A few notes on Encaustic

Some of my mixed media artists are beginning to explore new media, including encaustic. I offered to share a few tips about working with it.


  1. Industrial ventilation: I guess if you had 10 work stations going, or didn't monitor your temperatures and keep the wax 200° or lower, it might be advisable. Modern recipes aren't as toxic as those experimentations in the 1950's. My studio is 14' x 10' and haven't had any breathing issues. I faithfully use a flat temperature gauge on the griddle and make sure it is working. A window fan blowing to the outside will help. Any shellac burning or regular size butane torch is done outside. BUT, if you are the type to wear gloves when working in other media, you might feel you must have 3000 BTU exhaust.
  2. I use a pancake griddle with flat bottomed tin cans. I also keep soy wax in an Oatmeal Tin to toss my brushes in. When ready to use them, I pull them out and wipe off excess with paper towel. They stay in the can between sessions and that is all the cleaning they get. Once an encaustic brush, always an encaustic brush. I also use synthetic brushes that are worn from oil painting. Haven't had any issue with them melting...and it is a good way to recycle them.
  3. I use a heat gun (already in my craft stash) and some small propane torches from Freight Salvage that were under $10. Any heating tool is handy (like those meant for woodturning and other crafts)
  4. I make my own medium with supplies from Swans Candles, refined beeswax and damar resin. It does take the better part of a day waiting for the resin to melt. Swans pre-made medium is good and reasonably priced. I've used several more expensive brands and really can't tell the difference. As with all art supplies prices and qualities range all over the place.
  5. Colors: I've got some blocks of colors, but prefer to make my own for several reasons. It costs less, and I don't have a storage issue with 50-100 color blocks. I keep a cup or so of melted medium on my griddle, with 6-10 smaller tins for colors. In the smaller tins I mix a limited palette (similar to my oil paint palette) with oil paint. NO ACRYLICS with encaustic! Warm/cool reds, yellows, blues, and white. From those I can mix most colors I use frequently. The brand oil paint I like best is Lukas (Jerry's Artarama) because it is milled with a bit of beeswax and seems to melt quicker. Just make sure your paint doesn't have an excess of oil (doesn't play nice with wax medium). If it does, squeeze it out on a paper towel, then put it in your tin. I also have a Ranger Melting Pot and a smaller warming tray (from thrift store) that I use for mixing as needed. 
  6. I sometimes work on watercolor paper mounted on mat board or cradled panels. Even Luan 1/4" panels from Lowes work great. American Easel has good quality and pricing and are made in USA. Wax needs strong support to keep it from cracking.

Some of my encaustic art can be viewed here: 

I've written several blog posts about processes.