What is encaustic painting?
The word encaustic comes from the Greek word for ‘to burn in'. Indeed, in the encaustic style of painting, the beeswax based paint, which is called encaustic, is applied in its molten state and then fused to the surface by reheating it.
The painting surface may be prepared or wood, canvas or some other material.The paint is usually mixed with the beeswax, and then used. It is normally in the form of a powdered pigment, but may be an oil paint or another type as well. Though beeswax is usually the preferred medium, linseed oil, dammar resin and other waxes are sometimes used as well.
The Process of Encaustic Painting
Once the paint is mixed with the wax, and is molten and ready to use, it is applied to the painting surface. At this stage, when the paint is still hot, it may be shaped with the help of special brushes and metal tools. Heat lamps and heat guns are the popular tools used. Heated tools may be used to sculpt the wax once it has cooled.
The Origin and Growth of Encaustic Paintings
Encaustic painting was a popular painting technique as far back as the 5 th century B.C. Pliny, the Roman historian, says that this medium was used to paint portraits and to depict mythological scenes on panels. In addition, it was used to color marble and terracotta and to work on ivory.
It is believed that the art of encaustic painting originated with the use of wax as a protective medium. Ships were coated with wax and resin, to make them weatherproof, and perhaps, this same wax was then mixed with color pigments to decorate the ships. It is then possible that this form of painting was refined, and artists began to paint artistic pieces with encaustic.
Perhaps the best known encaustic paintings are the Egyptian portraits of the dead that were placed over the mummy. Following Alexander's conquest of Egypt, a significant Greek population settled there. They adopted several Egyptian customs including mummifying the dead. And they painted funeral portraits using their encaustic painting technique.
Unfortunately, however, encaustic painting gradually began to lose its initial glory. It was replaced by the cheaper tempera which was also easier to work with. However, the 18 th century saw a revival of sorts. By the 20 th century, it had slowly become a major artistic medium again. This can perhaps be attributed to the availability of electric heating appliances and a variety of tools.
The Scope of Encaustic
- It can be polished to a high gloss
- It can be modeled, sculpted or textured
- It cools immediately, but if required, it can be reworked
- Beeswax is moisture proof, and therefore encaustic paintings do not succumb to adverse weather conditions.
- They do not have to be varnished or protected by glass
- The paint is not toxic
- Encaustic paint lends a life-like appearance to a painting