The first step to painting with encaustic is melting the paint. At room temperature encaustic paint is a solid. When heated it becomes a workable liquid. In this liquid state it can be applied to the surface with brushes, but you can also get paint on the surface by pouring, dipping or using heated tools. Here are some basic tips for painting with encaustic:
Make sure your temperature is between 180-200°F and you have your surface thermometer on your palette.
Select the colors you will be using and decide if you want to melt paint directly on your palette or in palette cups.
Decide which brushes you would like to use and arrange them on or next to your palette. You will notice that it is necessary to keep your brushes warm so that they remain soft and ready to use; pausing with your brush will cool and harden the paint. The types of brushes you use will affect the way you apply the paint to the surface; a soft hake brush will leave almost no brushstrokes while a bristle brush will.
If you apply warm paint to a warm panel the paint will flow more readily onto the board, while if you apply warm paint to a cool panel the paint will cool quickly and create texture.
It is helpful to heat your support directly on your palette or with the use of a heat gun. If you skip this step the paint will cool very quickly and you will have short brushstrokes.
You can come back to a painting at any time to rework it with the addition of heat.
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.
“Good materials are crucial for good art – not only for the in-the-moment experience, but also for the legacy of the work. Much of my work has been collected by museums and corporations and residential clients, and so I feel good that I use the best of everything. I am a very loyal customer of R & F Handmade Paints, the pioneer in encaustics and oil pigment sticks, and now a partner with Ampersand Panels for their Encausticbord.” ~Leslie Neumann
photography by George Blanchette
Florida artist Leslie Neumann, knew as a young child she was an artist, remembering drawing when she was two and three. During her freshmen college year, in the midst of family tragedy when she lost her only sibling in an automobile accident, she found herself committing to fine art full time. Reinventing herself, she transferred to the California College of Art to receive her BFA and later moved to NYU for her MFA. After years of living and teaching in New York, St. John’s University in Queens, Leslie moved to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida to work full time as a painter and active environmentalist.
Installation at Firebirds, photo by Nancy Rankin
Leslie’s love of landscape came with her move to Florida. The figurative work faded away as the lush Florida vegetation and native bold colors caught her attention. “I never gave myself permission to distort the figure- as did Francis Bacon or Willem DeKooning or Pablo Picasso, although they were my favorites, but I have no problem painting the landscape on my own terms. While my landscapes are representative to a degree, they are quite abstract. Paint is always the first and foremost consideration, not depicting something accurately,” Leslie explains. “In the last decade, I have added a cosmic dimension to my landscape-esque work. It seems natural to me to be thoroughly immersed in the hot, primitive wetlands- and then to drift effortlessly up into the nether regions of space, where we are released from time and gravity.” Leslie began her journey as an oil painter, but found that her large impasto passages took years to dry. In 1989 a friend gave her “some wax” to try and she never looked back. The combination of the oils and wax gives her the impasto she likes along with the atmospheric and diaphanous look of the oil sticks. She explains further, “I also love how you simply cannot predict what will happen with wax. You put it down, but then when you heat it up to bond it to the surface of your substrate – anything can- and does happen. You must be fully present when you work with wax, not just for the fire and safety aspect, but because you’re making seat-of-the-pants decisions second by second. I love the surprises. I swear that half of what I end up with is a gift that comes from the materials!”
photography by George Blanchette
Besides the numerous corporate and private collections around the country, Leslie’s work can be found in Firebird restaurants around the country as she was commissioned from the national chain’s opening to create original work for each location. You can also find Leslie online at her website, to see more of her collection and videos of her philosophy. 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.
1. No preparation needed in order to start with Encaustics. If you’re looking to try encaustics or need a dependable, solid panel for your artwork, look no further. 2. Wide open to accept any type of ground: glue size, acrylic gesso, and oil-based or alkyd primeres. Raw wood panels should be sealed first, however, before applying any ground to preevent support induced discoloration. 3. Free of seams, large knots and raised fibers. Each panel is selected from the finest premium basswood. 4. Smooth finish with limited wood grain, sanded to perfection. 5. Available in sizes up to 18″ x 24″ and in two profiles 7/8 in and 1.5 in. 6. Great for mounting canvas, paper, giclees. The smooth finish is perfect for mounting other art, prints or canvas and readily accepts most adhesives. 7. Ideal for intricate wood engraving, mixed media, painting, altered art and more. 8. Superior dimension stability sturdy 4 mm plywood with solid pine cradles outperforms all other brands of plywood panel. 9. Easy to hang and frame! Attach hanging hardware and you’re ready to go! For ideas on how to treat the edes of the cradle, consult this article on hanging and framing. 10. Like all Ampersand products, the Unprimed Basswood is fully tested for durability and also for best performance with artists’ 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.
Encaustic Transfers Encaustic image transfer is the transference of a printed or drawn image onto wax. The adhesive properties of wax allow images to be transferred; a burnisher or spoon is the only tool necessary for transferring onto wax. Black and white and colored photocopies and some computer ink jet and laser prints (all of which can be enlarged or reduced), carbon and graphite paper, graphite, charcoal, pastel, and oil drawings, colored transfer tape/book embossing tape, press type, and images transferred onto waxed paper can all be transferred onto wax. The best method for transferring is to place the print or drawing face down onto a smooth, flat waxed surface that has been fused within the last half hour. The wax surface can be either encaustic medium or the pigmented paint. A smooth surface works best, as a textured surface will not pick up all the details of the image. Using the etching burnisher with pressure, rub in an overlapping circular manner the entire back of the image. This makes the image transfer from the paper to the tacky wax. If you are transferring from carbon paper or transfer tape, use a rounded tip (ball point) pen to avoid tearing the paper or tape. Certain copy machines make prints that are harder to transfer than others (the best machines are those in which the heat-setting device is broken or older machines in which the toner is less permanent or does not penetrate into the paper). If the image does not transfer after the burnishing step, wet the back of the paper and continue to burnish. Pull off the paper, if it sticks, dab on more water and gently rub/roll the paper off. A small amount of paper stuck to the surface will not matter since the next step involves fusing which will transparentize any paper that remains. A light fusing should be done so that the wax encapsulates the transferred image. Allow the surface to cool. Keep in mind that the image will be delicate because it is close to the surface. It can be left this way or, apply a thin layer of medium over it to make it less vulnerable. A heavy fusing will cause the image to break up, and may leave an interesting effect. ~from the Encaustic Resource Center on R+F Handmade Paints
Click here to explore the full selection of Ampersand panels and tools.