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What Is Encaustic?

Encaustic art is the result of an artist painting on a surface with hot colored wax. The wax is made from beeswax, damar resin, and colored pigments. The wax medium may be applied as a melted liquid or with a heat tool onto an absorbent surface like wood, paper, clay or fabric.

A Short History

Wax has been used for preservation as far back as the 5th century when the Greeks applied coatings of wax to weatherproof their ships. Adding color to the wax gave rise to decorating warships and later, trade ships. In Ancient Egypt it was customary to have a burial portrait made and bound onto the mummified body of the deceased. Very often these portraits were encaustic paintings.

Creating Encaustic Paintings

Encaustic waxes are kept in a hot liquid state by using metal containers set on top of a hot plate. Natural hair paintbrushes are used to apply the wax to the wood surface in thin layers. After application, each layer of wax is heated with hot air guns, butane torches, or irons to fuse the wax. The wax mottles, shrinks, spreads and blends under the heat, and every subsequent layer is affected. Once the wax has cooled slightly, the artist may add texture with metal tools, use oil pastels, inks, dyes, varnish or graphite to add texture, depth, areas of vast coloration or subdue wax colors.