About Encaustic Painting
Encaustic paint is composed of beeswax, tree resin and pigment, which is heated to 160 degrees and kept molten on a heated palette. It's applied with brushes or other tools to an absorbent surface, and then reheated in order to fuse the paint. I use birch wood panels, “cradled” in the back, to be easily hung. (Although they come from the same root word, ‘encaustic’ should not be confused with “caustic,” which refers to a corrosive chemical reaction. There is no such hazard with encaustic paint.)
It’s a slow process. I use about fifteen layers of encaustic paint in each painting; after painting one layer, I fuse it to the previous layer with a heat gun or torch, then I paint another layer. This creates the opulence and subtle luminosity in these paintings.
Wax is its own varnish. Encaustic paintings do not have to be varnished or protected by glass because encaustic, which is the most durable of all artists' paints, is its own protector. Beeswax is impervious to moisture, which is one of the major causes of deterioration in other paint media. Encaustic paint dries to a hard finish, and gets even harder in a year or two.
How long does it last? Encaustic paintings can survive for thousands of years. The best known are the Fayum Portraits painted in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. by Greek painters in Egypt. Many of these pieces have survived to today, and their color has remained as fresh as any recently completed work.
To care for an encaustic painting, you can buff it gently by hand with a soft cloth or chamois if a shiny surface is desired. If this is done only a few times over a year or two, it will retain its luster. One can also forgo polishing it, and enjoy the milky matte finish.