Author: Ed_Zawadzki, Contributing Editor
|I have received a lot of questions on my encaustic technique, so to answer them, here’s a step by step explanation of my process.
Unlike the more common “iron” technique, I take a more “painting-like” approach to working with encaustics.
Here is a photo of my setup. Keep reading for details of my materials and techniques!
My basic set up/ equipment is as follows:
Hotplate- I use an electric hotplate to keep the tins of wax liquid while I work. Make sure to get one with a variable thermostat, or else it will get too hot. I find that around 200f on mine works well to keep the wax melted but not smoking.
Tins of various sizes to hold the colors/waxes on the hotplate. You can use a muffin tin, but I like having the separate tins. I have also found that the small (8oz) tomato sauce can's are a perfect size...
Cheap Bristle Brushes. Don’t use synthetics, they will melt. Don’t buy expensive brushes as they just get destroyed very quickly.
Fusing tool For fusing. I use a small electric ignition blowtorch, and a heat gun. The torch is great, but the heat gun is less of a fire hazard! Make sure to get one with variable fan speed/adjustable heat.
Supports. Clayboard, Untempered masonite or wood is my support of choice. The basic requirements for an encaustic support is 1) rigid 2) absorbant. It must be rigid since the wax is brittle when it hardens, and would crack if on canvas or a flexible support. It must also be absorbant to absorb the wax so it will adhere properly to the support. Supports primed with acrylic gesso are *not* absorbant enough, and the wax will not adhere properly. I have heard horror stories of entire encaustic paintings flaking off supports primed with acrylic gesso.
Lots of paper towels for wiping brushes.
Hotpot holders, a pair of pliers, and wooden clothespins... for handling hot tins on the hotplate. I clip a wooden clothespin (plastic ones will melt!) on each tin, and write the name of the color on it. this provides a good way to handle the hot tins!
Since I'm a starving artist, I find that the store-bought encaustics, while very nice, are far to expensive to use on a regular basis. Lucky for me the artist who taught me encaustic painting always made her own colors and it’s really not all that difficult.
HERE is an excellent article on making the traditional encaustic medium (beeswax+damar) by Andrew Gott, another wetcanvas artist, which goes into much more detail than I am here!
I have experimented with various encaustic recipes, some worked, some didn't. Now I stick with the traditional recipe of beeswax and damar crystals. Note that this *very different* from damar *varnish* which contains solvents. Damar varnish should not be used in encaustics as it is highly flammable and can give off toxic fumes when heated! I have also had good luck with a mixture of beeswax and a colorless synthetic hardening wax (lustre wax from www.fineartstore.com) in about a 12:1 ratio of beeswax:synthetic.
I melt down the beeswax in a large tin, then strain it with cheesecloth to remove the impurities. (If you buy pre-filtered or cosmetic grade wax, you can skip this). The dark brown block in the picture is the remnants of a giant 20lb block of raw beeswax. Note it's VERY dark color- that’s all the impurities and dirt in it that gets strained out. After filtering, I mix it with either damar crystals (the traditional encaustic recipe) or with a hard synthetic wax and pour it into small muffin/baking tins that I got at a kitchen suppy store. After it cools, it makes convenient portion sized “bricks” of wax medium that can be stacked up and melted as needed (the stacks of small blocks in the picture).
This is my basic wax medium, which can be used by itself, or then pigmented to make my encaustic colors. I tend to be less picky about wax grade for darker/opaque colors and reserve the high-grade/cosmetic grade beeswax for light colors and whites.
|PIGMENTING/MAKING THE COLORS
I actually use plain oil colors for pigmenting my wax. As long as you don’t put too much in (I believe about 15% is the maximum you want to use or else the wax will start to get “oily”). The oils dissolve just fine in the wax medium and make a nice smooth paint.
I use a small ceramic mortar and pestle (heated on the hotplate to keep the mixture liquid) to mix the color. I start by putting a dab of oil paint in the bottom of the bowl, then pour wax over it and mix with the pestle in a circular motion until it is all incorporated. It’s actually quite quick to mix up new colors when the wax is all melted and ready to go. I then pour the colors into little muffin tins on the hotplate to keep them melted.
Because encaustics become a brittle medium when hardened, you'll need a rigid support. Wood panels work well. I’ve also had good results with untempered masonite (the kind that is smooth on one side, and rough on the other).
Basically you need a support that is rigid and absorbent so the wax will adhere properly. I have seen people advise AGAINST trying to use encaustics on a gessoed surface as the wax will not adhere properly. For this demo, I have used a piece of untempered masonite.
To prepare the support the first thing is to coat it with a layer of plain wax. I take my biggest brush and just begin covering it as evenly as possible with plain, unpigmented wax medium. After it is covered, I gently fuse it with the heat gun, letting the medium soak into the support and then harden fully. If there are areas that have gotten too thin, I will put another layer or two on, fusing gently between each layer. Once the support is evenly coated and the wax has hardened it is ready to paint.
[ 1 - 2 ]