Encaustic Art Roundup
Photo and art by Angel and Spot.
I have only quite recently even heard of this craft, and upon researching it I have become very interested in the technique, which actually dates back not only centuries...but millennia. So I've put together this page for anyone who has never heard of this awesome style of painting, or who has heard of it and is interested in learning more.
The idea is simply to paint using not paints but wax. This allows for a lot of creativity and you can produce effects you could never achieve in any other medium.
Because this material is impervious to water, it preserves whatever it covers, and lasts a long time. It's just a really fun thing to play with!
I hope you find this page useful :)
Different Styles of Encaustic Painting:
Photo and art by Tindink.
There are 3 main styles of encaustic painting that I have seen:
1) Traditional – Encaustic painting actually has a lot of history, with wax first being used in painting at least as far back as the 1st century B.C. Wax was used to paint pictures just like oil or acrylic paints were used, with portraits being particularly popular. If you would like to learn more about the history, click here.
2) Using hot irons and styluses – Wax can be applied to a surface with an ‘encaustic iron’, which consists of a flat metal plate (with no steam holes in unlike regular irons) that heats up and melts the wax. This is the technique which was used to create the above painting, and it is often used to paint recognisable images – usually landscapes or flowers – rather than something abstract. Irons and hot metal tools are basically used in place of paintbrushes.
The large irons are used for the large shapes and backgrounds, and styluses are used for the smaller details, although the edges and point of an iron can also be used for detail work. You can identify this style of encaustic art very easily if you look at the soft flowing background of the hills, and then the telltale signs of the larger bushes at the front where the iron sort of creates streaks in the wax when it is pulled away from the board rather than being moved smoothly over the surface.
Here are some useful links if you would like to learn about this form of painting:
3) Abstract – This is the style I’m going to mainly talk about on this page (because it’s my favourite!) and it’s actually a modern way of using wax so there isn’t as much information available on it compared to the other styles. Using wax in an abstract way can make use of many types of media, and the method usually uses wide brushes to apply the wax and build it up in layers. This type of encaustic art is in my opinion the one that allows the most creativity due to the endless tools and materials you can use to achieve different artistic effects, and also the fact that it’s quite a new way of using wax means that everyone is kind of entering blind and working out what works for themselves. This leads to lots of invention and original ideas which is exciting :)
Or of course you can mix elements of all styles together; encaustic painting is a craft which doesn’t have many rules or guidelines so is totally open to experimentation. Put your own spin on the art and don’t be afraid to try new ideas!
Photograph by Enchiladaplate.
F i n d E n c a u s t i c K i t s o n A m a z o n :
Photo and art by LethaColleen.
What You Need:
The Essential Tools & Materials List
- Board: The surface onto which you paint must be hard and absorbent. There are boards on the market which are specialised encaustic boards, but you can also use regular wood as long as it has no surface treatments or finishes already applied. Plywood is a popular choice because it's light in colour. Other materials that are possible to use include clay board, plaster, masonite panels, and stretched canvas (as long as it's stretched over something rigid).
You will need to prepare the board before you start (don't worry it's very easy!) so that the wax looks the best it can look when applied onto the surface. For this task you will require a heat gun. This process is called 'priming' and involves simply adding a very smooth layer of beeswax to the surface. First of all the board is heated with the heat gun and wax is brushed all over. The heat gun is then used to 'fuse' the wax, which means that the wax is melted again so it runs together and forms one even layer.
'Fusing' is necessary between all layers of wax in order to make sure they are bonded together.
Another way of priming a surface is to use encaustic 'gesso', which I have written about a little bit further down this page.
- Wax: Refined beeswax is usually used as encaustic wax because it doesn't go yellow. If you like the yellow look there is natural beeswax that you can use instead. Any wax called encaustic medium (which is a mix of beeswax and damar resin) or is labelled for use with this type of art is obviously available for you to use too. Don't worry too much when you're a beginner; just buy what you fancy (or is cheapest!) and then if you get into this hobby you can experiment with other types later.
The wax starts life as a transparent colour, either clear or in a shade of yellow, and pigments are then added in order to colour them. The pigment is added to a base of encaustic medium and then mixed in, and if you do this colour-mixing yourself you have the freedom to choose exactly the shade/colour of wax you want. However it is the more difficult option so if you're a beginner I would recommend just buying pre-coloured wax blocks, at least to start with.
Tip: Thicker layers of wax = more opaque colour.
- Brushes: Synthetic bristles can melt so natural bristles are what you need. You don't need to wash them, just keep them in their designated paint pots; you don't want one brush to be going from one pot to the other because you'll contaminate the other colours.
- Palette: Obviously the wax needs to be melted and remain melted so that you can work with it. This requires a heat source underneath your wax. What normally is used (as you can see in one of the photos on this page) is an array of metal tins/cans - one for each colour of wax - sat on top of a metal plate which is heated. There are specialised plates you can buy for this purpose, but it's also possible to use cooking griddles (with a flat surface) too. The wax ideally needs to be 104 °C, so a heat gauge is needed to monitor the temperature of the plate too.
Other tools and materials: This is where you can add your own unique designs, patterns and techniques. A lot of people make use of pottery tools and all sorts of cutting blades, from razor blades to lino cutters, and from knives to carvers to cut out patterns and textures. You can use pretty much anything you can think of really! There aren't any rules for what you can experiment with so have a look around your home for things you think you could use to add designs to the wax. Stencils are another popular tool for adding patterns, and various heating tools can create interesting effects too.
With regards to materials, there are lots of artist mediums (such as pastels and charcoal) you can incorporate in your art, plus you can embed various papers, ephemera and embellishments too. I also love the look of photographs underneath clear wax.
Safety: You'll need ventilation where you are working, plus remember that most things you are working with are hot so just be careful, and make sure there isn't anything flammable around your work area!
Photograph of encaustic paint tins by LethaColleen.
Beginner Lessons, Information & Projects:
Great collection of tutorials including the very basics.
Using gesso as the primer rather than wax.
How to get a lovely smooth wax layer and buff to a shiny finish.
A very useful collection of encaustic painting how-tos.
A great (and inexpensive) beginner introduction to working with wax.
Recycle kid's crayons to make art.
Starter Info, Introductions & Workshops:
F i n d E n c a u s t i c W a x o n A m a z o n :
Wax is of course the most important ingredient in this craft. Below are options including clear and coloured waxes.
Clear encaustic medium is great for covering photographs and collages with, and it's also perfect for mixing with pigments to make your own colors. The other products are ready-made colors, in either opaque or translucent types.
Photo and art by Dewartist.
Ideas & Inspiration:
An encaustic art group where a couple of thousand artworks are available to browse.
Encaustic enthusiasts show their latest masterpieces.
Including many abstract examples.
A blog belonging to an encaustic artist which displays finished pieces.
Always a good place to find endless photos from around the web.
Glass isn't absorbent but this beautiful art shows you what can be achieved.
Amazing modern art made by carving into a huge number of layers.
Some Methods To Experiment With:
The photo below shows a 2nd century painting called 'Portrait of a Boy', seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC.
This is a very old example of encaustic art on a wood base, which shows the age of this art form.
Photograph by Jorge Elías.
F i n d E n c a u s t i c B o a r d o n A m a z o n :
More Fun Techniques To Try:
As mentioned above, the board or other surface you are going to paint wax onto will need to be primed before you start. Usually this is done with a very smooth layer of wax which is fused to the surface, but using encaustic gesso is an alternative.
Gesso is used like a paint and is applied with a brush to prime a surface. Gesso is normally white in color and needs to be brushed all over the surface to make it more absorbent as well as easier for paints and other media to adhere to.
Gesso is the best choice to use as a primer for encaustic painting if you intend to add your own art in acrylic/oil/gouache/watercolor paints, charcoals, pastels or other media before adding wax on top.
Photograph by Cynthia.
I love the idea of embedding ferns and lavender in the wax.
Creative Method Ideas:
How to embed collage papers and other objects.
Tips on adding photocopied images to your art.
Beautiful monoprints made with glass and paper.
A technique used to create outlines and details within the wax.
Examples include embedding coffee grounds, pebbles and collage papers into wax.
F i n d H e a t T o o l s o n A m a z o n :
Irons and heat tools offer a world of effects for you to try out on your art, whilst heat guns are pretty essential for fusing wax layers together and for general wax-melting purposes. And a thermometer keeps you from overheating your wax, which can easily ruin it.
Image by Wes Lindberg.
This picture shows photographs being covered with a layer of clear wax, which protects them from the atmosphere/air, and can give them a lovely dreamy look.
A Few More Technique Ideas:
Here are 3 techniques to give you examples of what can be achieved:
1) Lino cutters: Once you have built up your wax layer, you can carefully cut out lines with a v-shaped (or u-shaped) lino cutter to leave a mini valley in your work. You can then fill this recess with another colour of wax (then scrape away the excess) to get a solid line in your work, which would be great for outlines and any design you want to stand out.
2) Disappearing tissue paper: Once clear wax is added on top of thin (white) tissue paper, the paper pretty much disappears. This technique is therefore great for adding hand-drawn designs to encaustic art, because you can simply draw onto the tissue paper, lay the paper on your board or on a previous wax layer, and then add clear wax on top to embed the drawings. You can create a background or centrepiece from your illustrations using this process.
3) Scraping away layers: Build up about 6 or so layers of wax - all in different colours - and then use a scraping tool (e.g. a razor blade) to randomly scrape away wax to uncover the colours hidden below. Very effective for getting a multi-coloured pattern.
Photo and art by James Green.
F i n d B e a u t i f u l E n c a u s t i c B o o k s o n A m a z o n :
Books by encaustic painting experts will always be an excellent resource for beginners and hobbyists who want to learn the best advice and be inspired by awesome ideas.
Video Tutorials and Demos Using
Hot Irons & Styluses:
I hope you have found this page informative, and I hope it inspires you to give this awesome art technique a try!