What was once old is now new again. Encaustic has its roots in 5th century B.C. and was originally practiced by Greek artists to paint portraits and decorate marble and terra cotta architectural elements. Made popular in modern times by Jasper Johns, encaustic is a significant medium with staying power.
Artists are drawn to encaustic because of its versatility and spontaneity. It is composed of molten beeswax and resin which are fused to a surface to create a lustrous enamel effect. Encaustic paint cools immediately, requiring no drying time, but can be reheated, reshaped and reworked at anytime. The optical effects of encaustic layering are unlike any other art form.
Collectors are drawn to the art form’s optical effects and incredible durability. Since beeswax is impervious to moisture, an encaustic painting will not deteriorate, yellow or darken with age. Encaustic paintings do not have to be varnished or protected by glass. And eager viewers, drawn to physically touch the paintings to further comprehend the depth of its multiple layers, can do so without damaging them.
The paint is applied with a brush or spatula or poured or dripped onto a sturdy support — usually a board. It is easier to work horizontally, but working vertically can create a dripping effect. When the painting has cooled, it has reached its permanent state. No further work (other than a mild buffing) needs to be done. However, glazing, scumbling, repainting, texturing, or layering may be applied directly to the final surface, immediately or many years later, to enhance the painting. Work can be erased by simply scraping off the paint.
Creating Optical Effects
Variation in transparency can be achieved using encaustic medium and layering. Layers of extended color can be laid one on top of another or separated by layers of straight medium to create unusual translucent effects. Opaque colors used straight have total hiding power and bright top tones.
Glazing can greatly extend a color. Unlike adding large amounts of oil to oil paint, there is no technical danger in adding large amounts of medium to a color. The encaustic can also be made more fluid by adding medium or by raising its temperature slightly.
For variation in dimension and texture, different degrees of fusing can be employed. Well-fused paint will take a higher polish than paint that is not as thoroughly fused. The painting and fusing of encaustic is done with great precision.
Care of your Encaustic Painting
This is the information I share with my collectors:
Yes, you have purchased a painting with a history that dates back to 5th century B.C.; doesn’t look that old, does it? Just wanted to let you know that your new piece is extremely archival and will withstand normal household conditions with very little upkeep.
If you discover wax melting from this piece, please move quickly to a safer place as your home/office is definitely on fire. All kidding aside, an encaustic mixture will not melt unless exposed to temperatures above 120º F. I ask that you not leave your piece in a car or trunk of said car on a hot day. You know how quickly a car’s interior can heat up; we’ve all seen the informational pieces from animal groups.
All temperature extremes should be avoided, excessively high and freezing temps will affect the work. Again, normal ranges of heat and cold will not affect your piece of art.
The surface can be slightly dull to high sheen/luster. The luster can be achieved by gently buffing, in one gentle direction only, the surface with a soft, dry, clean 100% cotton cloth. I personally do not polish or buff my work; I will leave it to your discretion.
I wish you many, many years of joy with your Mary Farmer artwork. If you have questions, want to know more about the process of building an encaustic painting, or wish to discuss anything under the sun please, feel free to contact me.