I just wrote an article for the Enkaustikos Newsletter. I wanted to express a distinctive dimension of abstract painting that may be overlooked or unappreciated by the casual observer. Plus, take the opportunity to communicate to my fellow artists, not familiar with encaustic paint, a few personal reasons why I am such a fan. Here's what I wrote:
I belong to a segment of painters that may be labeled pure abstractionists. One way to define this category is to focus on the artist’s primary source of inspiration. Before I begin, it is important to note that no one can really be conscious of the mysterious wellspring from which inspiration flows. Nor, can one type of painting be considered to be superior to another. However, the point of inspiration is instructive when distinguishing between abstract and other types of painting. Pure abstractionists do not rely on the direct observation of nature as their primary source of inspiration. Unlike plein air or figurative painters that turn outward to the natural world around them, many abstractionists draw upon the world within. By doing so, they abandon external relationships such as the ability to study how the light plays upon the haystacks. They have no means to confirm proportion, color, and shading of a subject. They swim in a shoreless sea of spirit, history, aesthetic harmonies, and unconscious symbolism. The abstract painter’s work seems to be generated through the interplay of acquired knowledge and intuition. Their compositions rely mostly on feelings evoked through color, texture, shape, line, gestures, etc. that represent the tangible expressions of an invisible reality. Paint is the primary medium for this expression.
Painters have many paints to choose from. I like the word “medium” because it means something “in-between” that communicates between things. To me, the act of painting is the intermediary between the painter’s heart/mind and their creation. Most often, it is the response to this action that guides the painter to the next step of their journey. Therefore, the relationship between the painter and their paint is highly intimate and crucially important to the creative process.
I love all paint. Each has its own character and some even play well together. Since attending art school I have experienced all types of media and felt the most comfortable with oils. That is, until I discovered encaustic paint over a decade ago. Encaustics changed the way I paint. It dramatically opened up a new aesthetic and means of expression that could not be imagined with any other paint. Encaustic paint is the most versatile medium ever created and it’s only 2,500 years old! Why is versatility desirable? If you create by visually expressing a multitude of feelings and complex ideas your paint and materials must be aesthetically aligned with those expressions. Or said another way, abstract painters are translating emotion into language. It is helpful if their paint speaks their language and even better if it speaks many languages. Encaustics are multilingual!
It is beyond the thrust of this article to list all the virtues of encaustic paint, not to mention all the related art supplies and techniques. However, I’ll share a few of the paint’s salient characteristics that have kept me a devoted admirer all these years.
• Luminance. Encaustic paint is one of the most heavily pigmented paints available and possibly the most luminous. Its binder is a combination of purified beeswax and tree sap, which has the capacity to hold loads of brilliant color. And, it can be polished to further enhance its luminosity.
• Opacity. Encaustic paint is truly opaque. Plus, it hardens in seconds making one-stroke color adjustments possible. Because there is no bleed-through repeated paint-overs are a snap. This is a very empowering capacity. Of course, encaustic paint has transparent qualities as well, and many artists are drawn to these qualities. But for me, real opacity is a wonderful thing.
• Sculptural. The capacity to build up of surface texture is perhaps encaustic paint’s most spectacular quality. No other paint can produce the variety of dimensional surfaces –ranging from glass-smooth to highly textured organic forms that defy description. Marks or lines can be carved or incised into the surface effortlessly. If you want to remove a layer, just scrape it off. You won’t need an electric sander. Encaustics allow the shaving off of thin layers of paint producing a wonderful distressed effect by exposing the under-painting. Furthermore, you can cut deep to remove many layers of paint – right down to the substrate. This is especially desirable for mixed-media artists since photographs or collaged elements can be attached to the substrate at any stage of the painting.
• Compatibility. Encaustics and oils (tube or stick) are lovers. Oil paint can be combined with encaustics in many creative ways. All kinds of amazing techniques have been discovered. I found that a few oil colors (i.e. Alizarin Orange) have the ability to stain certain encaustic colors creating beautiful and subtle color variations. Oils also produce contrast when washed or rubbed into surface indentations formed by brushstrokes. By the way, acrylics are the enemy of encaustics – keep them separated.
• Forgiving. Much of abstract painting is experimental. You are dealing with the unknown, so you try something and see if it works. No matter how bad the idea is, with encaustics it can easily be corrected. In my experience, the correction takes you to a solution that is surprisingly exciting. Making mistakes seem to be a virtue with this paint.
• Substrate. Some paints are linked with their support medium, e.g. watercolors with paper. Encaustic paint requires an absorbent substrate. Wood panels work best and can be purchased in a variety of sizes and styles. I prefer the cradled type (they don’t require framing). Working on a panel instead of canvas has expanded my realm of expression. As a mixed media artist, I can adhere, affix, and encase all kinds of things, drill and hammer into the wood, and carve into the painted surface without concern.
No matter what kind of painter you may be or aspire to be, there is no doubt that paint is dear to your heart. As with all the things that you love, there is a desire to know all about them. I am still learning new techniques and continue to be captivated by encaustic’s latent potentialities. Manufacturers like Enkaustikos help sustain enthusiasm by creating innovative new colors. Colors based on historical pigments that approximate ancient formulas or exciting new colors – begging to be tried.
I would be happy to respond to any questions or thoughts – please contact me through my website.
Carey Corea is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, living in Rochester, NY. His work can be viewed at careycorea.com or his blog read at careycorea.blogspot.com.