Encaustic, a mixture of wax, pigment, and resin, is unlike any other paint…it’s not wet or dry, it’s hot or cold. This makes it easy to start, stop, modify, and layer. Encaustic does require a little more preparation than other paints – you need a heat source to warm it and decent ventilation for dispersing the fumes & gasses (generated when you heat something). However, once you’re set up, the painting possibilities are nearly limitless. It can be polished to a high gloss, carved, scraped, layered, collaged, dipped, cast, modeled, sculpted, textured, and combined with oil paint. It cools immediately, so that there is no drying time, yet it can always be reworked. Besides its versatility, encaustic is also very durable. Wax is a natural preservative, so it protects its substrate. It’s also very flexible, so it won’t crack or chip. Just don’t leave your wax-based painting in the back seat of your car in August after you’ve been rejected from the State Fair…I’m not saying that happened to me or anything.
Painting with pigment & wax is a practice that dates back to antiquity. The Greeks were painting their ships with wax as early as the Fifth Century BC…first to waterproof them, then – adding pigment – to decorate them. The process of painting with encaustic reached its apex in the paintings that are known as the Fayum Mummy Portraits. Beginning in the 1st Century AD, panels bearing the likeness of the deceased – painted in encaustic – were mounted to the bands of mummified bodies prior to burial in Roman occupied Egypt. This practice continued for nearly 300 years, until cultural and economic changes brought on by the fall of the Roman Empire – as well as cheaper, more immediate paint options – led to its disuse. Encaustic mostly languished in obscurity until curious 18th Century antiquarians rediscovered the paint of the ancients.
Encaustic painting has had a real renaissance in the greater Saint Paul/Minneapolis area over the last dozen years. A huge part of that can be traced back to our old friend – and accomplished encaustic painter – Jeff Hirst. Many artists have had their introduction to painting with wax in workshops in Jeff’s Northeast Minneapolis studio. These folks have gone on to become notable encaustic painters and instructors themselves, including former Wet Painter Jean Wright (who just taught a sold out class of her own at Wet Paint a few weeks ago). If you want to turn out good like Jean, get yourself enrolled in one of Jeff’s workshops here…they’re all over the country! Back to classes at Wet Paint: Saint Louis based artist Julie Snidle will be back this summer to teach her hugely popular encaustic, cold wax, and Pigment Stick classes. If you haven’t signed up yet, you should…Julie’s classes have never not sold out! Finally, if you don’t live nearby, but are interested in hot wax, Saint Paulite Clare O’Neill teaches online encaustic workshops at photoencaustic.com…check ‘em out!
Another fun thing about encaustic right now? We just unpacked a box with twelve brand new encaustic colors from R&F in “easy-to-try” 40ml size blocks. Check ‘em out here! These join their “big brothers,” R&F’s 104ml encaustic blocks, and Enkaustikos Hot Cakes, in the encaustic department.
Earlier, I mentioned Pigment Sticks and cold wax. Let’s say you like the look & feel of encaustic, but the heat & ventilation are a problem. Great news: there’s cold wax and Pigment Sticks! Cold wax is a medium and finish used with oil paint to achieve encaustic-like effects without the heat. Simply mix a little color in to your cold wax medium and apply to your substrate with a knife of brush and…mmmm, satiny lustre! Wet Paint stocks cold wax medium from Gamblin, Williamsburg, Dorland’s and Michael Harding…we should have the right one for you! R&F’s Pigment Sticks are an oil paint & wax combo in easy-to-use, easy-to-hold sticks. Paint with ‘em directly on your substrate just like drawing with crayons, or use traditional painting tools to apply the color. We have 102 colors of gestural lusciousness in two sizes. Wanna get hooked? Go see Joyce Lyon’s beautiful paintings at Groveland Gallery or watch this enticing video of Charles Forsberg. Both cold wax and Pigment Sticks can be integrated into either your encaustic or oil painting process. Once you’ve introduced wax into your painting, though, it’s best to continue using it.
Wet Paint is your “go-to” source for wax-based painting supplies and instruction! Besides everything mentioned above, we also stock Enkaustikos Wax Snaps & HotSticks, mediums & waxes from Enkaustikos, R&F and Jacquard, and Encausticbords from Ampersand. If you haven’t tried using wax/encaustic, I can’t recommend it enough. There’s a real romance to the process and the results…the tactile qualities of the paint alone are worth the price of admission.