Mixed Media Art: Wax-Resist with Ink, Charcoal, Conté Crayon and Pastel

Ephraim Rubenstein’s news series of mixed media drawings of ancient temples and cathedrals harnesses the expressive power of the wax-resist method. Here, he shares a step-by-step demonstration of how he created Selinunte II (mixed media, 50×38) in this free excerpt from the July/August 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

Mixed Media Art: Wax-Resist with Ink, Charcoal, Conte Crayon and Pastel

Mixed Media Art, Map out the drawing

1. Map out the drawing

This image shows the initial “mapping” stage of the drawing, which I ordinarily do on white Lenox 100 paper with a B, HB or F graphite pencil. I call this the “mapping” stage because it functions as a road map, telling me first where the wax is going to go and, later on, where the plane breaks, cast shadows and the like are. It is important to have a very firm, legible contour because when you get to the messy, wet part of the process, it is easy to lose the drawing in all of the ink washes.

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Mixed Media Art, Apply first wax-resist layer

2. Apply first wax-resist layer

At this point I identify those areas of the drawing that I wish to remain white. When I have located these, I protect them by drawing over them with the (invisible) wax. (I use finger-size pieces of wax that I cut off the block with a penknife). I then wet the paper lightly with clear water so that the surface will be receptive and even. Next I introduce a very light gray ink wash (what I call “gray No. 1”) by diluting my black ink with a large proportion of water and brushing the ink onto the white paper. Those areas that I have “stopped-out” with the wax won’t darken like the rest of the paper but will remain light.

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Mixed Media Art, Access the Wash and Resist

3. Access the Wash and Resist

In this detail, you can see that, even though the wax acts as a resist to protect the light areas of the paper, the ink can bead up on the surface of the wax. You can wipe this off with a sponge or paper towel, or leave it (as I often do if it helps add to the texture I am trying to render).

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Mixed Media Art, Apply second wax-resist layer

4. Apply second wax-resist layer

At this stage I have a very light gray paper with selected areas of white shining through. I now try to identify those areas of the paper that I would like to remain light gray, and I draw over (protect) them with the wax. I again wet the paper with clear water and apply a slightly darker ink wash (my gray No. 2). When this dries, I have a slightly darker gray with areas of lighter gray and white shining through.

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Mixed Media Art, Note the protected light areas

5. Note the protected light areas

You can see in this detail that, as you begin to build up the darks, the protected light areas glow in response. (This is very different from a light that is added on top; this light is shining from below, from the lowest layer of the paper.) This process of masking areas with wax and adding darker and darker ink washes can go on as many times as you like. I have done as many as five or six layers, but I generally get by with about three, as I did for this piece.

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Mixed Media Art, Begin to build up the darkest darks

6. Begin to build up the darkest darks

Up until this stage, I work with the lightest lights in the drawing and am gradually making my way toward the darks. Now, I shift gears and, using my Char-Kole (extremely fine, very black charcoal particles compressed into sticks), I identify the very darkest areas of the drawing and begin to build these up as darks.

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Mixed Media Art, Think ahead when applying dark pigment

7. Think ahead when applying dark pigment

As you can tell in this detail, I do not really care about rendering at this stage—I care only about getting just the right amount of this densely compressed, extremely black charcoal down on the surface of the drawing. The reason I use the Char-Kole, as opposed to any other black stick, is that it’s bound with gum arabic, which means that it is water-soluble—a crucial factor in the ink wash process (see images 8a and 8b).

I have to decide how much of the Char-Kole stick to lay down, depending on how dark I want any given area. If I want it superblack, I lay it on extremely thickly, working the pigment into the weave of the paper. If I want a lighter dark, I might just scumble the stick lightly across the surface of the paper, barely catching the fibers. Throughout this process, you have to decide ahead of time what effect you want and then prepare for it.

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Mixed Media Art, Apply water and manipulate the black ink wash

Mixed Media Art, Apply water and manipulate the black ink wash

8a, 8b (Details) Apply water and manipulate the black ink wash

Now I take a 2-inch house-painting brush and introduce water into the areas of Char-Kole. As I rub the wet brush around in the dust, it begins to generate a beautiful black ink that I can spread, splash and push into whatever areas I want darks. The value of generating a black ink in this manner is that, unlike the shellac-based ink used earlier for the washes, this ink can be rewet, lightened and erased.

For me, this is the hardest but most exhilarating part of the process—hardest, because it can feel like everything is getting out of control, and you’re forced to make split-second decisions about where to put darks before the ink dries; exhilarating, because you just have to let go and trust your instincts.

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Mixed Media Art, Adjust and refine with dry media

Selinunte II (mixed media, 50×38)

9. Adjust and refine with dry media

At this point (if everything has gone right), all the big darks and lights should be organized within the drawing. Once the paper dries, I go at it with vine charcoal, compressed charcoal, Conté crayon, Nupastel, black pastels and anything else and do whatever clarifying, adjusting or rendering that I want to the image, as I did with Selinunte II (mixed media, 50×38), my drawing of some of the ruins at the ancient Greek archaeological site Selinunte on the southern coast of Sicily.

To learn more about Ephraim Rubenstein, visit his website at www.ephraimrubenstein.com.

Read the full story about his work, “Art Among the Ruins” by Judith Fairly, in the July/August 2012 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.


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