What Is Encaustic Painting?


At its simplest, encaustic painting is painting with wax, traditionally beeswax. The method was practiced by Greek artists as far back as the 5th Century B.C.E. The best known encaustic works are Fayum funeral portraits painted in the 1st and 2nd Centuries A.D. in Egypt, which remain vibrant today.

Today, encaustic artists buy wax already colored or mix wax with pigment to create their own colors, melt the wax, and affix it to substrate, often wood or stretched canvas but can also be plywood, linen, drywall, or paper.

The wax can be painted or poured on, and must be heated with a heat gun, encaustic iron, or blow torch to fuse it to the substrate. Once the first layer is cold, additional layers can be added one at a time. Each additional layer of wax must also be heated to fuse it to the layer below.

Because wax is a wonderful adhesive, artists can embed nearly anything in the work, making it a perfect medium for mixed media collages. The wax can also be scraped and incised to show lower layers; stamped and stenciled; and embellished with gold leaf and pan pastels. Artists can also write on the piece with an ink-filled stylus.

Photo above: Detail from Espalier, Sally Hootnick,Encaustic on wood panel, 2018.