Playing with encaustic


‘Encaustic’ is a painting term I have known for some time, without knowing a lot about the technique. The works I have seen have a wonderful textured quality, and sometimes an almost ghostly depth to them.

One of the friends I regularly paint with, Cindy ( see for some of her work) took part in a winter school last year in encaustic, and so promised to pass on her knowledge and provide some encaustic mix for the rest of us to work with. The mix is beeswax melted with a small amount of a solution of damar varnish crystals marinated in gum turps. Apparently there are many recipes for the mix, and it can be bought ready made. It starts off as a solid block, placed in a saucepan over low heat. When it melts, it’s ready to use. There are as many ways of using encaustic as there are artists, but we simply painted random streaks of wax on our prepared surfaces, then added paint and scratched and scraped into the wax. The paint can be rubbed in, wiped off, layered. The wax can be layered as many times as necessary, or even used almost as a mask and scraped right back each time. I enjoyed it more than I could have imagined. Not every attempt was successful, but this was a chance to get a feel for the materials.

The image above was on mdf board (14 x 14 cm), which had been sealed with gesso, then a simple, fairly abstract painting started in oil, which was quite dry before I started doing the encaustic. First I painted on wax, then oil paint in some areas, gradually building up layers and scraping to create texture and form. Totally unexpected imagery can result.

distant_web cave_web snow_web drought_web

These four smaller images are 8.5 x 6 cm, so qualify as miniatures. These were done on Ampersand Aquabord, a rough textured prepared surface. The initial colour was applied using Neocolor 2 sticks, (water soluble oil pastels) then moved around with water. Once it dried I could add more wax, and more colour, either using the sticks or oil paint. It seems the only incompatible medium is acrylic paint, Cindy was using washes of ink to great effect. The world is your oyster with this medium – I think there are more experiments to come!

Author: anna warren portfolio

I draw, I paint, I am a printmaker. Always searching for the interesting detail in the world around me.

40 thoughts

  1. What a lovely multi layered dreamy world you’ve led us into Anna …
    Those muted blues and natural evolving forms scratched through and painted on your canvas have resulted in a beautiful composition to contemplate . It’s a very YOU kind of expression in a slightly different medium . Love it .
    I’ve been playing with clingfilm and watercolours .. with unexpected results too !


    1. Oh, thank you Poppy! It’s that dreamy sort of quality I am really enjoying.. I’m so glad you feel it is still me – I can really see this taking my painting on to a new place. I’m looking forward to seeing your cling film experiments! (I am still working on one, but I think I may have damaged my paper irretrievably, but we will see!)


  2. Yay – I’m on Matt’s computer right now so that I can write on your post. The thing which stands out to me is the texture. They are almost like reliefs aren’t they – giving a whole new dimension – 2D becomes 2-and-a-half-D. Such rich colours too. I can see a whole new universe in this experimentation.


    1. The texture is such a key element to these – if you touch them they are quite silky and smooth, but with little bumps and hollows. The wax can be polished to a soft glow. More and more layers can be added, but I stopped these with only a few, and those in certain areas – I have seen encaustic works that are thick and heavy, and I didn’t want that effect. I am really looking forward to doing more. Thanks for commenting Julie!


  3. These are truly beautiful. Your techniques using other media with encaustic are brave and fun. The palettes are subtle – such nice work.


  4. These are so unique and beautiful, Anna! I have seen this medium mentioned in magazines, but have never actually learned what it is made of. Thank you for the explanation. Someday I will have to check that out. I love the look!


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