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what is encaustic painting

Encaustic painting is an ancient painting technique dating back to the 1st century AD. An encaustic painter uses heat and cold to create a painting like a watercolorist uses wet and dry. Each painting is a culmination of hours and hours of work in the studio layering and manipulating the wax to create a unique piece of art.

Encaustic medium is mixture of beeswax and damar resin. Damar resin is a natural substance sourced from trees in East Asia and India. The addition of the damar resin to the beeswax is important as it raises the melting temperature of the medium and makes the painting more durable when it cures; allowing it to be buffed to a beautiful, transparent sheen.

The encaustic paint colors are created by adding pigments to the medium. These paints can be purchased already made or can be made in the studio by adding pigment powders to the medium. 


Once the medium and paints are in a molten stage (180-200 degrees Fahrenheit), painting can begin. To increase stability and integrity of the painting, the molten encaustic paints are applied to a rigid and absorbent substrate. I like painting on wood panels of various sizes. 


Each layer of wax must be fused to the one below to provide bonding between layers and increase the overall stability of the painting. In fact, anything added to the painting (India ink, rice paper, pan pastels, etc) is treated as a layer and must be fused before adding more wax.

Fusing is done by applying heat to the layer to soften it enough to allow it to merge with the layer below. The addition of heat is typically done with a torch or heat gun, but there are other options depending on the desired effects. I use the torch most often as I find it allows me to have more control over the paints and other substances I am adding to the painting.

Concern is often raised about the stability of an encaustic painting as it is created with melted beeswax and resin. Encaustic paintings are actually very stable and long lasting and will remain stable and solid when displayed in normal conditions. Extreme heat, like the trunk of a car, should be avoided as it will make the wax soft. Likewise, freezing temperatures should be avoided as it could cause the painting to crack. All art, in any medium, should never be stored or displayed in direct sunlight

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