A deep dive into the creation of the "Gargoyles of Notre Dame" watercolor + encaustic collection

Barb Toland My Stuff

Recently I've been creating a lot of art that combines my love of watercolor + my love of encaustic (if you're not sure what encaustic is, you can hop on over & read this blog post to learn more). 

At any rate, I love them both and have been finding great joy while discovering the different ways I can combine them into one piece of art.

I've just finished creating a collection of 12 - 8" x 10" watercolor + encaustic paintings called, "The Gargoyles of Notre Dame" -- and today I'm going to take you behind my studio door, and show you the process I used to create them.

So the very first thing I did for all 12 gargoyles was to draw each of them with pencil on an 8" x 10" canvas panel. Yes, I said canvas! I've discovered the joys (& the challenges) of painting with watercolor on canvas -- and I must say, I am hooked.

So here's a couple of them below, with the initial drawing, and that first layer of watercolor paint laid down in certain areas. Since watercolor is transparent, it does amazing things when you gradually build up each layer of color. The layers underneath alter the color of subsequent layers, which has always been enchanting to me!

And then here they are once I added more layers of color, and also more details.

Here's a close up shot of one of them. Be sure to pinch & zoom on your phone so you can see the beautiful linen weave of the canvas shining thru.

And again, the initial first layers of color...

Notice how the watercolor doesn't always stay where you want it -- which is where the challenging part comes in ;-) But I've found that if I allow the moisture of those first layers of watercolor paint soak into the canvas, then the next layer goes down a bit easier.

I've learned all this thru trial & error. I'm a big fan of experimenting, exploring & discovering in the studio because you just never know what kind of magic you will come up with!

I'm just not a recipe kind of girl, you know? What about you? If you create, do you like to follow a pattern, or go off exploring on your own? Or maybe a little of both!

Here are 2 of the final paintings for these below. Again, pinch & zoom to see all of that awesome detail.

And this is the very beginnings of the "starry night" gargoyles. I took a vote on Instagram stories, "stars or no stars?" and the overwhelming consensus was stars.

So after painting the sky a deep cobalt blue purple (I call it blurple lol) -- I splattered white gouache paint on the sky using a toothbrush, to add the stars.

And here they are in different stages of painting the gargoyles. The lower right shows a finished gargoyle, and the other 3 are in various stages of completion.

And here's 2 of those "starry night" gargoyles with the watercolor painting complete (don't forget to pinch & zoom):

So once the watercolor paintings were finished, I then started added the encaustic wax over them. The very first thing I always do is to brush on a coat of encaustic wax to the entire image as a way to protect it.

So that's what I'm doing below. Loading my brush up with the hot, melted wax from a pot sitting on a griddle, and then brushing it onto the image.



Once the encaustic wax is brushed on, then the next step is to "fuse" the wax into the image using a heat gun. Once the wax is fused, it is now permanently bonded to the painting underneath.



Then this is always a fun stage!

I take my delightful & luscious Sennelier oil pastels & use them to embellish / emphasize different areas of the painting. Oil pastels work nicely over the encaustic wax.


After the fun of coloring, I gently rub the oil pastel with my fingertip to blend it into the rest of the image. And then once again, a light fuse with a heat gun makes them permanent so they can't rub off.


Another favorite step is to carve into the wax in different places using a bamboo stick, to emphasize certain lines & shapes in the painting.

I do a lot of carving. And when I'm done, I then go over the carved grooves with a heat gun to "knock them down" a bit -- this softens them & allows them to blend more naturally.


More carving...


So that's the whole process in a nutshell.

I have LOVED doing these gargoyles! They've been a joy to make, and have become little companions to me while creating them. But now I'm ready to let them go into the world, and be companions for someone else :)

I'm going to leave you with several close up shots of these gentle creatures, because the magic of watercolor & encaustic both is in those gorgeous details.

Below are some close ups of the "daylight" series...



These are some close ups of the "sunset" series...



And here are some close ups of the "starry night" series...


I have loved gargoyles ever since I can remember, and to see these stone gems perched on the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral was a magical moment in time for me.

The loss of such a marvel -- a real testament to the art of architecture -- and also the loss of those ancient trees that were used to build it, was a terrible blow to many of us.

But I have great hope & faith that the new roof when built, will be as beautiful as the one that withstood the test of time for centuries, and will lovingly cradle these adorable creatures for many more years to come.

I hope you've enjoyed learning more about the process I used to create these pieces as much as I enjoyed making them, and now you just can't wait to buy a couple to adorn your home or office ;-)

If you have any questions or would like to tell me what you think, please scroll down & leave a comment. As always, I would love to chat creativity with you!

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