Encaustic FAQs

With a nod to my information technology past, below are Frequently Asked Questions related to my encaustics:

  1. What are encaustics?
  2. Won’t it melt?
  3. It needs to be transported somewhere. How should it be protected/wrapped?
  4. Why isn’t it as shiny as it used to be? / How do I care for my encaustic?
  5. How do you create these?

What are encaustics?

Encaustics are paintings with the primary medium being beeswax hardened with damar resin. This is a medium dating back to the ancient Egyptians which found revival in the mid-1900’s with artists like Jasper Johns and Diego Rivera. Encaustic is one of the oldest and most archival of all paint mediums. The care of it is not very different than that of any oil painting.

Won’t it melt?

Damar resin, and in my case Carnauba wax, are added to filtered beeswax to significantly raise the melting temperature to upwards of 170 degrees. I tell people that if your house is 170 degrees you have more serious problems than a melting encaustic.

That said, one should follow some standard precautions:
— Like your children, do not leave encaustics inside your car in hot weather;
— Like other artwork it is recommended to keep them out of direct sunlight.

I have exhibited my encaustics outdoors in the 100 degree heat. At these temperatures one should be a little cautious of its handling as the medium will soften a tad. Don’t try to smush your thumb down on it as it can leave an impression.

It needs to be transported somewhere.  How should it be protected/wrapped?

First cover the surface with glassine paper or silicone coated parchment paper and then wrap in bubble wrap with the smooth side of the bubble wrap facing the painting. From there treat it as any other artwork, deciding whether to risk using sturdy cardboard boxes versus hard-sided containers.

You can find silicone coated parchment paper in your grocery store next to the aluminum foil. This layer is to guard against an environment that may get toasty such to soften the wax to where it may get impressions from the bubble wrap.

Due to the risk of encaustics cracking in too cold temperatures and melting in too hot conditions I advise against shipping while the forecast dips below freezing or rises above 90 degrees F during the transit period. Unless the transport is temperature controlled at all times.

Why isn’t it as shiny as it used to be?
How do I care for my encaustic?

I typically buff my finished pieces to a high sheen.  Particularly in the first 6 to 12 months the surface may appear to become duller or even dusty.  This is a normal part of the encaustic curing process called blooming.  Simply go over the surface with a soft, lint-free cloth to restore the high sheen.  I use a white cotton undershirt; pantyhose also work quite well.

How do you create these?

I make my own encaustic medium by melting together beeswax, damar resin, and carnauba wax.  I add oil paint or pigment powers to make the colored medium, and I also use pigment sticks for color.

I use a pancake griddle to keep the medium melted, and apply to birch plywood layer after layer, fusing each together with either a blow torch or heat gun.

Image transfers are done by printing out images from my computer onto non-stick transfer paper and then burnishing into the painting surface.