Wokingham Art Society
Demonstrations by Phil Madley
Visit him at www.philmadley.com where there are lots more pictures.
2013 Return to Archive 2016

Encaustic Wax, 21 June 2016
He is a patient man, Phil. Our AGM started at 7:30, so he had to wait until after 8:00 before he could start.

Then he became conscious that he had been here before and rushed through the description of the kit he used. First an iron, like a straight-edged travel iron (which could in fact work if you remove any teflon from the surface, although the ones purpose-built for encaustic have better temperature control). Next a heated stylus (something like a small soldering iron) with different shaped heads, a heat gun (higher temperature hair drier), and a set of coloured beeswax blocks. Oh, and don't forget some newspaper to catch the wax that inevitably goes over the edge of the card, and lots of kitchen paper to clean the iron and polish the finished pictures.
You can use encaustic wax on canvas but it tends to soak in. The best surface is shiny "art card".

White is the fall-back but you can buy all sorts of coloured or metallized (silvery, gold, bronze etc.) card if you are feeling more adventurous.

He had brought lots of small mounted examples of his work (for sale at a few pounds each) and some much bigger ones.

The most spectacular painting was about 4 feet tall painted on black card using white, blue and silver wax.
It could have been just an abstract but he had smoothed and ironed some horizontal lines into the bottom few inches and added white yacht sail shapes. The technique for the sails was interesting: draw pencil outlines into the dark wax (the resulting dent acting as a barrier), scrape out the wax and refill the spaces with white wax.

Demo No 1 used the iron on white card. Yellow wax was melted onto the iron and spread over virtually the whole surface. Then a few random blobs of darker colour (mostly dark red) were added.

Finally the magic. Holding the iron at about 45 degrees to the card with the heel near the centre and the straight edge of the iron melting the wax he carefully drew radial lines by repeatedly pushing the iron away from the centre and back and turning the card fractionally between strokes.

Finally, some black was melted into the red and yellow centre and then scraped away from many small areas. Lo and behold: a flower head.

This is all trial and error: knowing how the different layers will mix; how fast to work; how much pressure; when to move the iron fractionally sideways, when to clean the iron etc.
Demo No 2, still with the iron, was on metallic gold-coloured card, about A4 size.

Phil spread a few patches of black wax roughly on the card. The technique was similar to the flower - but this time the straight edge of the iron was not radial but tangential to a series of two or three concentric circles. The effect is impressive: pic-a-sticks? bird's nest? crown of thorns?
Demo No 3, a seascape, introducing the stylus and a scraper.
He had brought a couple of examples and talked us through the process as he did another simple one.
First, blue and white applied to the iron at the same time and smoothed on. Instant sky with white clouds.
Then change to blue, indigo and a blue/green lower down.
Create an horizon by carefully drawing the straight edge of the iron across the picture several times.
Push wax up or down a little and continue this left-to-right, back and forth movement right down the picture, the strokes getting further apart in the foreground.
Pushing the edge of the iron up or down produced paler-blue wave fronts but you need to clean the iron, add white wax and scrape some right back to the card with the stylus to get "proper" waves.
A sharp scraper was all he used this time to imply distant, less precise, sails.


Demo No 4 introduced the hot air gun. Various patches of different colours were melted onto the card with the tip of the iron and then just blown around with the gun. Phil mentioned tricks like cooling parts that you don't want to move but this is even more a trial and error experience because if you are the slightest bit heavy-handed you end up with a brown mess. Needless to say, Phil didn't.

He did an alternative flower - use the iron to melt short roughly radial marks for each bloom and then direct the gun at its centre, perpendicular to the card, so the wax is blown away radially.

Phil also showed us a flower arrangement that had been done on a hot plate (so that the wax was very soft and easily moved).
He had brought a couple of examples of what you can do with the various attachments that go on the hot stylus tool :
- imaginary skyscraper cityscapes.
They were both produced in just two colours - spread both colours on using the iron then using the edge of the iron to make many vertical lines close together all across the picture. Repeat this with horizontal strokes. Finally use different attachments on the hot stylus to make different size buildings.

He finished by painting a nude (about 15 patches scraped out of a dark background) and showing one or two other examples of larger, more complicated paintings.

He mentioned that encaustic means "burnt on" or "burnt in"

Wax colours, well polished, are very long-lasting (millennia) but they are easily scratched. After polishing, Phil seals them with a special acrylic varnish if they are to be handled (e.g. greetings cards) and puts them behind glass if they are to be hung (otherwise people test them with a key or coin!)
Thanks Phil, for introducing encaustic to the many members who knew nothing about it
and for reminding those who had forgotten what wonderful effects it can give you.
A great evening, marred only by the fact that Phil had only enough time to skim the surface of the subject. Thanks again.

2013 Return to Archive 2016

Encaustic Wax, 17 December 2013
95% of the audience had never seen a demo of encaustic wax painting before, so we were all interested from the start! The basic equipment consists of an iron (almost like a domestic iron but smaller,) a heat gun, a heated stylus with ten different shaped heads and a set of coloured wax blocks.

Phil started by melting purple wax on the iron, simply by holding the wax block against the baseplate and spreading it round. He then smoothed it onto shiny white art card. The next step was to use the edge of the iron to make marks in the layer of wax. The possibilities are endless, and Phil showed us how to use two or more colours and a variety of marks using the point and side of the iron.
- -
He could also make more detailed marks and shapes using the various heads of the stylus. There were now several pictures for us to look at. To use the heat gun Phil moved all his wax pictures well away to avoid the risk of melting them! Blobs of wax were dripped onto a fresh piece of card by melting against the iron.

Then the heat gun was used to spread the wax around with really dramatic results.
This needs a lot of practice! Phil cleaned the base of the iron throughout with paper tissue, and each picture was polished with tissue when it was finished. He usually frames his pictures under glass, because it has been known for the public to "test" the pictures by scratching! This was an inspiring evening, giving us all completely new ideas.


Pat Johnson
2013 Return to Archive 2016
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