The History, Process & Care of Encaustic Paintings


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

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

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

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

  • Encaustic paintings may developed a white haze, called a 'bloom', as the wax cures.  Using very light pressure, buff the surface with a clean, soft cloth to remove the bloom and restore the shine. Eventually the bloom will no longer occur, typically after 18 months, when the wax has completely cured.  Optical cloths used for glasses are ideal as are microfiber cloths.  Never use any cleaning agents or paper towels as they may scratch the surface.

How to Package & Ship Encaustic Paintings

While encaustic paintings are durable, they are not impervious to extreme heat or cold.  Artwork may be damaged if special care is not taken when transporting or shipping a painting.

Soft Wrapping For Transportation:

To transport an encaustic painting, wrap the piece in parchment or waxed paper.  Then wrap again with bubble wrap, with the bubbles facing away from the face of the painting.  (Small bubble wrap is suitable for small size paintings, large bubble wrap should be used on bigger pieces.)  Secure the painting in the climate controlled area of the vehicle and do not place anything on top of it.  Do not leave the painting in a parked vehicle for an extended amount of time.

Shipping Encaustic Paintings:

Follow the steps for soft wrapping above and add an extra layer of bubble wrap across the face of the painting.

Next, the piece will need to be insulated to protect against any temperature changes while in transit.  Make a 'box' by cutting rigid insulation sheets with a utility knife (I use these) for the top, bottom and sides of the painting.  Use packing tape to piece together the bottom and sides of the insulation 'box' for a snug fit around the art.  Place the soft wrapped painting inside and secure the top of the box with tape.

Then place the insulation 'box' inside a sturdy outer cardboard box with the bottom lined with padding (foam peanuts, bubble wrap), allowing for about 2" of space on all sides.  Completely fill the this space with more padding on the four sides and top before sealing the outer box.  Mark the box 'fragile' on all sides and indicate which side is up with arrows.

I recommend shipping via UPS or FedEx.  Ship on a Monday or Tuesday to avoid having the artwork sit over the weekend.  If the destination is very cold or very hot, I suggest overnight shipping.

Transport Services:

Alternatively, an art transport service is a great option, especially for multiple pieces and/or large and heavy paintings.  Utilizing climate controlled, 24 hour manned vehicles, this is a door to door service with a staff trained in the handling of artwork.

 

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