What is encaustic?
"A paint made from pigment mixed with melted beeswax and resin and after application fixed by heat; also : the method involving the use of encaustic or a work produced by this method"
Due to their popularity over the ages, most people recognize oil paint, watercolor, or acrylic; however, not many know about the wonders of encaustic. It's actually not even very popular amongst artists today, so even some artists may be in the dark. Although that may be the case now, I have recently seen a few more artists picking up this gorgeous medium, which is very exciting!
A Little History...
The actual word, "encaustic," derives from the Greek word, "enkaustikos," meaning, "to heat or burn into." For the Greeks, encaustic was first used to caulk and decorate ships due to its water repelling nature and natural durability. Although the Greeks may have coined the word, the actual medium and usage can be dated back to 1st Century BC.
The encaustic that I use is composed of beeswax, damar resin (from trees), and pigment. Others use different combinations and some use only beeswax; however, it is my opinion that beeswax alone is just a bit too soft. Generally, I use the R&F encaustics or Enkausticos; however, some artists create their own paints (future goals perhaps?!).
Heating Things Up
At every stage of the encaustic painting, applying heat is required. First, the wax needs to be melted so that I can apply the paint to the board. I use a griddle for a hot plate (basically my palette) and turn my temperature up to around 240F (this temperature is my preference and according to my specific griddle- for other artists, their hot plate temperatures may vary).
The encaustic wax starts to melt at 150-200F and cools almost instantly (there is no waiting for the paint to dry, because it is heat that determines liquidity). Each layer must be fused together. For this part, I use a heat gun most of the time, but have been exploring usage with a blow torch as well.
What Else Goes Into an Encaustic?
In addition to the encaustic paint, I use oil pastels, oil paint, and oil sticks inside my paintings. I also love incorporating origami paper, old ink prints, or different materials to add texture and intrigue. Many artists also use ink or incorporate printing techniques. I actually bought a painting from an artist, who occasionally layered his photos with encaustic medium. Encaustic is a fantastic tool for collage, because you can really put just about anything inside the wax.
Tools & Surfaces
Speaking of tools...the tools I usually work with are my natural bristled paint brushes (synthetic brushes will melt), a few pottery tools for scraping and creating texture, an old credit card, and a razor blade. For me, creating an encaustic is a lot of layering, scraping, digging, texturizing, and really getting into the wax. To clean the brushes, I use soy wax to rid the brush of the encaustic and pigment.
I prefer to use birch boards for my canvas, because they seem to hold the encaustic beautifully, in a way that normal canvas cannot. Typically, I dislike using boards for oil paints, as I feel they don't hold the oil very well and I don't like the feeling of brushing the oil onto the board. The opposite could be said for encaustic!
A unique aspect of the encaustic is what we, artists, call, blooming. At any stage of the encaustic creating, you can obtain a wonderful glossy sheen to your painting by buffing the surface with clean fingers or a soft cloth. Over time (a few years or so), your painting may start to "bloom," or become cloudy in appearance. This is due to the wax component and it is completely natural! To get it nice and shiny again, merely repeat the buffing process.
One more note about encaustics...the colors! Encaustic pigments can be electrifying and beautiful. Then, coupled with the opacity of the natural medium (without pigment), you can create some really interesting work.
How to Care for My Encaustic
The proper way to treat your encaustic is similar to an oil painting. If you frame your piece, do not encompass it in glass. Oil and encaustics need air to breathe. Keep your encaustic painting out of direct sunlight (for example; don't put it right in front of a window that gets a lot) and do not keep it in extreme heat, extreme cold, or very damp places. If it starts to "bloom," buff it with a clean finger or soft cloth. To dust it, use a soft cloth, either dry or only slightly damp. Finally, care for it by putting it up and enjoying it!
I hope that cleared up all the questions you may have about encaustics. Feel free to message me if you have any other questions or for a studio visit and I can give you your own personal encaustic demo!