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WHAT IS ENCAUSTIC PAINTING?
Written by Chris Carrick
chris@almostabstract.co.uk
 
The Basics
All the backgrounds to the encaustic pictures featured here were painted using a technique called encaustic painting, that is they where painted with wax using an iron. Figures where added either from photographs, using a computer ( the coloured ones) or drawn in using ink or wax (the black silhouette ones) or stuck on (using black vinyl).

Where And When It All Began
The Ancient Greeks and Egyptians developed encaustic painting, using coloured pigments mixed with beeswax. This mixture was heated, usually in a metal bowl and then either poured onto a design or used as a paint. To use it as a paint, their tools had to be kept hot, so that the wax would stay in it's liquid form, long enough for the artist to use it.

The Modern Way

The principals I use are the same but I use slightly more modern tools. My main tool is a domestic travel iron, it sounds clumsy but you can get some amazingly detailed work with it. The other things I regularly use are a soldering iron and a hot air paint stripper, (try explaining to Black and Decker what you do with their paint removing equipment). I have used other things like a hot plate, a gas blow torch, curling tongs and a hair dryer. In fact you can use any tool, as long as you can control it's heat. Some are easier and more controllable to use than others.

Why You Can Do It Too

The basic idea is that you melt the wax on the base of an iron and then literally use the iron as a paintbrush. I know it sounds bizarre, but it does work. It isn't as controllable as a conventional paintbrush or pencil. You have to guide it rather than trying to tell it exactly what to do. This makes each painting both unique and a pleasure to paint. The other thing it means is that you don't have to know how to paint or draw to be able to do it. It is the perfect medium for frustrated artists like me who always wanted to draw or paint, but just couldn't! An eye for colour and the will to do it, is all you need, apart from an iron and the wax that is, (and before you try it, wax crayons and candle wax don't work).

 
   
 
 

How To Do It
Different ways of moving an iron will give you different patterns. This means there are two ways of creating an encaustic painting.

1) You work out exactly what you are doing with the iron in order to produce a particular pattern.

That way you can repeat it. Once you have learned a few patterns, all you do to produce a picture is put different patterns and colours together. There are only so many basic movements with the iron, but there are endless ways of putting them together.

2) The second way of encaustic painting is to put a couple of colours on your iron and just play with it. Move the iron over the card you are painting on and see what happens. When something turns up that you like, STOP. This gives much freer designs, usually with a lot of movement in them. Strange images turn up, things you have little or no control over. It is often referred to as 'spiritual painting' and is certainly very therapeutic.

I actually find the second way more relaxing but also more frustrating than the first, because I never know when to stop. Each time you touch the iron to the card, you alter what is there, and it is very easy to change something you wish you hadn't. Unfortunately it is a lesson you can only learn the hard way. The wax I use is called Dehan Wax and you'll find details about it and why I use it on my website. Dehan Wax was the first wax designed especially for Modern Encaustic Painting. It was designed by an Encaustic Painter, for Encaustic Painters to paint Encaustic Paintings with. It is still the most controllable and the most versatile painting wax I know off. For more information about Encaustic Painting, see www.almostabstract.freeuk.com.