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Waxing poetic. (cover story).


* 140-lb. watercolor paper (Arches)

* Paraffin (and perhaps broken crayons for colored wax)

* Clean tuna cans

* Old baking pan(s)

* Double hot plate

* Expendible brushes for wax

* One or two old irons

* Lots of clean newsprint paper

* Tube watercolors and brushes


Students will:

* wisely choose subject matter that lends itself to line work.

* learn how to "paint" with wax and how to remove the wax.

* creatively use color to accentuate shape.

Batik is an Indonesian technique of hand printing. It's usually done on textiles by coating with wax the parts of a design the artist wishes to keep the existing color of the fabric. Like an Easter egg, each subsequent color is either retained or altered. In the process, fissures in the wax often result, creating lines of crackled color. This effect gives a batik fabric its unique and distinctive appearance.

Because a watercolor and a mixed-media class of mine both fell short of the required number of students, I combined the two classes into one. This was a challenge, not only because I wanted each group to learn what they signed up for, but I also wanted to maintain the integrity of each course unto itself.

Another challenge was the fact that, although separately the sections were too small, together, the class was too large. Plus, many of the students did not have the prerequisites needed for one of the courses in which they found themselves. One way I felt I could manage both was to use watercolor as the common thread, in conjunction with another medium or a variety of media. I would therefore keep the watercolor concept in harmony with the mixed-media course.

In this particular case, I had my students use melted wax as a way to separate sections that would later be painted using watercolor. I asked the students to find references that might help them with subject and colors, searching for objects that had a natural, linear look to them. I suggested fish, shells, flowers and other objects that had enough line work to use the wax as a way to delineate different areas.

After the students gathered reference books and photos, they sketched their ideas on newsprint. Finished line drawings were then transferred to an excellent quality of watercolor paper. I cautioned students about pressing too hard with their pencils, so as not to create furrows that color would flow into, creating an outline of color.

Once the students transferred their designs onto the watercolor paper, we melted chunks of paraffin wax for application over our faintly drawn lines. This was done by placing the wax into rinsed-out tuna cans that, in turn, were placed in cake pans containing a little bit of water. This was then placed on old hot plates, double-boiler style, and the wax-melting commenced.

Some of the students chose to do each fish, each flower, each butterfly with a particular color of wax. This produced stunning colors and lovely results, but it did prolong the waxing state; some students took three class periods just to wax their compositions. My students always seem to find new and better solutions to a given problem, and I'm always thrilled to witness this creative process.

This step took a long time. Several of the students came in extra hours to outline each shape within their compositions, to highlight each color transition. I bought some brushes on sale that would be sacrificed just for this waxy purpose. Some students had favorite brushes that seemed to work well for them, and they'd come in to spend extra time to secure their favorite brush and work station.

All of their hard work paid off. The segmented areas of color framed with wax made these paintings quite effective. Also, this technique made some student's first experience with watercolor a little easier, in that the paint didn't move and bleed all over because it was trapped within a small area.

The students really "charged" the color, making it rich enough to retain its vibrancy without opacity. It's important to keep in mind that, when watercolors dry, they lose about 15 percent of the richness they had when wet. Adding enough pigment guarded against this eventuality. The size of most of these paintings is very impressive: a full 22" x 30". Their almost stained-glass quality is another appealing effect, too.

When the class was done with their paintings, we ironed off the wax, protecting the paintings with clean, absorbent newsprint placed between them and the iron. We changed the newsprint often to ensure that the wax didn't travel or bleed onto the color and leave an oily spot.

I was pleased with my students' understanding of the use of line, negative space and overall composition. We took a technique usually reserved for textiles and combined it with traditional watercolors to create an exciting mixture of media that is rich in color and linear appeal.

The students did a beautiful job! The paintings are linear and lyrical, like visual poems--a kind of poetry in design and color.

Geri Greenman is head of the art department at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, Illinois, and is a Contributing Editor for Arts & Activities.
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Title Annotation:art projects
Author:Greenman, Geri
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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