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Five Essentials for Getting Started in Encaustics

Getting Started in Encaustics
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Thinking about getting started in encaustics? Here are five things that will help!

What are Encaustics?

Encaustic paints are a unique form of art that has been used for centuries. Composed of beeswax, damar resin, and pigments, these wax-based paints derive their name from the Greek word “enkaustikos” meaning “to burn in.” Artists apply encaustics to surfaces while they’re still molten and then fuse them by reheating — an ancient technique dating back thousands of years to classical Greece & Rome. Not only are encaustic paints durable with increased resistance against moisture but they can also be brittle and prone to cracking depending on how they are handled or applied. For this reason, encaustics must be used on a rigid surface. When painted properly though, they can last for an incredibly long time. Some of the oldest existing works of art are created in encaustics!

What are the Advantages of Encaustics?

Encaustic paint is a versatile medium that can be used in a variety of ways. It can be layered, scraped, textured, and polished to create a range of effects. The wax medium is also very forgiving, allowing artists to rework areas that they’re not happy with. It’s great for creating unique textures and effects that can be difficult when using traditional oils — and they set much faster than oils!

Encaustic mixed-media art is a creative, one-of-a-kind way to express yourself! With encaustics as the base layer, you can add in other mediums such as oil, acrylic, and pastel for an exciting variety of effects. The key is to experiment, find what works best for you, and be open to discovery.

Five Essentials for Getting Started

1- Encaustic Starter Set

Purchasing a starter set like this is a great way to experiment with the medium while removing the guesswork about specific paints, mediums, and painting surfaces. This 14-piece kit includes 40ml encaustic cakes, brushes, mediums, and boards. Everything you need to begin encaustic painting.

2- Heating Sources

An electric griddle can be used to melt your paints in the tins provided in the starter kit. Just make sure it heats evenly and allows for reliable temperature control between 180 F and 220 F. It’s also helpful to have a heat gun to soften and re-work areas of your painting. The R&F Variable Temperature Heat Gun is a tool that can be used to fuse encaustic paintings without touching the surface. It has dual fan speeds and an adjustable temperature dial that can be varied from 250 degrees to 1100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

3- How to Create Encaustic Art: A Guide to Painting with Wax

This book by Birgit Hüttemann-Holz is a guide to the ancient art of hot-wax painting. It covers the basics of materials and supplies, encaustic mediums and coloring agents, and surfaces like canvas or textured substrates. This book also includes detailed photos of the entire spectrum of encaustic techniques: scraping and relief imprinting, accretion, working with palette knives and collages, and even accents with metal leaf or organic materials.

4- Texture Tools

Encaustic is uniquely suited to creating texture, so this is a great opportunity to break out any scraping and sculpting tools you may have. An inexpensive 6-piece set like this is great for experimenting with the medium and getting a taste for the possibilities.

5- Ventilation

Encaustic painting can produce fumes that can be harmful if inhaled. Make sure you have proper ventilation in your workspace. Window fans like this are a good place to start, but make sure you have a thorough understanding of the importance of ventilation and the proper setup in your studio. You can find more information in this document by RF Paints.

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For tips on how to put these to best use, feel free to check out the following:

Meet the Artist

Scott Maier is an artist and a content contributor to He’s also the author of the instructional art book, See, Think, Draw: An Easy Guide for Realistic Drawing and Beyond.

Join the Conversation!

  1. Mentioning acrylics in the list of many mediums you can use with encaustics is not good. Acrylics are not compatible with encaustics and when teaching beginners, it’s really doing them a disservice to lead them to believe it is fine. It’s so true that encaustics can be highly archival, but it really depends on using proper techniques and materials. The possibilities are endless with a solid base of knowing what is compatible and what is safe.

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