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Basic Tips to Getting Started with Encaustic

Encaustic is a beeswax-based painting medium that is worked with heat. Painting with encaustic is a multi-step process.  First, the paint must be melted, or liquefied.  Next, the molten paint is applied to a porous surface. Then the applied wax is reheated, or fused into, the working surface, allowing it to form a good bond.  As a final option, the cooled paint can be buffed to bring up the luster of the wax and resin.

Basic Setup Suggestions:

•  You will need a clean level counter or worktable to put a heated palette on.  When setting up your worktable take into consideration the space that your palette will occupy and give yourself extra room for additional materials, like heat gun and works in progress.
•  You will want to make sure that your work area has proper ventilation. Exhaust fans in windows, cross-ventilation, or a studio ventilation system are all good options.  It is important that you have a source of fresh air in your workspace.  Though not unpleasant to smell, wax fumes should be treated like solvent fumes.  A well-placed window fan should be adequate for a small set-up. 
•   It will be imperative that you have adequate electrical outlets available for use. Consider that you will have a palette, possibly a heat gun and/or other tools that will require electricity and it will be helpful to position your workspace accordingly.
•  Keep in mind that anytime you use heated tools/equipment it is recommended that you have a burn kit and a fire extinguisher on-hand for safety purposes.   

Tools & Equipment:

  • Heated Palette: The heated palette is an essential tool to the encaustic artist.  It provides a surface to heat and mix encaustic paint and medium on. Less expensive alternatives to purchasing a custom palette include electric skillets, crock-pots or electric griddles. Regardless of the palette you select, it is important that it be equipped with temperature controls. 
  • Palette Surface Thermometer:  It is crucial to be able to monitor the surface temperature of your palette.  A surface thermometer can easily assist you in monitoring the temperature of your palette (the safe working temperature for encaustic paint ranges from 180-200°F). 
  • Fusing Tools:  As you apply layers of paint to your support you will want to fuse (or re-heat) each layer to ensure that it is adhered to your ground or substrate.  It is important to fuse between layers to prevent them from separating.  There are two methods for fusing; either indirect (heat gun, torches, light bulbs, or sunlight) or direct (tacking irons, spatulas, heated brushes, plaster tools, palette and paint knives, etc.) 
  • Brushes:  Use natural bristle brushes only;  synthetic brushes can burn and melt on the palette.
  • Mark Making Tools:  Any type of mark-making tool will work with encaustic paint.  We recommend etching, wood carving dental, sculpture, and clay working tools.
  • Supports: For best results, encaustic should be painted on a rigid, absorbent, and heat resistant surface.  Examples include: wood (maple or birch plywood), heavy watercolor or printmaking paper glued to board, or raw canvas glued to board (avoid pre-gessoed canvas boards).  Three-dimensional or sculptural work that is porous and rigid can also be used. Plaster, stone, wood, terra cotta, or cast paper are all acceptable surfaces to work on. (We here at Ampersand recommend Encausticbord as the best option as it is designed specifically for encaustic painting.)
  • Soy or Paraffin Wax:  There are two options for clean-up, either Soy or Paraffin wax.  We recommend using soy wax for clean-up because soybeans are a renewable resource, while paraffin is a petroleum based product.  An additional benefit to using soy wax is that it can be washed off with soap and water leaving brushes supple.
  • Palette Cups:  Great for keeping melted waxes separate on your palette.  R&F carries heavy aluminum and steel alloy rectangular palette cups in two sizes (sm/lg) to fit 40 ml and 104 ml cakes. 
  • Encaustic Paints: There really is no general recommendation for a starter palette of colors, since different artists have individual preferences, but we recommend that you choose a good balance of opaque and transparent colors.  Try starting with a red, yellow and blue, and build from there. 

For more information about Getting Started in Encaustic, check out the Encaustic Resource Center on R+F Handmade Paints website: www.rfpaints.com/resources/encaustic

This post taken from content on the R+F Handmade Paints website.

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One thought on “Basic Tips to Getting Started with Encaustic”

  1. Avatar Glenn R Carroll says:


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