cleaning the studio...

...and other adventures in art

People ask, so here it is: a short explanation of encaustic…

Encaustic has been around for centuries, and, with proper care, is considered to be one of the most stable mediums. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians used encaustic to waterproof and decorate their ships, and there are Greek funerary portraits dating back 2000 years that are well-preserved to this day.

At its most elemental, encaustic artworks are created with molten wax; the name is derived from the Greek word ‘enkaustikos’, meaning ‘to burn in’. The wax is often mixed with resin for durability. Pigment can be added to provide color to the translucent wax, and sometimes oil paints, paper and other collage materials are added as well.

An encaustic piece can be built up layer by layer, giving an intriguing depth to the finished piece. The encaustic surface can be incised, scratched and scraped, or left completely smooth. Encaustic has its own look that is difficult to convey in a photo, with an appealing surface quality and depth that that is unique to this medium.

Care of encaustic works:
  • As with any work of fine art, handle encaustic paintings with care: keep out of direct sunlight, avoid extreme temperatures, and keep away from heat sources.
  • When transporting, wrap in waxed paper, photo release paper or glassine.
  • If desired, the surface can occasionally be gently buffed to a lustrous finish using a soft, clean, cotton cloth. Bloom—a whitish haze—can occur on the surface of the wax and is removed with gentle buffing using a soft cloth.
  • Bloom is a normal chemical reaction within the wax, and will cease over time as the wax cures.
  • Protect the surface and edges to prevent chipping and scratching.
  • Framing behind glass is not recommended due to potential heat build-up. If you would like to frame your piece, a simple floating frame that protects the edges and extends slightly above the surface of the painting is preferable.

There is so much variety in what artists do with encaustic that I can’t begin to represent it here. There are many books out there showcasing encaustic artists and various techniques, including a beautiful new book by fellow Santa Cruz artist Daniella Woolf, Encaustic with a Textile Sensibility. In the studio, I often find myself referring to the classic, The Art of Encaustic Painting, by Joanne Mattera.

I learned encaustic by taking an intensive workshop put on by R&F Paints, manufacturer of encaustic supplies and the incredible oil paint sticks that I use in both my painting and encaustic practices.  Their website is a wealth of information if you are interested in learning more about encaustic.