What are Encaustics?

Encaustic paintings are a combination of 
Wax, Fire and Pigment. 

In Greco-Roman Egypt from 100 BC to AD 200 head and shoulder wax portraits were set into mummy castings. These realistic. life-sized pictures look as fresh today as the day they were painted.

The above photo is a portrait of the boy, Eutyches. circa AD 50-100. It is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. When I first saw it I assumed that it was oil paint. When I found out it was painted in encaustics I was intrigued. I have no idea - yet - how the artist was able to so carefully control this medium. 

I assume that they must have used a thinner wax emulsion or their skill is beyond anything I can currently imagine. If anyone reading this has more information on how the ancients used this medium, I would happy to know. 

Encaustic, meaning "to burn in" in Greek and dates back to the 5th century B.C. Used as a contemporary medium, it can be a versatile method of painting with a beeswax-based paint kept molten on a heated palette. Using an absorbent and sturdy support, encaustic artists mix colors, apply wax, fuse, etch, layer, collage, and even transfer images and incorporate found objects.

These are some of my encaustic tools. They plug in and get hot enough to melt the wax. The encaustic brushes are made of brass wire. If your wax is hot enough, you can apply the wax with a "regular" brush....but you gotta be fast!

I also use a heat gun to melt and "set" the beeswax wax pigments.

This is encaustic paint that I have melted on a hot tray. I use clip clothespins to move the hot cups of melted wax so I won't burn my fingers. I am just starting to experiment with this kind of paint. It is very different to use and is a real challenge. However, I like to try new things.

This is encaustic paint. These blocks of color contain a heavy pigment load embedded with beeswax. It must be melted to be applied to a surface that is rigid. I like to use a 1/4" sanded birch plywood board as a substrate.

Encaustic paint has been around much longer than oil paint. I love the purity of the color, the textures possible and the satiny sheen of the finished work.

I was recently contacted by a member of New England Wax, a group of painters (50+) who actively work in this medium. Here are some of their links that I'd like to share:


And I would particularly like to share this book, The Art of Encaustic Painting by Joanne Mattera - I learned sooooo much from it:

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