What is Encaustic?

*私がアートに使っているエンコウスティックとは?(日本語) – In Japanese 

During my last show or in daily conversation with people I recently met, I was asked, “What is Encaustic?” It is more well known in some countries such as the U.S. and U.K. than others like Japan. I have many artworks of encaustic paintings or encaustic mixed media. Whether or not you are in the art field, the knowledge would not hurt. Your curiosity is welcome!  So, I am going to explain again.

If you read my previous posts, you may already know that I am an artist who has used encaustic for multiple years. I have many artworks of encaustic paintings or encaustic mixed media. It depends on the series, but one of the characteristics of my artworks is layers; layers of different elements in mixed media or even in photography. That has been done even before I ever began using encaustic. I was excited after discovering encaustic, which has a transparent and/or translucent character.

Since encountering encaustic, I studied and decided to experience, experiment, explore, and express with this medium. I just fell in love. It’s deep and complex. There are so many ways and possibilities to apply this medium. 

"Let It Go" by Misako Oba

  What is encaustic paint made of?

Encaustic is a medium used in painting and can be made from beeswax, dammar crystal (resin), pigment. Some may add linseed oil and other ingredients. You could say encaustic is pigmented beeswax. It is like hot wax. Although encaustic paints are sold in art supply stores, many artists prepare their own encaustics. I do, too. Not all paints, but I make encaustic medium and some colors with my own mixture. I think of it as alchemy in the creative process, and it can affect how you control and manipulate this wax paint to your artworks.

1_Encaustic blocks_photoByMisakoOba
To make encaustic medium, I use beeswax and dammar crystal/resin. I then add pigment to make own color mixtures. There are several recipes. The appropriate proportion to manipulate textures is a detailed process. 

I also use R&F Handmade Paints and Enkaustikos Hot Cakes from art supply stores. I noticed slight color differences between brands even if the label is the same color name.

Painting with encaustic has a few basic steps.

1) Melt the paint
There is an encaustic heating palette. However, many artists and workshops use a hotplate/cooking griddle, which works well.

2) Apply to the surface/support and paint
The support must be solid and absorbent. So, stretched canvases are generally not appropriate unless they are very small, such as 4×4 inches. Encaustic doesn’t go well with acrylics. Therefore, canvas with acrylic gesso wouldn’t work. You could apply; however, it won’t last for long and it will crack. (I tried/experimented on 6×6 inch-canvas and it cracked after many years.) I am referencing artworks that are professional level and can be collectible for art lovers/collectors and museums and so forth. To ensure artwork lasts for a long time in art collections, I usually use wood panels or cradled wood panels. If applying on paper, I determine the amount of encaustic and how thin/thick based on the size and kinds of paper.

mystudio heating tools up13) Fuse the paint (each stroke or each layer)
Multiple methods and tools exist to fuse. I mainly use a heat gun and blowtorches depending on the desired results.


4) Repeat Steps 2) and 3).


Safety Measure
thermo_photoByMisakoOWhen painting, you have to manage encaustic paints between a temperature of 165°F and 220°F (74℃ – 104.5℃). The temperature shapes the texture: smooth or rough. Paints start to melt around 162°F. Some colors melt easily, while others require higher temperatures. You should take care not to overheat. Up to 220 °F is SAFE. As I work, I keep my eyes on a thermometer on my heated palette to not exceed this temperature. Otherwise, it gets toxic! The fumes can harm you. It is important to stick to safety measures, including proper ventilation. Be careful not to burn your skin with the equipment such as a heated palette, heat gun, etc.

 History of encaustic. It is an ancient medium!
Although the word encaustic sounds quite new compared with oil, watercolor, or acrylic, it is actually an ancient medium. It was a common technique in ancient Greek painting in the 5th century B.C. and used in ancient Greece to coat sculpture, caulk the joints for ships, or paint portraits in Egyptian tombs around the first century.

It seems encaustic almost disappeared from people’s eyes and became unpopular. However, a resurgence in popularity occurred in the 1990s as artists started to use modern electric equipment.

Resources for encaustic paint
If you are interested, you can read a brief history in the following books which I have:

The Art of Encaustic Painting by Joanne Mattera*
Encaustic Art by Lissa Rankin

R&F Handmade Paints in upstate New York offers workshops on the use of encaustics that include lectures, touching on its history.

NW Encaustic in Seattle and many encaustic artists organize workshops of encaustic painting. (I don’t call myself an encaustic artist but an artist or visual artist who uses encaustic since I use other media to art. It depends on my series and its concept.)

Many books and online tutorials are available about techniques besides the books I listed. I also liked Patricia Baldwin Seggebruch’s books. 

 Good events to meet artists who use encaustic
International Encaustic Conference
EncaustiCamp (This year will be the last one)

Now that you read this far, the next time you hear the word or see artworks created using encaustics, you may feel different.

With this ancient medium encaustic, I have been creating my mixed media such as Cosmos series (ongoing Stars and Desert project) in a contemporary setting using traditional and modern techniques.


To be continued in the next blog post about how to take care of encaustic art after purchasing it…

*私がアートに使っているエンコウスティックとは?(日本語) – In Japanese 

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About misako

Artist/Author @misakoobaart on Instagram
This entry was posted in Creative process, definition, Encaustic, Tutorials, wax or beeswax and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What is Encaustic?

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