Painting photographs with encaustic opens up another whole world of possibilities! Photographers can take their art to a new level, adding more interest and texture to their pictures.
“Photographers are increasingly discovering the potential of combining photography and wax. Given the importance of light in photography, it seems a natural marriage, since wax refracts light in unique ways and can add an otherworldly quality to photographs.”
I’ve read about photo encaustic and I understood the process, but I hadn’t tried it before. This past weekend I had the opportunity to try my hand at photo encaustic at a workshop with Tania Willems.
How to Paint with Encaustic on Photographs:
The photo encaustic process involves printing photographs on paper and adhering the paper to a substrate creating a paper ground. The artist will then paint with encaustic on top of the photo.
1. Prepare your photograph
Before you begin painting photographs, you can enhance the image with photoshop or a photo editing app before you print them. You may wish to add a photo filter to give the image a more painterly quality. Tania showed us some fun apps on her iPad.
2. Print your photo
Choose paper that is heavy, matte, non-glossy and absorbent. Tania recommended 80lb paper. You can use your computer printer or have it printed at a print shop. The image needs to be a bit larger than the panel.
3. Adhere the photo to the panel
Positionable Mounting Adhesive by 3M will allow you to position your photo exactly where you want it on the panel and best of all, you won’t have to wait for the adhesive to dry! When you’re happy with your positioning, place a cover sheet over the image and thoroughly burnish the photo to set the adhesive in place. It is available in 50-foot rolls and a variety of widths.
If you have an acrylic gel medium you can use that instead. Some artists swear by YES! paste but I understand that it isn’t considered archival in humid conditions. If you’re using acrylic gel medium, you’ll need to use a brayer to smooth out any air bubbles, and you will need to put the panel under some heavy books and leave it for at least 12 hours until it is completely dry.
4. Trim the photo to the size of your panel
Now, turn the panel face down on a clean cutting board and with an Exacto knife trim the photo to the size of the panel and use a piece of sandpaper to smooth the edges.
5. Tape the sides of your panel
Think about how you want to finish the edges of your panel before you start to paint. Painter’s tape will protect the edges from drips of wax so they will be clean when you are ready to finish them.
6. Begin painting the photograph with encaustic medium
- Brush on medium. Using a natural bristle brush, apply 2-3 layers of encaustic medium.
- Fuse. Use a gentle embossing heat gun in conjunction with an iron to fuse each layer. A blow torch or powerful heat gun isn’t advisable. You don’t want to fuse too much. The heat will make the wax cloudy, stop and let it cool down—more heat is not going to make it less cloudy.
- Scrape. Now use a razor blade or pottery tool to gently scrape off a thin layer of medium and pull up areas of the image that you want to bring into focus. Be careful not to scrape down too far.
7. Work on the surface of the photograph
- Pan Pastels are the first thing that comes to mind. They are ideal for photo encaustic!
- Water Soluble Wax Pastels are also terrific here. Caran d’ache Neocolors can be used wet or dry for watercolour effects. Reeves Water Soluble Wax Pastels are less expensive and they work very well too. Try using Neocolors wet and Reeves dry. Gently fuse the wax pastel with an embossing heat gun.
- Foil transfer papers, India ink, charcoal,
- the encaustic stylus
- photocopy transfer – I added words in the water from a poem that my husband published based on this photo
- collage and more
8. Remove the tape and finish the edges
Finish the edges of your panel. I usually paint the edges with black acrylic paint and put it in a nice floater frame.
9. Buff the painting
You can buff your painting to reduce any cloudiness and make it shine. You’ll need to wait until the wax has cooled and cured. Don’t do this when it is still warm or just newly completed. Use a warm hand, a clean and lint-free cloth or a nylon stocking.
Learning about painting photographs
I had read about this process and was itching to try it. The encaustic workshop with Tania Willems was a great way to start painting on photographs with encaustic. The studio was well equipped with a wide range of supplies we might want to try.
The big learning for me was about fusing. When the wax was hot, it was beautiful, but as it started to cool, it became cloudy. If I had been on my own I would have continued to fuse. Tania stopped me and told me that the heat was causing the wax to become cloudy and that I needed to scrape off the top layer of wax with a razor blade.
Have something to add?
I would love to hear from you. Please add a comment below about your experience with photo encaustic.
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