What Is Encaustic?
Encaustic is a Greek word meaning “to heat or burn in.” Heat is used throughout the process, from melting the beeswax to fusing the layers of wax. Encaustic consists of natural beeswax and damar resin (crystallized tree sap). The medium can be used alone for its transparency or adhesive qualities or used pigmented. Pigments may be added to the medium, or purchased colored with traditional artist pigments. The medium is melted and applied with a brush or tool. Each layer is then reheated to fuse it to the previous layer.
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. Perhaps the best known of all encaustic work 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.
Care of Encaustic Paintings
Encaustic paintings are durable and archival. As with most paintings, they should not be exposed to direct sunlight or extreme temperatures. They will thrive in temperatures between 35-125 degrees F. Paintings should NOT be left in direct sunlight or a hot car. Special packaging is necessary for shipping. Indirect sunlight or bright, white lighting is desirable and will bring out the luminescent quality imparted by the wax medium. 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. I recommend a clean, soft microfiber cloth or a Viva paper towel. Buffing it with a soft cloth periodically will maintain the unique patina of the wax.