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Dec 28, 2016
Originally published February 25, 2013
With terms like “luscious wax,” “luminous layers” and “embedded light” often used to describe encaustic paintings and events – there’s even a seminal book called “Embracing Encaustics” – it’s no wonder encaustic paintings have a sexy cachet. Here’s why:
Go ahead. Touch the paintings with your fingertips. See the sheen? Encaustics like to be touched. Why?
Encaustic paintings consist mainly of beeswax. Oil is compatible with wax, and the oil transferred from our fingers to the painting’s waxy surface causes it to glisten.
Also, it takes up to a year for the wax to cure. During this time, the painting may develop a film called “bloom” which is readily removed by buffing the surface with a soft cloth. I like to use a microfiber cloth but any soft cloth will do. Just rub the painting gently to restore its natural luster.
During the encaustic painting process when the beeswax is in its molten state, the wax imparts a sweet, honey odor that makes it quite pleasant around the studio. After beeswax hardens, as happens almost immediately, the odor disappears, making it a safe choice for healthcare settings including hospitals. I use only U.S. pharmaceutical grade beeswax with
no chemical additives.
When I paint, I apply 6–15 layers or more. I do this for a few reasons. I like to use multiple transparent layers to achieve opacity. This allows me to blend colors by overlapping them without having to melt and blend wax on the wooden canvas at the same time. Besides, the more layers, the greater the translucency. As light passes through the layers, it bounces back to give the painting a shimmering quality.
Finally, fusing between layers causes ridges to emerge, giving my paintings even more texture and an extra degree of dimensionality. Highlights and shadows form naturally according to the room’s light source.
Notice how the light catches the ridges of this painting’s surface, especially in the sky? The ground’s snow cover is built up so thickly, it casts shadows according to where it’s displayed in a room.
Encaustic paintings engage the senses in unique ways. More people are drawn to its allure as they discover this long-lost technique of making art. Have you found yourself resisting the urge to touch an encaustic painting?
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