Cynthia Makara

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Encaustic technique is an ancient painting style that was first practiced in the first to third centuries. The earliest and best-known examples of encaustic art are the mummy portraits from Egypt having survived over 2000 years without cracking, flaking or fading. The main component in encaustic paint is beeswax. Beeswax is moisture, mildew and fungus resistant, and unappetizing to bees and other insects once it has hardened.

Contemporary encaustic paint is a combination of beeswax, damar resin and pigment. The paint is melted on a warm palette and applied to a warm surface. Each layer is fused to the layer before it using a heat gun or torch or tacking iron. Encaustic paint cools in minutes, which means additional layers can be added almost immediately.  Once the surface has cooled, the paint reaches a permanent finish, but the painting can be revisited and reworked at any time, moments or years later.


Care and Display

                

An encaustic paint film is stable in a temperature range of approximately 4 to 48°C. Wax is more fragile in the cold and becomes extremely brittle in freezing temperatures. If you would drop the painting in cold temperatures it will shatter. The paintings will begin to shift at 48°C.  The wax begins to be workable at 65°C, and it becomes liquid at 72°C. Very hot days can soften the wax somewhat, but will cause no real damage.

If you must transport the painting in hot or cold weather simply first cover the entire wax surface with wax paper, then cardboard, and some form of insulation.  When that painting is at room temperature remove the wax paper and unwrap the painting.  When in hot weather the wax paper will stick to the painting but will cause no damage as long as it is removed at room temperature.


Do not hang your painting in direct sunlight.  You should never put any fine art in direct sun, but with encaustic there could be more immediate consequences. If you are nervous about the placement of the painting just feel the surface.  If it is warm the painting needs to be moved.  It should always feel cool to the touch. 


I usually avoid glassing an encaustic piece. If encased in glass and hung in direct sunlight, the glass will magnify the light and the space between painting and glass can heat up dramatically causing the painting to melt and shift. The paints have a damar resin in its formula; this cures and hardens the wax over time making the paint less vulnerable to damage. It's like varnishing the painting from within...so it doesn't need glass. However, you can still take your fingernail and scratch the surface.


You will need to buff your painting when it seems dull or hazed over.  The painting should always be shiny. When the painting is "young" or recently finished, it has not yet had time to cure and harden. It will therefore go back to a matte looking surface after buffing the first few times. As time goes by and the mixture has had a chance to cure and harden, (could take up to 6 months) it will keep its buffed polished look. At this point, it also sheds dust and dirt more readily. When the painting is at room temperature or cooler take a soft 100% lint-free cotton cloth (they are used for buffing cars) and buff the painting like you would buff a waxed car. Do not buff painting if it is over 75 degrees. Do not buff hard enough to create heat.