Encaustic What?

Encaustic is simply the process of heating wax, deriving from a Greek word meaning ‘To Burn’…

I find the word a little confusing, wax itself is not encaustic, but the process of heating and then applying hot wax, makes it encaustic…

The wax I use, is essentially beeswax, often with a damar resin, or carnuba, or other waxes, added to it to raise the melting point, with added pigments.

It comes in a variety of grades, from pre-coloured Arts Encaustic waxes, which are £1.50 each, and great for beginners to start with, through to R&F Artists Quality waxes, which start at £12.50 for a similar sized block of wax, and range up to £35, depending on pigments used.   (There are other wax brands, but these are the two I tend to use.)

I love painting with both of these wax styles, they have their own unique qualities, and the versatility of each style is simply incredible.

I still don’t get it…  How does it work…?  

There are so many ways to paint with encaustic wax… Essentially, melted wax is applied to paper or board, with a paint brush, hot iron, stylus or heat gun.   It can be applied in a thin single layer and manipulated according to the desired finish, this is great for beginners, as anyone can create interesting patterns quickly and easily.  Or, you can build it up in layers, allowing the addition of leaves, grasses, sand, butterflies, feathers and a variety of mixed media.   The layered method is fabulous, as you can drizzle and splatter wax medium on, making a 3D effect, scratch designs back out to reveal layers underneath, or add paints and additional coloured wax to create amazing textured designs and sculptures.  There are do’s and don’ts, and health and safety considerations to take into account with this technique, which you must be aware of.

The encaustic medium in the layered pictures is made up from a mixture of beeswax and damar resinwhich allows the wax to set to a very hard finish.   The layers are fused together with a heat gun and buffed to give a lustrous finish,   These pieces ‘cure’ and harden over time, which can take up to six months or more.

Encaustic wax has a fascinating history, it has been around for over 2,000 years, the Egyptians notably used it as a painting medium on the Fayum Mummy panels, and it was used in early Iconography.  Due to the beeswax working as a natural preservative and binder, the colours and pigments of these panels often remain as fresh today as the day they were painted.

Encaustic has seen a resurgence in popularity amongst artists since the 1990’s, it’s quite well known in America and Canada, and slowing becoming more widely recognised in Europe.

The question I’m always asked is… “Will it melt?”  This wax has a melting point of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, 71 degrees Celsius, so no, unless stored or hung in extreme circumstances, your picture will be fine for many years to come.

As with any fine art however, you should always handle paintings with care, and never hang in direct sunlight, especially if framed under glass.

An added bonus with encaustic, is should damage occur, which can happen to any painting, it can often be repaired by gently re-fusing the damaged area.

To see examples of my encaustic work, click here.


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