David Fielding: WaxCentric Demo Artist, 7-20-14

IMG_0985David Fielding presented a thoughtful, insightful demonstration of his encaustic painting process, along with a Power Point presentation for the July 20th meeting held at the St. Louis Artist’s GuildDavid is Instructor of Fine Art and Gallery Director at Three Rivers College. He hosted our Encaustic Invitational exhibit last March in the Tinnin Center Gallery. His work can be found online: http://davidfielding.weebly.com. 24 photos from the event can be found on the WC MeetUp site: http://www.meetup.com/WaxCentric/photos/23361152/.

Thank you David for answering all of our questions! Below find more information about his process, and replies to questions regarding finding a gallery.

“Here is a quick over view of my process

  • I take a photograph and open it  in Photoshop.
  • I crop the image 1/4″ lager than the scale I am working with.
  • I use one of the pre-set filters in Photoshop, I normally use “Dry Brush”
  • I print the image. I use a normal printer and have found that regular print paper works the best for me.
  • I trim the excess paper off the image.
  • I use 4” plastic putty knife to apply a thin even coat of wood glue to ¼” MDF board. I pour about a quarter size drop in the middle of the MDF, and work it from the center out with the knife. Save the edges of the MDF for last. There will be excess glue.
  • I attach the image so it’s’ edges just slightly over hang the edges of the MDF. If you have trouble with this step try making the IMG_1073image bigger. Starting in the center and working towards the edges burnish the image with the back of spoon.
  • I flip the MDF over and trim the edges of paper that are over hanging. I have found it easier to complete this step while the glue is still damp. It will not take long for the glue to set up, you could even speed it up by applying a little heat with a heat gun. Normally I work a day ahead so I am letting them rest for a day, but it doesn’t seem necessary to wait more than 10 – 15 minutes.
  • I apply a coat of encaustic medium over the surface and use a heat gun to smooth it. I want to see the medium going into the paper.
  • After the wax has cooled a bit I use a 1” putty knife to scrap most of the wax off. This is an important step because it gives the wax a little tooth for the pastel.
  • I will build up the texture and under-painting with pigmented wax. I use quite a bit of medium to pigment because I want it to be translucent.
  • I use Sennelier oil pastels to work in some detail and make the image look more like an oil painting. I have a set of landscape and a set of portrait pastels that seem to have the colors I like to use.
  • I will lightly fuse the pastel layer. I am trying to just make the wax shine, I will repeat this step several times.
  • I use a verity of tools to push the wax around and will often pant wax over the pastel layers before I am satisfied with the piece. Sometimes you do not have to do very much to the image for it to work.”


0007I have been a galleried artist for over thirty years now, but I have been represented by the same dealers for most of that time. Most of them came to me and I had an introduction to the others. In all cases I knew many of the artists that they represented. I do think it is important to choose your dealer wisely. Visit the gallery a couple of times. Think about how does your work fit in. If you know artists represented by the dealer ask them what their experience is like with the gallery. It is not an overnight process. Most dealers I know have way too many artists and are approached by artists of all skill levels almost daily. It doesn’t mean they don’t take new artists on, because they do. You should be aware that just because you are taken on by a dealer it doesn’t mean that they will sell or even show your work.

How to take care of these works

I don’t think they need any special care other than to be careful with the edges. One of my favorite qualities of encaustic is the way the outside edges build up. But they are fragile and prone to chipping. Framing them should protect and show off the edges. I like to use a nice floater frame. The pastel bonds with the wax but it does take a few months for the wax to cure all the way out. If the work gets dusty you should be able to clean it with a soft rag just like any other painting.”

Thank you to Kathryn Nahorski, Executive Director at the St. Louis Artist’s Guild for hosting our meeting.



Guest Post: Keith Kavanaugh

Whatever is painted truly… possesses both the subjective sentiment, the poetry of Nature, and the objective fact.

-George Inness

I’m a landscape painter. Encaustic is my medium of choice, perfect for a subject full of potential for the expression of ideas and emotions – and itself a product of nature.

A Brief History
Originally, my background is in music. My first degree is in Jazz Performance and I’ve been active on the Kansas City scene for more than 20 years. During my schooling in Boston I had a year of art history and frequently visited the wonderful museums in that city. A year after completing my studies and moving back to Kansas City I returned to school for a degree in Fine Art and Design.

I spent the next nine years in the graphic design world, away from painting, and somewhere along the way saw my first Jasper Johns piece up close – a flag with strips of newspaper embedded in the wax. It’s surface and translucency were unlike any I’d ever seen. I began experimenting with beeswax collage and assemblage shortly after that, discovering it has many of the characteristics I love about oil, without the fumes. And the immediacy of acrylic without the constraints.

In 2001 I leased a studio space and continued working with wax and collage while also painting landscapes in acrylic. After about four years I finally merged the two into my first encaustic landscape and haven’t touched acrylic or oil since.

 As we all do, I look to many artists working in various mediums and subjects for inspiration. Johns, of course, for his use of wax. That led me to Rauschenberg. Kurt Schwitters has been an inspiration for many years. I look to Giacometti for his use of line in painting and drawing. Franz Kline, Larry Rivers and Jim Dine for the energy of their brushwork. Richard Diebenkorn for the same reason, especially in his early landscapes, but also for the layering of color in his Ocean Park series.

My work is strongly connected to the tradition of landscape painting through the American Tonalists of the 19th century. They were masters at conveying fundamental truths about nature difficult to express through words. It’s often atmospheric, bordering on abstract. They didn’t so much depict the landscape as take us inside our own experiences and remind us of our connection to the world. It’s not unlike the way we experience music. George Inness and James A. McNeil Whistler epitomize the Tonalist movement.

Their are many oil painters today who represent those same ideals. For me, Douglas Fryer and Michael Workman offer a modern interpretation of that tradition.

Last, there are artists working more abstractly in encaustic whose work is strongly connected to landscape and nature. Alexandre Masino does beautiful work using an encaustic monotype process. And Marcelo Tanaka and Anne Stahl both walk a fine line between abstraction and landscape.

My Process
Source Material
 I try to balance working from actual places through photo reference, and improvising from memory. The best pieces come from the right combination of the two. Nearly all of my work deals with the region around my home in rural Jackson County, Missouri. It isn’t unique or extraordinary but as I’ve driven, cycled and walked through the area for 20 years a certain beauty, personal to me, has revealed itself in these unremarkable places. When the light or weather are right I drive around the area and shoot reference images, usually with a camera phone. I prefer an image that isn’t technically very good so I can’t get caught up in the details of the place.

Back in the studio, I wade through the images and choose some I think might be successful. Images that work as photos often don’t work as paintings. Photography takes you to a place in a different way than a painting does, so you have to look past the photograph for that elusive element that will make a successful painting.

The image is manipulated in Photoshop where I can experiment with composition, cropping, color balance and contrast. It’s similar to doing drawings or small studies in preparation for a large work. I’ll do several small sketches to get a feel for the image and find trouble areas or elements that need more manipulation. When the drawings work I’ll move to a small panel, around 9″x14″ and do a quick encaustic study. Then, if everything feels right I’ll continue to a larger panel for the final piece. Lately that’s been 24″x39″.

Preparing the Panel

Priming the panel with wax medium.

I make my panels using 1/4″ furniture grade birch plywood braced with 1/2″ birch. The braces are clear-coated so the finished piece can hang without a frame if desired. Masking tape protects the braces until the painting is completely finished.

My medium is simple: one part carnauba wax to roughly eight to ten parts filtered beeswax. With a heat gun on high I warm the panel, brush on a layer of medium and heat it until it’s liquid and smooth, and bonded to the wood. When it’s partially cooled I scrape the panel down with a potter’s loop tool until the layer of wax is thin and consistent. The wood surface and grain are left visible so I have a midtone on which to start the painting.


The beginning of a loose sketch.

I’ve worked from prints of an image occasionally but have found that displaying it on computer monitor is a little closer to reality because of its illumination. Using black and white China Markers I do a very loose sketch on the primed panel. On a large panel I may use a grid on the image to help get elements positioned more quickly.

Scraping an early layer of underpainting.

Like many old masters, I loosely block in the values using an encaustic earthtone and white diluted with medium. The heat gun keeps it flowing like oil. In fact, I keep the heat gun going nearly the entire time I’m applying paint. Periodically, I’ll stop, scrape parts of the painting where the paint is thick or texture is building up. The scraping isn’t to remove all the paint, but to smooth it so the next layer will flow easily over it. If I leave the texture on each layer the thickness of the painting quickly becomes too great. My desire is to build up many thin layers.

Color and Layering
The first layer of color over the underpainting.

When I’m satisfied with the underpainting I begin to add color, continuing a cycle of applying paint, scraping and fusing. Along the way I’ll bring parts of the drawing back with the China Marker and I’ll use a variety of tools to scratch and alter the surface, making it more aged and interesting.

After many cycles of this, the piece should be resolved enough that I close the laptop. It’s too easy to get stuck on the photograph and lose sight of the painting. I’ll rely on memory and experience to finish the piece. Sometimes this means major changes, moving or eliminating things or even changing the time of day or weather. More often it’s minor changes to color or contrast or the surface.
Additional color layers.

The last step is a final fusing. It’s a delicate balance to heat it enough to finish with a somewhat smooth surface, but not so much that it obliterates the brushwork and marks, or make puddles in the wax. I want it smooth enough that it can be buffed occasionally with a soft cloth. While I prefer thick wax around the edges, I now scrape them to a thin bevel to prevent chipping if the work isn’t framed.
Final layers

To my eye, the piece has a chance of being successful if it meets the 30-3-3 rule I’ve read from artist Michael Workman:
  1. At 30 feet away the painting should grab your attention.
  2. At 3 feet away, it should tell a story and create a dialog with the viewer.
  3. At 3 inches away, it should reward the viewer with interesting texture and paint application.

Beyond that, I hope it will stir something in the viewer’s experience about our connection to the world. A tall order. And a lifelong pursuit.
Finished for now.

Equipment and Materials

My studio.
Paints by R&F Paints
Various electric griddles used as palettes and brush warmers
Toastmaster electric pan for medium
Various sizes of chip brushes trimmed to personal preference
Potter’s tools, ice pick, plastic putty knives, palette knives and more

Artist’s Note: The painting used in this article is a demonstration piece begun at a Waxcentric workshop in December 2012 and completed in January 2013. The amount of layering and time spent on each stage is less than normal because of the time constraints.

Visit me at keithkavanaugh.com and on Facebook.