Encaustic Portrait: J Mitchell Bailey


I just finished this little encaustic, oil and graphite portrait.


(Jesse) Mitchell Bailey, 1918-1945
10" x 10" Encaustic, Oil and Graphite on Board


Detail of Mitchell's face.

This was a very difficult portrait to paint because:

#1 My reference material was poor

#2 The finished head is extremely small (1.75 inches high)

#3 I used encaustic paints and since I'm a beginner in this medium, my skill level is not up to snuff - yet.

Now, in the "DO AS I SAY BUT NOT AS I DO" Department....

I agreed to this job for no good reason.

It came with awful photo references (as you can see from the faded 70+ year old snapshots below). But merely because I had a beloved aunt named Jessie Mitchell I grabbed the job...go figure.


I was totally prepared to not have the client like it - but I wanted to paint it anyhow.

Mitchell died tragically at the age of 27. He had a strong, angular and exceptionally handsome face. He had been an oarsman at Yale and stayed in shape.

In my research I found an old magazine cover with a 1908 Leyendecker illustration of a Harvard Oarsman and leaned heavily on that as a basic body model. (So noted on the back of the painting.)

Per usual, I made his head too small so he would appear more "commanding and in charge." Read more about why I mess with reality both here and here.


Here is the entire painting without the frame (pictured above). You can see that I followed the Red, Yellow, Blue, Black and White Rule.

The overall "softness" of this portrait is characteristic of the way I am currently using my encaustic paint.

Some Nerdy Technical Details:

For starters, I've cranked up the heat on my encaustics and am working at 250-275 degrees F these days. Maybe hotter if I dare...

I did a little graphite drawing of that face (backwards) on tracing paper (I made-up shadows & added an ear) and transferred that, thus destroying the paper and embedding just the graphite into the first layers of encaustic.

Then I used a brush with powdered graphite to finish that face drawing in wax before I sealed it with clear medium. The face was too small to paint with a brush accurately but using a soft graphite pencil made it easy.


Above is an extreme blown up detail and hopefully you can see that the grey of the graphite represents the cool halftone. Of course, any student of mine knows that halftones are always cool, eh?


What I love about encaustic paint is that it is such an "immediate" medium. For example, if you hesitate a wee bit too long, the melted pigmented wax on the brush will harden and that brush will will stick to the surface and make an awful mess. Naturally I speak from painful personal experience. :o)

The rest of the painting is my usual layered mix of encaustic and oils.

I am only beginning to explore what this unique encaustic medium offers.


"Engrave It!" of Keene, NH supplied (they ship) the 1/2" high brass nameplate for the frame because I simply couldn't handle lettering that small in this medium.

4 comments:

Kimber Scott said...

What a beautiful portrait. I'm sure the client loves it! I have been intrigued by encaustics lately and am so glad to see you using it in a realistic way. I've only seen abstract encaustic paintings and wasn't sure it could be done.

I like the softness of your painting. I think I'll go read your red, yellow, blue, black, and white rules now. Cool halftones? I'll have to pay attention to that, too. Geez, I learn so much from you! Thanks! I'm looking forward to your next encaustic painting!

rowan said...

I, too, learn so much from your blogs! As I am a relative newbie to encautics, your tips on how to achieve details - such as graphite with brush - are invaluable. I cannot wait to try it.

rowan said...

Curious on the framing of encaustic works. You appear to place the frame directly on the artwork. I;m assuming of course, that you do use a small spacer.

Are you not concerned that the spacer or frame will over time become adhered to the surface?

My Painting Studio said...

I am new to this medium and it never crossed my mind that I ought not to put a frame in direct contact with the surface.

The first layers were bonded well on board and each subsequent layer was fused. I finished the surface with a thin coat of "High Shine" from Evans Encaustics in CA.

The surface was hard and enamel-like - not at all like a wax candle for example.

I will have to check the result of my framing methods over the long run and in different conditions.

You can make an awful mess of a traditional oil painting if you frame it before the paint is 100% dry - I learned this the hard way. You better like the frame - because you can't take it off without removing paint.