The Encaustic Monotype

History

In the mid 1970s I had devoted over 15 years of studio time to creating black and white editioned prints. I longed for color; I hungered for color. And I wanted immediate color. I began experimenting with color in intaglio printing, but it was too limiting. It was still a process-oriented task. I needed another door.

I began doing monotypes in the traditional method of transferring oil-based inks to paper with the use of my etching press. I was also experimenting with encaustic painting. I wanted to combine the directness and immediacy of the monotype with the richness and luminosity of encaustic painting. The result was a process that eliminated all the slow and cumbersome steps of encaustic painting and the toxicity of inks and solvents of printing with color on a press in the more traditional way. I called it the “Encaustic Monotype.” In 1979 my first wax monotype was juried into a show by Lucy Lippard. Encaustic monotypes were included in my graduate thesis show in 1981 and I have continued to show the wax prints and my monotypes done on a press.

In 1991, Daniel Smith awarded me a grant to publish my process in the Inksmith, a printmaking newsletter. I have used excerpts from that article here and have added alterations and additional information.

 

Process

The process is simple: a wax crayon drawing or painting is made on a heated metal plate and transferred to a sheet of paper using hand pressure; no printing press is used. The plate is cleaned with paper towels or rags; no toxic solvents are involved. This basic procedure provides the artist with a new realm of printmaking using basic, inexpensive studio equipment.

 

Materials

The Hotplate

Several professional models are sold by printmaking suppliers. A substitute hotplate frame can be made of wood or metal with basic tools found in a woodshop or welding shop and insulated and wired with ceramic receptacles that use 100-watt incandescent light bulbs. It can be built to any desired size, preferably a size that fits standard art papers. The plate should be a metal gauge of sufficient suspension strength to span the frame and to conduct heat evenly. Multiples of 16” X 18” will create an even heat to melt the crayons. My 19” X 32” double frame of 8 lightbulbs evenly heats a plate 22” X 34” and accommodates 22” X 30” paper. For safety, any frame must be lined with insulation on the sides and bottom. It should be raised above the surface of the work table with legs or it should be used on a metal or other heatproof surface.

The Crayons

When I began experimenting with this monotype process, I bought beeswax cakes fabricated by the Torch company. When Richard Frumess began his business (R & F Handmade Paints) I was disappointed that I still could not buy a pigmented beeswax crayon, so I made my own. The crayons are fabricated in a simple two-part mold constructed from two identical ¾” maple boards cut to any desired length. Clamp the boards in a vise or between C-clamps and drill to a predetermined depth into the joined edges at regular intervals. Apply several coats of wood sealer to the inside of the mold to reduce wax adhesion. Mix dry pigment with equal parts of beeswax in a small can and pour into the mold openings. Allow 20 minutes or more to harden. Release the clamp and the crayons will come free from the mold. There are many variations of this fundamental procedure. Damar resin is used to harden encaustic painting pigments to be used on a rigid substrate. Since the paper is flexible, I prefer a more flexible pigment. I do not use the Damar resin in my crayons. This reduces the chances of pigment cracking during handling. I also like the ease of mark-making with the more flexible pigment. There are paint modifiers to add to the mixture if more or less opacity is desired. Some modifiers also aid in the suspension of the pigment in the wax.

Paper

The paper chosen can determine the outcome of the print. A very absorbent paper such as mulberry fiber paper makes a softer image; the wax becomes a part of the paper. A smoother, less absorbent paper results in sharper edges with greater contrast; the color sits on top. An inventory of several easily found papers will help you get started and find your favorites. Masa is the most versatile: it has a rough or absorbent surface on one side and a smooth, shiny side on the reverse. Try the Oriental mulberry fiber papers(Kozo), Superfine, Rives book, handmade papers and even some of the interleaving papers. There are endless possibilities.

The Image

All prints are made by drawing into a light field (the additive process) or removing areas of a dark field (the negative process) or by a combination of the two. It delights and amazes me to see the many fresh and diverse ideas that each individual artist brings to the process.

 

Conclusion

With the range of materials and techniques available for encaustic monotype, there are endless possibilities for the experimental artist. It is my hope that each artist who tries this process will translate the expertise they bring from other media to add to and improve what I have begun. Paula Roland, a friend and colleague, has done a wonderful job of spreading knowledge of the  process with her popular workshops from coast to coast in the USA and even taken it abroad.

If you have questions about encaustic monotype procedures or want to report your experiences with the process, contact me.

 

Sources for Materials

 

Kama Pigments

  • Custom designed crayons to my original formula w/out Damar resin

 

R&F Paint

  • Pigmented Wax for Painting & Encaustic Monotypes

  • Heat Supplies

 

Evans Encaustics

  • Encaustic paints w/out Damar resin

 

RolandWorkshops.com

  • Hotboxes –

 

Miles Conrad Encaustics

  • info

 

Enkaustikos – EncausticPaints.com

  • info