Why Encaustic Painting is Like Arithmetic

Originally published January 10, 2013

Creative abilities are thought to originate on the right side of the brain; logic, on the left. What, then, does encaustic painting have in common with arithmetic? Well, addition and subtraction, of course.

With encaustics, it’s easy to add a layer of wax, then remove parts of it
by scraping, incising and gouging to reveal the layer beneath. This cannot
be said for other media like oils and acrylics. Encaustic painting is a
forgiving medium. It’s easy to add and subtract. Take, for instance, the
following example.

Because I wasn’t quite pleased with the results of the “before” painting
(it was a quickie wall filler for my first show), I subsequently added more layers a few months later to spice it up. Sometimes, the touch ups are minimal as I seek to improve the original. Other times, it’s a free for all, which is what happened here.

I began with my personal version of the Rorschach test by laying down some brushstrokes until it started to look like something. That something could be the beginning of a wave, or a tree limb, a leaf, or a mountain range. After I decided it was a wave, I ran with it, building up layer upon layer, fusing in between with the blow torch. This can be quite fun.

So if you don’t like the direction your painting is going in, simply scrape it off or cover it with another layer. If it looks too flat, build depth by brushing on additional waxy layers in a matter of minutes. Wax begins to cool and solidify as soon as it’s lifted off its heat source. Add and subtract.

You can see the “after” painting here looks nothing like the original except for the brown rock that peeks through the water. Nails driven into the rock (made of tree bark) serve to add highlights and interest.

To view examples of encaustic painting, click here.