History of Encaustic
Encaustic is a wax-based medium which originated in Greco-Roman Egypt. The medium is dated back as far as 5th century BC and had a variety of applications. Encaustic art is best known for decorating mummy cases with funeral portraits. These paintings are called Fayum portraits—named for the Egyptian town where they originated—and are estimated to be 3,500 years old. The artwork on the mummy cases looks as vibrant today as any recently completed work.
What is Encaustic Medium?
Encaustic is Greek for
to burn or fuse in.
The encaustic medium consists of a combination of beeswax (or other waxes such as microcrystalline) and damar resin. Damar is a crystallized natural resin that comes from trees that grow in the East Indies. The resin is used to harden the beeswax, helps prevent bloom, and raise its melting temperature. Pigments are then added to the medium to create color.
A heat source is used to fuse the wax to a substrate such as wood, plaster, or poured for sculpting. Each layer of wax must be fused or burnished in using a torch, iron, or heat gun. Once fused, the painting is exceptionally archival.
Caring for Encaustic Works
Encaustic paintings extremely durable—the beeswax and resin are impervious to moisture, and they will not yellow or darken.
It is best practice to avoid extreme heat (200 degrees Fahrenheit or higher) which can melt the medium or cold, which can result in cracking or excess bloom. Encaustic paintings can tolerate temperatures between 40–140° Fahrenheit.
Bloom is a naturally occurring hazy white residue that develops as the wax cures. Bloom is easily removed by lightly buffing the surface with a soft, lint-free cloth. A soft brush can be used to gently remove dust that may build up in the cracks and crevices of the painting.
Avoid prolonged direct sunlight to prevent fading of color.
Framing Encaustic Paintings
Encaustic paintings do not need to be protected by glass. A glass frame will impede with how the light reacts to the surface of the medium, as most paintings will produce a slight glow when illuminated from above.
A floater frame is an attractive option that protects the edges of the painting from scratches, dents, and chips. It is ideal for works where the wax is textured on the sides of the cradle (such as with accretion).