Encaustic Painting

Painting with encaustic or molten beeswax dates back to the ancient Fayum mummy portraits of the Graeco-Roman era (c.1st–3rd Centuries AD). The medium presumably petered out as less labour-intensive methods of painting developed but, following a contemporary encaustic revival, pioneered in the US by Jasper Johns in the 1950s, encaustic painting has gathered increasing momentum and is currently used by artists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Encaustic is a versatile, fluid and versatile painting medium in which coloured pigment is mixed with molten beeswax and damar resin to act as a hardener, curing it over time. I often employ printmaking techniques and build images in several layers to create depth. A range of objects and materials can be incorporated in the wax; paper, string, metal, card, fabric, leaves, berries, seeds, grasses…. almost anything, provided it can withstand heat. The painting on the left, Spring Blossom has fabric for the curtains and a waxed print for the jug included in the layers. I also often use my own hand-printed papers, or Japanese origami papers as in the painting below. There is no drying time as the wax immediately solidifies on cooling and can be reheated for further manipulation. The lustrous sheen of the final surface may be left textured or smoothed and buffed to a soft sheen.

The molten wax can be used much like paint with the added advantage that if it doesn’t work out, it can be scraped back, melted down or covered over with another layer. Its great versatility encourages exploration and experimentation and the finished work is very stable, retaining the colour indefinitely. Collectors often worry about its longevity but are reassured when they learn that beeswax is very stable with a high melting point (62-65 ºC), and it will not melt in direct sunlight or when placed in a very warm room. It just does not tolerate extremes of temperature.

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