Encaustic painting involves painting with hot beeswax in which colored pigments are added. I first came across encaustic paintings while in Aspen with my Grammy, and ever since I have been researching them and collecting materials. Luckily I have such a super supportive family...Grammy bought me a book and DVD on encaustic, Kim and Dad got me beeswax (Kim keeps bees and is in a group, so she has lots of bee friends) and Mom bought me a BOATload of colored pigments...and I mean a boatload! And these aren't just any pigments, they are from EarthPigments.com. These pigments are all natural, which is what I'm looking for in all the materials I use from here on out, sculptural and 2D. There is only one Earth, and I have only one body, so I've decided natural art supplies are the way to go! All the greats use to use natural pigments in the past, all the famous artwork from years and years ago. Only recently in history have we started to add tons of chemicals to our paints, and it has me asking...why?! With the TONS of Earth Pigments Momma got me, I can make my own paints, whether acrylic, oil, watercolor or my new favorite...encaustic!
I'm beyond excited for what is to come! I really enjoy having to cook up some paint, it's almost like a chemistry.
Here is a look at my version of the encaustic process!!!
1. Obtain ingredients for paint: beeswax, Deemar resin (natural resin), and pigment (I've decided on natural here, because why not? All the rest is natural!) There are "encaustic painting sets" with everything you need and the paint already mixed, but I went the DIY way and gave a lot of thought to what I would use for my own paint mixing.
THANK YOU AGAIN TO MY MOTHER WHO BOUGHT ME ALL OF THESE WONDERFUL PIGMENTS!
AND TO KIM FOR GETTING ME SOME REALLY AWESOME RAW BEESWAX!
2. Obtain the hardware. With encaustic painting, you must use a hot pallet to melt your wax down, keeping it around 200 degrees while you are using it. Here I am using some weird buffet warming dish which works just as well as an expensive encaustic hot plate. Something else I LOVE about this process is that it involves FIRE! You need a torch to fuze each layer together.
Step 3: Prepare support- from my understanding it needs to be absorbent and rigid. Here I am using a wooden panel from the art store, but soon I will be building my own. Regular acrylic gesso (painting primer) will not work because it is water based and the beeswax doesn't grip onto it enough. So I've ordered stuff to make my own natural encaustic gesso (the stuff they sell is so expensive!) This new homemade gesso will be made of Calcium Carbonate and Rabbit Skin Glue. But for now, I just did it straight on the wooden panel because I just couldn't wait!
Here you can see my wax, resin, a few choice pigment colors and my wooden support
Step 4: Melt the resin
The resin takes longer to melt, so you melt this first. I didn't want to spend money on special containers, so I just got some throw away muffin tins.
Step 5: Melt wax in, then add pigments. Each muffin spot will be a different color. Keep one plain beeswax for the bottom priming layer. Feels like a recipe!
Step 6: Paint with plain beeswax to prime the support. Usually there is also encaustic gesso underneath so the support is white, but I don't mind painting straight onto the wood. Also usually beeswax is bleached for this process, just so it is more translucent and clear, and so the pigments are their true color. However, I really like this raw beeswax. Adds to the naturalness of the painting, and the yellow tint doesn't bother me since I'm using a lot of browns, yellows and reds. It works with my color pallet and helps keep it to natural tones.
Usually you would want a smooth bottom layer, but I was feeling saucy and got my pallet knife out to carve away at some and get this nice texture as my base layer.
Step 6: START PAINTING!! The medium is nice and cooked down at this point, ready to be used! Natural bristle brushes are important, because synthetic ones melt in the wax. I just ordered up some fresh ones, but for now I had a few laying around that did the trick!
Between each layer, you use a torch to just barely heat the surface, fuzing the layers together. It's super neat looking and you can even use the torch as a tool to reactivate an area, making marks float or break apart within the wax.
Step 7: Keep painting! Realize the layers begin to come off the support, so you build the painting up background first, foreground and details last. Always fuze layers with the torch! I really was enjoying scraping away some of the wax. Adding and subtracting. When I'd scrape away, I'd just remelt what I scraped and use it again. It's a very forgiving process with many possibilities.
Step 8: Keep on truckin'... and get a wood burning tool!
Here I plugged in my wood burning tool and began to draw in the wax, creating lines and texture. Nice to have a drawing tool within the medium.
Step 9: Keep working!! This is unfinished, but you can see where I'm going with it... final photos to come! Thanks for reading up on this new process! I'm so lucky to have such supportive friends and family. :)
Jessica R. Willis
Artist of many mediums inspired by nature and philanthropy