Encaustic wax painting is a method of painting using melted beeswax and pigment. It is a very ancient form of art first used on the Fayum mummy portraits, and it has been growing in popularity in recent years. It is a beautiful, versatile method of painting. “Encaustic” means “to burn in.” The wax is fused with heat, layer by layer, giving it a magical translucence and texture.
The filtered beeswax is combined with damar resin, which is a tree sap, to make encaustic medium. This resin increases the melting temperature of the beeswax and also makes the surface harder, shinier, and clearer. Pigment is then added to the medium to make encaustic paint.
Encaustic paints are very safe to use, but some precautions are necessary. The wax should not be overheated to the point where it is smoking. Also, heat is required to melt the beeswax and to fuse each layer that is painted. Heating tools can include pancake griddles, embossing tools, heat guns, woodburning pens, special irons, or mini torches. For large paintings, a propane torch is often used.
The possibilities of what you can create with encaustic is nearly limitless. From glassy surfaces to textural or even sculptural paintings, encaustic is a medium that you can not only paint with, but carve into to reveal details within the depth of your painting. Encaustic can be combined with photographs, photo transfers, collage, dried plant material, oil paint, pastel, and ink. Acrylic is not compatible with wax, but just about everything else is.
Caring for an Encaustic Painting
Hang your encaustic painting away from direct sunlight. The melting temperature of encaustic is about 150 degrees Fahrenheit, so do not worry about it melting on a hot day in a warm room. Encaustic paintings are fine art and encaustic wax is archival. Some wax paintings may develop a slight cloudiness on their surface, and this is a normal part of the curing process as the wax continues to harden over time. This wax “bloom”can easily be buffed away with the palm of your hand or a very fine microfiber cloth such as you would use to clean a camera lens. This bloom will lessen over time as the wax cures.