Storytelling With Art: Inside Incite

*A guest post by Laurie O’Reilly.

My technique is based on a desire to extend my narrative. After painting acrylic figurative pieces for years I wanted to develop a way to build deeper stories using the works that I had already developed and new ideas that I wanted to explore. I applied for and received a grant to do this. The grant allowed me time to experiment. I discovered that encaustic media would give me the semi-transparent look that I wanted for my top painted layer. However, I also discovered that you could not archivally paint wax on acrylic, because acrylic doesn’t allow for good adhesion. I could also not paint with encaustic on my normally supported canvas because when the canvas stretches and shrinks with the weather it loosens the adhesion of the wax medium and paint. My solution became my technique. I used a computer graphic program to create my collage, and had a giclee print made on unprimed and uncoated canvas. I laminate the print onto plywood and was then able to paint and further collage on top of this image using encaustics. Both collage techniques: the modern computer work and the more traditional, waxing, gluing, pinning, offered me a wonderful range of storytelling opportunities.

Materials Lists

Computer Materials
•PC with high speed processor and 2 high speed video cards. This allows you to work on large high resolution images, and multiple image layers for your collage.
•2 monitors. This allows you to view the whole image on one and pixels on the other.
•Photoshop CS5
•A less costly computer set up can be used. The work is more time consuming and somewhat more frustrating.

Under Painting
•Photos of earlier completed art works and in some cases family photographs
•Canvas, unprimed
•Giclee print of photo collage, uncoated. I had these done at a print shop.
•Wooden supports (3/4”x 1 1/4”pine) enough for 4 sides and a center support.
•1/4” ply wood
•Weldbond glue, water and disposable foam brush for application
•Soft rubber brayer, I used a 4”
Encaustic set up –my set-up is more elaborate than necessary if you are just starting and or experimenting. Make sure that you check out information on safe temperatures and ventilation for working with wax.
•Ivory bees wax and damar crystals for making encaustic medium, I like making my own but you can buy it premade.
•Encaustic paints, these can be bought (R+F are great) or made. I use my old oil paints 15% by weight and medium the other 85%
•Anodized aluminum pallet– you can use an electric fry pan – you need temperature control
•Hot plate, again with temperature control.
•Old tuna fish cans for your paints. (I love 3.5 oz. metal butter warming pans because they have a handle that doesn’t get hot.)
•A variety of natural bristle brushes – synthetics will melt.
•Butane torch
•A variable temperature Heat Gun.

Top Painting
•Outline to size, of your top image – in this case the young girl whose image is repeated in the collage. This is not necessary it just makes it easier to get your predesigned composition right.
•Oil paints and latex gloves
•Wax manipulation tools
•Paper stomps
•Jewelled sticker cross
•Note paper and poem
•Paper tattoo
•Paper clip
•3 small silver ball stud earrings and 1 small gem stud earring
•#9B jumbo hexagonal graphite stick graphite

Instruction Text

Step One: Playing With Images in Photoshop
In your computer picture file, open a new folder and move potentially interesting images from your picture files into this folder. Give the folder an initial name such as Young Girl in Transition. Open a number of these images in Photoshop and size them so that they are compatible (eg. all 300 dpi 12”x24”). In Photoshop create a New Image (ctrl+n) set to your desired image size and resolution, in this case 32”x24”, and 300dpi do a save as.

Choose your first image, or part image; select (ctrl+a), copy (ctrl+c) and then paste (ctrl+v) onto blank image, scale transform it so that it will fit where you want it. Create layers with these images so that you can work on them separately.

After I decided on the 2 images that would tell my background story I used magic erase, black and white conversion, cloning, and brightness/ contrast levels, to create the background look that I wanted. Basically you keep composing and playing with images until your story firms up in your head and your on screen visual matches your story.

At this point you should also have an idea of what your top painting will look like.
If you are creating your top image from scratch; draw it, scan it, save it, open it in Photoshop, copy and paste it onto your completed collage. Decide how it will fit into your finished work, then size it so that you can leave room to paint it on your printed photo montage.

Resave this top image separately. You do not want it to appear on your computer montage. If you want you can print it in sections on an inkjet printer and use it to outline the space for your encaustic image on your collaged canvas print, before you start painting.

Merge visible and save the merged image separately ‘girl in transition merged’. Move one copy of your collage onto your second monitor and expand the copy on the original monitor to btw 300 and 600 % – you want to look at pixels.

Fix any misplaced pixels or artifacts by erasing, bandaging, blurring etc. Work systematically across the image. Check the other monitor to make sure you are not removing important information like part of a nostril.

When complete I send my flattened, fixed, image to a Printing Company via FTP. If you have worked to size it can be sent at 150dpi, check with the company. It should be printed with a large enough border to stretch around the pine stretchers.
Request that the canvas print not be coated.

Step Two: Prepare the Canvas
Create plywood substrate by cutting pine ¾” x 1 ¼” into 3 lengths at 22 ½” (inside measurement) and 2 at 32” (outside measurements). Cut plywood to size- 32”x24”glue and brat plywood to pine support pieces. Laminate printed canvas onto plywood support; Apply a layer of Weldbond with foam brush and a little water for smoothing. Roll canvas from center to outside making sure that it lies flat and there are no bubbles. Do not get glue on the printed side of the canvas. Weigh down and let dry overnight. It will shrink slightly as it dries so make sure that the perimeter of your image overlaps the edge of your plywood. Next day glue the sides, stretch canvas around edges and staple to back of supports, just as you would any primed canvas. Again check to make sure that there is no glue on the canvas.Allow to dry for 24 hours


Step Three: Encaustic Painting

You are now going to draw and paint on top of your uncoated, laminated, stretched, photomontage support. My encaustic paintings for this series were done predominantly in black and white so a rough drawing on the canvas confirms that you will fill the space your composition calls for. Using your large soft graphite pencil draw your image.

As with any encaustic work, heat the support so that it better absorbs the wax. Because these were fairly large surfaces to heat, I rigged up a stand in front of my wood burning stove to speed the process along.

Using a large 4” natural bristle brush. Apply 2-3 coats of encaustic medium to your surface, fusing between layers. You can apply more but don’t obliterate your print. Smooth is not important although it makes drawing easier.

Begin painting your main image with your encaustic colors. Because this was done primarily in black and white it is more a drawing then a painting. I used graphite gray and titanium white. It can be difficult to get gray transitions with encaustic paint so this is where your paper stomp comes into play. You can use it to move around the blacks and whites to get a range of gray values. As you do this you also get pits and lumps which you can leave or smooth out when you fuse between layers or scrape back. In order to get some of the mid-tones I allowed my under layer to show through as well.

A note of caution. Wax adds dimension. Adding wax to shadow areas brings them physically forward. Working out your shadow areas and highlight areas in advance with a graphite pencil is important. The graphite will be safely incorporated into your wax.

Working on the background: Scratch the background wax and drip new medium onto the surface.
Take oil paint – I used white, burnt sienna, raw umber and a smattering of madder- using latex gloves rub these into the textures that you have created and then wipe off as much of the surface color as possible.

Step Four: Embellish
Using a natural bristle brush and heated encaustic wax, I added color to the young girls dress and stockings. I also added a glitter cross, using wax to embed it securely in place.

I added a nose stud, and used 2 smaller studs to give the appearance of a lip earring. To the little girl I added a pink earring to tie into the pink in the older girl’s outfit. (Drill the holes for these first so that the pins fit through the plywood easily.)

The poem had been conceived while I was working on the computer montage -as the conversation between the daughter and her father became clearer in my mind. I hand wrote it on a piece of torn notebook paper, added the temporary tattoo- which translated as ‘comfort’, dipped the whole thing in wax and then embedded it. I then added the poem title, paper clip, and tac, to reinforce the idea that it was the teenage daughters script.


Step Five: Finishing

The last thing that I do is wax around the outside of the piece with 3 layers of black wax. The completed piece is titled What Were You Thinking.

For more inspiration, check out Incite 3!
Incite 3

Advice to Readers
If something seems too technically daunting or too expensive, figure out a cheaper more experimental way to accomplish it.

About Laurie O’Reilly
I am a story teller. When our house was full of my children’s teenage energy and angst, my paintings were full of their teenage energy and angst. Now that the children are grown and we live in the country rather than the city, my science background is telling me stories about the earth, her pain and mistreatment. My world is filled with this and therefore my new stories are also filled with it.

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