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Weltec Drawing Course 2010 – Encaustic Transfer Mixed Media Project Part 1

December 14, 2010

* I tried to take photos of all parts of the process, but was not always able to take photos in class, while pouring hot wax for instance. I am hoping in the future to completely document the process or do a ustream broadcast!


This process includes the use of hot liquid wax, sharp craft knives and other hot/sharp/pointy items and tools that should not be used by children! This is not a simple process, and should definitely be done under adult supervision, so kids CHECK WITH YOUR PARENTS FIRST!

This project took several lessons to complete. The aim was to produce two mixed media encaustic transfer drawings on a micro-crystalline wax-covered board. Like a digital photo-montage made in photoshop, the work is produced in layers. These layers all incorporated drawing in some way, either on the paper or on the wax, and you could also paint on top of the clear gel medium after it dried.

It is the first time I have tried such a process, and I will definitely continue to make more of these in the future! It is quite an involved process, but it was lots of fun!

What You will need:

a4 wooden board – hard board or mdf about 5mm thick


potter’s clay

rolling pin

craft knife

micro-crystalline wax

oilsticks – different colours for tinting the melted liquid wax, and also for drawing on the wax tablet

acrylic gel medium

magazines or any images you which to incorporate into your collage

pens, pencils, etc. to draw on the wax

paint brush

shoe brush


squeegee or spatula


dressmaker’s pins

heat gun

The Process:

First of all you will need to coat your a4 board with the gesso to give yourself a nice white base to work on.

While the board is drying, melt micro-crystalline wax in a large pot on a hot-plate. Our tutor used a large enamel teapot – the spout made it easier to pour the wax once it was fully melted.

If you are doing this inside, make sure the heat is not too high as the wax may smoke and set off smoke alarms! Once the wax has melted entirely, drop an oilstick into the wax. this will melt and tint the wax. You will need to scoop out the skin from the oilstick with a metal ruler or stick when it has melted down. Occasionally the spout of the kettle (if that is what you are using) may clog with the wax after you start pouring. If this happens to you, use a metal ruler to unclog the spout, or pop the pot back on the hot plate and wait for it to get hot enough to melt the wax clogging the spout.

In the meantime lay out your gessoed board/s on a table and get your clay ready. Roll out clay with a rolling pin and cut into strips about a centimetre thick and a few centimetres high. Surround your gessoed boards with the clay strips so that the clay forms a small wall around each board on the table. Trim off the tail ends with a craft knife. This is so that the hot liquid wax will stay on the board when you pour it onto the tablet. You may find a few leaks when you start pouring but these are easily plugged with more clay. The wax will cool and harden enough in a short time so that you can move them to a safe place to cool and harden completely.

The Collage

Now you need to make your collage which will then be coated in acrylic gel medium. First of all make a collage on an A3 sheet of paper. The collage needs to be a3-sized so that the resulting acrylic skin can be wrapped and stretched around the smaller a4-sized board. Remember to leave some white space in your collage, as this is what will allow the under-drawing on the wax tablet to show through. I used glue stick to glue the magazine images onto the sheet of paper, but removable spray adhesive works even better.

You can also draw on the paper at this point. Pen, pencil and coloured pencil work well, and will adhere to the acrylic gel medium once it dries. I experimented with water-colour pencils and they worked quite well.

{rokbox title=|Completed Collage with Watercolour Pencil Illustration | size=|400 300|}images/stories/weltec/encausticwip/1.jpg{/rokbox}

When the collage has dried, paint a thin layer of acrylic gel medium over the entire sheet of paper. Wait until dry and repeat the process 8 times, or until you think the gel is thick enough to create a skin when the paper/collage is scrubbed off the back of the skin.

{rokbox title=|Painting the Collage with the Acrylic Gel Medium | size=|400 397|}images/stories/weltec/encausticwip/2.jpg{/rokbox}

{rokbox title=|Painting the Collage with the Acrylic Gel Medium #2 | size=|400 367|}images/stories/weltec/encausticwip/3.jpg{/rokbox}

The interesting thing about this process is that the collage itself will be destroyed, but the ink from the pictures you use and  the pigments from the drawing/watercolour pencils will adhere to the underside of the gel medium skin. I used images cut-out from magazines, but colour-photocopied images work better with the gel medium.

Drawing on the Wax Tablet Once it has Cooled

If you wish to draw directly onto the wax tablet, this can be done in a number of ways. The best method is to use olisticks to draw onto the surface of the wax, as they adhere to the wax and are soft enough that they do not dent the surface. I had a lot of fun drawing with a blue and white oilsticks to create water-effects. I then used the heat gun to push the pigments around on the wax surface which created a lovely wave effect! I also liked  how the blue and white showed through the red and yellow colours of the goldfish in places.

{rokbox title=|Drawing on the Wax Tablet with Oilstick | size=|400 300|}images/stories/weltec/encausticwip/5.jpg{/rokbox}

{rokbox title=|Drawing on the Wax Tablet with Oilstick #2 | size=|400 300|}images/stories/weltec/encausticwip/6.jpg{/rokbox}

You can also use a craft knife to incise patterns in the wax. You can either leave the incisions as they are, or fill them with colour from the oilsticks. The oilstick colour will then melt into and pool in the incisions when heat is applied to the surface.

{rokbox title=|Completed Incision and Oilstick Drawing on Tablet | size=|398 275|}images/stories/weltec/encausticwip/7.jpg{/rokbox}

On my second tablet I experimented with oil pastels. Although they are quite soft, they still dented the surface and the colour would not adhere to the surface of the wax. I solved this by taking to the oil pastels with a craft knife until I had a small pile of shavings. Then I heated the wax tablet just enough so that I could press the shavings into the wax in the places I wanted the colour to be. I waited until the wax was cool and applied the heat gun to the surface again. As the oil pastel shavings were already somewhat embedded into the surface of the wax, they melted right in and then as I moved the heat gun around the pooled wax/oil pastel combined to make a marbled effect. One thing I noticed about using oil pastels is that the colour remained very bright, and did not meld as easliy with the wax as the oilstick colours did. I was left with a slightly bumpier surface, and it was much harder to blend the colours with the heat gun, but the experiment was fun!

At this point you can leave your wax tablet to cool down and set while you prepare your collage for the next stage!

Preparing the Collage to be Stretched over the Wax Tablet

After making sure the acrylic gel medium you brushed over your collage is dry (it should be completely clear and shiny), take it to a sink or a large plastic try and soak in water for a few minutes. Place the collage paper-side down in the water so that it is easier for the paper to get completely soaked.

While you are waiting for the paper to become thoroughly soaked you will need to get these items ready:

A good stiff shoe brush (and a toothbrush can be helpful)
A jug of water for pouring over the collage as you scrub
An apron! (this will get messy very quickly)
A large area such as a kitchen table or the floor with newspaper and plastic spread out to catch the mess of paper pulp and water from the scrubbing.

Take your collage out of the water. You should be able to tell if it is ready for scrubbing as the paper will have changed colour now that it is water-logged. Test the collage by rubbing at the paper a little with a finger, if it starts to disintegrate and rub away, then you’re good to go!

Place your wet collage paper side facing up on the area you prepared earlier. Take your shoe brush and start gently scrubbing at the paper side of the collage. Important – Remember I said the original collage was going to be destroyed? You are aiming to actually remove the paper, including the all the collage elements from the back of the gel medium so you are left with a see-through acrylic ‘skin’.

Remember to scrub gently! Depending on how evenly you painted the gel medium onto your collage, some parts may be thinner than others, and it is possible to create holes in the gel while scrubbing!

How much of the collage image remains on the skin depends on how hard you scrub. Sometimes you can scrub away more of the ink than you expect. It can happen quite quickly, so when you have got all of the paper pulp off it can be useful to flip the paper over periodically to check that the ink of your image has not been scrubbed away as well! You may also need to rinse the acrylic skin once or twice during the process. This will help get rid of any small bits of pulp still clinging to the skin and help you to see how your design is holding up.

Once you have are satisfied that you have removed all the paper pulp and you are happy with the design as it now appears on the gel medium skin, carefully drape the a3-sized skin over the a4 tablet. Make sure the shiny side is facing upwards towards you! In other words, the side on which the paper was glued to should now be against the wax of the tablet. There will be a lot of the gel skin that will not be used, and some of your design will unfortunately be lost in this part of the process, but that is part of the fun!

{rokbox title=|Draping the Acrylic Skin over the Tablet | size=|398 275|}images/stories/weltec/encausticwip/8.jpg{/rokbox}

Position your acrylic skin over the coloured wax on the tablet. Remember, if you left white space in your original collage, the oilstick design you drew on your tablet will show through the now clear parts of your acrylic skin! When you are happy with the layout place the tablet with the skin on top of something that raises it off the table, such as a small box or a jam jar. This will make it easier to stretch the skin over the tablet while you  pin the edges.

{rokbox title=|Close-up of Pinning at the Corners | size=|400 397|}images/stories/weltec/encausticwip/9.jpg{/rokbox}

Gently stretch the acrylic skin over the edge of the tablet and place a pin in the side of the tablet through the wax. repeat on the opposite side of the tablet. Repeat on all sides of the tablet, gently stretching the skin as you go without breaking it, and smoothing out any air bubbles with the side of your hand, a squeegee or a spatula. Make sure the corners are well pinned. 

The acrylic skin will look very milky at this point, and you may be disappointed as I was with how it looks. But don’t despair! Here’s where the magic happens! As the skin dries it tightens and forms to the shape of the tablet where you have pinned it in place. You will need to leave the tablet over night to dry completely, possibly a bit longer, and when you come back to it you will be delighted to find that the gel medium has become completely clear and a bit shiny, giving the effect of an oil painting.

{rokbox title=|Pinned Tablet Ready for Drying Over-night | size=|400 327|}images/stories/weltec/encausticwip/10.jpg{/rokbox}

{rokbox title=|The Next Day – Acrylic skin looks Clearer, and Became even Clearer Later on in the Afternoon! | size=|400 397|}images/stories/weltec/encausticwip/11.jpg{/rokbox}

End of part 1 – Next time: Finishing your tablet and setting the acrylic skin to the wax!