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Encaustic is a wax based paint (composed of beeswax, damar resin and pigment), which is kept molten on a heated palette. It is applied to an absorbent surface and then reheated in order to fuse the paint. The word ‘encaustic’ comes from the Greek word enkaiein, meaning to burn in, referring to the process of fusing the paint. 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 encaustics.
Encaustic is perhaps the most beautiful of all artists’ paints, and it is as versatile as any 21st century painting medium. It can be polished to a high gloss, carved, scraped, layered, collaged, dipped, cast, modeled, sculpted, textured, and combined with oil. It cools immediately, so that there is no drying time, yet it can always be reworked.
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. This is because beeswax is impervious to moisture, which is one of the major causes of deterioration in a paint film. Wax resists moisture far more than resin varnish or oil. Buffing encaustic will give luster and saturation to color in just the same way resin varnish does.
Encaustic paint will not yellow or darken. However, wax itself is photoreactive, so unpigmented encaustic medium that has been kept in dark storage will darken slightly. When re-exposed to light that darkening will bleach out.
Encaustic paint does not require the use of solvents. As a result, a number of health hazards are reduced or eliminated.
Here is what R&F says about their colours. “What makes our products handmade is the intensive labor involved in making a paint solely from its base ingredients of pigment and medium. Our concern is that the paint retains the brightness of vivid colors and the subtle interplay of top tones and bottom tones of translucent colors. This is especially true of our mixes. Nearly half of all our colors are mixes, some of them involving as many as 5 or 6 different pigments. This is a rarity in paint lines. Mixed colors are a lot of work. They must be carefully formulated and milled to prevent them from becoming muddy. And they must be matched to maintain uniformity from batch to batch. We wouldn’t go through all this effort if there weren’t a rich aesthetic value to it. The reward is in the endless variety of tones that can be created with different working of these colors: brown undertones not seen in the top tones of our neutral greys, a lemony yellow when our sap green is extended out, the earthy yellowishness underneath the mossy green of our green earth, or the sharp blue undertone of our somber Courbet green.
R&F does not accept compromises like additives or mass production methods of making large amounts of paint expediently. They want the individual characteristics of each pigment to come through. This means that the formulation and milling of each pigment must be tailored to its particular traits. Therefore, each of these colors has a slightly different feel to it. For instance, the cadmiums are very smooth, while some of the earths and cobalt colors are slightly gritty to prevent over-grinding and loss of brilliance and clarity.
All of this necessitates making the paint in very small, carefully controlled batches. Each milling must be done with painstaking methodology.
Read our Blog Post: Getting Started in Encaustics