Encaustic Medium

Encaustic medium is a mix of wax, damar resin and pigment. Bee’s wax is the traditional wax used for making encaustic medium however suitable synthetic waxes are also available. Encaustic medium is available ready-made, but it’s fun to make your own and it will help you to understand how the materials work.

Encaustic medium is used hot, so you will need a method of heating the wax, a heated vessel like an electric skillet, crockpot or slow cooker would be suitable and can often be found quite cheaply in charity shops or second hand. You will also need a suitable thermometer to check the temperature of your appliance.
For fire safety reasons, it’s not advisable to heat the wax and resin over an open flame.

Ingredients:

  • Bees Wax
  • Dammar Resin Crystals
  • Coloured Earth Pigment

What kind of beeswax is best?
Natural beeswax is yellow, which will have an effect on light colours. However, you can get filtered beeswax which is white and will not impart any colour to the paint.

Damar Resin – Is a resin obtained from the Dipterocarpaceae family of trees, it is available in crystal form.

Mix Ratio
There is no set mix ratio for the wax and damar resin, this is all part of the creative process as changing the ratios affects the properties of the finished product. The more resin that is added, the harder (and subsequently more brittle) the encaustic paint will be.

However, a good starting point would be: 8 parts wax to 1 part resin.

Making the Medium
Measure out the beeswax and the resin.

In your heated vessel (not over a naked flame please) melt the damar resin. Once the resin has melted add the wax and mix well. Be careful not to let the temperature get above 120 degrees Celsius /250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the mixture into small heatproof moulds such as silicon cupcake trays. Use immediately or allow to cool for future use.

You may notice impurities in the medium from the damar resin. These will sink to the bottom and once the medium has cooled, you can gently warm the bottom and scrape off the layer containing the impurities. You could also filter the hot medium through a micro cloth or open weave material to remove the impurities.

Mixing Coloured Earth Pigments into the Encaustic Medium
Once the encaustic has melted turn off the heat and mix in the pigment, add enough pigment to create the strength of colour required.  If you are going to store the coloured medium for later, Keep mixing the medium as it cools, this will stop the pigment settling before it has cooled.

How to paint with Encaustic Medium
Painting with encaustic is basically painting with hot coloured wax. The Most important tools you will need is a hotplate to melt the Encaustic medium and natural bristle brushes (Synthetic brushes will melt). To heat the encaustic, you can use the same appliance that you used for making it. (see paragraph 2).

Pigmented Medium
If you are using coloured medium put the portions of colour into separate metal pots and put them on the heat. When the encaustic has melted you’re ready to go.

You will need a set of brushes specifically for encaustic as they will be very difficult to clean after.

Unpigmented Medium
Another option is to heat some unpigmented medium on the hot plate. Dip a brush into the clear medium and then into the pigment. Mix thoroughly on the heated surface before application. A metal tray on the electric hot plate can be handy for keeping the paint fluid. Again be careful not to let the temperature get above 120 degrees Celsius /250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Quick Tip: While you are painting, leave your brushes in the pots of hot encaustic to keep them soft and ready to use.

There are lots of different techniques for applying and manipulating encaustic which is what makes it a great medium for experimentation. You can use irons for flattening and melting colours into each other and you can use soldering irons for marking into the wax. You can scratch it and build it up to create amazing textures.

If you want some inspiration, take a look around the internet there are lots of great ideas for encaustic painting.