A Short History
Wax has been used for preservation as far back as the 5th century when the Greeks applied coats of it to weatherproof their ships. Adding color to the wax gave rise to decorating war and trade ships. The Greek word 'Encaustikos' translated is: "to heat" or "burn in," which is the heart of the encaustic process.
Encaustic Painting Process
Encaustic art is the result of an artist painting on a surface with hot colored wax. The encaustic medium is made of beeswax, damar resin and colored pigments. Damar resin is tapped from deciduous trees in India and East Asia. Over time, it gives the beeswax added shine, strength and structure. It also helps the wax to maintain its color. Encaustic painting is mostly done while the wax is in a melted state. It is brushed or poured onto an absorbent surface like wood, paper, clay or fabric.
Encaustic paints are kept in metal containers on top of a hot plate set at approximately 200 degrees. Natural hair paintbrushes are used to apply the wax to the surface in thin layers. After painting each thin layer, the wax is heated with a hot air gun, torch or iron to fuse the wax to the surface. Under the heat, the wax grabs onto the surface area beneath it. Watching the encaustic wax mottle, spread and blend is like magic; but the artist needs to be careful, because every subsequent layer is affected each time it is heated. It requires patience and a light touch to get the best results.
Once the wax has cooled slightly, the artist may add texture with metal tools, razors, wood scrapers and carving blades. Additional depth and contrast may be created with using oil sticks, pastels, inks, dyes, Shellac or graphite.
Caring for Your Encaustic Painting
Encaustic paintings may be hung just about anywhere. However, for best results, do not hang in direct sunlight. Waxes should not fade, but they could shift or dent, if softened by the sun. To create a shiny surface area on the wax, the painting may be buffed with a lint-free cloth.