The History, Process & Care of Encaustic


Encaustic painting is an ancient technique that dates back to Greco-Roman Egypt, over 3,000 years ago.  It was used for sealing the wooden hulls of ships and for creating mummy portraits, many of which still exist today in fine museums around the world. 

Encaustic wax is made with a combination of damar resin (a crystallized tree sap, used for a hardening agent) and beeswax.  Pigments may be added to the wax, creating a colored encaustic medium or 'paint'.

 

Rather than working with wet and dry elements as with other types of paint, an encaustic artist works with hot and cold (liquid and solid) wax.  A variety of tools are used such as hot plates, torches, heat guns and specialty irons.  To paint with encaustic medium, the wax is liquified into a mailable form at 200°F. 

The term encaustic is derived from the Greek word enkaustikos, meaning to heat or burn in.  This refers to the process of fusing the wax, which causes a bond to form with the wax layer(s) below.  After each wax application, the painting's surface must cool to room temperature before being fused again. The surface may then be carved into or built up with additional layers of wax.

My encaustic paintings consist of many layers of wax with pigments, oils, shellac, photographs and sometimes 'aged pages', all resulting in multidimensional art with an ethereal quality.

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How To Care For Encaustic Art

As with any fine art, use care when handling, storing or transporting an encaustic painting. 

  • Avoid extreme hot or cold temperatures which may cause the wax to soften or crack.  Hang and store in climate controlled interior spaces.  Do not to display encaustic art near radiant heating, wood stoves, fireplaces or in prolonged direct sunlight.

  • To transport a painting, wrap the entire piece in parchment or waxed paper.  Then wrap the art in bubble wrap with the bubbles facing away from the face of the painting.

  • Do not frame an encaustic painting behind glass.  A floater frame is an acceptable alternative.

  • Encaustic art may developed a haze, called a 'bloom', as the wax cures.  Very gently buff the surface with a clean, soft cloth to restore the shine and remove any dust. Optical cloths used for glasses are ideal as are blue shop towels and microfiber cloths.  Never apply any cleaning agents or use paper towels as they may scratch the surface.

Encaustic paintings are considered archival.  They are impervious to moisture, and with proper handling they will not deteriorate, yellow or darken.

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