Working with encaustic paint is one of the most fulfilling mediums. It’s the first medium that I literally have not been able to put down. I’m obsessed with this medium in all it's intricacies and I want to tell you why.
When I tell someone I am an artist, specifically a painter, the most common question I get asked is “What medium do I paint with?” When I answer “Encaustic”, 9 times out of 10, I get a confused look. Especially if speaking with another artists. Curious?
Here are 9 facts you probably didn’t know about encaustic painting.
Encaustic is a Greek word meaning “to heat or burn in” (enkaustikos) and was used by Greek artists, which can be traced back as far back as the 5th century B.C. making it one of the oldest mediums still in use today.
- The Greeks first used encaustic medium (paint without pigment) as a caulk (joining material) between the boards on the hulls of boats as it is waterproof. When pigment was added this started the rise of decorating warships.
- Encaustic paint is made of beeswax, damar resin and pigment. Damar resin is crystallized tree sap and is one of the ingredients used to make varnish to seal oil paintings. It is the addition of damar resin that makes beeswax stable enough to paint with.
- Encaustic paint has to be heated to a liquid state to use. The melting point of encaustic is 150 degrees Fahrenheit. – Don’t worry, it won’t melt in your home on a warm sunny day!
- Varying temperatures are used to create different effects. For example, when I want to achieve a very smooth surface I keep my palette at 200 degrees Fahrenheit. If I am working with a technique called accretion (to build up) I keep my palette at 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Encaustic paint hardens within minutes; in addition to using a heated palette I also use a variety of heated tools to keep the paint in a liquid state as I work. My favorite tool is a blowtorch. In the studio, you will see me with a brush in one hand and a torch in the other.
- Encaustic paint is archival. Egyptian portraits dating back to 200 B.C. found in ancient tombs have not been affected by water or mildew and can be viewed in museums worldwide today.
- Encaustic is an extremely versatile medium; there are endless possibilities with it. A few of the many techniques are collage, accretion, ink transfer, photo encaustic, incising, printmaking and sculpture.
- The beeswax that I use as a base for encaustic medium does not harm the bees and would be wasted if not gathered. The wax serves to cap the little hexagons of honey stored in honeycombs; left undisturbed, bees tunnel through it in winter and discard the wax as hive trash.
Learn more about this beautiful medium and see some of my prints and originals at heatherjoymiller.com.