Encaustic Wax or “hot wax painting", involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. The paste is then applied to a surface which is usually prepared of wood, though canvas and other materials are often used.
This method of Painting started over 2 millennia ago. No one can say for sure exactly what the components of the wax paints were since there are several formulae and a number of application techniques discovered for the creation of the original Roman Egyptian wax portraits. The wax colours appear to have been applied with some swiftness which would certainly make sense if the wax was molten and liable to cool on the brush if not handled with some speed.
The historical reciepe of Encaustic Wax
Ancient Roman Scientists, Pliny and Dioscorides, both men of great knowledge, give very similar recipes Encaustic. They told of a process where beeswax is boiled in salt seawater then strained through cheesecloth to remove impurities. This was done several times. They then decreed that the wax be left in sun or moonlight for several days to better bleach it. After this the wax needed to be saponified (made soap-like) by adding sodium hydrogen carbonate (Sodium Bicarbonate). This was mixed together and then later, drained again through cheesecloth, rinsed in lukewarm water and finally air-dried. It would then probably have been tempered for painting by mixing with other naturally available ingredients.
Tools for Encaustic Wax Painting
Tools designed specially for encaustic work may be difficult to find, however, common domestic tools like those listed below are handy and easily accessible.
A small cooking hot plate with a flat element is ideal as a heat source. This must have a control to maintain a low heat.
Mixing trays and containers
Metal containers are needed for holding melted wax and pigments over the heat source. Metal cans are handy, and metal cupcake trays with depressions make great palettes. A flat metal baking sheet can also be used directly on the hot plate to mix small amounts of color.
As mentioned above, a hair dryer set to high works well as an encaustic heat gun. The hot air softens or melts the wax to blend colors.
Brushes and knives
Traditional bristle brushes can be used in short, quick strokes. Brushes must be natural, as synthetic or plastic brushes will melt. Brushes should be kept warm when not in use, as the wax will harden as it cools. Steel painting and palette knives are perfect for encaustic use and clean up easily.