What is the Encaustic Painting Process?
Encaustic artworks are painted with pigmented wax on a substrate, such as a wood panel, and are fused or burned in through the use of a heat source, such as a heat gun or a propane torch. I prefer the heat gun in my process.(fear of fire!) The art is achieved through mixing handmade colors, applying heat to the location of the color, on the work itself or on a heated palette. I typically work with the art lying on a flat surface, rather than upright on an easel. Layers and layers of wax may be painted and built up and I may choose to scrape or carve into the surface to achieve texture. Various tools may be utilized to manipulate and move the wax before the next layer is applied. Each layer must be fused once again. I may also embed various collage elements in this encaustic process. Most importantly, however, the luminous quality of the artwork is achieved through this process of painting with molten pigmented wax, then fusing or burning each layer by applying a heat source.
"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."
- Definition from R&F Paints
Care of Encaustic Artworks
Do not hang your painting in direct sunlight. You should never put any fine art in direct sun, but with encaustic there could be more immediate consequences. If you are nervous about the placement of the painting just feel the surface. If it is warm the painting needs to be moved. It should always feel cool to the touch. Avoid glassing an encaustic piece. If encased in glass and hung in direct sunlight, the glass will magnify the light and the space between painting and glass can heat up dramatically causing the painting to melt and shift. The paints have a damar resin in its formula; this cures and hardens the wax over time making the paint less vulnerable to damage. It's like varnishing the painting from within... so it doesn't need glass. However, you can still take your fingernail and scratch the surface.You will need to buff your painting when it seems dull or hazed over. The painting should always be shiny. When the painting is "young" or recently finished, it has not yet had time to cure and harden. It will therefore go back to a matte looking surface after buffing the first few times. As time goes by and the mixture has had a chance to cure and harden, (could take up to 6 months) it will keep its buffed polished look. At this point, it also sheds dust and dirt more readily. When the painting is at room temperature or cooler take a soft 100% lint-free cotton cloth (they are used for buffing cars) or an old, clean, 100% cotton t-shirt and buff the painting like you would buff a waxed car. Do not buff painting if it is over 75 degrees. Do not buff hard enough to create heat. Encaustic paints are perhaps the most durable form of painting, evidenced by the Faiyûm mummy portraits in Egypt, which have survived over 2000 years without cracking, flaking, or fading. Wax has several inherent qualities that allow it to withstand the test of time: it is a natural adhesive and preservative; it is moisture resistant, mildew and fungus resistant, and unappetizing to insects. Wax paint also does not contain solvents or oils so they will not darken or yellow with age. Leaving the painting as fresh as the day it was painted.