Drypoint encaustic painting.

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Drypoint encaustic painting.


Westcott, Kim.


Australian Print Symposium. Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1987 - ongoing.



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Encaustic Painting

Drypoint encaustic painting.
by Kim Westcott

The subject of my talk today is drypoint encaustic painting.

Since 1995, I have been experimenting with the possibilities of wax as a medium in my work.

I have worked through encaustic wax paintings and I have been able to successfully merge the encaustic medium with the drypoint process. These works initially being printed on paper and more recently have shifted to using canvas.

I began using wax as a medium while I was living in New York and working as a master printer for Garner Tullis in 1995. Whilst I had no opportunity to create my own prints during this time, I began working in the medium of gouache on Japanese paper, which let me want to create a more textured surface similar to that which I could with the embossed lines of Drypoint.

I began using wax crayons and melting them with a candle to create an impasto effect. I then produced some post card sized images by combining drypoint, gouache, and encaustic on paper.

These works were small and at this stage were secondary to the large drypoints I had been producing in Australia in 1994.

Then, after returning from New York, I completed a project of large drypoints with John Loane, in Melbourne in 1996. I then set up my own print studio in West Brunswick, and continued to develop the drypoint techniques which I had been working on since l988.

At this point in time, 1997, I wanted to combine the medium of encaustic and drypoint on a larger scale.

Encaustic is a hot wax painting process that is thought to have been developed by the ancient Greeks. The name is derived from the Greek term “Encaustikos” — “to burn in” which refers to the final stage of application.

It is a process by which a combination of waxes, resins, pigments, or paints are fused together with heat and applied to a support by means of brush or spatula. This painting is then heated to adhere to the wax into its support and fuse the materials together.

The ancient Greeks used a container of burning charcoal covered by a flat metal plate to develop the encaustic mix. Today we can use a hot plate with variable temperature controls, and have the use of heat guns for fusing the work.

The ingredients I use in the encaustic medium are beeswax, canauba wax, damar resin and pigments.

There are records of the use of wax in classical Greek paintings which dates back to the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. Portraits were made in the 1st century A.D. with wax paints, these being located in excellent condition in Egypt.

To create the image on the copper plate I use electric die grinders, angle grinders and hand tools to directly create the lines and textures within the surface of the copper plates.

In the early works I would print the drypoint on paper first, following which I would apply the encaustic wax over the surface of the drypoint image.

I now wanted to print the drypoints onto the encaustic painting on paper.

I became tantalized by pearlescent pigments and the wax medium was proving to be a suitable vehicle to not only carry a pigment in the paper, but to create a luminosity, transparency, and a means to impasto the drypoint lines.

The pearlescent pigments I have been using are sympathetic to the transparent quality that the wax can create. Pearlescent pigments are optical filters that reflect and transmit light. They consist of mica flakes — a stone mineral compound — which is inherently transparent.

These pigments are also called interference pigments. They basically reflect a particular wavelength of light to produce a colour.

When you look straight on at a pearlescent pigmented surface, no colour is apparent. However, as you move to increase the angle of reflection of light, a colour will emerge.

A new body of work began to evolve from this, the Interference Series from 1998.

Combining the encaustic paper and drypoint proved to be successful technically. The transference of line to the wax was interesting and somewhat unpredictable. The wax gave a lustre to the ink and the surface of the encaustic paper developed the same burring and scoring as that created initially in the copper plate.

The next step in the process of experimentation with the medium was the challenge to create drypoint encaustic painting on canvas.

I applied a hot beeswax mix to a primed canvas with a spatula, and with a heat gun melted the wax into the canvas. I built up successive layers to create a flat, smooth, receptive, pigmented surface.

I then combined the image — the inked copper plate — with the encaustic painting and merged the two together under immense pressure in the etching press.

For the past four years, I have been working on this method of printing. The major problems to overcome were the canvas sticking to the plate, and the ink running all out of the lines and spoiling the painting.

I had to develop a mix of beeswax, which was flexible enough to withstand the stretching of the painting on its support base. At the same time a balance off rigidity and toughness of surface had to be maintained to allow for successful printing.

Following the process of printing on canvas I tried sticking the canvas on board and I successfully printed the drypoint onto this support and further results occurred for me.

While I had developed technically in this time of experimentation, I now wanted to focus back onto the image itself and start working with the new method of mark-making and shift the image into something new for myself.

Coincidentally at this point, I changed studios and used this as an opportunity to break some habits.

To this point the encaustic paintings had been a vehicle to support, accentuate and luminate the drypoint plate.

With the shift of studio in December 2000, I now wanted to bring the wax forward as the carrier and character of the lines I was to create.

Firstly I started to concentrate on using a grinder with a diamond-cutting blade. This allowed me to work the lines faster and flatter in the copper plate.

I then reversed the method of inking these plates. Instead of pushing the ink into the scored lines, and wiping the plate as you would an etching, I used an ink charged roller to ink the plate, much the same as you would a woodblock or linocut.

The result is that the line is formed by the pigmented encaustic surface. The two mediums of printing and encaustic painting are now working together to form the image.

Recently, in the last few months, I have been using loose pearlescent and metallic pigments. These pigments have been spread into the lines of the copper plate.

Under pressure of the printing press, I have been pushing the pigment into wet ink, or thick encaustic.

These new drypoint encaustic paintings have in a strange way brought the surface of the painting back into the copper plate itself. The metallic scored surface of the drypoint plate is reflected in the image of the painting.

The encaustic medium is a versatile and stable medium. Encaustic does not yellow or darken with age, because the oil content is very low. The painting is resistant to chemical changes, atmospheric moisture, and other forms of decay. The only threat to the encaustic is extreme heat and cold temperatures, and of course damage occurring if handled carelessly.

© Kim Westcott, 2001.
Paper presented at The Fourth Australian Print Symposium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2001.