Water-soluble Encaustics, part 2

Wax painting of a factory
Vieille Fabrique sur la Somme, after Frits Thaulow
Water-soluble encaustic on bristol board, 4″ x 2.75″

In part 1, seen here, I started trying out the Ceracolors water-soluble encaustic paint sampler set from Natural Pigments. The palette for all of the paintings in this post is the original sampler set of yellow ochre, mars red, and titanium white, plus ultramarine blue and mars black made using the fluid medium that came with the set and some dry pigment.

Previously, there was difficulty getting dark shadows using the original palette and ultramarine. That started becoming a problem again during this painting, so part way through I made the mars black paint that I’m now storing in a small glass bottle. That one palette addition was very helpful in all of these paintings.

The difficulty of mixing dark colors with this palette seems partly because this medium dries very matte, which can be great in some ways but takes a lot of the depth out of dark colors. Another factor is that different binders affect how colors look and the ultramarine dries much lighter than it would in oil paint. Lastly, high opacity paints such as mars red hinder mixing dark colors, regardless of medium.

Winter scene painted with wax paint
A Snowy Harbor View, after Frits Thaulow
Water-soluble encaustic on bristol board, 2.5″ x 2.75″

Early on some of the placements of buildings here were off, but I decided to just continue as it is. The overall colors here are also much cooler than the original. I typically mix my colors on a painting more than on a palette, but this paint dries quickly unless the fluid medium is used and I ended up doing all my mixing on the palette. That was the main aspect of this paint that I found challenging.

Sunset painted with wax paint
Autumn Sunset 1908, after Robert Julian Onderdonk
Water-soluble encaustic on bristol board, 4.75″ x 2″

I tried breaking the paint a little with dry brushing to get the effect of reflections in the water. Matching the colors in the sky was difficult using only earths, but it worked out well enough.

Wax painting of a river landscape
Oyat River, after Vasily Polenov
Water-soluble encaustic on bristol board, 3.25″ x 2.25″

Getting sufficient chroma for the bright yellow greens of the sunlit grass was a challenge for this limited palette. I got close to the results I wanted by painting the sunlit grass a very light pale green mix, letting it dry, and then glazing (or more correctly, scumbling, because it’s not fully transparent) over it with a semi-transparent mix of yellow ochre, ultramarine, and fluid medium. Glazing transparent paint over a light ground produces more chromatic results than simply adding white to lighten the paint to the same degree. Because the paint dries quickly this only took a few moments to do, and because it doesn’t easily rewet once dry I didn’t need to worry about accidental mixing as I glazed. It wasn’t perfect though because the paint tends to dry opaque and hold brush strokes more than gouache, so the glaze wasn’t very smooth or transparent. It got the results needed well enough even though it’s really only barely green. A dedicated green paint or a higher chroma yellow would have been a big improvement to the palette in this landscape.

Wax painting of a mountain landscape
At the Foot of Mount Hermon 1882, after Vasily Polenov
Water-soluble encaustic on bristol board, 3.25″ x 2.25″

The fast drying nature of Ceracolors combined with the opacity of most of the paints in this palette made it fast and easy to paint in general shapes first and then paint details over top of that. For this last painting I made four solid shapes for the sky, background, midground, and foreground, then added the details on top. Using these outdoors for plein air painting may be a good strategy to try next.

Wax painting practice sheet

Granted these practice paintings are small, but I’ve actually used very little paint, so this sampler set is something I can keep practicing with for a good long time. Some paints will last longer than others though. I’ve definitely used much more of the titanium white than any other paint and I should probably save the rest of the fluid medium for when I’ll need to make more of that. The mars red is the opposite. I don’t use red much anyways, and mars red is a very strong tinting paint, so only a small amount of it is needed. It’s already obvious there’ll still be a significant amount of mars red left after the other paints are all used up.

Using just the original paints the palette of the sampler set is very limited but provides plenty of paint to use and decide whether you’d want to buy more of it. Maybe using smaller tubes to allow for a larger range of colors in the set at about the same price, or even a little more, would have greatly increased the usability of the set, but as it is it’s a very good deal and very good paint.

Something useful about the caps is that they each have a little swatch of paint on top of the cap so the paints can be easily identified. Unfortunately, the caps of two of the original three tubes have cracked in such a way that the top is splitting off from the part than screws onto the tube’s threads. I’ve had many caps crack in various ways from many other brands in both oil and watercolor paint, so this is something that happens. However, this is normally a rare thing and here it’s happened to two out of three tubes in a short time, so I thought I should mention that.

I’ve really enjoyed using Ceracolors so far and I’ll keep using them. If I wasn’t on a break from buying new art supplies then I’d get some more, but what I have should last awhile. Next time I’ll paint something larger and experiment with actually applying heat to the dried paint to see how well it can be reworked once melted.

6 thoughts on “Water-soluble Encaustics, part 2

  1. Very inspiring! Your posts remind me of the origins of painting (by focusing us on the raw materials) and the processes of art (involving experimenting and imagination). Thanks!

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