Monthly Archives: November 2008

Encaustic Painting–What is it?

Encaustic (Beeswax) Painting—F.A.Q.

Will an encaustic painting melt?
It would take intense direct heat to damage an encaustic painting, but subzero temperatures cause the wax to become brittle and can lead to cracking. Really you should not leave an encaustic painting in direct sunlight or intense cold, because extreme temperatures can damage any fine painting.

·         Because I add Damar Resin to my beeswax, this makes it a true encaustic medium.  The addition of about 10% resin gives the wax a hardness and higher melting temperature (around 200 degrees).

Can I touch the surface of an encaustic painting?
You should never touch the surface of a piece of fine art but if you do, make sure your hands are clean. I usually have other mediums worked into the painting or on the surface (dry pigment, oil pastel, oil paint) and touching could mar or damage the painting’s surface.

What kind of finish do you use on an encaustic painting?
I apply no finish, but seal the final layer with an even blast from the heat gun I use to set each layer of wax.

How many encaustic layers do you apply?
Depending on the mood and feel of the painting, I might apply two or three layers, or ten to twelve, or more.

Can you mix other mediums with the wax?
I often mix in dry pigments, oil pastel or oil paint for pigment. I often use the wax as a base and then apply other mediums in layers, often interspersed with layers of wax. 

Where can I read more about encaustic painting?
The Art of Encaustic Painting, by Joanne Mattera, is a comprehensive book on encaustic painting techniques—I highly recommend it.

Is Encaustic Painting a new medium?

Encaustic is considered one of the most ancient painting mediums in the world. Its oldest recorded use is the famous Fayum portraits painted on tombs from Roman Egypt around 100-350 A.D.  It has enjoyed a recent revival in popularity among artists and patrons.

How do you paint with beeswax?

When I am ready to paint, I melt the encaustic medium and add pigment in tins sitting on griddles on my studio table. I use a brush to paint the encaustic onto a panel, which lies horizontally on my table so that the melted wax doesn’t run. I paint swiftly, often only a few strokes at a time, for the wax cools very quickly.  After I’ve applied a layer to the panel, I use a heat gun to reheat the wax, smoothing the surface a bit and bonding the new layer to the one below. I continue to build up layers of wax with pigment added, heating it after each layer with the heat gun. This layering lends an ethereal quality that is part of the appeal of an encaustic painting. In some paintings I add other materials—paper, fabric, twigs—to create a collage effect. Some paintings have 10 or more layers of wax; others are more gestural in feel and involve less layering.  I paint on hardboard panels so that these layers of wax don’t crack with movement as they would on stretched canvas.