The word encaustic comes from the Greek word, enkaustikos, meaning “to heat” or “to burn”.
Beeswax melted with resin and pigment forms the paint, and it is applied hot. Each layer of wax must be fused with heat to the layer beneath it. The method of painting with wax came from ancient Greece where shipbuilders painted the hulls of their ships to seal, protect and decorate the surfaces. This led artists to use encaustic for easel painting and decoration of clay and marble sculptures, and on to the ancient Fayum portraits of Egyptian mummy casings. The medium was lost in obscurity from the seventh century until the twentieth century where artists such as Diego Rivera, Arthur Dove, Karl Zerbe and finally Jasper Johns began to revive it. More and more contemporary painters and sculptors are experimenting with encaustic in a range of styles and techniques due to increasingly available resources and materials.
The possibilities for luminous color, variety of texture, and depth are quite limitless.
Caring for an encaustic painting is simple. Like any fine art, encaustics should be kept out of direct sunlight. Dust gently with a soft cloth and handle with care. The unvarnished surface is very stable and continues to cure and harden over time.
Watch a silent video demonstrating a mixed media approach to encaustic techniques: painting, fusing, collaging, drawing with tacking iron, incising and filling, layering, scraping.