Encaustic Materials Handbook

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How to Make Encaustic Paint

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Languages Add links. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Artistic media , Painting. The bright side of all of this is that many of the general problems in the conservation of oil and tempera paintings, such as yellowing, embrittlement, and gradual oxidizing of drying oils, do not exist in encaustic paintings. If they are suitably protected against careless treatment, they will remain unchanged for many centuries to come.

Encaustic Paint

The process itself is very simple yet difficult to master. Dry pigments are added to melted beeswax in which we mix Damar resin, then it is applied to a hard surface. A flexible support such as canvas can not be used with beeswax since the medium would crack, not having the flexibility to follow the canvas movement. The painted surface being cooler than the applied wax causes the brush stroke to "freeze" as quickly as it is applied.

Therefore, the artist most develop a specific approach, different than with any other medium, having to reheat the painted area in order to adjust his mark making. Heat must be applied between paint layers in order to make sure that all the layers are melted together creating a solid block of wax that is mechanically bond to the panel. In order to finish a piece, the final stage is "burning in" which consists of passing a heat source over the entire surface to make sure that the different layers of wax are fused together and bond to the support.

The surface may then be polished with a soft shoe brush enhancing its gloss.

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The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques | Revolvy

This method is the "classic way", yet today there are numerous other working approaches as well as many different waxes used such as microcrystaline. Over the last 50 years, encaustic has gained popularity as a creative alternative to oil and acrylic paints. What has particularly attracted painters, whatever style they are using, is the spontaneity and variety with which it can be used.

Encaustic paint cools instantly, which means additional layers can be added immediately. Once the surface has cooled, the paint has reached a permanent finish. But the painting can also be revisited and reworked at any time whether seconds or years later.

Over time, it will retain all the freshness of a newly finished work. Most of our knowledge of this early use comes from the Roman historian Pliny the Elder, who wrote in the 1st century A. Pliny seems to have had very little direct knowledge about studio methods, so his account of techniques and materials is sketchy.

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According to Pliny, encaustic was used in a variety of applications: the painting of portraits and scenes of mythology on panels, the coloring of marble and terra cotta, and work on ivory probably the tinting of incised lines. Wax is an excellent preservative of materials. It was from this use that the art of encaustic painting developed. The Greeks applied coatings of wax and resin to weatherproof their ships.

Pigmenting the wax gave rise to the decorating of warships. Mention is even made by Homer of the painted ships of the Greek warriors who fought at Troy.


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The use of a rudimentary encaustic was therefore an ancient practice by the 5th century B. It is possible that at about that time the crude paint applied with tar brushes to the ships was refined for the art of painting on panels. Pliny mentions two artists who had in fact started out as ship painters. Perhaps the best known of all encaustic work are the Fayum funeral portraits painted in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.

A significant Greek population had settled in Egypt following its conquest by Alexander, eventually adopting the customs of the Egyptians.

Encaustic Painting

This included mummifying their dead. A portrait of the deceased, painted either in the prime of life or after death, was placed over the person's mummy as a memorial. Many of these pieces have survived to our own time, and their color has remained as fresh as any recently completed work.

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