Derived from the Greek word, enkaustikos, which means, “to burn in,” the ancient medium of encaustic is composed of beeswax and tree sap. Painting generally in layers, heat, a necessary tool, is used to fuse the layers of wax together. Encaustic dates back to 800 B.C. when the hulls of Greek warships were painted using this process, and in 200 A.D. Egyptian funerary portraits employed the encaustic technique, as well. These paintings were later found nestled in ancient tombs, perfectly preserved. Impervious to water, unaffected by mildew, and a natural preservative, beeswax is one of the most naturally archival compounds in the natural world. The Egyptian portraits can be found today in museums across the world. At present, encaustic painting has emerged as an honored medium, continuing to fascinate and enthuse.
Today’s encaustic medium commonly consists of three parts: beeswax, damar resin, and pigment. There are various recipes in use, but these ingredients are the backbone of the medium, while heat is what holds an encaustic painting together. Rigid surfaces may be layered with wax, but each layer must be fused (with heat) to subsequent layers beneath. This process creates the integral encaustic painting. A heat gun, blowtorch, and iron are all acceptable sources of heat in order to fuse the layers of wax together. Damar resin is added to increase the melting temperature of the wax, as well as the workability, and pigments may be added to various degrees, resulting in both translucent and opaque colors. Metal tools and special brushes may be engaged to carve, sculpt, or remove the wax at various stages as it cools and hardens. The addition of mixed media, collage elements, and text may further shape the work by bringing about a rich complexity and physical depth.
The physical properties of beeswax reflect light. Deep within the layers of the wax, these light-reflecting properties create a luminous glow that is unequaled in encounter. The encaustic finish may be buffed to a shine, as the resin within increases the durability of the finish and lends a glossy shine to a completed work. In their young life, encaustic paintings encounter what is known as “bloom” – a hazy, dust-like appearance. Paintings should be gently buffed with a soft, lint-free cloth, to return the shine to the painting. As the painting cures, it will retain its finish and need to be buffed less frequently. When cared for correctly, encaustic paintings have the archival ability to last for thousands of years, as proven by the historic artifacts of the Greeks and Egyptians.
Do not copy or repost without permission | © Natalie Salminen Rude 2016