Sculpting Relief with Wax


Wax sculpting is a lost art form but one that needs protecting and nurturing. A rare art discipline that is only practiced today by a handful of artists worldwide. The majority live in Italy or Europe. I was very fortunate to spend a year in Italy at the Italian Mint learning from Bottega Mortet the amazing discipline of wax sculpture as my ancestor Benedetto Pistrucci Mastered.

In this post I will be doing a series of how to’s for those who are interested in the fine art of wax sculpting.

I have always supported the need to draw and to refine your skills as Pontormo states:

” Pontormo was once asked – which is the greater artform painting or sculpting? to which he replied drawing.”

In all my classes whether it is figure drawing from life, sculpture or painting I have come to the conclusion that the quality of your drawing is the single factor that produces a finer and better quality of work. It never fails to amaze me that the time spent in drawing always pays off when I am in a time pinch or how I feel about the finished product. Yes I spend more time in practice then actually creating work and often I feel that my productivity is much too low. But as an Artist that is still developing the more time spent on practice and skill based learning will be more valuable in the end. For now I will put my time in. The rewards off in the distance but my goal is fine art not financial. I want to create beautiful work. The cost is time and work – I am not sure if I will even recognize when I reach the end of the journey but it is my passion. And I love every minute spent. Life draw – you will thank me.

In the beginning of any artwork ( sculpture, painting, medal art , or drawing) Draw a design rough sketches to establish – themes, composition, color, drawing practice, size specifications and to help you to decide the methods, materials and mediums you will use to execute the piece. This is your planning stage.

Once your design is finished in detail and you are happy with your drawing you can begin the next phase of the work. To complete a work in Wax you will need to have your tools, wax and wax lamp to heat the wax.

I created my tools from pieces of metal by forging with a heated torch, mallet and anvil.

Here is a picture of my DIY tools for the process of wax sculpting:


_MG_9639 XS (1)

A picture sent to me showing my GR.GR.GR Uncle Benedetto Pistrucci waterloo medal with his handmade tools. Much like mine. sigh. I wish he could show me his Mastery and how he used his tools. If only. But I continue my pursuit to understand this wonderful medium. If art could bite than I have been bitten. I am a fan of wax and all of its complexities.
Picture courtesy of Ed Wheeler



Next Post: Transfer method of drawing.

Life Drawing with Pigment Powders & a chamois 10min -20 min poses

STAPLES SCAN 2015 scan 1 Lately I have been experimenting with a new technique – drawing with pigment powders and a chamois. It has been difficult and I am only successful  for a fraction of my drawings. Here are some examples of my successes so far.


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Strengthen Your heART

Take heART – every artist has events in their lives that force them to quit – and often it becomes a significant turning point for them. They either drown in the struggle of daily life events or they strengthen their resolve to find a space in their lives for their art.

I am writing a list of tactical strategies to strengthen artists to keep on working – to take heART! Yes the kids need you! Yes you have to make dinner! Yes you work late! the garden! the lawn! the dishes! the laundry! your email! the blog! the inlaws! the shopping…the gym… are all important but you – your art – are important too.

1. take a sketchbook with you – buy an over the shoulder bag and outfit it with a small sketchbook, eraser and your favourite mediums for drawing, charcoal, pencils, pencil crayons, small watercolor set. Make it small enough that you can take it everywhere with ease! I am happy if I have a piece of paper and a pencil. If it is too large you are discouraged and will leave it at home and miss an opportunity to draw.

2. Use your phone camera to take pictures and work on your compositions. Everywhere and anywhere.Look at abstract lines and colors or things that amuse you.

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3.Use your phone apps to draw.  I have a note3 with a pen.  I hardly ever use the pen because I prefer non digital work but its there. If you want convenience you do not even need your sketchbook. A good app to download is sketchbook mobile auto desk. Or for the technologically advanced artist check out this – cintiq wakom companion –


Digital exercise on note 3 with digital pen.

4. Discover the wonderful sites available to artists such as

OR Youtube  has an amazing variety just search figure drawing tutorials or for figurative models to practice your drawing skills you can go to Croquis Cafe –

You can also get instruction through very very talented artists like Glenn Vilppu or Stan Prokopenko (among many). or

5. Search images on google and look at the amazing drawings of modern day artists and their styles, techniques and methods and incorporate them into your works.

Google search of figurative drawings

6. If you absolutely cannot make it to a life drawing session – draw people around you in everyday life. Eating, sleeping, reading, watching tv, at the beach,  coffee shop,  doctors office, library….draw your garden, sketch your kids, your husband, your dog, your cat your hamster, your friends hamster.

7. Buy time with another equally frustrated artist – trade babysitting or gardening to allow time to work on your art.

8. Schedule at least one hour per week minimum to devote to doing your artwork – and do not waiver on your commitment. Even if you do one hour per week you are working towards building your skills and can work on increasing the time spent on your art.

9. Buy a good drawing magazine or cds and copy the masters drawings even if it is only a hand – 5minutes can make a difference. Allow yourself to draw something everyday! drawing-book

10. Access the many drawing manuals that are now online in pdf format from charles bargue or

And wonderful blogs –

11. Become a subscriber to the many valuable newsletters that will enhance your email inbox such as artist network or ceramics monthly!

12. Most of all have fun!! join a group a course or a class online or in your community.  Give the world beautiful works of art. The purpose of  our united CREATIVITY, imagination and skill is to connect with our audience not to compete with our peers!  Other artist will give you techniques, strategies, ideas, inspiration and strengthen your spirit. Art is not a competition – it is our spirit our expression our way- each uniquely different.

‘Beauty appears when one feels deeply
Art is an act of total attention’ -Dorothea Lange

I hope some of these great FREE resources help – I find them to be a valuable and wonderful way to keep up my drawing skills and work on my composition.


And Happy Sketching Drawing Enthusiasts!!

Giovanni Bodini - master of swish!

Giovanni Bodini – master of swish!

Drawing from Photos vs Drawing from life video by Drawing Art Academy

“An Artist must have his measuring tools not in his hand but in his eye” – Michelangelo

Why is drawing from photos not good for you?

1.  Copying 2 dimensional photos inhibits artists from seeing objects in volume and space.

2. It prevents an artist from judging distance and perspective.

3. The artist does not think and visualize the 3 dimensional nature of an object, but subconsciously regards all objects and shapes 2 dimensionally as seen in photos.

4. By copying flat images, an artist does not make a constructive drawing: there is no comprehensive understanding of objects masses and their spatial relationships.

5. Drawing from photos forces an artist to draw from what he or she sees rather than  what one knows.

6. It stops an artist from learning traditional, time proven, step by step drawing methods, which have been perfected by many generations of fine artists starting from the old masters.

7. Working from photos prevents an artist from learning from his or her mistakes and makes it impossible to improve drawing skills by analyzing and fixing those mistakes.

If you get too used to drawing flat images you will most likely limit your ability to learn how to draw proficiently.

– Drawing Art Academy

“If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery it would not seem so wonderful at all” Michaelangelo Buonauroti

I am an avid believer in drawing from life. I encourage artists that are interested in working on improving their drawing skills to attend life drawing sessions, figurative art classes with a live model or portrait sessions with a model.


The Alchemy of Art

2014-02-28 14.25.29Conte/ Powder charcoal made with red iron oxide and yellow ochre mixture with an addition of kaolin whilte china clay/ DIY spray workable drawing fixative

Spray fixative for Drawings
1part Casein
2parts Vodka/alcohol
5parts distilled water
Mix well and strain in cheesecloth / pour strained liquid into a fine mist spray bottle.
Use as a workable fixative on pencil, pastel, conte or charcoal drawings.

Impasto painted Bluebirds made entirely from DIY paints:

While I am on a renaisance enlightened path to making your own art supplies I highly recommend taking a peak at this blog – two artists who enjoy sharing wonderful ways of creating their paintings from scratch.
The site link for the blog and the artists in Duncan David Gluck and his partner Kate Stone HERE –
David Gluck and Kate Stone
IF you really cannot bring yourself to be part of the new rennaisance of art supplies then you can have them made from natural materials by this wonderful company HERE:
Pigment suppliers that are less expensive than art stores Victoria Clay art but I prefer Vancouver island pottery in parksville  and
Seattle pottery supply  but will need to be ordered and shipped .  Also Greenbarn in surrey sells pigments.
For my blog PEEPS HERE IS THE LINK TO  suppliers such as the mason stain site

Also check out cement supply stores and cement pigment – I am not an expert but I believe it is the same as mason stains or artist pigments from the same suppliers.

ron red oxide & yellow ochre is less expensive to purchase at the pottery supply stores and makes the
orangey red conte artists  know and love.

The basic ingredients of pastels are simple: pigment, a filler, and a
binder. You start by dissolving the binder, mix in the pigment and binder,
get the consistency right, then roll out your pastels and leave them to dry.
It will take a bit of practice and experimenting, so keep records of what
you do so you can recreate your successes!

Cheap Pastels Recipe:
• Quarter cup of rolled or crushed oats (combined with the water to make a
• A quart (just over a liter) of water (preferably distilled so there isn’t
any chlorine in it)
• Two tablespoons of powdered tempera or poster paint (for pigment). Another
option is to collect leftover dust when using bought pastels and use them to
make new ones (the mixture of colors can give a beautiful grey)
• Half a cup of unscented talcum/baby powder (for filler)

Step 1: Put the water in a pot and set it on the stove to boil. Add the oats
and leave it to boil for five minutes.
Step 2: Pour the oats mixture through a fine sieve to strain out the oats.
You’ll be using the water only.
Step 3: Mix the talc with the paint powder, then add a teaspoon of the
strained oats water. You’re after a consistency like dough or putty
consistency, which sticks to itself not your fingers.
Step 4: Roll out into sausages, put on absorbent paper (newspaper is a cheap
option), then cut into pieces about two inches (6 cm) long.
Step 5: Leave to dry at room temperature, at least 24 hours.

• If your pastels are very crumbly, your binder was too weak; add some more
oats next time. If your pastels are very hard, your binder was too strong;
break up the pastel and dissolve it into some more binder.
• You could use diluted wallpaper paste as a binder.
• Create tints of a particular color by adding more filler or white pigment.

True Pastels Recipe:
• Gum arabic or gum tragacanth (binder)
• Distilled water
• Pigment
• Chalk or kaolin/China clay (filler)

Step 1: Dissolve the binder in the water in the ratio 1:20 (one part binder
to 20 parts water).
Step 2: Mix filler and pigment in the ratio 2:1 (two parts filler to one
part pigment).
Step 3: Add the binder liquid to the filler/pigment slowly, until it has the
consistency of dough or putty.
Step 4: Roll out and dry as described above.

• Gum arabic makes a harder pastel than gum tragacanth.
• Damar resin mixed with plenty of white spirit or turpentine can be used as
a binder.
Basic Pastel Recipe
1 part Gum Tragacanth
Alcohol or wine
30 parts distilled water (approx)
The making of pastels is fun, easy and surprisingly economical. It is felt
by many that handmade pastels are much better quality than the extruded type
typically sold to artists. One of the first pastel-works was Leonard de
Vinci’s “Portrait of Isabelle d’Este” in 1499.
Preferably used dry, these pastels may also be diluted with water providing
infinite nuances and ranges of permanent, non-fading color. An artist can
achieve varying effects by further working the pastels with his or her
fingers. The key to making pastels is the right balance between hardness and
softness, as this will affect its ability to adhere to the paper and to be
Prepare gum by placing it in a covered glass bottle or container. Begin by
pouring a small amount of alcohol (grain or denatured ethyl) to moisten the
gum, then add water and shake the container. Leave this solution for 1 or 2
days. Tragacanth can’t be rushed. It will not dissolve, but instead will
form into a gelatinous solution. When ready to mix with your pigments, warm
the tragacanth and strain it through cheesecloth. Mix the pigments with
distilled water to make a paste. You may wish to use the pigments alone, or
mix them with chalk, for example in a 1 part pigment to 2 parts Whiting
Chalk ratio. Crush the pigment paste with the gum solution until smooth and
evenly distributed.
Spread the wet pastel onto absorbent paper to help pull excess moisture from
the mixture. While it is damp before complete drying, cut or break into
shapes to work with. Test to see if the proportions are correct. If the
pastels crumble in your fingers, there is not enough gum. If they slide on
the paper without leaving color and texture, there is too much gum. In
addition, linseed oil or wax can be added to your preparation to make
pastels last longer.

Check out Pistrucci Artworks tile: Animal Kingdom line launching soon!

First Steps Old World Grey


Exploring Conte Crayons – Experimental Recipe for Fine artists and Clay artists

Conte crayons, paper & clay slabs

Exploring Conte Crayons 


Although most of us have explored the pastel/crayon/chalk aisle of the local art supply center, we might not have had experience with conte crayons or conte pencils. And few know any history or application of these wonderfully versatile and stable materials.

First invented over 250 years ago to supplement the softer pastel sticks being made and to offer a less fragile end product, the conte crayons of today are made of highly refined materials. Kaolin clay (a product fine enough to be used in quality cosmetics) and pure pigments are compacted to create an extraordinarily rich and smooth graphic material. These crayons are harder and thinner (approximately 1/4″ by about 2½”) than traditional pastels but offer a product that is ideally suited for drawing and sketching on a wide variety of surfaces. They can be blended with paper stumps and removed with a kneaded eraser.

Adored by portrait artists because they hold their edge and can be “pointed” for extremely fine detail work, conte crayons are the perfect addition to any artist’s sketch box. Able to overlay traditional pastel and other graphic media, they are often used to make corrections or to add detail to works in progress. Several color assortments are also available in pencil form. Because of their hardness, conte pastel pencils are premier tools for controlled detail work.


Conte Crayons for Fine Artists

Although I am still in the development stage of this recipe I am including it for artists who may wish to experiment further with this process. I have been very excited about my research so far and the quality of marks that I have been getting with my conte crayons on paper. Artist may be aware of their process in creating their art but tend to buy products ready made. Although this is convenient and for many sufficient there is restrictions to every medium and material. If you create your own art supplies you can alter the ingredients and process which will  allow more freedom in your materials and mediums. Your art supplies will work for you rather than against you.  Artist materials are generally a mixture which includes— a pigment (colorant), binding agent and strengthening material and a process (mixing, baking etc). The binding materials are generally wax, gum solution, plaster of paris, cornstarch, and fine clay (kaolin and ball clay mixture). For this recipe I have chosen to use fine clay as a binding agent for its transluscent, water soluble and color qualities.

Not to mention it is historically a favourite of many of the masters and was developed originally by Francois Jean Conte in the 1795 as a replacement for graphite. 

link here:
Conté, also known as Conté sticks or Conté crayons, are a drawing medium composed of compressed powdered graphite or charcoal mixed with a wax or clay base, square in cross-section. They were invented in 1795 by Nicolas-Jacques Conté, who created the combination of clay and graphite in response to the shortage of graphite caused by the Napoleonic Wars (the British naval blockade of France prevented import). Conté crayons had the advantage of being cost-effective to produce, and easy to manufacture in controlled grades of hardness. They are now manufactured using natural pigments (iron oxidescarbon blacktitanium dioxide), clay (kaolin), and a binder (cellulose ether).[1]

Conte Crayon recipe is as follows:

100 grams ball clay
[or you may experiment with a mixture of kaolin & ball clay]
3 grams macaloid

[ OR 5 grams bentonite]

up to 25% pigment depending on strength of color desired.


Mix dry ingredients in a small container. Add a very small amount of water until the mixture is a dry oatmeal texture. Pour onto a piece of wax paper and knead into a ball. If it requires more liquid use a spray bottle on fine mist and continue to knead until it holds together well. You can roll the mixture into any shape or use a rolling pin and cut the mixture into long thin squares or roll out into long rounded shapes. Cut into lengths desired. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes for soft crayons for harder crayons bake for 20 minutes on a metal cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. If you prefer a very soft crayon let dry without baking in the oven. Conte crayons can be sharpened with a good quality pencil sharpener. Save the shavings to experiment with painting and washes.

Such as Mason stains, wedgewood blue is very popular as well as Yellow ochre & red iron oxide stains are used to achieve the sanguine colors

Pigments may be mixed for color variations.

The conte crayons are also water soluble for washes.

(All of these ingredients can be found at a local pottery supply store).

For Charcoal Black Conte: 

50 grams ball clay

3grams macaloid or 5 grams bentonite
1 tsp Black Stain (non toxic)

20 grams charcoal powder

follow mixing instructions as above – still in the development stage but you can alter the ingredients to suit your specific requirements for your artwork.

I was very pleased with how the homemade conte flowed on the paper and smudged – when applied to the paper it smudged, erased and adhered very well to different types of paper. The conte also was water soluble and behaved like watercolor paint making beautiful washes.  I have yet to add gum solution to see how that would effect the pigment as a medium.

Conte Crayons For Ceramic Artists : Use to draw on Bisque claywork prior to glaze application and firing in a kiln.

Excerpt from

Ceramic Conte Recipe

White Ball Clay 50%

Potash Feldspar 25%

Silica 25%


Macaloid 03%

or 5% Bentonite

Colorant up to 15%

Sieve dry through 80 mesh.

Color oxides/mineral colorants and stains

Mix with 45% water

to which a solution of 1% sodium silicate per 100 gms of dry powder.

Form into rolls or squares cut to lengths.

Fire 800′ -950′

1472’F – 1742′ F

low softer – higher harder

Note***** For very soft crayons Bake in an oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes [or if you prefer harder crayons bake for 20 minutes] on a metal cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. If you prefer a very soft crayon let dry without baking in the oven. Conte crayons can be sharpened with a good quality pencil sharpener. Save the shavings to experiment with painting and washes.

Place in a claw grip /drafting pencil up to 1/4” thickness

To reduce smudging before glazing mix 1 tbsp gum solution to 1 pt water in spray bottle. Lightly mist work prior to glazing.

For Pastels or soft fired crayons

Porcelain slip (white) 50gms

add 3% macaloid or 5% bentonite

Mix with stain, oxides, mineral colorants. Use in greenware state or fire 1112′ (600’C) or 1472′ (800”C). Maximum 15% stain or colorant added to mixture.