What is Encaustic?
Encaustic is a Greek word meaning “to heat or burn in” (enkaustikos). Heat is used throughout the process, from melting the beeswax and varnish to fusing the layers of wax. Encaustic medium consists of natural bees wax and dammar resin (crystallized tree sap). The medium can be used alone for its transparency and adhesive qualities or may be pigmented with dry pigments, oil paint or encaustic paints. R&F is a highly respected resource for all encaustic supplies, including these pigments and paints. The medium is melted and applied with a brush or any tool the artist wishes to create from. Each layer is then reheated to fuse it to the previous layer.
Care of Encaustic Art
These paintings are extremely archival, but as with any fine art, care should be given to them. The wax and resin medium will not melt unless exposed to temperatures over 150 degrees Fahrenheit. However, hanging art in direct sun or near a hot appliance, such as an oven or stove, or leaving artwork in a hot car, is not advisable. Encaustic art is also sensitive to extreme cold conditions, as it makes it brittle. Normal household temperatures are very safe for encaustic art.
Because of its water resistant quality, encaustic pieces make excellent bathroom art.
Some encaustic colors tend to “bloom” or become cloudy as they age. If your painting appears indistinct, or hazy, simply buff the surface with a soft clean dry cloth. Over time the surface retains its gloss as the wax medium continues to cure and harden for up to 1-3 years.
Lastly, be careful of the corners, as the wax can chip. Like any fine art, treat it with kindness.
History of Encaustic
Encaustic painting is an ancient technique, dating back to the Greeks, who used wax to caulk ship hulls. Pigmenting the wax gave rise to the decorating of warships. The use of encaustic on panels rivaled the use of tempera in what are the earliest known portable easel paintings. Tempera was a faster, cheaper process. Encaustic was a slow, difficult technique, but the paint could be built up in relief, and the wax gave a rich optical effect to the pigment.
These characteristics made the finished work startlingly life-like. Moreover, encaustic had far greater durability than tempera, which was vulnerable to moisture. Perhaps the best known of all encaustic work are the Fayum funeral portraits painted in the 1st through 3rd centuries A.D. by Greek painters in Egypt. 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. These are the only surviving encaustic works from ancient times. It is notable how fresh the color has remained due to the protection of the wax.