Here we will answer your questions about encaustic art. Please click on a question to reveal its answer
Encaustic is any painting that involves the use of wax and heat in the process. It comes from the ancient Greek word ‘encaustikos’ which means to ‘burn’ or ‘heat’. Appropriate, as all the stages of painting with encaustic involve heat. This wonderful medium is making a resurgence, as more and more artists discover its versatility and beauty.
Encaustic medium is made with filtered beeswax and damar resin (crystals), melting them together until they are incorporated. The medium is then filtered again, and poured into molds. This hardens the wax; making it more durable and less likely to develop ‘bloom’ (the whitish sheen that naturally occurs on beeswax.) To use Waxworks Encaustic medium, simply melt it at around 200 degrees F., add colour to it, and paint. (See "How does the encaustic painting process work?" below for more details on process.) Colour can be added by using small chunks of the pre-mixed colour blocks or by squeezing a small amount of oil paint into the wax. Some people like to squeeze out their paint onto paper towel, and then leave it for several hours to remove some of the oil. Do not add more than 25% paint to 75% wax, or you will end up with a wax that won’t harden. Glazes of colour can be made using a very small amount of paint with the Waxworks encaustic medium, leading to beautiful transperancies. Stay away from oil paint with health warnings on the label, Prussian Blue (toxic when heated) and Zinc White (curdles when heated). Ask at your local art supply store when buying paint, explaining that you are using it for encaustic, to get their advice.
Encaustic can be used on any surface that is absorbant and rigid (in the case of medium made with beeswax rigidity is crucial – if you are using microcrystalline wax, then unprimed canvas may be used on regular stretchers). Beeswax medium can also be used (for smaller works) on watercolour paper/cardboard/matte board, etc. I suggest raw wood, hollow door skin, masonite, plywood, unglazed clay, etc.
‘Fusing’ means to heat the freshly applied layer of wax to the one below it, or in the case of the first layer, to the board, or substrate that you are working on. Fusing ensures that the painting maintains its integrity and creates a strong surface. You can fuse with many different tools; the most common being the blow torch, iron and/or heat gun. Some artists use a light bulb for very gentle fuses. Each will give you a different texture/surface.
It is crucial that the griddle/electric palette be kept at no more than 220 degrees Fahrenheit. A griddle thermometer will give you an accurate reading, as often the controls on a griddle are off by several degrees. Always start lower, and slowly raise the temperature if your wax is not melting. You can tell if it is too hot if the wax is smoking – sending up a visible cloud of smoke into the air. If this happens, immediately turn the griddle off, and open windows/doors.
Painting with encaustic medium involves melting the wax at no more than 220 degrees Fahrenheit in small metal tins (preferably with flat bottoms). Colour is then added, most often by squeezing in a small amount of oil paint. The more paint added, the stronger the colour will be. Be careful NOT to add more than 25% paint to 75% wax, or it will be unworkable. The coloured encaustic medium is then applied to the board/substrate (an absorbent and rigid surface) with a natural bristle brush. Then it is necessary to fuse. This can happen with the use of a blowtorch, heatgun, iron or even a light bulb. Each will give a different effect. Many layers can be added in this way. When the piece is finished it is a good idea to ‘buff’ it with a soft cloth, as it will add shine and translucence.
Yes! The wax/encaustic medium can and does act as an adherent for many (but not all) collage items. Most paper, fabric, and dried organic items can easily be put in the wax. It works best to have a wax layer both below and on top of the collage element to hold it securely in place. Items that are not absorbent, like plastic, are harder to adhere with wax. It is important that any organic items such as dried flowers/leaves, be completely DRIED before using. The heat gun or iron are the suggested fusing tools for this, as the blow torch can ignite some collage elements!
Yes! Often it is incorporated into mixed-media works of art. The versatility and textural quality of encaustic are a natural fit with other mediums. It is important to remember that wherever the encaustic is added, that the area under it is absorbent and rigid (especially if it is a large area).
Only natural bristle brushes can be used for encaustic, as synthetic brushes will melt. I cut the handles on my brushes down to 5-7″ so that they will stay in the pots, and not tip over.
This question often comes up at workshops, and the short answer is “it depends on the painting!” An encaustic piece can have as little as one layer, or as many as 50+ layers of medium. It varies greatly with the maker of the piece, and I can only speak for myself. I’d say that the most common number of layers in one of my paintings would be between 8-10. In some cases, though, I’ve done pieces with 108 layers and the effect is beautiful!
See this blog post:
Thin layers of oil paint can be brushed or rubbed on to the encaustic painting… it is recommended that you fuse the paint – lightly with a heat gun or blow torch. It must be fused if you are going to continue to build up more layers on top of the painted area, if it is the top layer, then it can simply air dry, but even in this case, fusing creates a more stable surface and so is recommended. Filling gouge lines with oil paint or oil sticks is also a nice way to paint on the surface – if you want clean lines then use linseed oil to wipe the excess paint off (with paper towels) and then fuse the linseed oil traces into the wax. I find that if I don’t, the wax stays tacky in that area for quite awhile. Oil sticks are another way of painting on the surface… these are like oil pastels, but have much more oil paint in them, and less wax. They develop a ‘skin’ that has to be removed before using. Again, thin layers are suggested, as big, lumpy chunks of oil paint or oil stick will not fuse into the wax, leaving an area that will not dry or harden properly.