What is Encaustic?

Q- In simplest terms, what exactly is encaustic?

The medium is Wax and pigment. More specifically, Dianna uses a mix of archival bleached bees wax, mixed with 5% damar resin. The additive tempers the wax making it more durable. (This procedure needs to be done at 121-149 Celsius (250-300F)

Q- What is the supporting surface for the painting?

Dianna uses a fine-grained, natural wood surface- usually birch or poplar and encaustic board. For smaller work she uses, cabinet-grade plywood, ceramic tiles and encaustic paper mounted on core board for stability. Dianna also works on paper and mat board, combining drawing and encaustic.

Q –How is encaustic applied?

The mixture is heated to 105C (220 F) on a griddle. Using various sizes of natural   bristle brushes and other tools, such as heat gun, propane torch and loop tools are used to scrape into the surface to reveal layers of color.

(Remember it takes 71C (160F) to bring wax to a molten state.

Q- How workable is the medium?

The artist has only about three seconds to work before the wax set up. Often there is time for one brush stroke – no more than three – before the brush must be returned to the hot wax to be reheated and recharged.

 Q-Why use encaustic? Wouldn’t oil paint work just as well?

Encaustic creates a different result. In layering the wax the artist can take advantage of the fact that its unique translucent character allows light to penetrate to the wood and then bounce back – giving the impression that the painting is lit from the inside.

 Q –What is the History of encaustic painting?

” Encaustikos” is of Greek origin- a medium in use for more than 2000 years. The famous funeral portraits from Fayum in Egypt and wall paintings from Pompeii are some of the more famous examples of the use of encaustic in the ancient world. Encaustic does require special skills on the part of the artist. And working with molten wax adds a dimension of danger. Using oil or acrylic is easier and safer, but encaustic is just as resilient over time.

Q. So will it melt?

There should be no fear of the work melting in normal household conditions. Encaustic paintings are durable and archival. They will thrive in temperatures between 1 Celsius to 51celsius (35 to 125 degrees F)

Q.  So the medium has lasting qualities?      

Yes, only in the same that any work of art must be handled with a certain amount of respect.
And No Art should be hung in the sun! Indirect sunlight or bright, white lighting is desirable and will bring out the luminescent quality imparted by the wax medium.

Q.    Does it require special care?

 An encaustic painting may develop a film on the surface for the first six to twelve months as the wax cures.  This is a natural process called “Bloom” and is easily removed, along with shallow scratches, by wiping the surface with a soft cloth.

Q.   What is Bloom? 

 Bloom is a film of whitish dust that sometimes appears on the surface of an encaustic painting. Bloom is the result of a chemical reaction within the wax. Dusting the painting surface with a soft brush and buffing it with a soft cloth periodically will maintain the unique patina of the wax.  Do not be alarmed, this process may take 1 – 3 years.

Interesting Facts

Finally, answers to questions not asked – What about the Bees?

Honeybees are the only creatures that make beeswax. Two million flowers yield one pound of honey. Six to ten pounds of honey yields one pound of wax. Beeswax is clear white when secreted, but turns golden form pollen falling off bees moving over the wax. Beeswax is composed of ester, alcohols, hydrocarbons and acids.