Encaustic FAQs

What’s Old is New Again:

Painting and Printmaking with Encaustic

Lori Niland Rounds, Artist-in-Residence

Frederick Arts Council Studios


Copyright 2024

What is encaustic paint and how is it used today?

Encaustic is a mixture of beeswax, damar resin and pigment. It is a very versatile medium that can be used to paint, print, collage, and sculpt.

It is melted, applied by brush, or poured and then fused to a surface by either a

heat gun or a culinary torch like the ones used in restaurants. It can also be used

to create encaustic monotypes (one-of-a-kind prints).

Have any famous artists painted with encaustic?

Yes, Jasper Johns used encaustic paint in his American Flag and Target series. Several of these paintings are on display at the National Gallery of Art in DC. Paul Klee painted several paintings using encaustic, as did Diego Rivera. Eva Hesse used encaustic in her sculptures, and most recently, James Little, of the 2022 Whitney Biennial uses encaustic paint in his geometric abstract artwork. In the past twenty years, encaustic has become the preferred medium for many contemporary artists.

What is the history of encaustic?

Encaustic is one of the world's oldest art mediums and dates back

over 2500 years to the artists of Ancient Greece who used encaustic paint to seal

ships and to create murals, decorative tiles and sculptures. The Greco-Roman Fayum portraits (funerary portraits) date from about 100 BC to 300 AD, were painted with encaustic paint.

What does the word ‘encaustic’ mean?

The word ‘encaustic’ is derived from the Greek word enkaustikos, which means

to burn-in.

What is damar resin and why is it added to the beeswax?

Damar resin is natural tree sap from deciduous trees in southeast Asia.

It hardens the beeswax and it raises the melting point of the encaustic paint to

155 degrees F.

Will my encaustic painting or print melt?

No, it will not melt in your house even if the sun shines

on it for a bit. However, it can melt if it is left in your car in the summer

where the temperature can rise to 190 degrees. Like any artwork, it is best to hang encaustic paintings and prints out of direct sunlight.

Are any bees harmed when the beeswax is collected?

No. Beeswax is harvested by beekeepers when the honey is collected.
The bees then rebuild the part of the beehive that was harvested.

Is encaustic toxic?

No, it is not toxic when the temperature is kept below 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

(above 225 degrees, it will start to smoke and can irritate air passages.)

When people see ‘caustic’ in the word ‘encaustic’ they assume it is a corrosive – it is not. I heat my encaustic paint to a maximum of 195 degrees F and use it in a well-ventilated/filtered space. When creating encaustic monotypes, I heat the surface of the Roland HotBox to 175 degrees F.

How do I care for my encaustic painting?

Over time, dust accumulation can cause some encaustic paintings to lose their shine. When that happens, simply use a soft microfiber cloth to gently buff your painting in a circular motion. You can even buff with the palm of your hand (my preference).

How does encaustic paint adhere to the surface of a painting?

Each layer of encaustic paint is fused to the surface using either a heat gun or a

butane torch. I like the Iwatani torch, the same type used in restaurants for

creating the dessert, crème brulee! As each layer is applied, the heat gun/torch is used to fuse the encaustic paint to the prior layer.

What is an encaustic monotype?

It is a one-of a kind print made with encaustic paint on a heated anodized
aluminum surface. I use the Roland HotBox which was specifically designed for creating encaustic monotypes. The hotbox is heated up to 185 degrees, and the blocks of encaustic paint are moved by hand across the heated surface where the encaustic melts on contact. Once a design is complete, a piece of printmaking paper is placed on top of the melted encaustic paint (I like Japanese printmaking paper, Kitakata). The melted encaustic paint is immediately absorbed into the paper resulting in a unique print!

What type of substrate can I use for painting with encaustic?

The substrate should be porous and non-flexible. My preference is cradled

wood panels made by Ampersand called Encausticbord. These panels are

pre-gessoed with special encaustic gesso. (BTW, never use regular gesso with

with encaustic as it contains plastic and the encaustic paint will not adhere well.

What other substrates have you used in your encaustic painting practice?

I have experimented with painting on ungessoed wood, rusted steel as well

as copper etching plates that have been scoured with steel wool.

Safety considerations:

Paint with encaustic in a well-ventilated space

Keep a freeze-pack on hand in case you burn yourself on the molten wax
Keep a fire extinguisher nearby (when using the Iwatani butane torch)

Where can I buy encaustic painting supplies?

Plaza Artist DC, Maryland, VA sells encaustic paint and supplies

www.blick.com and www.JerrysArtarama.com sell R&F encaustic products

Where can I learn more about encaustic painting?

International Encaustic Artists: http://www.international-encaustic-artists.org

Workshops: PaulaRoland.com, JeffreyHirst.com, www.essenceofmulranny.com

Annual International Encaustic Conference in Provincetown, MA

Questions? Feel free to contact me with encaustic related questions at: Lori.Rounds@gmail.com