Guide Encaustic Materials Handbook

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Metal tools and special brushes can be used to shape the paint before it cools, or heated metal tools can be used to manipulate the wax once it has cooled onto the surface. Today, tools such as heat lamps, heat guns, and other methods of applying heat allow artists to extend the amount of time they have to work with the material.

Alexandre MASINO

Because wax is used as the pigment binder, encaustics can be sculpted as well as painted. Other materials can be encased or collage d into the surface, or layered, using the encaustic medium to adhere it to the surface. This technique was notably used in the Fayum mummy portraits from Egypt around CE , in the Blachernitissa and other early icons, as well as in many works of 20th-century American artists , including Jasper Johns.

Kut-kut, a lost art of the Philippines implements sgraffito and encaustic techniques. It was practiced by the indigenous tribe of Samar island around to Encaustic art has seen a resurgence in popularity since the s with people using electric irons, hotplates and heated stylus on a variety of different surfaces including card, paper and even pottery. The iron makes producing a variety of artistic patterns elementary. Heat must be applied between paint layers in order to make sure that all the layers are melted together creating a solid block of wax that is mechanically bond to the panel.

New! Mixed Media & Photo Transfers on Encaustic Fabric!

In order to finish a piece, the final stage is "burning in" which consists of passing a heat source over the entire surface to make sure that the different layers of wax are fused together and bond to the support. The surface may then be polished with a soft shoe brush enhancing its gloss. This method is the "classic way", yet today there are numerous other working approaches as well as many different waxes used such as microcrystaline.

Over the last 50 years, encaustic has gained popularity as a creative alternative to oil and acrylic paints.

What has particularly attracted painters, whatever style they are using, is the spontaneity and variety with which it can be used. Encaustic paint cools instantly, which means additional layers can be added immediately.


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Once the surface has cooled, the paint has reached a permanent finish. But the painting can also be revisited and reworked at any time whether seconds or years later. Over time, it will retain all the freshness of a newly finished work. Most of our knowledge of this early use comes from the Roman historian Pliny the Elder, who wrote in the 1st century A.

What is Encaustic Painting?

Pliny seems to have had very little direct knowledge about studio methods, so his account of techniques and materials is sketchy. According to Pliny, encaustic was used in a variety of applications: the painting of portraits and scenes of mythology on panels, the coloring of marble and terra cotta, and work on ivory probably the tinting of incised lines.

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Wax is an excellent preservative of materials. It was from this use that the art of encaustic painting developed. The Greeks applied coatings of wax and resin to weatherproof their ships.

Pigmenting the wax gave rise to the decorating of warships. Mention is even made by Homer of the painted ships of the Greek warriors who fought at Troy.


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The use of a rudimentary encaustic was therefore an ancient practice by the 5th century B. It is possible that at about that time the crude paint applied with tar brushes to the ships was refined for the art of painting on panels. Pliny mentions two artists who had in fact started out as ship painters. Perhaps the best known of all encaustic work are the Fayum funeral portraits painted in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.

A significant Greek population had settled in Egypt following its conquest by Alexander, eventually adopting the customs of the Egyptians. This included mummifying their dead. 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. Many of these pieces have survived to our own time, and their color has remained as fresh as any recently completed work.

In the great period of economic instability that followed the decline of the Roman empire, encaustic fell into disuse. Some work, particularly the painting of icons, was carried on as late as the 12th century, but for the most part it became a lost art. The process was cumbersome and painstaking, and the cost of producing it was high. It was replaced by tempera, which was cheaper, faster, and easier to work.

In the 18th century the idea of encaustic painting was revived, initially by amateurs as a novelty to rediscover the techniques of the ancient painters. It was further explored in the 19th century, to solve the problem of dampness faced by mural painters in northern climates. The success of these efforts was limited, and encaustic remained an obscure art form.