About Encaustic Art

What is Encaustic Art?

The word encaustic derives from the Greek word (enkaustikos) meaning “to heat or burn in." Heat is used throughout the process, from melting the beeswax, mixing the wax with oil paint or pigments for desired colors, then fusing the layers of wax onto boards. Encaustic consists of natural beeswax that may be used alone for its transparency or used with pigments and sometimes damar resin, to harden the wax. The beeswax is melted at a low temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit, colored as desired, and then applied with a brush or other tool. Each layer is then reheated to fuse it to the previous layer. Often layers are then scraped to reveal those underneath. 

History of Encaustic

Encaustic painting is an ancient technique, dating back to the Greeks, who used wax to caulk ship hulls. Pigmenting the wax gave rise to the decorating of warships. Encaustic on ship panels gave pigment strong color and relief and held up in the water and moisture.  

One of the best known encaustic works are the Fayum funeral portraits painted in the 1st through 3rd centuries A.D. by Greek painters in Egypt. A portrait of the deceased painted either in the prime of life or after death, was placed over the person’s mummy as a memorial. These are the only surviving encaustic works from ancient times. The color pigment and crispness still remains due to the wax's protection.

Encaustic Fayum burial portrait

How to Care for Encaustic Art

Encaustic paintings are archival and should be handled with care. Paintings should be left out of direct sunlight and kept between 50 degrees and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Don't leave paintings in a warm vehicle more than a few minutes.  

Some encaustic colors tend to “bloom” or become cloudy over time. To bring more light into your painting, rub the surface gently with a cotton cloth or microfiber every month or two. Over time the surface retains its gloss as the wax continues to cure.

 

Text modified from Encaustic Art Institute

 © 2019 by Lauren Loden. 

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