What Is Encaustic?
The word encaustic is of Greek origin and means “to burn in” which refers to the process of fusing paint. Encaustic is a beeswax-based paint that is melted on a heated palette, applied to a surface and reheated by fusing layers together with a heat gun, iron or torch. I generally make my own encaustic paint from high-grade beeswax and damar resin, adding oil pigment to color the wax. It also may be purchased from art stores in color blocks. I fuse layers using a torch.
In the 5th Century BC, encaustic was primarily used to paint portraits and scenes of mythology. It was later used to weatherproof ships; then they began to pigment the wax and use it to decorate warships. Encaustic was used for the Fayum funeral portraits that were painted in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. by Greek painters in Egypt. As a memorial, a portrait of the deceased was painted over the person's mummy. Many of these pieces have stood the test of time and still maintain their vibrant color to this day.
20th century artists Jasper John, Karl Zerbe, Julian Schnabel and others helped to bring back the once forgotten medium. Many artists today find the durability, versatility and fast drying capabilities of the medium appealing.
How To Care For An Encaustic Painting
Encaustic paintings are extremely durable due to the fact that beeswax is impervious to moisture. Because of this it will not deteriorate, yellow and or darken.
Encaustic paintings can be buffed to a high gloss using a soft, lint free cloth. This sheen dulls over time and can be brought back by light buffing from time to time unless you prefer the dull surface.
Don’t varnish encaustic paintings.
Encaustic paintings don’t need to be protected by glass.
Avoid extreme heat or cold. There should be no fear of the work melting in normal household conditions. The wax and resin will not melt unless exposed to temperatures over 150 degrees Fahrenheit. It is probably best to avoid hanging the painting in strong, direct sunlight and near a harsh heat source since it may soften the paint. Don’t leave it in a hot car while transporting it. In extreme cold, it could become brittle and chip easily.
Take precautions to protect an encaustic painting when transporting. Although the surface is completely dry, encaustic paintings can be scratched, gouged, or chipped if handled roughly. Cover the painting with wax paper and wrap in bubble wrap (not just bubble wrap, since it may leave an impression of the bubble). Ensure the edges are protected. Do not cover with a linty blanket or t-shirt. These fibers may stick to the surface if the wax gets warm.
Minor chips and gouges can be repaired. Contact the gallery where you made the purchase or the artist. There may be a cost involved.