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.
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.
Macon, GA artist Micah Goguen will be participating in the LeMoyne Chain of Parks Art Festival in Tallahassee, FL on April 16-17. He’ll be demonstrating acrylic ink on Aquabord, using it as watercolor, as well as showing other work. The event attracts over 150 artists from around the country to display and sell their works. Jivan Lee opened at the LewAllen Galleries in Santa Fe, NM last week. The show has around 35 paintings, from as small as 9″ x 12″ to as large as 48″ x 120″. Jivan works in oil on Gessobord with landscapes as his primary subject matter.
There is always a lot going on with Ampersand artists including exhibitions, workshops, festivals and new art techniques. If you have a workshop coming up or an event you’d like us to share, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. All things Ampersand,
Artist & Social Media Specialist
Ampersand Art Supply
Click here to explore the full selection of Ampersand panels and tools.
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.
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.