Although enjoying a current revival, encaustic is actually one of the world’s most ancient and archival painting mediums.
Encaustic works such as the Fayum portraits from over 2000 years ago still exist today, well-preserved without cracking, flaking or fading.
Beeswax is combined with damar or other tree resins, which provide the strength and hardness in the work, while the wax creates transparency and luminosity.
Encaustic has endless versatility. Multiple layers of coloured and clear wax create overlapping colour and translucent depth. The medium can be textured, scraped, incised, etched, embedded, sculpted into three dimensions or smoothed to a glass-like finish. The molten nature of the medium lends itself to be used for collaging or embedding mixed media.
Care of Encaustics
These paintings are extremely archival, but as with any fine art, care should be given to them. Since beeswax is impervious to moisture, encaustic paintings do not deteriorate with age.
Care should be taken to protect the edges of a painting, especially if there is wax overhanging the sides of the piece. During transport or shipping, cover the encaustic surface with wax paper followed by a layer of bubble wrap, paying particular attention to protecting the corners and edges.
Encaustic wax is stable between temperatures of approximately 4.5 – 43◦c (wax melts at about 71◦c), however care should be taken to avoid placing the artwork in a hot car or in direct sun. Very hot days can soften wax somewhat but will cause no real damage. Encaustic work should not be placed in a frame behind glass for this reason.
When recently finished some encaustic work can ‛bloom’ particularly if the wax is multi-layered, lightly pigmented and smooth. Bloom is a film of whitish dust or dullness that sometimes appears on the surface as a result of a chemical reaction (out-gassing) within the wax. The lustre and sheen can be renewed by gently buffing with a dry, soft, lint-free cloth, (an old T-shirt is ideal) on smooth areas of the work. Allow about 3 months to fully cure.
Enjoy your encaustic!