Encaustic painting uses a form of paint where wax is the main substance used as the binder. The term "encaustic" sounds a bit intimidating and dangerous because the name tends to make us think of caustic and dangerous chemicals, but it's nothing like that.
The term "encaustic" is derived from Greek, meaning simply "to burn in"1. The "recipe" for encaustic is simple: pigment plus wax (typically a mixture of beeswax and damar resin). You melt the wax, mix in the pigment, and you have encaustic paint.
Working with encaustic paint is quite different to using oil or acrylic paint because you have to heat the paint in order for it to be spreadable. You also need to fuse the paint to the support and existing layers of paint, again with heat.
But first you need some paint. This step-by-step will show you how to make your own encaustic paint.
You will need:
- Paint pigment (in powder form) (Buy Direct)
- Damar crystals (a type of resin) (Buy Direct)
- Beeswax (Buy Direct: wax granules or wax cake)
- A pan to "cook" the ingredients
- A muffin tray (a silicone one makes it easier to get out the "paint muffins"
- A hot plate or heating element (to put the pan on)
- A metal or plastic spoon to stir the mix
- Something to measure off portions of the liquid wax (a washed out, small tincan for instance)
- Oven gloves to protect your hands
Always work with encaustic paints in a well ventilated area, and don't overheat them. You just want the wax liquid, not on the boil! (See Info sheet on studio ventilation for encaustics from RF Paints.)
So, let's learn a little more about the ingredients. First up, what is damar resin?
1. Pip Seymour, The Artist's Handbook, p427.