It seems that for many encaustic artists, the smooth surface is like the holy grail. Beeswax painting lends itself to almost instant surface texture. Wonderful, to be sure, and fun to exploit, but sometimes we want something glassy and smooth. Developing a smooth surface especially on any piece over, say, 12″ x 12″, takes patience and restraint. Although I cannot boast a perfectly smooth surface on my paintings, and in fact don’t aim for that, they do fall in the category of smooth rather than textured. I tend to use the smooth texture to contrast with the final touches of paint that I use to create a subtle relief (see above). Here are my tips for working toward a smooth surface in your paintings:
1. I use a heat gun to fuse, and am very careful to not over-fuse. The wax should not be blown around, or you will create a wavy surface. I’ve also read that torches can work well.
2. I use a wide (4″) hake brush to lay down layers of clear beeswax. The hake brushes are inexpensive, and have a fine texture that lays down smooth, thin layers of wax.
3. Scraping the surface from time to time with a razor blade will even out your surface and encourage subsequent layers to go on smoothly. If you use intarsia in your paintings, this will be a built-in texture regulator.
4. When I want to lay down a smooth layer, I turn the heat up on my wax slightly. Usually I keep it at 200 deg. F., but I’ll turn it up to 220 or so for brief periods. The hotter wax is more likely to smear color directly beneath it, so use this tip carefully.
5. If I am putting down more than one layer of smooth was, I alternate the direction of my strokes with each layer. I load my brush, keeping it nice and hot, then use one sweeping stroke to cover the entire width of the painting. Then I apply a stroke beneath that one, etc. When that layer is done I turn my painting a quarter turn, and put down another layer, etc. I fuse every two thin layers as I go.
6. Many artists use a “pour” method for their paintings. They tape the edges of their painting to create a lip that comes up to create a clean edge. Then pour the hot wax onto the surface. The drawback is that this can melt and/0r pit the surface of any painting beneath the pour. This is worth experimenting with, though, as I’ve seen some really beautiful work done this way.
6. Some artists use a solvent at the very end to smooth the surface. You can put a bit on a rag and rub the surface. What I’ve noticed about this technique it that it creates a matte finish. The painting must be buffed periodically to maintain a glossy finish.
7. Which brings us to buffing. You’ve created your smooth surface, and you want to make it look glassy? Clean, lint free rags work. I like to use white t-shirts that I get from the thrift store, wash and dry, and then cut up. Another option is to use chamois, which is completely lint-free, and can work up a high shine. You don’t need anything but your buffing rag and some patience. Work on small sections at a time, rubbing lightly in small circles. This is a great way to “polish” your finished piece.
What about you? do you have any smooth surface tips you’d like to add? Leave a comment, and add to the list.