Encaustic means : "to burn in"
(en-KO-stik) adjective A method of painting using pigments with wax fixed onto the surface by heat. noun A work of art produced by this process.
Etymology From Latin encausticus, from Greek enkaustikos, from enkaiein (to burn in), from en- + (kaiein) to burn. Some distant cousins of this word are caustic, calm, and holocaust
Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which a hardening agent such as damar resin, carnuba wax, or micro chrystalin are added. The paint is called encaustic medium. Colored encaustic medium is made by adding oil paint or pigment power to the medium. The hot wax is applied to a surface — usually prepared wood, though canvas and other materials are often used. After each layer is painted, the encaustic medium is fused to the previous layer. This prevents the layers from peeling or sliding off.
When painting in encaustic you work out of tins set on an electric heating surface set at 200 degrees. Encaustic medium is melted and applied to a surfaced with hot brushes.
Working on a horizontal surface so that the melted wax will settle smoothly onto the panel is the best way to build up layers. To prepare your panel, you would heat evenly with a blow torch or heat gun, then paint encaustic medium swiftly onto your wood panel before the medium cools. After applying a layer to the panel, use a propane torch or heat gun to reheat the wax, melting the new layer into the one below. This process is called fusing. Continue to build up layers of wax, heating it after each layer with the propane torch. This layering lends an semi-transparent quality that is part of the appeal of an encaustic painting.
Adding paper to the panel a good way to add a collage element. Very thin paper disappears into the hot wax, thicker paper provides a beautiful textural quality. After building up many layers, you can inscribe line-work into the wax with a metal tool. Filing the line-work with a contrasting color wax is a great way to add a powerful pop of color or emphasis a certain area. Oil pastels can be used to make marks that melt into the hot wax in delightfully unpredictable ways. Metal tools can be used to scrape into the wax revealing previous layers, or creating textural surfaces. The techniques are limited only by your imagination. Encaustic painting provides huge potential for exploration and experimentation!
A COMBINATION OF TWO CULTURES
Encaustic painting was practiced by Greek artists as far back as the 5th century B.C. Most of our knowledge of this early use comes from the Roman historian, Pliny, who wrote in the 1st century A.D. Pliny seems to have had little direct knowledge about studio methods, so his account of techniques and materials is not thorough, but his discussion gives us an idea of its general usage. According to Pliny, encaustic had a variety of applications: for the painting of portraits and scenes of mythology on panels, for the coloring of marble and terra cotta, and for work on ivory (probably the tinting of incised lines).
Wax is an excellent preservative of materials. It was from this use that the art of encaustic painting developed. The Greeks applied coatings of wax and pitch to weatherproof their ships. Pigmenting the wax gave rise to the decorating of warships and later, merchant ships. Mention is even made by Homer of the painted ships of the Greek warriors who fought at Troy. The use of a rudimentary encaustic was therefore an established practice by the 5th century B.C. It is possible that at about that time the crude paint applied with tar brushes to the ships was refined for the art of painting on panels. Pliny mentions two artists who had in fact started out as ship painters.
THE AVAILABILITY OF TEMPERA
The use of encaustic on panels rivaled the use of tempera in what are the earliest known portable easel paintings. Tempera was a faster, cheaper process. Encaustic was a slow difficult technique, but the paint could be built up in relief, and the wax gave a rich optical effect to the pigment. These characteristics made the finished work startlingly lifelike. Moreover, encaustic had far greater durability than tempera, which was vulnerable to moisture. Pliny refers to encaustic paintings several hundred years old in the possession of Roman aristocrats of his own time.
ENCAUSTIC IN 3-D
The nature of encaustic to both preserve and color caused it to be widely used on the stone work of both architecture and statuary. The white marble we see today in the monuments of Greek antiquity was once colored, either boldly or delicately tinted like the figures on the Alexander sarcophagus in the archeological Museum of Istanbul. Decorative terra cotta work on interiors was also painted with encaustic.
THE FAYUM PORTRAITS
Perhaps the best known of all encaustic work are the Fayum funeral portraits painted in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. by Greek painters in Egypt. A significant Greek population had settled in Egypt following its conquest by Alexander, eventually adopting the customs of the Egyptians. Funeral portraits, painted either in the prime of life or after death, were placed over the person's mummy as a memorial. Many of these pieces have survived to our own time, and their color has remained as fresh as any recently completed work.
The great period of economic instability that followed the decline of the Roman Empire and the change in cultural values caused encaustic to fall into disuse. Some encaustic work, particularly the painting of icons, was carried on as late as the 7th century, but for the most part it became a lost art. It was replaced by tempera, which was cheaper, faster, and less demanding to work with.
Kut-kut, a lost art of the Philippines implements sgraffito and encaustic techniques. It was practiced by the indigenous tribe of Samar island around 1600 to 1800.
Encaustic painting was revived briefly in the 18th century, initially by amateurs in an effort to rediscover the techniques of the ancient painters. It was further explored in the 19th century to solve the problem of dampness faced by mural painters in northern climates. The success of these efforts was limited, and encaustic remained an obscure art form.
In the 20th century, the availability of portable electric heating implements and the variety of tools has made encaustic a far less formidable technique. This factor has created a resurgence of encaustic painting, and it is once again taking its place as a major artists' medium. Diego Rivera, Antoine Pevsner, Rifka Angel, Karl Zerbe, and Victor Brauner were early exponents of the revived technique. Alfonso Ossorio, Jasper Johns, Lynda Benglis, Robert Morris, and Nancy Graves are prominent among the many artists who turned encaustic into a modernist and cross-disciplinary medium.