m Italian and I love encaustic. I like how you make your grid. I want to work with layers of wax as you’ve explained. When it is done I will send you a picture.
    I am also a member of Encautic Art.
    See you soon! Good job.

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