Encaustic Technique

Introduction

What was once old is now new again.  Encaustic has its roots in 5th century B.C. and was originally practiced by Greek artists to paint portraits and decorate marble and terra cotta architectural elements.  Made popular in modern times by Jasper Johns, encaustic is a significant medium with staying power.

Artists are drawn to encaustic because of its versatility and spontaneity.  It is composed of molten beeswax and resin which are fused to a surface to create a lustrous enamel effect.  Encaustic paint cools immediately, requiring no drying time, but can be reheated, reshaped and reworked at anytime.  The optical effects of encaustic layering are unlike any other art form.

Collectors are drawn to the art form’s optical effects and incredible durability.  Since beeswax is impervious to moisture, an encaustic painting will not deteriorate, yellow or darken with age.  Encaustic paintings do not have to be varnished or protected by glass.  And eager viewers, drawn to physically touch the paintings to further comprehend the depth of its multiple layers, can do so without damaging them.

Basic Method

The paint is applied with a brush or spatula or poured or dripped onto a sturdy support — usually a board. It is easier to work horizontally, but working vertically can create a dripping effect. When the painting has cooled, it has reached its permanent state. No further work (other than a mild buffing) needs to be done. However, glazing, scumbling, repainting, texturing, or layering may be applied directly to the final surface, immediately or many years later, to enhance the painting. Work can be erased by simply scraping off the paint.

Creating Optical Effects

Variation in transparency can be achieved using encaustic medium and layering. Layers of extended color can be laid one on top of another or separated by layers of straight medium to create unusual translucent effects. Opaque colors used straight have total hiding power and bright top tones.

Glazing can greatly extend a color. Unlike adding large amounts of oil to oil paint, there is no technical danger in adding large amounts of medium to a color. The encaustic can also be made more fluid by adding medium or by raising its temperature slightly.

For variation in dimension and texture, different degrees of fusing can be employed. Well-fused paint will take a higher polish than paint that is not as thoroughly fused. The painting and fusing of encaustic is done with great precision.