encaustic paints

An extremely permanent painting technique of over 2000 years.



Encaustic paint is a technique in which the main binder is natural beeswax. In encaustics, the paint doesn't dry but rather solidifies at room temperature and liquefies when heated. That process of heating the wax allows the artist to work it almost endlessly. This is different from other painting techniques (oils or acrylics) where the painted surface can't be worked after it has dried.

KAMA's encaustic paints are made form natural beeswax, dammar resin and our very own Dry pigments.



Encaustic 101 ...

The term encaustic comes from the Greek "enkaustikos" which means to burn in. The Greek name itself references a fundamental technical aspect of this technique: you always have to fuse every new layer with the layer of paint underneath it. That way, when the painting is finished, all layers will have been fused into a single layer of encaustic paint.
Why is it important to do that ? It's really best for the conservation of encaustic paintings that they are done as one single layer. If you don't fuse when working in encaustics, your different layers will not cling to one another and, as a result, they might crack or come apart.

We can fuse using a hot iron, a heat gun or a heat lamp: the essential thing is to heat enough for both layers to adhere together. Even though I might appear complicated when you are reading about it, fusing is a simple technique whose mastery is essential if you desire to paint in encaustics.












One way to refer to the binder of encaustic paints is by calling it the medium.
Here at Kama, we call this product neutral encaustic, but it really is the same thing as medium. It could be easy for an oil or acrylic painter to think that the medium we are talking about here corresponds to a painting medium, a product used to modify the characteristics of paints; notably dying time, sheen, viscosity (often the case in Oil paint), but in the technique of encaustic it's just how we call the binder.

Making your own medium :

Many artists are making their medium themselves since it's much cheaper that buying ready made (even KAMA medium ... ) If you always wanted to make your own or just want to try, here is the basic recipe:

Medium recipe

7 parts of beeswax ( your choice of bleached or natural )
1 part of dammar resin

Preparation :

First, crush the dammar resin into a powder while gently melting the wax in a double boiler. Once the wax is completely melted, gently add the powdered resin in the hot wax while mixing slowly : you should add the resin to the hot wax slowly enough to prevent the formation of lumps. Once the resin is completely mixed, filter the solution through cheesecloth to remove impurities that might have been contained in the dammar. Finally, you might consider pouring your medium it into small moulds which will facilitate using small amounts when painting later. Make sure to let the mixture cool down before removing and storing.

Considerations :

1. Don't overheat the wax : the dammar and wax will oxidize if they are heated for too long or too high. The first apparent sign of oxidation is a yellowing of the medium, but eventually, if they the medium is heated too much it will loose its plasticity and adherence.

Once you have prepared this recipe a first time, you can experiment further by varying the proportion of dammar resin in order to get harder or softer encaustic paints. When experimenting, you need to be careful not to make your encaustics, too soft as they could be melted by the summer heat.




The blocs of medium can be kept many years in the studio. It's only when the wax and dammar resin are heated that they oxidize therefore loosing their plastic properties; becoming brittle and ultimately unusable to paint in encaustics. You can recognize an oxidized medium from a slight yellow color that could even be brown if the oxidation is important.





Many artists will only use encaustic medium made from beeswax. From a rational point of view, we could also use some synthetic waxes to paint in encaustics if they are sufficiently purified. The main ones for encaustics are : microcrystalline and paraffin waxes. However you should never use paraffin alone because of its brittleness.

Here is a good recipe to emulate the properties of natural beeswax it can allow you to get almost similar results while saving on your material cost. However you should always keep in mind that natural beeswax is a medium with a long history of tests, used successfully for more than a millennium. This being said, this wax medium offers an acceptable alternative :

beeswax substitute recipe:
by john Dilsizian

35 % microcrystalline wax
65 % Paraffin wax

Preparation :

Weight the quantities of wax (this is not a volumetric recipe) and melt them gently together. Mix well then pour into moulds. Let the wax cool down and store it future use. You can also use the wax right away if you want, in that case skip putting it into moulds.

Considerations :

If you want to make medium with this wax, all you have to do is replace part or all of the beeswax with this synthetic wax, the dammar part remains unchanged.




Final step, turning medium into paint ...

Once you have made (or purchased) the medium, what do you need to do to use it in encaustic paintings ? The answer is easy : you have to color it by adding pigments (binder+pigments=paint).

There are two ways to do this; first you can use dry pigments or you don't want to manipulate dry pigments or are just worried about your health, you can also use Oil paints.




Monotype is a new way to paint in encaustics. The pioneer of this technique is Dorothy Furlong-Gardner. The way to proceed is to melt the encaustics on a heat plate much like drawing (but in reverse) and then the paint is transferred on paper. Many artists are practicing this technique such as Alexandre Masino (in Quebec) and Paula Roland (in USA). And if you are interested you should visit these two artists' web sites as they outline the technique, Paula Roland even sells the necessary equipment.




It is preferable to paint in encaustic on rigid supports : wood panels, massonite, plywoods or even clays objects, the golden rule being that the support must have good absorption. Many artists are priming their supports with medium only.

Painting in encaustics on canvas is not recommended, but many artists are doing it anyway by modifying the technique. In this case, we recommend you use microcrystalline wax (without damar resin) as your medium but you need to mix the wax with enough Oil paint or linseed oil to make it sufficiently flexible






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