A Day in the Life Of an Artist

Painting with Encaustics

So, I have to admit, I am an art material junkie. I recently really tried to clear down my materials to just what I was using but after going to a workshop at Maine Craft weekend at Haystack School of Crafts in Mid May, I was reinspired to get the materials that I needed to do some encaustic painting!. Encaustic paintings have been found surviving through the centuries in early civilizations, such as Greece and Egypt. They were used to create the painted faces on the mummified remains of our early ancestors! Here’s whats so cool about them. They use natural materials of beeswax and damar varnish crystals, a tree resin, to make something that can last for centuries!!

So here is what you need to start. Beeswax. Buy the natural stuff. Some of it out there contains chemicals or God knows what so I like to support local beekeepers. Then add Damar Varnish crystals and the ratio is about 8 parts beeswax to one part varnish crystals. Then you need an old electric fry pan with a temperature gauge for melting the wax and varnish. The varnish takes a while and needs a stir occasionally to break up it’s stringy self. If your wax and varnish is full of debris you will need to strain the melted liquid through cheesecloth. I don’t do this unless theres junk in it.

Then you need some muffin tins, one for pouring the melted wax into without color and one for adding pigment to the wax. I use old tubes of my drying out oil paint, just a little dab will color the muffin tin. Its good to have a bit of a plan of what you will be painting so you know what colors to mix, or just do a rainbow of colors so you have those options. You also can use cheap oil pastels and melt for color.

You need to buy some nice masonite boards cut in your sizes. I find the local lumber supplier have been kind to cut even the smallest sizes out of a 4 x 8 foot board. Thats as many panels as you may ever need!

You can prime the panels with an encaustic gesso or just prepare the with the natural wax. Encaustics are really about layering and layering. Now you need a heat source. You can use a heat gun but be careful! You can also use a blow torch, even more dangerous but if you know how to use it. Even a cooking torch can be effective. The point is to carefully heat up the wax each time you apply it to the board so that it fuses with the previous layer.

There are many fun techniques that can be incorporated. I have used sewing notions, made encaustic paintings out of old book covers, over photographs, carve into, take away from, use black paint to cover after you have incised with lines ( and remove the extra paint with mineral oil. Shellac burning is cool and I have recently been experimenting with alcohol inks. Check out You Tube videos and Pinterest,etc. for ideas!!

A note here. Use ventilation and gloves. Heated pigments are sometimes toxic and so are they if you get them into your skin. I am including a few pieces. I welcome questions if you want to try it, It is really, really fun and also helps towards supporting our beekeepers who are working to “SAVE THE BEES!”

Kat Logan