Encaustic is a wax based paint (composed of beeswax, resin and pigment), which is kept molten on a heated palette. It is applied to an absorbent surface and then reheated in order to fuse the paint. The word ‘encaustic’ comes from the Greek word enkaiein, meaning to burn in, referring to the process of fusing the paint. Although they come from the same root word, ‘encaustic’ should not be confused with ‘caustic,’ which refers to a corrosive chemical reaction. There is no such hazard with encaustic.
Opulence. Encaustic is perhaps the most beautiful of all artists' paints, and it is as versatile as any 21st century medium. It can be polished to a high gloss, carved, scraped, layered, collaged, dipped, cast, modeled, sculpted, textured, and combined with oil. It cools immediately, so that there is no drying time, yet it can always be reworked.
Wax is its own varnish. Encaustic paintings do not have to be varnished or protected by glass because encaustic, which is the most durable of all artists' paints, is its own protector. This is because beeswax is impervious to moisture, which is one of the major causes of deterioration in a paint film. Wax resists moisture far more than resin varnish or oil. Buffing encaustic will give luster and saturation to color in just the same way resin varnish does.
No yellowing. Encaustic paint will not yellow or darken. However, wax itself is photoreactive, so unpigmented encaustic medium that has been kept in dark storage will darken slightly. When re-exposed to light that darkening will bleach out.
No solvents. Encaustic paint does not require the use of solvents. As a result, a number of health hazards are reduced or eliminated.
Encaustic is a beeswax-based painting medium that is worked with heat. It can be used as a luminous traditional painting medium, but it also has the potential to obscure the boundaries between mediums like no other art material, resulting in works that are just as much about painting or sculpture as they are about photography, drawing, printmaking, installation or a variety of craft techniques. Artists of all kinds are discovering its unifying potential, unique properties and versatility.
Painting with encaustic is a multi-step process. First, the paint must be melted, or liquefied. Next, the molten paint is applied to a porous surface. Then the applied wax is reheated, or fused into, the working surface, allowing it to form a good bond. As a final option, the cooled paint can be buffed to bring up the luster of the wax and resin.
BASIC SET-UP SUGGESTIONS
• You will need a clean level counter or worktable to put a heated palette on. When setting up your worktable take into consideration the space that your palette will occupy and give yourself extra room for additional materials.
• You will want to make sure that your work area has proper ventilation. Exhaust fans in windows, cross-ventilation, or a studio ventilation system are all good options. It is important that you have a source of fresh air in your workspace.
• It will be imperative that you have adequate electrical outlets available for use. Consider that you will have a palette, possibly a heat gun and/or other tools that will require electricity and it will be helpful to position your workspace accordingly.
• Keep in mind that anytime you use heated tools/equipment it is recommended that you have a burn kit and a fire extinguisher on-hand for safety purposes.
A counter or table to hold an electric palette, heat gun, tools and your work-in-progress.
Though not unpleasant to smell, wax fumes should be treated like solvent fumes. A well-placed window fan should be adequate for a small set-up. Click here to read our Ventilating Your Studio for Encaustic Paints Technical Sheet.
Your workspace should be free of any solvents and flammable materials. A burn kit and fire extinguisher are also recommended.
TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
The heated palette is an essential tool to the encaustic artist. It provides a surface to heat and mix encaustic paint and medium on. Less expensive alternatives to purchasing a custom palette include electric skillets, crock-pots or electric griddles. R&F’s heated palettes are designed specifically for encaustic painters and feature an anodized aluminum surface which prevents reactivity that could discolor pigments. The versatile aluminium surface also makes it easy to see paint colors. Regardless of the palette you select, it is important that it be equipped with temperature controls.
PALETTE SURFACE THERMOMETER
It is crucial to be able to monitor the surface temperature of your palette. A surface thermometer can easily assist you in monitoring the temperature of your palette (the safe working temperature for encaustic paint ranges from 180-200°F). For this reason, R&F offers a heavy duty Thermometerthat sits on top of your palette surface.
As you apply layers of paint to your support you will want to fuse (or re-heat) each layer to ensure that it is adhered to your ground or substrate. It is important to fuse between layers to prevent them from separating. There are two methods for fusing; either indirect (heat gun, torches, light bulbs, or sunlight) or direct (tacking irons, spatulas, heated brushes, plaster tools, palette and paint knives, etc.)
Use natural bristle brushes only; synthetic brushes can burn and melt on the palette.
Any type of mark-making tool will work with Encaustic paint. We recommend etching, wood carving dental, sculpture, and clay working tools.
For best results, encaustic should be painted on a rigid, absorbent, and heat resistant surface. Examples include: wood (maple or birch plywood), heavy watercolor or printmaking paper glued to board, or raw canvas glued to board (avoid pre-gessoed canvas boards). Please note that you can use paper as your support, but you will want to consider the size and rigidity of the paper.
Three-dimensional or sculptural work that is porous and rigid can also be used. Plaster, stone, wood, terra cotta, or cast paper are all acceptable surfaces to work on.
SOY OR PARAFFIN WAX
There are two options for clean-up, either Soy or Paraffin wax. We recommend using soy wax for clean-up because soybeans are a renewable resource, while paraffin is a petroleum based product. An additional benefit to using soy wax is that it can be washed off with soap and water leaving brushes supple.
Great for keeping melted waxes separate on your palette. R&F carries heavy aluminum and steel alloy rectangular palette cups in two sizes (sm|lg) to fit our 40 ml and 104 ml cakes.
There really is no general recommendation for a starter palette of colors, since different artists have individual preferences, but we recommend that you choose a good balance of opaque and transparent colors. Try starting with a red, yellow and blue, and build from there.