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Featured Artist: Brad Ellis

Creating a New Language with Paint and Wax

Artist Brad Ellis pushes the limits of encaustic painting

For the last several years I’ve been exploring the concept of creating a new language in paint and wax by experimenting with different graphic marks and imagery that is visually compelling in an abstract way. This latest series of language paintings is called Currents of which Currents No. 28 is one. These pictures capture a stream of consciousness type feeling that gives the impression of a split-second in time before our thoughts are either written or spoken.

Currents No. 28 by Brad Ellis

Currents No. 28 is executed in encaustic, oil, acrylic, and collage on a product produced by Ampersand called Hardbord™ with a 2" Deep Cradle. Hardbord is an unprimed pressed hardboard panel that is stays extremely flat while working with the heavy medium of encaustic. One of the main reasons I like this product so much is that is allows me to carve in to the wax-based encaustic paint without it chipping or cracking off the surface the way it would on a more malleable product such as a stretched canvas. I also like the durability, craftsmanship, and custom 2˝ cradle frame around the back of the Hardbord that allows the paintings to be hung as they are without additional framing. All of the paintings in this series are done using the Ampersand Hardbord.

Brad Ellis painting

My process for Currents No. 28 included many rounds of alternating layers of paint and collage until the picture had matured into a finished work of art. I began with a coating of black oil paint that covered the entire surface of the Hardbord and the sides of the deep cradle. Then, I hand selected pages covered with text from some old books and collaged them onto the black underpainting.

Brad Ellis painting

Each page was glued down with the seams overlapping so that stripes formed where the pages intersected. After the board was completely covered with paper, I applied extremely thin washes of acrylics in yellow and brown to “age” the appearance of the paper. After the paper dried, I painted calligraphic marks with acrylics over the entire surface allowing the text from the pages to show through.

Applying a wax medium

This next step is very important. I applied a coating of encaustic wax medium over the entire surface to seal it completely and then fused the wax by evenly melting it onto the surface with a heat gun. Where the overlapping papers had created stripes, I began to define them more by building up thin transparent blue layers of hot wax that I applied with a natural bristle brush. (I use R & F encaustics that are placed into tins on a hot plate that I keep next to the painting while I’m working.

Mixing Colors

I always mix my colors ahead of time in the tins so I have a set palette to use). I wanted the blue stripes to be raised above the adjacent flat paper stripes. This is what gives the painting interesting surface dimension. I applied 5 or 6 more coats to the stripes until I was satisfied with their thickness.

Brad Ellis using the etching tool

Next, I used an etching tool and a metal compass to scratch deep into the wax using a freeform abstract scratching pattern. This made the surface look rugged and beautifully aged. When I finished digging into the surface with the tools, I again fused he wax with the heat gun in order to seal in the scratches. To age and work the surface even more, I rubbed on sepia colored oil paint thinned with linseed oil into the scratches and over the painting until the entire surface was brown. With paper towels and solvent, I started removing the oil paint by rubbing it carefully leaving it thicker in some areas and thinner in others, so that the calligraphic marks, text and wax paint showed through. Then, I allowed the painting to “set” for several days before buffing up the surface with a soft cotton cloth.

Brad Ellis

Brad Ellis is widely shown in Austin, Chicago and in Dallas where he resides. For more information about the artist, visit bradellisart.com.