The 4 Most Common Encaustic Painting Woes & How to Fix Them

Encaustic is an amazing painting medium and I’m sad when I hear that artists have given it up because of a problem that could have easily been fixed with knowing only one useful tip. If you’re having painting bothers, read on for the rescue.

I’ve been teaching encaustic painting since 2005 and throughout my teaching I have noticed four major recurring issues, problems and mistakes that many (beginner to advanced) encaustic painters encounter. Application, temperature, translucency and fusing issues are the infamous four problems. Even more of a problem is that these issues are difficult to pinpoint as some beginning painters may think it’s just the medium itself and give up before they really get started. Intermediate and advanced painters may have learned to adapt, but still end up getting frustrated. Encaustic is an amazing painting medium and its so sad when I hear that artists have given it up because of a problem that could have easily been fixed with knowing only one useful tip.

So if you’re having some painting bothers (both encaustic medium and pigmented encaustic paint), don’t throw down your brushes in disgust just yet…read on for the rescue. I’d like to preface by saying, if you’re heavy handed, a texture fiend, a fuse monster or anything else on this list and it doesn’t bother you….by all means, do you! Just make sure you have the control you want when it’s applicable and you’re obtaining desired results.

  1. PROBLEM Application– This is the number one issue on my list because this is where it all begins–if your application goes wrong, it’s pretty much a melty mess from there. Encaustic application is affected by many factors: the amount of paint on the brush, the size of the brush, the type of the brush and the angle of the brush as well as the temperature of the paint, which I address below in #2. Improper paint application can cause issues with too much texture, blurring or obscuring collage elements, wasting paint/medium, not to mention endless frustration.
    FIX Try using a smaller brush. Seriously, I know those 4-inch brushes are luscious, but you don’t need one that large when you’re painting on anything smaller than a 36×36 inch panel and even then I would question it’s use. The brush size should reflect the panel size and/or the function of the stroke. For example, I never go above a 1.5 inch brush when applying medium over collage and I have several sizes below 1.5 in my medium skillet. When painting, you can get a bit larger, but stay proportionate to the size of your panel and/or the effect you’re trying to achieve.
    FIX Try a different type of brush/tool. Most encaustic painters prefer hake brushes to chip brushes as they hold a nice amount of paint and make a nice smooth stroke when needed. However, if you’re not getting the results you like with a brush, try an alternative application tool, such as a palette knife or squeegee. See this blog post for how to make an alternative brush from flashing.
    FIX Scrape off excess paint. If your brushes are sitting in cups or skillets of paint/medium and you’re not scraping them, you’re likely applying too much. Any brush, especially a hake is just sitting in there soaking up the wax. Try scraping the brush on the side of the cup once or twice. This works wonders, trust me.
    FIX Adjust the angle. Because of the way a hake brush is made, it holds most of the paint at the base. So if you’re looking for a lot of paint to flow smoothly, try holding the brush at a 45 degree angle to the substrate with a gentle pressure instead of just the tip of the brush touching the substrate.
  2. PROBLEM Too much Texture This problem is very much related to application, but it’s a solo number on this list because it’s possibly the most annoying and prevalent issue in encaustic painting. This is also one of those problems that can cause someone to either begrudgingly accept it or quit encaustic altogether.
    FIX Adjust the Temperature. So simple, yet it’s ignored or not sufficiently attended to. The proper working temperature for encaustic painting is 200 degrees Fahrenheit….nothing less and sometimes more! More people than I can count do not keep their paint hot enough for proper encaustic painting. I use a pancake griddle in my unheated studio and in the winter I usually have it at 225F. Most pancake griddles are not meant to be working for hours at a time, so the heating elements are not accurate. If your wax is cooling on your brushes and too much texture is on your substrate, your wax is simply not hot enough.
    FIX Load Your Brush. While having too much paint on your brush may cause problems, having too little can be problematic as well. If you’re mixing your paint directly on the griddle and not in cups, chances are you’re not loading your brush. Make sure you have a nice puddle of paint, your brush is laid flat as you soak it up (not just the tip) and you load both sides of the brush.
    FIX Keep your brushes warm. During painting, your brushes should always be kept in the cups or on your griddle to keep them warm. When they begin to cool as you paint, lay them flat for few seconds on the griddle to warm up.
  3. PROBLEM Too much Opacity, No Translucency. One of the most amazing things about encaustic is its wonderful translucency and yet, I see very few artists taking advantage of this gift. Most are adding way too much pigment and not enough medium and/or not understanding that translucency is even an option to take their work to the next level. The ability to look through the layers to embedded information creates interest and encourages the viewer to remain engaged with your work. The key to translucency lies in the paint mixing.
    FIX Add color to Medium. In my teaching, I see way too many artists adding medium to their melted paint in order to create a translucent glaze and then end up using ten pounds of medium for a single color. Instead, add color to the medium to create a glaze. Melt a small amount of medium in your color cup or on the palette and then add a very small amount of color to create a tint. Keep adding color in very small increments until the desired color/translucency is achieved. Color test as you add. You will be amazed at how this changes your color mixing knowledge as well as the look of your paintings.
  4. PROBLEM Over fusing I can’t tell you how many (mostly beginners) tell me that they love what they painted, but when they fuse it, it gets all smushed together and ruined. While fusing is definitely necessary, there are various levels and various fusing tools that can be implemented according to the technique you’re employing. For the purposes of this article, I am focusing only on painting and not collage or other mixed media.
    FIX Try another tool. I use three tools for fusing; an iron, a heat gun and a torch. Many beginners start encaustic painting with the torch and only use it for the duration of their careers. This is fine if it’s working for you, but in many situations, it isn’t working. I always say, begin with a heat gun and gradually add in the torch. Also, most expensive heat guns are way too hot and heavy for what you need. I love my embossing tool and have used it since the beginning. It’s exactly what I need and if I need anything stronger, I use my torch.
    FIX Don’t Fuse Every Layer. What??? Yes, that’s what I said. If you’re fusing every single application of paint, you likely have a very hot surface you’re working on and this is creating a hot waxy mess instead of a painting. Okay, if you’re a heavy handed painter, you should probably fuse every 1-2 layers. But if you’re applying thin to medium strokes and those strokes are only in one part of the painting, I recommend only fusing every 2-4 layers. Your substrate is already warm enough from your last fusing and therefore doesn’t need another right after you just applied new hot paint. Many people are perplexed when I tell them this liberating fact after they have been over-fusing for so many years. I have paintings out in the world that are now over 20 years old and they are still in excellent shape. Try it! Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
    FIX Employ the The Glazed Donut Standard. Many encaustic painters seem to be mistaken in thinking that in order to properly fuse, the wax needs to be brought back to a molten state or close to it and this is just not the case. It’s for this reason that many painters sadly obliterate their paintings. But for the foundation layers, it’s only in very few cases that you would ever need to fuse back to a molten state. For the most part, most fusing should render the surface no more shinier than a glazed donut and this is where the standard on your fusing scale begins. Sometimes you will need to fuse more than a glazed donut, sometimes less, but this is the fusing surface you are attempting to achieve.

My Discovery of Mars (Not the Planet, Silly)

Just like the planet Mars has been around forever, so have R&F Paints’ Mars Encaustic colors, only I just discovered them while at my Brown Pink Residency…my trip to Mars took a few turns, it seems. I’m speaking specifically of Mars Red, Mars Orange and Mars Violet. Although I have all of them in my home studio collection, I’ve never used them. Even after working with encaustic for over twenty years, I often forget that a lot of the colors look wildly different when they’re melted, especially the more earth based tones.

Just like the planet Mars has been around forever, so have R&F Paints’ Mars Encaustic colors, only I just discovered them while at my Brown Pink Residency…my trip to Mars took a few turns, it seems. I’m speaking specifically of Mars Red, Mars Orange and Mars Violet. Although I have all of them in my home studio collection, I’ve never used them. In fact, my Mars Violet is so old it’s still donned with discontinued packaging format and is likely a collectors item at this point.

Why I avoided these colors (and others) is only somewhat relevant to this article and a subject I would like to revisit more in depth in a later post. In terms of the Mars colors, it seems I just reached for colors I was more familiar with using and which happened to be near enough in color for what I wanted-or so I thought. Even after working with encaustic for over twenty years, I often forget that a lot of the colors look wildly different when they’re melted, especially the more earth based tones. Yes, of course, I have my R&F color chart proudly displayed and I consult with it often. However, when I’m in ‘the zone’, it’s difficult to get me to look at anything else other than what I’m painting.

So why did I pick up the Mars colors at Brown Pink? Because they were there, I wasn’t in my home studio where my colors are organized differently and because I was at a paint company’s residency, I was in an ‘experiment with colors’ mindset. For a few years now, I’ve been working with a certain color group; blacks, whites and grays as the base with blues, pinks, reds and browns as highlights. If greens and yellows enter in, it’s more of the dark olives and ochres respectively. I use these colors because they connect to both landscape and the body, the notion of which is conceptually at the core of my work. While I was at the residency, I totally got into the fact that I had the entire R&F color line in front of me so why not try other things. I know what I like, but that doesn’t mean I know everything.

The following is a list of the colors and how they differ from the colors I normally use that are within the same range. I also discuss how I paired them next to and with other colors and you can see some of the results in the images below. Additionally, I have included inspiration photos I’ve recently taken where these colors show up in nature. Take note of the color combinations in the photos, this is what I do for inspiration when creating color palettes. Please check out my favorite encaustic colors blog posts for more about color and how I use it here and here. Going forward, my new studio life on Mars is looking pretty good!

Mars Red I’m so in love with this color! The reds I pick up without fail are Alizarin Crimson, Turkey Red and Warm Pink, with Alizarin Crimson being the one I use most to hint at the body, blood, flesh, etc. However, I was always trying to tone down the violet undertones in AC, it just seemed more lively than a sanguine color. When I picked up the Mars Red, there was an instant recognition that it was the color I was always trying to mix…an aha moment, for sure. I mixed it with Alizarin as well as Brown Pink and all were amazing rich reds. In addition, I can’t tell you how often I search for the Perfect Pink and usually begin with Warm Pink and several other colors to move it toward a salmon, peach or violet pink, but still always left me wanting that Perfect Pink. When mixed with any white, Mars Red makes the pink of my dreams and created the best watercolor sunsets in my landscape mono-prints. Last, a great combination is painting this color next to any blue or blue-toned color to make both colors sing. In the images below, I used combinations of Payne’s Gray, Cerulean Extra Pale, Cerulean Gray and Cobalt Teal.

Mars Orange The oranges I use most are Alizarin Orange and Burnt Sienna and Indian Yellow, which I count as an orange. In fact, I have to say that these are the only oranges I use as I’m not particularly drawn to yellows and oranges. However, I do have a deep love of the ‘red earth’ of the desert as well as the ‘black water’ in Northern Florida where I travel to do my self-made residencies (images below). These are the oranges I’m attracted to in nature and I tend to pick up the Burnt Sienna and Brown Pink when I want to replicate it. Mars Orange by itself is exciting, but it totally pops Burnt Sienna and Brown Pink when they are mixed with it. The best mix is Mars Orange and Mars Red for a very rich, earthy red. For a little extra zing, add in to that mix a small amount of Cobalt Yellow, Cad Lemon or Olive Yellow. Just like Mars Red, Mars Orange sings when paired next to any Blue/Green color and I would add Phthalo Green Pale, Malachite Green, Turkey Umber Greenish and Celadon to the list of pairings.

Mars Violet I never use purples or violets, but this color is deceptively named as it’s very close to Sepia and Brown Pink. Both Sepia and MV have purple(ish) undertones when compared with other browns, Mars Violet being richer, a little more red and a tad brighter, while Sepia is a bit darker, more violet and closer to a classic brown. I likely never picked up the Mars Violet because I’m totally in love with Sepia and Brown Pink and always reach for them first. Mars Violet bridges the gap and adds a richness between Brown Pink and Magenta. In the images below, you’ll see I mixed this color with Payne’s Gray to make a lovely dark gray and when mixed with Neutral White and/or Brilliant Yellow Extra Pale, it makes a still lovelier pale gray with a violet undertone. I found it’s best when painted next to rich oranges and reds, whites and my favorite pairing color, Turkey Umber Greenish.

Setting up Your Encaustic Studio: Materials & Equipment in Detail

I have received so many emails and questions asking about my encaustic studio set-up and the equipment in it, I decided to write a post about it so it’s all right here for everyone to reference.

Happy New Year! A little late, but better late than never.

The past few years have brought about many changes in everyone’s lives and as evidenced by the amount of questions I have received on the subject, it seems that many are relocating, downsizing and/or updating their encaustic studio spaces. I have received so many emails and questions asking about my personal encaustic studio set-up and the equipment in it, I decided to write a post about it so it’s all right here for everyone to reference.

My studio space is a little over 300 square feet and about a third of it is devoted to encaustic and cold wax, so a lot of magic happens in a very small space. I have never boasted a fancy space, you’ll not see me in a pristine Instagram photoshoot making paintings while donned in roller skates and a bikini-I’m a real person, making real art in a real studio, down and dirty. So if you’re here to look at an amazing studio space, this ain’t the place to do that. I’m here to show you that you don’t need anything especially fancy, large or expensive in order to make good art.

It seems that many artists have been inquiring about downsizing rather than upgrading and my studio is definitely a downsize from most, so I think this article will be helpful. For space organization and equipment ideas, see the images below as well as a list with purchase links. If you see something in the photos that I don’t list, please email me or leave a comment. Everything listed below can be purchased at my Everything Encaustic Amazon Store unless otherwise noted.

Studio Furniture & Design

  • Tables Ikea is a wonderful place, as you all know. The table in front of the window is similar to this one and I really love the shelf at the bottom, plus the table itself is adjustable. The table to the left is from Amazon and is your basic, sturdy, good quality table. I also highly recommend stainless steel tables which can just be heated and wiped when wax drips, plus you don’t have to spend extra money on silicone sheets to cover the tabletop.
  • Lighting Home Depot fluorescent strips and track lighting. This is more than enough lighting, my studio looks like the sun.
  • Electricity If you’re lucky enough to be upgrading your electricity, install 200 amp service on 2 or more separate circuits around the room.
  • Chair Basic tall desk chair if you prefer to sit..make sure it’s adjustable. I prefer a chair without arms because they just get in the way.
  • Mats Better for your back than sitting is to stand at a tall table, but make sure you have good cushioning under your feet. These mats are a great value and your feet and lower back will thank you years from now. My studio assistant kitties love to sharpen their claws on them, so unless you want holes in yours, keep them away from your furry friends.
  • Paint Storage I recommend storing your paints in drawers to keep them dust free-so the dust doesn’t get in your paintings, of course. I wish I could share where to purchase my paint storage cabinet, but I’m not sure where to buy one.. I purchased it used from Craigslist-it’s very old, very heavy and exactly what I needed when I was shopping. Try Facebook Marketplace in addition to Craigslist, I find amazing deals from locals in my neighborhood on there.

Studio Encaustic Equipment

  • Roland Hot Box Use for encaustic monoprints. This is available from Vent a Fume and the link will take you to their very comprehensive information page. I have the double size box and it’s sufficient for many things. I know many people who have the single and wish they had a double size, but you’ll have to make that decision based on the size of work you’re comfortable making. R&F has encaustic monoprint classes and everyone gets a hotbox to try, so maybe you should take a class first to figure out what size you like.
  • Vent a Fume portable ventilation system that can be installed via casement window in basement or through wall. Consult Vent a Fume initially for advice and HVAC to install. If you have a window, these window exhaust fans are an excellent supplement to the VAF. Make sure any fresh air ventilation is in front of you-meaning the fumes are being pulled away from you as you stand at the encaustic work table.
  • Extra Large Pancake Griddle I can’t tell you how many people ask me about my griddle! It’s much larger than your basic pancake griddle and allows much more room for paint mixing.
  • Small Electric Skillet I like to keep my medium separate from my colors so this little 7×7 inch skillet is perfect.
  • Paint Pans I use these disposable mini bread pans for my medium and bulk colors and these cupcake pans for smaller amounts of color-I like that they are extremely economical and I can easily form them into a spout for pouring. Just a note that R&F does not recommend aluminum pans for paints as they can sometimes discolor them. When I taught with Dietlind Vander Schaaf last summer she had these extra large paint pans for medium and I’ve actually started to collect them in my studio as well.
  • Embossing Heat Tool I prefer these tools to larger heat guns-I can turn them on/off with one hand, they’re much lighter and they take up less room. They don’t get as hot as the larger ones, but they work just fine for encaustic purposes.
  • Silicone Sheets I used paper for years to cover my work surface and absolutely hated changing it. Silicone baking sheets are so easy to clean and pay for themselves as they rarely need to be replaced. I have smaller sheets, but now you can get a larger silicone mat here.
  • Irons For collage and small paintings, I use the Clover Mini Iron and the Dritz Petite Press. The Petite Press goes in and out of a favor on Amazon, so if it’s not available there, search it on Google. These are my go-to irons and are also available at Joanne’s, Walmart and Michaels. For larger areas and larger paintings, I use the Hangar 9 Sealing Iron.
  • Hake Brushes Most encaustic painters use these goat’s hair brushes and they are available in a wide range of sizes, quality and prices at Michaels and other art supply stores as well as my Amazon Encaustic Store. I would recommend starting out with .5 inch, 1 inch, 1.5, 2, 2.5. Any larger than that is too big and not necessary. Also good to have around are hogs bristle brushes in those sizes as well as very small sizes. Whatever you purchase, make sure it is a natural hair brush and not a synthetic as these will melt.

Searching for the Blackest Black: Non Water-Soluble Drawing Materials

Still on my quest for the blackest black art materials! Next up is Part 3 of 4: Non Water-Soluble Drawing Materials.

This series has gone from two parts to three and now, to four! It’s been super fun to compare and contrast art materials. I now know why there are so many Instagram and Youtube accounts dedicated to comparisons and which have thousands of followers-myself included in that following, not to mention the thousands of hours I spend watching the videos…but I digress…

So we will now embark on this Part Three: Non-Water Soluble Drawing Materials. Like the Paint and Water-Soluble Materials comparisons, I used Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper and Duralar Film, which are the two papers I use most for drawings. I chose to compare drawing materials that I had already narrowed down to the darkest ones in my collection. Again, I made short choppy strokes, a fluid line and a solid black rectangle. I comment first on the black-ness of the material, but I’m also interested in the smooth quality of the line. I’m a fluid draftsperson, I like things that flow and don’t grab at the paper or create too much texture-just my preference. The following list corresponds top down to the images below. I isolated each of the marks with the top being the Mixed Media paper and the second, the Duralar. Last, I include direct links to purchase each product from my Amazon affiliate store, Art Supplies I Love.

Stay tuned for Part Four of my Search for the Blackest Black, comparing the blackest black encaustic paints-this totally excites me!

BONUS!! Since most of these materials must be sharpened, here is the best Art Bite tip…This pencil sharpener is the best one I’ve ever purchased. It’s portable, sharpens pointed or blunt and apparently lasts a super long time without needing a new blade. The best part is that it sharpens to an extra long point, see the comparison below of my other studio pencil sharpener and this one.

  1. Scorched Fire Wood
    I started drawing with campfire wood a few years ago while teaching in Utah. I was looking for something to give to the workshop participants to draw with and there were old campfires everywhere, so walla..instant art material. It’s basically charcoal, but without binders and other things that make it easy to handle. You’ll get a variety of results depending on what kind of wood it is, how long it was burned, etc. The wood I used here is from my fire pit in Florida and is likely some kind of pine. It was super smooth and nice and dark on the paper, not so much on the Duralar. Like any charcoal, it needs a toothy surface to grab onto. If you try drawing with your own fire pit wood, made sure you use plenty of fixative!
  2. Posca Pen
    Hands down, the winner of the blackest black drawing material on both papers I tested. The pen is kind of a cheat because it’s actually acrylic paint and belongs in my paint comparison, but who cares. If you’re into paint markers, Posca pens are the best I’ve tried and I’ve tried A LOT of them so as to avoid paying for the expensive Posca. Like anything, you get what you pay for-Posca pens are smooth, luscious and you really don’t need a lot of it to get good coverage. They come in several sizes, so you can draw detailed and bold AND they come in a ton of rich colors, not just black.
  3. Prismacolor Ebony Pencil
    This is my go-to drawing pencil for all kinds of drawing. I can get a wide variety of shades from light to dark with just this one pencil. These pencils were originally made by Eberhard-Faber, then Sanford and now it looks like Prismacolor is making them. If you can get ahold of the EF pencils or even the Sanfords, you’ll find a slightly better and blacker pencil. I purchased a huge lot of the EF from Ebay and compared with the more recent Prismacolor, it seems that the more recent the pencil, the lesser the quality of graphite. It’s true that things in our modern age just aren’t made like they used to be.
  4. Generals Charcoal Pencil 557 HB
    You can’t beat Generals for anything charcoal, which is why four of their products have made it to this list. I love this particular pencil for drawing on paper, it’s extremely dark, smooth and doesn’t break or crumble when drawing or sharpening. Like any charcoal, it needs something toothy to grab so it didn’t do too well on the Duralar.
  5. Generals Carbon Sketch
    Believe it or not, this is a close second to Posca for the blackest black on both papers. It is the smoothest, darkest pencil I’ve ever had in my hand, it’s absolutely heavenly how it just glides over any surface. However, Heaven quickly turns to Hell when you try to sharpen it and sharpen it you must, as it’s extremely soft and loses it’s point very quickly and then breaks and breaks and breaks when you sharpen it. I’ve managed to be moderately successful sharpening it with a hand held sharpener, rather than an electric one. If you don’t lose your mind sharpening this pencil, it’s definitely worth it to draw with it, if only for a little while.
    **UPDATE An excellent alternative to this pencil is the Wolff’s Carbon Pencil, which is not to hard/not too soft and just right! Many thanks to @paddocknotes for the recommendation!
  6. Grumbacher Charcoal Pencil Medium
    Unfortunately, Grumbacher has discontinued this pencil, but I think you can still find it in sets under the Faber-Castell Pitt label. If you can find the vintage Grumabacher pencil on Ebay, they’re worth the extra work to purchase. They draw extremely smooth and dark on paper, maybe even slightly better than the General’s Charcoal pencil above. The charcoal is very firm and feels almost as smooth as graphite on paper, but an utter fail on the Duralar. I’m really in love with this pencil and I’m sad they’re not being made anymore.
  7. Primo Elite Grande #5000
    Made by General’s, their Primo line of charcoal pencils is as lovely as all of their products. Velvety smooth, dark and as heavenly as the Carbon Sketch above, it’s a little thicker than a regular pencil and easier to hold, it feels amazing in my hand. It draws wonderfully on both papers, but unfortunately suffers the same sharpening issues as the Carbon Sketch. Also, because it’s slightly thicker than most pencils, it won’t sharpen in most hand held sharpeners. However, I would choose this pencil over the other as it’s ever so slightly harder and doesn’t crumble quite as easily. Both are worth it, they really are heaven during the drawing process.
  8. Primo Charcoal 59 HB
    Like most of the General’s products listed here, the quality of this pencil is no exception. It’s also very dark, smooth and velvety as the others, but ever slightly firmer, making it easier to sharpen. The slightly harder charcoal, makes it slightly lighter on both papers. It’s still super dark, just not as dark as pitch like the others. If you don’t want to deal with the frustration of the softness of the other two, this one is just as good.
  9. Sharpie China Marker
    Unlike your usual everyday cheapie China Marker, this Sharpie China Marker is rich and black and ties for second in the line-up for the blackest black on Duralar, but only mediocre on the Mixed Media Paper. A china marker is what it is-a grease pencil-made to mark on difficult surfaces, so you’ll get an excellent black mark on smooth, shiny surfaces when most of the above pencils won’t cut it.
1. Scorched Fire Wood (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
2. Posca Pen (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
3. Prismacolor Ebony Pencil (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
4. Generals Charcoal Pencil 557 HB (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
5. General’s Carbon Sketch (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
6. Grumbacher Charcoal Pencil Medium (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
7. Primo Elite Grande 5000 (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
8. Primo Charcoal 59 HB (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
9. Sharpie China Marker (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)

Searching for the Blackest Black: Water-Soluble Drawing Materials

Next up in this series of searching for the blackest black is my favorite thing to discuss: drawing materials (water-soluble).

Next up in this series of searching for the blackest black is my favorite thing to discuss: drawing materials. I hadn’t realized I had so many before I embarked on this experiment so I actually split this part of the series into two posts: water-soluble this month and non water-soluble next month. The post after that will be comparing encaustic paint blacks from various paint makers…exciting!

Just like the black paint comparison, I don’t have every drawing tool ever invented, but I do have quite a variety. I am looking for the blackest black and that remains the first talking point, but I also comment on the draw-ablility of the material-the feel…the ease with which it makes marks. Is it an extension of your hand and seemingly makes marks you’re only dreaming about or does it fight you, seemingly having a mind of its own? Those of you who draw know what I mean.

For this comparison, I made 3 different marks-small, choppy strokes, a fluid stroke and a solid rectangle. Once again, I tested on Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper and Duralar Film. I’m most interested in how water-based paints work on the Duralar, as it is what I paint on most often and I used the Strathmore Paper as a bright white comparison. I made 2 areas of marks of each material on each substrate-the first area is dry and the second is with water added. I made several passes with the water to see how it worked in layers as well as to see how soluble the material actually is. The following list corresponds top down to the images below. I isolated each of the marks with the top being the Mixed Media paper and the second, the Duralar. Last, I include direct links to each product to purchase from my Amazon affiliate store, Art Supplies I Love.

  1. Art Graf Tailors Chalk Black
    I was surprised that this didn’t score higher in the black range, with only getting to a medium-dark gray on both papers. Another thing I didn’t particularly like is that when water is added, it was difficult to obliterate the original stroke. I can attest to the fact that when a wet brush is applied directly to the chalk and the paint laid down on paper, it has a wonderful range of rich grays-from very light to dark.
  2. Derwent XL Graphite
    I have the set of 6 with the water soluble and non-water soluble graphite and water soluble blue, green, yellow and red ochre graphite-I highly recommend it. The water soluble graphite is gorgeous to draw on the Duralar, but when water is added it doesn’t get rid of the stroke and just beads up. On the mixed media paper, it is a dream when water is added with a range of rich lovely grays
  3. Art Graf Kneadable Graphite Drawing Putty
    I purchased this as a bit of a novelty and don’t use it much in the way its designed to be used as mine dried up. From the package, it’s got a texture like a kneaded eraser and like a kneaded eraser, can be manipulated into any shape, but you can draw with it like graphite. I like it as a water soluble graphite, its extremely rich and smooth, especially on the Duralar. As a black, it’s meh…more like a silvery gray.
  4. Lyra Graphite Pencil
    This is my favorite water-soluble graphite, I even bring it to classes for students to use for mark-making exercises. Make sure you purchase the water-soluble version as the non looks exactly the same. In doing this comparison, I was really disappointed in how it held up to the other water soluble graphites-it was much lighter in color and the stroke was difficult to mix away with water. I can say that when I dip this pencil in water and draw with it, it’s really quite lovely on Duralar.
  5. Caran d’ache Neocolor Crayon Black
    My favorite things to play with on the road, they’re incredibly velvety rich and become almost like paint when water is added. The black was really black on both papers without water, but when water is added, was sooooo disappointing! It’s so light with water that it becomes almost invisible on both papers. Yuck.
  6. Stabilo Woody Black
    Definitely the blackest black winner on both papers with or without water. I love making marks with this on anything, it’s strong and velvety smooth. The only thing I don’t like about it is that its so thick and only good for bold marks.
  7. Portfolio Series Oil Pastel
    This is an inexpensive set of water soluble oil pastels and pretty much you get what you pay for when water is added-hardly any solubility…but, hey…water and oil aren’t supposed to mix anyway. I do like these to just draw with when I’m on the road. They’re super smooth and sharpened to a point like a pencil, which is pretty cool and different for an oil pastel.
  8. Tombow Brush Pen Black
    If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’m in love with these pens and I’m actually using them exclusively for a sketchbook series. The black stays super black on the mixed media paper but beads up on the Duralar. However, when water is added on the Duralar, the beading stops and although its not black, the gradient is quite lovely. With water on the mixed media paper, the ink turns a dark turquoise blue, which is disappointing if you’re expecting black.
  9. Stabilo Aquarelle Glass, Paper, Metal Pencil
    The ‘skinny’ answer to the Woody, this pencil makes a range of delicate to dark marks on many surfaces (even encaustic!) with or without water. I use it all the time for sketching and it’s also in my backpack because I can get such a variety of lines and marks with it when I’m on the trail. In this comparison, it held up dark on both surfaces without water, but fades quite a bit when water is added. I do like the range of grays on both surfaces and don’t much mind the fading.
1. Art Graf Tailors Chalk Black (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
2. Derwent XL Water Soluble Graphite (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
3. Art Graf Kneadable Graphite Drawing Putty (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
4. Lyra Water Soluble Graphite Pencil (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
5. Caran d’ache Neocolor Crayon Black (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
6. Stabilo Woody Black (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
7. Portfolio Oil Pastel (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
8. Tombow Brush Pen Black (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
9. Stabilo Glass, Plastic, Metal Pencil (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)

Searching for the Blackest Black: Paint

My quest over many years has been to find the truest black paints and drawing materials, that are most rich, carbon and complete in its blackness. I test several water based black paints on two kinds of paper…see which ones yield the truest black.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m an art materials freak. Like most artists, I’m a collector of art supplies…anything that catches my eye…it’s a sickness. Over the years, I’ve been on a secret quest for the blackest black paint and the blackest black drawing materials. There are many methods to mixing black, the most common is to mix equal parts red, blue and yellow pigments. Sometimes when mixing black, the balance of whatever colors used to mix it is slightly off, resulting in a reddish, or most commonly, a bluish leaning. My quest has been to find the truest black, that leans least toward any color, that is most rich, carbon and complete in its blackness.

Like most of my posts these days, I’ve split this thread into 3 parts with this one focused on water-based paint, the next one on drawing materials and the third on encaustic paint-encaustic being the catalyst that started me on this quest.

I don’t have every black paint ever invented, so I focused on what I do have that interests me most to work with at the moment. When I promoted this post, I did receive a tip from the always helpful Helen Danelly about a new Golden Acrylic Paint called SoFlat Matte and oh boy, I will be spending some money on this paint! I wish I had had it for this comparison, so stay tuned for a post on this paint in the future.

For this comparison, I tested on Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper and Duralar Film. I’m most interested in how water-based paints work on the Duralar, as it is what I paint on most often, so I used the Strathmore Paper as a bright white comparison. I made several kinds of marks (I’m partial to swirls) and in some areas, made several passes to see how the paint worked in layers. The following list corresponds top down to the images below, with the Mixed Media paper on the left and Duralar on the right…and of course, helpful links to purchase the products if you’re so inspired.

  1. Pro-Art Waterproof/Opaque India Ink
    This is a lovely ink, nice and thick, it doesn’t bead on the Duralar and is wonderful to dip found objects into it to make marks. It stands up to everything. It stayed true black, even when slightly diluted. You can’t beat the price either, it’s cheap, cheap, cheap. If you’re wondering why I didn’t use Sumi ink for this comparison, its because Sumi beads up on the Duralar.
  2. Golden High Flow Carbon Black
    This is a really nice paint that flows wonderfully from the brush and I get some really nice gradations when it’s mixed with a little water. It dries to a really dark gray with a slightly bluish cast, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a true black.
  3. Windsor & Newton Designers Gouache Ivory Black
    The winner so far on both papers, this gouache is dreamy creamy and really black-I barely notice any other color coming through. I didn’t use a lot of water so I could see the best black and straight from the tube, it has a slight blue iridescence. When mixed with water, some translucency comes through in areas, but the paint still retains its blackness. Keep in mind that not all gouache is the same and we all have our preferences, but I grew up on Windsor and Newton and whenever I try to skimp and purchase another brand, I’m woefully disappointed. I’ve also used Holbein, which is a close second only because it’s super expensive. Last, don’t confuse regular gouache with acrylic gouache-acrylic gouache is a different thing in that regular gouache dries matte and can be revived with water, acrylic gouache dries a bit shiny and is permanent.
  4. Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors Lunar Black
    I purchased this because it was highly recommended as THE best black watercolor out there and it’s the truth. It’s a beautiful rich black even when diluted with water and it makes the loveliest gradations on both papers without even trying. It has a very, very slight red/brown cast and I really only notice this relative to the other paints. Because it’s watercolor, it’s difficult to get a solid area even when layered, so that may be a problem if you want flat black color.
  5. Nitram Liquid Charcoal
    I was so excited when I saw this on the shelf at the art supply store. I love the velvety smoothness of charcoal and I was totally intrigued by the idea of such a thing in liquid form. It’s an interesting idea in concept, but it wasn’t what I expected. It’s rather gritty and the best color I could get from it is a dark gray. Straight out of the tube, with only a little water added, it’s nice and black but still not quite what I’m looking for in a black paint. The saddest thing about this product is that it flakes off of the Duralar, so I have little use for it.
  6. Golden’s Micaceous Iron Oxide
    I had acquired a free tube of this paint, so I decided to throw it in to the comparison. I’ve used it before thinking it would be a true black, but like the liquid charcoal it’s rather gritty and makes a nice subtle texture when it dries. It’s a beautiful dark gray with a slight pink iridescence. It can be quite translucent at the first layer with subsequent layers becoming more and more opaque. I didn’t have any of the Golden Black Mica Flake Paint, but I’m thinking this paint would be a good contestant for this comparison/competition.
  7. Kama Pigments Aqua Dispersion Carbon Black
    I have a few of these dispersion paints from Kama and they’re just fabulous. Aqua Dispersion pigments are highly concentrated pigments that are extremely rich and make your paintbrush almost seem like a magic wand. They’re supposed to be added to water or another paint binder in very small quantities, but like many art materials I don’t use them the way they’re designed. I love these pigments because of their richness and while I do dilute with a bit of water, I pretty much use them straight out of the tube…but a little goes a very, very lonnnnng way. This was my favorite black on the Duralar, it just glides across the surface and stays a rich black almost all the way across with some wonderful gradations and textures. On the paper, it was just as lovely, but dried slightly gray to almost black.

A Special Holiday Offer

Happy Holidays, my Art Bite Blog Friends!
I am so grateful for your support throughout the year that I have created A Special Holiday Offer just for you…

Happy Holidays, my Art Bite Blog Friends!
I am so grateful for your support throughout the year that I have created A Special Holiday Offer just for you…
Through December 18 I am offering mini paintings, workshops and products for sale with a FREE notecard set for orders of $75 or more. This offer is ONLY offered to you, my super cool blog readers, Facebook and Instagram followers.
Scroll down for a list of links and products at a glance or hit the buttons just below to start shopping now.
The Happiest of Holidays to you!
Lorraine xo

10 Things Artists Can Do During Corona-Crud Confinement

Trying not to think too hard about why I’m sequestered in my studio, I’m actually enjoying this quiet time and realizing I have much to do that I was saving for a rainy day. The following is a list of what I’ve accomplished so far and look forward to accomplishing. Hoping it will give you some inspiration to get S**T done.

At the end of this first week of the Coronavirus Confinement & Social Distancing experiment, a meme I saw the other day describes it perfectly…What a long year this week has been…

As working artists, we are pretty much used to being self-quarantined in our studios. I must admit, at the beginning of all of this, I kind of welcomed the stopping of the clock, mandatory shut down of life so I could get some work done. Trying not to think too hard about why I’m sequestered in my studio, I’m actually enjoying this quiet time and realizing I have much to do that I was saving for a rainy day. The following is a list of what I’ve accomplished so far and look forward to accomplishing. Hoping it will give you some inspiration to get S**T done.

I realize there are many of you who can’t get to your studios at this time and believe me, I empathize. There was a time not too long ago when I was in the same boat. For you, I have this post and this post, listing portable, non-messy art supplies you can purchase to use at home or out at your favorite hiking trail. Fortunately, Amazon still works and you can purchase these supplies and more at my Amazon Store.

  1. Make one thing on your Idea List I have an ongoing list of 20-25 ideas that randomly pop into my head when I’m working on must-do things. This list consists of fun things like embroidery or sewing projects, making sketchbooks or portfolio boxes to house my ever growing collection of artist postcards. If you sew, make a face mask to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus should you venture outside. If you don’t know what to make, start an idea list now!
  2. Have a melt down For encaustic artists and those who can get to the studio…melt down your encaustic scrapings-doing this makes great grays and taupes. I have a collection of scrapings I’ve been saving since forever and now is the time to melt! If you don’t know how to do this, stay tuned for a how-to on My Youtube Channel and IGTV.
  3. Read that giant art book you got over the holidays Yeah, READ IT, don’t just look at the pictures. I just read the Lawrence Carroll book, I Have Longed to Move Away, it was awesome and allowed me so much more insight into his work.
  4. Clean It’s spring after all and if you can actually find cleaning supplies in the stores, get busy cleaning out the winter scuzz from those nooks and crannies.
  5. Clean Out Go through your collections of books, pencils, paints, brushes, paper pads, whatever you’ve been hoarding and get rid of some stuff. Donate it to a local school, summer camp or after school program. Even if the kids don’t get back to school this semester, they will use it in September.
  6. Draw For those with or without a studio, it just takes a substrate and a drawing implement to make some art. Not sure what to draw? Visit 5 Mark-Making Exercises to Jump Start Your Art for ideas.
  7. Catalog your art inventory Oh, its soooo booooring! But it must be done and I’m sure you’re like me and have been putting it off like the plague-no pun intended. No more excuses, get busy and get it done. Sign up for ArtWork Archive to make your life easier.
  8. Start that one big art marketing thing you’ve been putting off We all have that thing that looms so big we can’t even imagine how to begin. Start a web page, a blog, a new Instagram account, a Facebook Fan page, learn a new technique, make videos, etc. For me, it’s online classes. I’ve been circling around it for years and it has become more imperative for me to begin now that I may not have a 2020 workshop season.
  9. Bake From the looks of the shelves at my food store and the yummy pics on my social media, everyone has had the same idea to make a sweet treat to get through this time. For artists, we can take it a step further and creatively decorate our yummies. Visit my Cakes! Pinterest Page for inspiration-even if you don’t bake, it’s fun to look.
  10. Do not fear, think positive, wash your hands and realize that all of this is temporary I have seen people referring to this as ‘the new normal’ and some have settled into a mindset that all of this is forever. It is not, my friends. While this virus should be taken seriously, be secure in the fact that it is a virus and we will find a vaccine, if not a cure to combat it. This too, shall pass and when it does, I think we will all have a better outlook on life and in our fellow humans. Be safe, healthy and wash your hands.

A Special Holiday Offer

Happy Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday!
I am so grateful for your support throughout the year that I have created A Special Holiday Offer just for you…

Happy Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday!
I am so grateful for your support throughout the year that I have created A Special Holiday Offer just for you…
Through December 6 I am offering mini paintings, workshops and products for sale with FREE shipping on ALL orders. Sorry, the free shipping offer is only available in the continental US. This offer is ONLY offered to you, my super cool blog readers, Facebook and Instagram followers.
Scroll down for a list of links and products at a glance or hit the buttons just below to start shopping now.
The Happiest of Holidays to you!
Lorraine xo

New Traveling With The Wind Encaustic Monoprint Series

New this year is a 6×8 inch series of subtly rendered encaustic monoprints printed on delicate rice papers. All are inspired by landscape, focused specifically on marks, thoughts and expression of the land, signed and numbered on the back. Purchase 1 at $50 or 2 for $85!

Shop New Monoprint Series

Itty Bitty Pretties

My newest little creations are so popular! Original one of a kind encaustic paintings on board in an Itty Bitty bite size 2×3 inches, each is titled and signed on the back. Perfect to brighten a shelf, desktop or a dark corner of the room. Purchase 1 at $35 or 2 for $60!

Shop Itty Bitty Pretties

Encaustic Monoprint Postcards

Original one of a kind encaustic monoprints on heavy card stock paper in a convenient 4×6 inch postcard size. Each is inspired by a hike I took over the year and is titled and signed on the back. Perfect for an office party gift or to brighten your own little place in the world. Purchase 1 at $35 or 2 for $60!

Shop Monoprint Postcards

Mini Paintings

My most coveted mini encaustic paintings go quickly! Starting at 4×4 inches to 8×8 inches on wooden panel, these fantasy landscapes are inspired by dreams. Titled and signed on the back, most have poems and private messages just for the collector also handwritten on the back.

Shop Mini Paintings

Workshops & Retreats!!

Don’t want a painting or a physical product? Purchase an experience that will last a lifetime! Follow the link for my full 2020 workshop schedule with links to descriptions and registration information.

Shop Workshops

Notecard Set with Envelope Seals

This very popular notecard set is newly updated for 2019 and is a perfect gift or to send a holiday message to someone special. The set includes 5 original designs plus 6 original envelope seals.

Purchase Notecards

Limited Edition Stickers

Who doesn’t love a colorful bunch of stickers? The perfect stocking stuffer, these stickers are printed on heavy vinyl with 8 different designs in each pack. New designs have just been added!

Purchase Stickers

My Catalog

Another great stocking stuffer, this catalog chronicles my work from 2002-2017. Purchase a digital or print copy ordered directly from the printer. Sorry, this item does not qualify for the free shipping offer.

Purchase A Catalog

Other Products

Purchase my extra special handmade encaustic medium and sanding sponges kit so you can buff your paintings to a luscious glass like finish. Frustrated you can’t draw on your encaustic paintings? You can with horsehair! Click individual product links or follow the link below to purchase.

Shop Products

My Amazon Store

That’s right, I now have an Amazon store filled with products I highly recommend, including art supplies, portable art supplies, hiking gear for the artist, art books, studio books and a lot more. If you haven’t found that special gift for that special person, you’re sure to find something here!

Shop My Amazon Store

Palette Paintings, Process, Progress

Continuing my series on the work I made during my Florida Residency, this post covers what is likely the most important work I made while there-my palette paintings.

Welcome to fall!! And welcome back to Art Bite Blog after a brief, yet restful, unplanned hiatus. Continuing my series on the work I made during my Florida Residency, this post covers what is likely the most important work I made while there-my palette paintings. These paintings are important to my studio practice in so many ways, but are important to my teaching as they illustrate so profoundly an aspect of art making that I feel is an absolute necessity: Process.

I came to make the palette paintings because my literal watercolor renditions of the Florida landscape were dismal and frankly, uninspired. It’s important to start somewhere and for me, beginning with a literal copy of the subject and then breaking down from there is how I’ve arrived at almost everything I’ve done that is remotely successful. Color is my go to for a lot of things, so I thought I’d start from there. The very first palette I made had no form, no rhyme or reason. I’ve long been inspired by Ellen Heck’s Color Wheels and love her design, but I wanted something simpler. When one is on a residency in remote Northern Florida, one uses what one has on hand…so I used the top of a moisture eater I purchased for my cabin and a Dasani cap as my templates. Circles and ovals are my faves, these templates fit nicely in my backpack with no weight added and I could change the design at will-it all works!

The next part of the process was to paint the colors I saw before me without getting overwhelmed by all of them. I decided to focus on one small section of the landscape and paint every nuance I saw within it-how the light changes with time, how the wind affects the color, how clouds, sun, storms, etc. also affect the color. In most cases, I jotted notes on the date, time of day, weather conditions and where I was. I suddenly had many variables with which to dissect and study this very large, very dense jungle of a landscape and I was having fun doing it. Even though I consider myself a fairly decent colorist, I was learning so much about really seeing and mixing color, as well as developing a color palette I could call my own, which was one of my loose goals for the residency. With one of my major goals achieved, the palette painting definitely brought everything full circle-no pun intended

I now make a palette painting or two on every hike, honing in on anything from leaves, flowers, rocks, water, lichen, etc. My next venture is to combine the palettes with the drawings I wrote about in this post. Also, I’ve just started to get a bit more complex with the design of the palettes themselves. It’s so fun and freeing to work within parameters, I’m discovering so much and making new work at the same time.

Please peruse the paintings below. I always take care to photograph the source of the palette and the source images are either next to or in the same photo as the palette itself. Also, FYI, almost all of the palettes are painted on my Hahnemuhle Watercolor Book using my Portable Watercolor Set, both of which are available in my Amazon Store. Visit my Hiking, Travel and Portable Art Supplies Idea List on Amazon for more great portable ideas and visit my recent post, 5 More Essential Portable Art Materials for my favorite products.

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