Beautiful effects can be achieved when combing oil paints with encaustic. Oil can give to encaustic greater fluidity, color diffusion, and in some techniques, precision. Encaustic gives to the oil immediate “drying” time, the muted or gloss surface effects of wax, and greater textural variety. But is this combination structurally sound? It can be, but it is important to understand the ways in which a wax paint and an oil paint are and aren’t compatible. Chemically, oil and wax are “cousins.” If oil is stirred into melted wax, the two will readily combine. In this mixture the balance of oil with wax should be seen as a continuum. At one end of the continuum wax is added to oil to give the paint more body, but the properties and requirements of oil predominate. The paint film will still be flexible, but it will have to go through a drying phase before it sets up and becomes permanent — in fact, the wax itself will somewhat retard the drying of the oil since it has no drying properties of its own.
At the other end of the continuum oil is added to wax, and the properties and requirements of wax predominate. The oil, however, lowers the wax’s melting temperature and makes it less hard. Artists who make their own encaustic often do so by adding tube oils to melted wax. This dilutes the strength of the pigment, resulting in a more subdued waxy finish. As long as too much oil is not added the paint film will still be hard, and it will set up and become permanent on cooling.There is a danger, archivally, in making a mixture of oil and wax that is too close to the center of this continuum, in other words, where the amount of oil and the amount of wax are equal. At that point the binding and the adhesive properties of both wax and oil are so compromised that the film they form is very unstable, since it is not able to either dry or harden. Our Pigment Sticks are a very good example of a wax in oil paint. Because they are in stick form, they may seem to have a lot of wax. Actually they have very little wax — less than 15% of the stick is wax. When molten wax cools, it retains the continuity it had in its liquid state and forms a uniform structure, binding the oil within it. But this wax structure is very weak, and the instant the stick is crushed by drawing it over a surface, the wax structure breaks down and becomes absorbed into the oil. Further manipulation with fingers, knife, or brush turns the consistency into that of a buttery oil paint. This information was pulled from the resources on the R+F Handmade Paints website. For more great resources about encaustic: More Resources on Encaustics from R+F Handmade Paints Encaustic Workshops at R+F Handmade Paints All things Ampersand, Karyn Meyer-Berthel Artist & Social Media Specialist Ampersand Art Supply Click here to explore the full selection of Ampersand panels and tools.
Where does Encaustic Wax come from and how is it standardized for artist use? Beeswax is secreted by wax glands in the bee’s abdominal area and used to create the honeycombs of the hive. Pure beeswax is composed solely of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Its natural color when it is secreted is white. When beeswax is harvested from the hive it is often contaminated with impurities, which discolor it. At this stage it is called unrefined or crude beeswax. Unrefined or crude beeswax is colored in a range of earthy hues from yellow to black. This coloration is caused by pollen, propolis (resin), and dirt. If you use unrefined wax for its color, it is important not to assume that the color is permanent because the color is organic matter, which is not necessarily stable in light and is subject to fading, darkening, or a color shift. These are reasons why you would most likely want to use decolorized, white beeswax for encaustic. You may wonder how does the wax get whitened? Artist manufacturers avoid the term ”bleached beeswax” because it implies the use of chemical bleaches. But the wax industry uses the term for the mechanical as well as the chemical methods of decolorizing beeswax. Chemical bleaching is not the best choice for artists for two reasons. For one, chemical bleaching (which uses either potassium permangenate & phosphoric acid or sulfuric acid or various peroxides) does not always mean removing the colorant. In many cases it simply masks it. It is often used to whiten colorants that non-chemical bleaching can’t, but these colorants can later return to their original color. Furthermore, chemical bleaching can be harsh on the wax, creating free fatty acids and making the wax more reactive to pigments and pollutants.
Sun bleaching exposes the wax to the ultraviolet light of the sun, which breaks down the colorants. This is a gentle and effective method of decolorizing the wax. The process, however, is expensive on an industrial scale because it requires so much space, but it is also the most accessible method for artists who want to bleach their own wax on a small scale. Filtration is a process in which the wax is forced under high pressure through filters of activated carbon and clay that absorb the colorants and take out all foreign matter. Filtration is preferable to chemical bleaching because it maintains the structural integrity of the wax. It is also, in the long run, the least expensive and the most practical of the three methods. It is the best choice for artist material. Pharmaceutical grade beeswax is a standard set by the government that certifies that the wax meets certain chemical requirements and that it is pure beeswax. The chemical standards (such as its ability to be saponified) are of importance to the cosmetic and pharmaceutical use of beeswax. For the artist, the real importance of pharmaceutical grade beeswax is that it is a guarantee that the beeswax has not been adulterated with other waxes (such as paraffin or microcrystalline), rosins, stearic acid, or tallow. However, the term pharmaceutical grade does not refer to the method by which it has been decolorized. Artists should seek out wax that is both guaranteed 100% beeswax and filtered or sun bleached. And, in case you’re wondering, R&F uses only pharmaceutical grade filtered beeswax. Taken from the Encaustic Resource Center and written by R&F Handmade Paints. Click here to explore the full selection of Ampersand panels and tools.