encaustic/cold wax & oil info

encaustic info


Encaustic is derived from a Greek word (enkaiein) meaning ‘to heat or burn in’.  In painting, encaustic is a wax based paint (composed of beeswax, resin (tree sap) and pigment).  It is melted and applied with a brush or any tool the artist wishes to use.  Each layer is then reheated (using a torch or heat gun) in order to fuse it to the previous layer.  The medium can be used alone for its transparency or adhesive qualities or used pigmented. Pigments may be added to the medium, or purchased colored with traditional artist pigments. Encaustic is a very versatile medium.  It can be polished to a high gloss and it can be molded, sculpted, textured or combined with collage materials.  It cools enough so that additional layers can be applied immediately.  It can also be reworked if desired.

The durability of encaustic is due to the fact that beeswax is impervious to moisture; and, because of this, it will not yellow or darken.  Encaustic paintings do not have to be varnished or protected by glass but they do need to be kept out of direct sunlight and/or extreme heat or cold.  Total drying time for an encaustic piece can take up to a year.  During that drying period, an ‘oxidizing’ takes place and a film may appear on the surface of the painting.  It can be left alone or gently buffed with a soft cloth to bring up the glossy finish of the wax.

Encaustic paintings are extremely archival, but as with any fine art, care should be given to them.  The wax and resin will not melt unless exposed to temperatures over 150 degrees Fahrenheit.  Leaving a painting in a car on a hot day would not be advisable or hanging a painting in front of a window with direct desert-like sun. They are also sensitive to freezing cold temperatures. Care should be taken to not bump or nick the surface as it can mark easily, especially during the first weeks until the wax has begun the curing process.  Some encaustic colors tend to “bloom” or become cloudy over time.  If your painting appears indistinct, simply rub the surface with a soft cloth or nylon stocking.  Over time the surface retains its gloss as the wax medium continues to cure and harden for up to 1-3 years. To protect the surface of a painting when moving or shipping to a new location, wrap the piece in wax type paper covering the surface and then bubble wrap (bubble side out).  It is best to avoid shipping encaustic artwork in either extreme heat or single digit temperatures unless the shipper knows how to pack the piece for protection during the heat of the summer and the colder months of the winter.  A one to two day time frame for shipping is also recommended.

cold wax and oil info

Cold wax and oil painting has been around for centuries but has come into it’s own in the last 20 years. Most cold wax and oil paintings express the abstract rather than realistic subject matter.  Unlike encaustic (hot wax) painting, cold wax and oil are not heated but are mixed together and applied cold onto a variety of papers or firm surfaces. The ratio of the mixture of the cold wax medium (a mixture of chemically unaltered wax, usually beeswax, in an organic solvent) and oil is about 50/50 or whatever the artist prefers and can be varied with the subsequent layers.  Because of the oil, the drying time between layers can take days and most artists add a drying agent to the mix to speed up the process.  One can paint wet on wet but it takes skill and practice to do this with ease and good results.  Most artists work on several pieces at the same time, each in a different faze of drying.  There are many techniques to experiment with when painting with cold wax and oil and most artists paint in a style gives them a look or result that they can call their own.  There is no right or wrong way to the medium and it is always fun to learn a new method that could be incorporated into your work.

Many different tools and/or household items can be used to incise, stamp or carve into the partially dry canvas to achieve a wonderful variety of markings and textures.  Working with cold wax is all about making marks!  Cold wax produces a natural sheen and after a piece is completely cured (dry).   A final coat of wax medium can be applied and then buffed when the wax is dry; or for a harder, more protective finish varnish can be applied

There is a distinctive look to a finished cold wax and oil piece – often very textured, luminous and layered.  As with encaustic paintings, extra care should be taken when handling or shipping a cold wax and oil piece, especially with the edges and corners if a frame has not been added.  The face of a finished piece that is fully cured is strong and tough and because most are done on wood panels adds to the overall sturdiness.  A cold wax work on panel will hold up very well through all phases of finishing, storing and exhibiting.

© 2019 Mary Stratton